So I guess just to start, a little info about myself.  Iím 21 years old, about to start my senior year at MIT and am majoring in Materials Science and Engineering.  Iím currently doing a summer internship at a small pharmaceutical company outside of Boston working on a project in the field of transdermal drug delivery and living with a bunch of friends at an MIT fraternity.  I practice jiu-jitsu, play piano and saxophone, enjoy hiking, traveling, dancing, and riding horses.   

I spent the past year studying abroad at Cambridge University in the UK for which MIT has an exchange program with.  While I initially enjoyed the program, the winter became very tough for me and I found it very difficult to function at the normal level of academic and social ability that I usually have.  I also had lost a lot of spirit for life in general during that time period and I couldnít understand why.  The depression lasted about 3 months and was dramatically released within a few days of traveling with friends around Europe during our spring break.  I was able to return to Cambridge, study quite effectively once more, enjoy my time with friends and felt much more confident for taking the monster end-of-the-year exams.  Then came a period where everything was even more elevated- I felt high about everything I was doing, had lots of abnormal energy, insomnia, loss of appetite, and a persistent feeling of adrenaline rushing through me, and things in my mind started getting a lot weirder.  I honestly thought it was something wrong with my endocrine system at the time and even had irrational fears of adrenal gland cancer which caused an intense panic attack, something I had never experienced before but for which my housemates called a paramedic.   

I went in to see a doctor in the UK  and in the 15 minute appointment after describing my symptoms she simply took a piece of paper, wrote down bipolar disorder, drew a sinusoidal curve and told me to go look up some useful websites.  To be honest, at that time I knew next to nothing about bipolar, only that it had something to do with your brain and that people who had it had difficult lives.  I was also pretty stigmatized and fearful of mental illness as well due to not knowing much about it.  That level of information definitely didnít help during the depression that hit after the hypomania ended and during the time that I read through the first bits of info about bipolar that I found on the internet.   But fortunately, the period was short, I became well once more and I didnít do anything I regretted.  I returned to MIT early to be formally diagnosed by the psychiatrists on campus who were much more gracious and professional with their treatment.  I spent another month after the diagnosis being well and not on medication but then another depressive episode started and I was prescribed lithium which Iíve been taking for about 2 months now.  Though I was quite fearful and reluctant at first to take it (as I had never been on serious prescription medication before as I had been blessed with excellent health throughout my life), I soon came to accept it and be quite thankful for it.  It honestly hasnít been too bad for me- I realize that I am at a more mild level of the disorder at this point and that prognosis is much better if you start medication earlier.   

Iíve definitely educated myself much more about the disorder over the summer- have read Kay Jamisonís books and numerous websites- itís amazing how much you can find out there just through Google.  After everything I have learned, in my case I do believe that having the disorder has greatly benefited me as an individual both in academics and in my personal life, and has given me a considerable amount of perspective and self knowledge that I didnít have before.  Iím also much more driven to work in the field of pharmaceuticals- I was interested in them last summer when I worked for the same company and now Iím even more interested in them- have read some of the original papers on lithium and might consider doing a PhD later on in pharmaceutical chemistry or pharmacology depending on how things go.  Iíd like to do anything I can to help myself and others who have this disorder.  Itís also been pretty engaging to approach the pharmaceutical industry with the combined perspective of scientist and patient.  Sometimes it does get pretty personal, especially at a small company.  The intern in the cubicle next to me is working on a project with co-crystals of carbamazepine (Tegretol) which improves the dissolution rate of the drug and may lead to increased bioavailability (how much of the ingested drug actually hits your system).  The other scientists working at the company are intensely brilliant, passionate, relatively young, love to have fun and are extremely dedicated to the life-saving nature of the products that they engineer.  Iím highly considering working there after graduation.   

Iím very lucky to have the family and friends that I do and a very good situation in life- it could have been so much worse for me if I was not this fortunate.  A number of my close friends were quite surprised when I informed them that I had manic-depressive illness as they never thought of me as particularly unstable and were under the common misconception that ďnice people donít get bipolarĒ.  Such is the nature of stigma.  Itís quite logical and understandable why stigma exists but its effects can be devastating.  However, I personally believe that a substantial amount of stigma can be reduced through education.  I never understood mental illness at all before I experienced it firsthand.  I also didnít understand that depression (that is real depression) is an illness and that people canít simply snap themselves out of it on their own will.   

I guess Iím still trying to figure out how I got into this whole new world and how Iím going to handle everything that comes my way but of course there is no choice but to tread this path.  It is always helpful and encouraging to know that there are others of my kind, that they have been through this as well and some of them have done some incredible things with their lives.  I am honored to be among you. 


  Email: istobias@mit.edu
 

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