The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Student shares her struggle with manic depression

By Marley Malenfant/feature editor

Every day, SE student Lindsey Stiefel wakes up with a scar on her thigh that says, “I hate me.” She carved it on herself when she was 14.

“I was really good at hiding it [her scar] from my parents,” she said. “They didn’t find out until Thanksgiving when they saw it underneath my dress. It sucks. But it reminds me of where I’ve been.”

Stiefel, 20, was diagnosed with manic depression at 13, also known as bipolar disorder. Stiefel doesn’t know her biological parents. She was 3 days old when her parents adopted her.

Stiefel calls her illness an everyday struggle. Once a day, she must take 1,500 milligrams of lithium, five milligrams of Abilify and 70 milligrams of Vyvanse.

Stiefel’s first sign of depression was during high school when her grades dropped. She said her passion for academics became a chore. After high school, Stiefel felt she had her depression under control.

She attended Baylor University for six weeks during a summer session to get ahead, but she experienced bipolar episodes while living on campus. 

“I’d have days where I’d be partying every night and getting really drunk, doing things I probably shouldn’t have,” she said. “And I’d have days where I’d literally not go to class, sit in my room watching sad Lifetime movies and crying all day.”

Stiefel also attended the University of Texas at Arlington for a semester and had manic episodes there too. She said the medication she used at the time didn’t help.

“I was planning on changing medications because the one I was on made me really sleepy and made me gain a ton of weight,” she said. “Nothing felt right. I wasn’t sleeping, and I had panic attacks all the time. When you’re on a manic episode, normally people can’t keep up with what you’re doing. But I couldn’t keep up with what I was doing.”

After spending a semester at UTA, Stiefel’s parents advised her to consider TCC. Stiefel said her parents worry about strangers accepting her illness.

“My parents have done the best that they can,” she said. “I’m their first and only daughter. They never had to deal with someone who’s bipolar. They worry about the rest of the world. They worry about people who aren’t as smart and are ignorant and will judge me.”

Stiefel said people often mistake bipolar disorder with schizophrenia. SE counselor Carisa Bustillos said bipolar and schizophrenia are physiological impairments in the brain.

Symptoms of schizophrenia must be present for six months for someone to be diagnosed with the illness. With bipolar, symptoms can be day to day and hour to hour. A schizophrenic has psychotic episodes where a person hears voices and reality is skewed.

Bustillos said while medication is important, there are non-medicated techniques for treating bipolar. One technique is thought substitution, such as when a patients write their feelings down to keep track of mood swings, Bustillos said.

It’s a practice method to help patients have fewer negative thoughts, Bustillos said.

According to a survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in three students report having experienced prolonged periods of depression. One in seven students report difficulty functioning at school because of mental illness.

According to the survey, 62 percent of students reported they would turn to a friend instead of a counselor should they experience a serious emotional problem while at school.

Stiefel said depression often harmed her past relationships. During high school, Stiefel remembers being rebellious to her parents, boyfriends and close friends.

“You’re not reasonable at all,” she said. “You do crazy stuff, and nobody understands why. You avoid any structure that you desperately need. I lost my boyfriend at the time, my family didn’t know what to do with me and my friends thought I was crazy. I would randomly recommend breaking up after every argument we had. A couple times we did, and then I’d call back like two minutes later and be like ‘I’m sorry!’”

Stiefel said those who feel they’re depressed should seek help. She recommends those who’ve been diagnosed to take medication that can help treat it. She points out that depression can’t be treated as something minor as a cold.

For those who are bipolar, she said awareness is key. There are times when Stiefel still feels an urge to cut herself during an episode. She points out that bipolar people develop characteristics and traits and must catch it to control an episode.

“If you don’t keep it under control, you will lose everything,” she said. “You need to take the pills. You’re not going to survive if you don’t.”

Stiefel attends art classes on SE Campus twice a week. She said art is therapeutic and something she’s enjoyed since she was a child. She wants to transfer to New York University after she’s finished her associate degree.

“Paint brushes don’t judge,” she said. “I was always kind of a doodler when I was little. I went to New York when I was 6 and went to the MOMA [Museum of Modern Art]. I was in love after that trip.”

Stiefel’s goal is to work as an art therapist. Stiefel was pleased to know that celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato are open about their depression. She hopes to be a voice for those who are dealing with depression.

“I want to help kids with depression, bipolar, also Down syndrome and autism,” she said. “I want them to express their feelings through art.”

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