January 5, 2011

What Remains

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:00 am

I spent my entire freshman year, at Syracuse University, walking the fine line between manic and psychotic. Finally it was too much for my brain to take and as Spring Break ended and my friends were returning to class rested and rejuvenated, I found myself staring at the blank walls of a hospital room.

I fought my way back to campus and my final three years at Syracuse were a mix of brief respites of joy and the endless pain of recovery and adjusting to a new life. When my friends were out partying or toiling away in the library, I was holed up in my dorm, fast asleep. The exhaustion from the readjustment was enough to knock me out, but more so than that I was watching my sleep habits carefully to make sure to avoid restless, manic nights. As much as I wanted to rejoice at making it back to campus, I couldn’t. My thought processes were considerably slower after my bipolar diagnosis and subsequent pharmaceutical regimen. It took me three hours to complete homework assignments and readings that would have taken me thirty minutes in the past.

I couldn’t bring myself to try and process any of the trauma of that fateful Spring semester. I did not yet have the words or the courage to express how I was feeling – even to my closest friends and mentors. It was a lonely time for me. I was trapped in my own head and couldn’t see beyond my reality of the moment. I had yet to see any college students step forward and say “I have a mental illness. This is my struggle. Look at how I’m thriving.” The only examples I had to look to were the adults with whom I shared an inpatient stay – hardly a comfort.

My last visit to Syracuse in Fall of 2009 brought up many painful memories. Walking around campus meant retracing my footsteps on a journey that I don’t look back on with pride. I still have vivid flashbacks of manic conversations. I remember things I said that I can’t believe. I remember actions I took that shock me. You would think that with all that pain, I wouldn’t want to come back. Thankfully, those memories aren’t all that remain.

I’m just getting home from my most recent trip up to Syracuse. I had the opportunity to visit with the mentors that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, my extended family that supported me even when I didn’t know how to ask for their help, and the wonderful friends I made along the way. The amazing thing about when you are made vulnerable by circumstances beyond your control is that it invites those around you to draw near. Even now, I am so open about my struggles not only to set a positive example for those who are facing similar adversities, but also because it fosters a connection with people that I have yet to replicate any other way.

For those of you of you out there who haven’t been able to disclose your illness to people around you, just know that for all the stigma and misunderstanding there is also hope and love. I still hold on to the painful memories, the anxiety that they bring, and the shame I can’t seem to leave behind. I know one day I’ll have to shed that weight if I’m going to grow into the person I want to be, but in the meantime it helps to have the bright spots too. I’m so incredibly grateful for the people that have remained in my life and seen me through my highest highs and my lowest lows. I’m so thankful for what remains.



  1. Marc, the struggle toward recovery can be nearly as painful as the depths of whatever mental illness grips us, but I admire both your tenacity and your openness. While my diagnosis is “only” severe chronic depression, I know how difficult it is to climb up out of the dark pit when you can no longer remember the reasons why it matters. Many people I have known and loved have lived——or died, in the case of my father——with bipolar illness, so I can appreciate the extra strain you endured in those early college years when the rhythm of campus life itself seems alternately manic (party, party, party!) and depressed (study, midterms, finals…), and at a time when most of us are especially vulnerable emotionally given that it is usually the first extended time away from family and the familiar. Like you, however, I have found a wellspring of support among others who have been there and back, or who have lived with others who have, and I have found their encouragement and nurturing far more valuable than the well-intended but often hollow platitudes of “normal” friends and family. Many decades ago when I was trying to decide what college to attend, I considered Syracuse since it was so close to my home, but ultimately I shied away since at the time it was rumored (I never verified the info, and there was no public Internet at the time for easy research) to have one of the highest suicide rates among university students in the country, and I was at least in touch enough with my predisposition to know that going there would be tempting fate. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Max — January 5, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  2. Marc,

    As the mother of a young child with BP- I applaud and thank you. I applaud your courage and determination, the guts I’m sure it takes to go back and face the area that represents so much of your illness and such a difficult piece of your journey. Illness should never be something one has to be embarassed about. My thanks are because your courage, openess and education of others may make a difference in how my son some day remembers his college experience and how he was treated and received by others. Keep up the fight!

    Comment by Kelly — January 5, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

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