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I woke up tired and cranky this morning. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my first cup of coffee that I started to feel awake and upbeat. This is a pretty typical morning for me. The thing is, I didn’t acquire a taste for coffee until after college, and this morning I found myself wondering how I made it through college without drinking coffee.

And then I thought, “I’m amazed I made it through college at all. How did I do that?”

Let’s see…ADHD? Undiagnosed. Anxiety? Undiagnosed. Mood disorder? Undiagnosed. Therapy? Nope. At least 6 hours of sleep every night? HA HA HA YEAH RIGHT. Drinking too much? Okay, I wasn’t a big drinker in college. But I was fairly social and I was a social drinker, sometimes a social overdrinker, mostly to override my social anxiety–not that I thought so at the time, I only realize this in retrospect. (By the way, drinking to deal with social anxiety doesn’t work so well. Eventually you sober up and start fixating on everything you said and did while you were drunk and less inhibited. At least everything you can remember. Jokes on you, Drunk Josh!)

Yeah, not drinking coffee was the least of my problems.

I know other people who were undiagnosed with mental disorders when they were younger and still got at least one college degree. A lot of people have done it. You can have mental disorders and still be high-functioning enough to make it through your day, your week, your month, your semester. At the same time, there’s a big school dropout rate for people with ADHD, enough to make me think my life could have gone down a very different path if I hadn’t had friends and family who helped me, even when they weren’t specifically trying to help me. Plus the depressive episodes, the hypomanic episodes, the anxiety and panic attacks…my memories of college are mostly positive, but some days were worse than others, and I can’t help wondering what it would have been like if I’d been diagnosed and treated.

It kind of blows my mind. I can’t imagine living life now without my meds and therapy. I mean, I trust that I could make it through a day, a week, even a month without meds if I had to. But I shouldn’t have to, and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about that. Life with understanding and treatment is 526% better than life without.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It started in 1949–70 YEARS AGO!–but sadly, we’re only just getting past the tip of the stigma iceberg when it comes to non-typical braininess. That stigma, plus less awareness of how mental disorders manifest and can be treated, played a big role in how I went undiagnosed at the time. I even had friends in college who were being treated for depression and anxiety, but I honestly didn’t think there was anything in ME to diagnose. It’s one of the reasons I talk about my mental health now as openly as I can. The more we can erase the stigma, the fewer college graduates will look back and wonder how the hell they managed to make it through.

At least that’s the hope, right?

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