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Addiction & Mental Illness: My Quarter-Life Crisis

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Just a month into my senior year at Cornell, I fell into a suicidal depression. Alcohol and drugs were an issue, as was my recent coming-out. I had spent the summer before studying for the LSAT, but as the testing date approached I became more and more anxious. For as long as I could remember, going to college was the ultimate goal. But now that college was almost over, and law school suddenly seemed like a ridiculous and extremely expensive proposition, I didn't know what to do. All of my friends were in beautiful relationships and had jobs lined up for after graduation. I looked at my life and saw no options for my future.

Two weeks before I was to take the LSAT, I stopped attending class and stopped eating. I stopped going out and isolated from my friends, even the ones I had already come out to. A concerned friend suggested I seek help, so on Sept. 28, 2010 I called the campus mental health clinic and told the receptionist I was going to kill myself. She asked me to come in immediately for an evaluation and set me up with a very helpful therapist. I met with a therapist as well as an advising dean, who helped me apply to take a health leave of absence.

That night, my new therapist and I called my parents and explained what was going on. My mother agreed to drive the three-and-a-half hours upstate to pick me up, immediately, and a friend spent the time waiting with me, making me dinner and helping me pack. The advising dean called me from his home and asked if I was safe. He offered to email my professors to let them know I would be leaving for the semester. I knew I wouldn't be coming back to campus for a while, and felt a sense of relief as I walked out of my dingy basement apartment to get in my mom's SUV for the drive home.

My friends wouldn't miss me, I thought, most of them hadn't bothered looking for me during the week I didn't leave my apartment. As soon as I got settled into my parents' house I researched psychiatric hospitals and made the third-most important decision of my quarter-life crisis -- I decided on the psychiatric hospital where I would begin my new journey. I slept well that night, knowing I was finally getting help.

The next morning my parents sat with me in the hospital admissions office as I answered a litany of questions about my suicidal ideations, my history of substance abuse, and why I didn't want to go on living. My answer to the latter question was a simple one: I didn't have a future. Mom and dad were shocked. I spent a week there, and another two in an outpatient partial hospitalization program. I learned about depression and mental illness, and very basic things I needed to do to take care of myself. I made the most important decision of my quarter-life crisis: I decided to cut alcohol and drugs out of my life completely.

Over the course of the next nine months I spent many weeks in and out of psychiatric hospitals and rehabs. I weathered a few manic episodes. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and addiction, and gradually learned to live with both. Some of my family were afraid of me and my condition, so I ended up moving in with my grandparents. I did hear from all those friends whom I thought forgot about me, and the phone calls I received from them helped carry me through a very difficult winter. In addition, a few friends and family members visited me in the hospital, but only the ones I was brave enough to tell I was there. Mental illness is a scary thing, isolating in more ways than one.

Later that spring, life became a burden again and I turned back to numbing myself with drugs. I also briefly took up cutting. This time my family was cognizant of what was going on and intervened.

Now, to backtrack a little, I should point out the second-most-important decision I made. Just a month after my first hospital stay, in November of 2010, I answered a notice for a reporter to cover local meetings for a weekly newspaper. I needed to make some money to pay for cigarettes, and I needed to keep busy. I study English at Cornell and putting my writing skills to work just made sense. My first assignment was to cover a suicide-prevention fundraising walk. It was fate; I felt like I helped make a difference, and a career was born. I also started volunteering at my local library. I had the makings of a legitimate career and a small group of teens who depended on me to unleash their creativity on Friday afternoons. I had my family and a growing circle of friends. I had reasons to go on living.

I returned to Cornell for the spring 2012 semester and, despite a brief hospitalization, achieved straight A's. I fell in love, but it didn't work out. Now I'm back at that same hometown weekly reporting and editing and doing some investigative work. I also have an internship in New York City. Soon I will head back to Cornell for my final semester. My quarter-life crisis has been a formative experience and I am happy to say that, having just celebrated my 24th birthday and one year of sobriety, I can see the other side of it.

Today, I'm going on dates. I'm applying to j-schools and looking for a full-time job. I'm working to better myself as a person and to help others, one day at a time. I'm setting boundaries with other people and discovering spirituality. I'm taking care of myself. These are things that adults do. I am still an alcoholic and an addict and I still have a mental illness and, like many people, I get depressed sometimes. But when I do, I remind myself how many things I have to look forward to. Today, I am grateful.