Ivy Beleaguered

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I am a 17-year-old college freshman at an Ivy. I don’t know if it is the stress that is making me feel this way, I suspect it’s not, but the stress is making it worse.

I’ve always been the youngest, having skipped a grade, so it’s always been my top priority to fit in and make people forget I’m younger than I am. It’s sometimes caused me to make drastic appearance changes. I am known for cutting off all my hair at once for no apparent reason and for wearing crazy outfits. I don’t really know why I do it, it doesn’t make me feel better, and it actually makes me feel awkward, yet I still do it.

I am extremely antisocial with people I don’t know, so it’s very hard to make friends, but once I do, I am very open and trusting with them and I expect a lot in return from them, too much I think. I am frequently disappointed with my friends. It is hard for me to say someone is my best friend because I hold such high expectations. I also don’t like to be touched in any way and I can’t say the word “love” referring to a person, I even have trouble saying it to my parents. Needless to say, I have intimacy problems.

My brother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I’m afraid to go to a doctor to see what I have. I frequently make drastic decisions without thinking about them (such as moving across the country for school or signing a lease for an apartment I can’t pay for) and I very frequent have sudden highs and lows. I get super irritated easily. At one point I love having my friend over, but with one comment, I want her gone and I want to be alone. I hate feeling this way. Sometimes I hurt people’s feelings without caring about it too much. I cry all the time for no reason and sometimes because I miss home intensively. To me this is more than home sick; I curl up in the fetal position and just cry for hours. I feel like I am a failure because I feel stupid in classes and with my friends.

I am the biggest procrastinator, I cannot concentrate on one thing for more than two hours (and that’s pushing it) and I spend a lot of time shopping. I have burned through hundreds of dollars in the past year by shopping for makeup. I shop for clothes too, but it’s mostly been an obsession with makeup. Once I order something I feel SO much better. I don’t even go out, I just order it online from my room.

Another very odd thing is that my mind will go completely blank. As in: what was I doing, what was I going to do, why am I here? And why is my mind completely blank? My friends and family will recall things I said that I even remotely remember doing or saying.

I will spend whole days secluded in my dorm room, not going to class or doing anything, sometimes all I do is eat and watch TV. I eat whole family sized bags of chips or pretzels and then severely regret it. I don’t know why I do it in the first place.

Whenever I call home, my parents and brothers don’t believe there’s anything wrong with me because I have never voiced these concerns and behaviors. I don’t know if it’s normal but I feel like my mind is sometimes in overdrive with lots of thoughts and other times my mind is at a stand-still and I can’t seem to get it to move. This makes it hard to carry out easy tasks. I don’t know what’s wrong but I feel like there is something definitely wrong with my head. Like it’s not balanced. Someone mildly molested me when I was about 8, not very serious but I think enough for me to remember. My father played a lot of mind games with us growing up and being around him I felt like I was on pins and needles. I can’t actually remember the last time I had human contact.

Please help me; I don’t know what’s wrong!!

A: I’m glad you are asking for some feedback and taking the time to understand your emotional landscape. Of course I can’t make a diagnosis — that is something I am going to encourage you to seek through an evaluation
– but you have highlighted several symptoms that may be part of a larger pattern.

You’ve identified:

  • Drastic appearance changes
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Aversion to touch
  • Impulsive decisions
  • Procrastination
  • Intimacy problems
  • Lack of empathy
  • Isolation
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Regressive behavior
  • Excessive spending
  • Early molestation
  • Sibling with a biochemical disorder

.
Each of these factors points toward the need for a thorough evaluation. A good neuropsychologist can do a series of tests designed to identify various conditions. Many of the tests are objective (some even computerized.) So the answers do not have to be interpreted by another individual. The examiner reviews all the tests and together the battery can give a more complete picture of your strengths and issues. Other psychologists may be able to do this type of testing as well. In any case, such testing can help make sense of seemingly disparate symptoms. You may find someone capable of doing these kinds of tests from this list, but a more direct approach is to use your university counseling center. The professionals there are usually very well versed in both testing and counseling, with professional contacts in the local community. The service is typically free or very low fee. I would begin with a call to them. They might also be able to help set up a psychiatric evaluation for the purpose of determining if medicine is warranted.

You may also want to learn more about your brother’s condition here.

A diagnosis is only helpful if it aids in the process of treatment. The goal is to understand what these symptoms indicate, and to begin coping with them directly. In the words of Martin H. Fischer, “diagnosis is not the end, but the beginning of practice.”

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Ivy Beleaguered. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/21/ivy-beleaguered/