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Can I be a nurse with bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD?

Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Dear Nurse Beth,

Do you think I have a chance at becoming a nurse?

I have inattentive ADHD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I haven't worked for more than 3 months in my adult life, I went to online high school and couldn't handle the lack of structure and I very nearly failed. I graduated with the lowest possible GPA.

I also have 2 misdemeanors from a party 6 years ago in high school. One is for possession of marijuana and one for alcohol. I believe they cannot be expunged because they were in Wisconsin and apparently expungement decisions have to be made at the time of sentencing here. I have no other criminal violations.

I recently spent a month relearning pre-algebra on KhanAcademy.com, I was able to complete it doing math for 8 hours a day. I've been determined to turn my life around and I want to work my way up to nurse practitioner.

I've heard of people with mental illness as bad as mine making it. I've heard of people with grades worse than mine making it. I've even heard of people with worse criminal records making it. But I'm a bit depressed, tired, and just not optimistic about making it having all these problems at the same time. I'm willing to move to make it work.

Do you think if I can do well in prerequisites I can find a college that'll accept me, or even a job after graduation?

Dear Not Optimistic,

Nothing you listed in and of itself prevents you from becoming a nurse. ADHD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are conditions that many people have and manage.

There are many examples of high-achieving famous people with bipolar disorder.

It's not possible to predict how well you will do based solely on your medical conditions. It will depend on how self-aware you are, how well your conditions are managed, and your determination.

Take things one step at a time. Take your required English class and perhaps a sociology class. See how it goes for you and build on your successes. Some classes such as statistics and lab classes are more difficult and should be paired with relatively easy classes.

See if there are accommodations at your college for any of your disorders. Anxiety disorders, for example, are protected by the American Disabilities Act (ADA). You may be allowed to take exams in a quiet area, for example, or have an extended amount of time to take an exam.

Above all, your health comes first. Know your triggers and monitor your signs of relapse, such as not sleeping well, or increased anxiety.

Very best wishes,

Nurse Beth