I have incredibly severe mental illness. I am twenty three and only barely becoming functional. My disease took away my chance at going to college, and now college is just an impossibility for financial reasons. The problem is that I love ethology, birds, and just generally the study of all things biological (besides lame humans) what are the options for a person like me? Or did I miss my shot?
Short answer: you didn’t miss your shot, and there are plenty of options out there! Now, for the long answer…
Well, some good news first: there is no predetermined age for studying biology or for going to college. Mental illness has a nasty habit of messing up your life’s timing; it sneakily slows time down, or speeds it up, or shaves off entire years, sometimes without you even noticing. But biology isn’t a time-sensitive field. You are absolutely allowed to take the time you need to “recover”, and take things at your own pace. As for finances: some excellent options include starting out at a community college and pursuing scholarships (particularly those for disabled or nontraditional students?).
I will be up front here– if you’re trying to make this line of work your career, be ready for a competitive and often-stressful environment where you will not be making much money (or any money at all) in the short-term. You’ll have to get comfortable contacting strangers out of the blue (email and phone), carving opportunities for yourself out wherever they present themselves. It’s a lot of work. It’s also very rewarding.
If you don’t think going in for the whole career is an option or something you want, but you’d like to be intellectually engaged and involved, you’ve got options! There are many ways to engage with ongoing biological work without having to stress about making a living doing it! Check out your nearest Audubon society, universities, bird observatory, zoo, or science museum– many of these places have volunteer and citizen science opportunities for interested parties!
No matter what you decide, it’s important to take care of your personal needs first. Mental illness is a bitch, but it doesn’t mean you’re locked out from the ivory tower. Now, since I’m not an expert on all of this (I am but a young graduate student after all), I’ll go ahead and toss this to @mental-health-in-academia. Good luck, and take care of yourself!