Chloe Maguire Sedgwick discusses their experience as a mentally ill student juggling anxiety and depression.
BEING a mentally ill student is quite difficult to navigate. When you have two contradictory mental illnesses like anxiety and depression it becomes all the more interesting.
Sometimes you feel both anxious and depressed at the same time, but more often it fluctuates over time. For me, my anxiety is at its peak when I’m outside of my house and my depression is at its worst when I’m at home.
As a student, anxiety is always nearby. University is a high intensity experience that demands a lot from you, there is always something you are supposed to be doing. As someone who is already constantly anticipating the next problem, this makes it almost impossible to focus and stay grounded. At every lecture you are thinking about the essay you need to start, while writing that essay you are thinking about all the events you are missing, and when you are at an event you are thinking about the readings you are behind on. This thought process is constant.
So then to calm yourself down you remind myself that once you get home you can catch up, and organise your life. However, once you get home, depression hits. You struggle to get out of bed, and to even eat lunch is an accomplishment that can take hours to build up to. With so much of your energy going into attempting to attend to your most basic human needs, there is not much left to catch up on work with.
“You stop trying to convince yourself that everyone hates you, and just accept that they do.”
This lack of energy combined with a lack of motivation means very little is accomplished. You can feel the anxiety and the compulsion to succeed at the back of your head and the bottom of your chest weighing you down, but all that is coming up is emptiness.
This is painful at the weekends, but it hits so much harder during the holidays. During the semester, you get used to thinking about eight things at once and being in a constant state of stress. The very sudden drop to not being able to think about anything at all manifests itself as a deep, dull ache. As someone with a lot of plans and ambitions, this is incredibly frustrating as I simply cannot get things done. At a certain point, I have to resign myself to reading One Direction fanfiction at three in the afternoon, in the same pyjamas I’ve been wearing for a week.
Back in university, a large part of the experience is going to society events. When simply walking in the door takes ten minutes of gentle persuasion and hyperventilating, this is a major source of anxiety. Then, once you manage to get inside the room, the anxiety has just begun. Trying to join or initiate conversations is a subtle form of hell. Everything you say either sounds dull, or is too quiet and you aren’t heard. It feels like your personality turns grey and your brain stops working. Even when you have a good time at an event, later on when you think back on the interactions you had, you remember all of the stupid things you said and did, and how everyone was probably judging you.
“At some point I realised that any time I can think clearly I have to do as much as I possibly can in that period of time, so that I can afford to crash or panic.”
So once again you go home and you think ‘I am alone, I don’t need to be anxious anymore’. Which to some degree is true, instead you just become lonely. You stop trying to convince yourself that everyone hates you, and just accept that they do.
Due to every little movement taking so much out of you, you inevitably end up not talking to anyone for hours, thus worsening the situation. The next thing to try is some of your hobbies, to force yourself into some kind of happiness. However this also doesn’t work because you can’t feel anything, you have used up all of your feelings on panicking.
Then, when an important assignment needs to be handed in, or when exams are on the horizon, that is all you can think about. The anxiety is overwhelming and it becomes the dominant focus of your brain. With a combination of having no motivation (a depression symptom) and being unable to concentrate (an anxiety symptom), trying to make space in your brain to actually do an assignment becomes a feat in itself. You eventually learn that you are never going to perform to the best of your ability, it just isn’t feasible.
At some point I realised that any time I can think clearly I have to do as much as I possibly can in that period of time, so that I can afford to crash or panic. I learnt to accept that I’m rarely happy because there is very little that I can do about it. I have forced myself into the habit of finishing projects even if they aren’t perfect, what’s important is that I finish what I start.