How I dealt with depression at university
It can be firmly kicked in the dick
Part of what affords depression such a deadly currency is the fact that, whilst its effects are often quite similar, the way it manifests tends to vary significantly depending on who you ask. Some compare it with drowning, some with a physical presence such as a weight or perhaps even a person; some simply describe it as a desire to disappear. I think this is important to outline before I go any further; my personal experiences are just that: personal.
For me, depression only really crept in during the summer of last year. I noticed my mood change more and more, any and all motivation seemed to drain from my body, replaced with what I can only describe as a kind of numbness. I stopped eating properly, stayed in bed until mid afternoon and sometimes when days without speaking a word.
What made everything worse was the cyclical nature of what I was dealing with; isolating myself only made the problem develop. The less I did with my time, the less I wanted to do. It is this problem in particular that makes depression especially insidious. Once it sinks it’s teeth, it bleeds your will-power to break free of it, generating and perpetuating a downward spiral. It latches onto you like a cancer until there’s none of you left. The things that are often essential for breaking free of depression, such as keeping busy and being motivated, are stripped away first, like a disease targeting the immune system.
What I didn’t realise however was that university would make these problems worse. In hindsight, this was probably naive of me. You are, after all, thrown out of your comfort zone and forced to fend for yourself in many ways. The metaphorical rug of close friends, parents etc. is pulled out from underneath you as you’re propelled into adulthood.
As mentioned, depression often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy; you feel useless and then eventually you become useless. For me, this was no truer than at university. I would stay in bed instead of going to lectures, for example. When I inevitably fell behind on work, I would go to lectures even less, and so on…
The silver lining to all this at least was that I developed a particular knack for bullshitting, becoming able to convincingly lie my way out of most absences quite convincingly. As much as I hate people who lie, I made an exception early on in this case, if nothing else for fear of being kicked out. Of course, this only exaggerated an otherwise addressable problem. (Footnote – I’ve found the excuse ‘family issues’ to be the best when skiving, as it not only becomes reusable because of its broad implications, but the vaquity of it subtextully implies that it is private. This prevents any further questions and makes it typically accepted on Blackboard without proof).
Of course, depression doesn’t only create problems of its own. It also makes existing problems worse. For me, this meant that a particularly unhealthy relationship I was in became extremely difficult. One potent example of this occurred when her ex-boyfriend began levying threats against me, one of which was to break my arms. He asked to meet me in an anonymous park in order to do this (because he’s a hard man you understand). I should have ignored him, but I’m a dumb bastard, so went in the hope I could neutralise the situation.
Although the whole thing ended up being nothing but a waste of time, it exemplified how depression had affected my judgement for the worse. Had I been thinking more clearly, I’d have told him where to go and been done with it, but I felt as though I needed to prove something, both to him and myself.
However, this was the first time I actively acknowledged that this was the case. It marked a significant learning curve and a watershed moment in how I dealt with my problems. I couldn’t help but notice an ironic poetry in the whole thing; this tosser was annoying, aggressive and determined to make me feel like shit. He was, in other words, a perfect allegory for my own depression, and as much as I regret giving in to his demands and meeting him, there was something strangely cathartic in telling him to fuck off in person, as though I’d just simultaneously confronted my inner demons.
After that, I began to actively think about the effect depression was having on me and found myself more and more able to act on it. Case and point, where once I would stay in bed all day, I began setting alarms and going for walks instead. I gradually realised that unless I concerted effort not to be incarcerated by how I felt, the problem wasn’t going to improve.
When I got back to uni, I began to apply this new sense of self-worth to my day. Naturally, settling in had helped, granting me friends to console in and work to distract me. The major difference now was realising that what had been feeling was predominately irrational and that I could fight it. This of course didn’t eliminate it. To use another analogy, I had learned to swim against the tide instead of simply conceding to it and drowning.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that depression is incredibly subjective. It can’t be pinned down or strictly defined. While this is true, I am convinced that it can be confronted. The key is to recognise what is real and what is illusory, which, while easier said than done, will mark a change that may prove the first of many steps in salvaging who you really are. Depression might not be easy to eliminate, but it can nonetheless be firmly kicked in the dick.
At Newcastle University if you want to seek mental health advice for yourself or a friend find it from the Student Wellbeing service here.