Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness

As I found out very recently, I am one of the estimated 200,000 students to have missed out on a place at university this year. Even with mitigating circumstances taken into account by the exam boards my results fell three grades short of the offers made by both of my chosen universities. With clearing being ruled out due to a lack of Scottish university places and a chaotic finance situation, university for now remains an aspiration rather than an achievement. So much for trying, eh?

I don't expect my difficult circumstances to instantly remove all obstacles between my and my chosen university course, but I do think my results were crippled by an inability to seek treatment for depression which has affected me for several years. Even if A-levels are becoming easier as per the traditional sour claims there is only so much studying a sufferer can take in when their thoughts are almost constantly wandering into dark, shadowy places and eclipsing any traces of hope or motivation.

One of the worst effects of depression is its ability to overpower rational thought with a sense of dread and resignation about even the most trivial events. This has the unfortunate consequence of making some compassionate souls dismiss the anxiety as attention seeking, perhaps because it can be difficult to empathise with such a strong reaction to mundane tasks. While most people would simply brush off the disappointment of getting a bad grade in a mock exam to me it would seem like the end of my academic career and a damning lack of intellect. During my more lucid moments I can see this is clearly an overreaction but depression has a nasty habit of removing all context from a negative situation, making these harsh judgments seem perfectly rational instead of overly critical.

Another reason why depression is sometimes dismissed as a weakness of character is its lack of visibility - like many other mental illnesses, there are barely any immediately noticeable indications of the condition, no arms in slings or rasping coughs to provide objective confirmation of any illness or trauma. 'Get over yourself' is a blunt piece of advice occasionally offered to people with depression by others who don't fully understand the nature of the condition. I can guarantee almost everyone who has suffered with it has been subject to some variant of this dismissive statement by someone who is under the impression that depression is nothing more than a bad mood.

Although I can understand why people could find it difficult to truly empathise with someone who is depressed, these statements are at best unhelpful and at worst can deepen the cycle of guilt and negativity - 'I must be worthless if I can't even make myself be happy' is a line of thought which is not unfamiliar to me and it has caused me distress for days after I've had this careless advice. After all, if snapping out of such an insidious mindset was that easy I'd bet you any sum that we wouldn't see around 1 in 10 people suffering from depression at any given time.

It's not all bad news though. There are people out there who provide a fantastic amount of support and patience during depressive episodes even though they haven't suffered from depression themselves - they know it's not something we can switch off at will or a sign of laziness, it's an exhausting condition for us too. These people go through a hell of a lot simply trying to maintain as much normality in our lives as possible and they are very special to us indeed. Hats off to you all - you know who you are.

1 comment:

  1. 'I must be worthless if I can't even make myself be happy' strikes me as a rather shallow approach. I wouldn't give it too much thought.