“Well are you malnourished somehow?”
“No. I eat quite well.”
“Are you depressed?”
“I don't think so.”
“Well do you still enjoy the things you usually enjoy doing?”
“Not depression then, eh? Well, I'm stumped.”
Defining depression by only certain symptoms like anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure) or a sleep-related problem is oversimplifying things. I experienced no anhedonia symptoms because of course I would still enjoy my hobbies and entertainments such as the internet or videogames: they can be used as an escape. This was part of a larger insight I made with the help of a new friend I met in my visual art class, who has always struggled with the opposite problem: insomnia. Discussing things with this new friend helped me realize that I was unconsciously using sleep as a way of avoiding things. This made a lot of sense. In order to avoid my old friend who could always be just outside my bedroom door, I slept.. The more I slept, the less time I had to study, the worse my grades got, and in turn my motivation to avoid the unpleasantness of it all would increase. When my parents would call, the first thing they would ask about would be school, about which I couldn't always provide overwhelmingly good news, and so I started to think about ignoring their calls. Cycles of avoidance, fed by guilt. A picture of depression I hadn't been taught about.
Feeling like I had a better understanding of my own behaviors helped me to try to push past things and improve my grades in time for that year, but my problems with guilt straining my relationship with my parents and with avoiding difficult classes continued on into my year at MacEwan.. By the time I switched schools yet again and enrolled at Concordia, my relationship with my parents improved and I had a more productive approach to dealing with unpleasant classes. I got a tutor for my statistics class when I was struggling in it. I was putting in time and it paid off in the form of successfully passing the class. And so I was one step closer to fulfilling prerequisites for a psychology program.
I don't think my story is a particularly unique one. The implications of intelligence, self-worth, and future potential that students interpret from their grades can quickly translate into a depressive guilt. “I'm here paying for the opportunity to do this work, and if I can't do it adequately then what does that say about me? It's wasteful, this kind of investment into my future is apparently wasteful, and being here feels like a wasteful joke”. It becomes extremely important to recognize that the underlying psychology involved may be that worry and guilt are not really motivating forces, anxiety has been proven to hinder confidence and motivation. Insights from my new friend gave me a self-awareness that I was missing at the time, which improved how I dealt with the depressive thoughts, which as a consequence improved my grades and my confidence. I have a long way to go, but it seems more and more that success is measured psychologically, and can start with mental health awareness.