On a break from the fresh hell that is quadratic equations, I thought I’d briefly explore the ins and outs of being a student living with mental illness. But firstly…
Being a student is hard work, full stop.
The challenges of studying, particularly at a tertiary level, can reduce even the most neurotypical, well-balanced person to tears. The pressure of cramming often-incomprehensible amounts of new information into twelve weeks with the expectation of almost instantaneous mastery is immense. This isn’t just an academic onslaught, but also a crash course in time management with the very real possibility that your social life with crumble before your eyes. Add to this the dilemma of keeping afloat financially (no mean feat) and you have yourself quite an ordeal to negotiate with for the foreseeable future.
Adding a mental illness to this doesn’t necessarily make it harder, but it can complicate it. The process of remaining reasonably stable is a dynamic one, and the degree of how challenging uni is changes week to week. Off the top of my head, here are the most salient issues I face.
- Self-defeating, pathological perfectionism. I have to come to terms with the fact that I chase a proverbial rainbow with my results; I will never reach a studious nirvana, as I will always have a bone to pick with myself. The last few years have been a study in self-tolerance in the fact that accolades aren’t a panacea to my perfectionism either – I felt just as restless and malcontent singled out as a high-achiever as I did now, as an average one.
- Cognitive defects. It’s a chicken and egg argument to ponder over whether the medication or the mental illness is the main offender for the fog I inhabit, and ultimately it doesn’t matter – I have what I have to work with! Patchy attention, fatigue and poor concentration are the name of the game, and a shitload of coffee is my antidote. I’m currently in a sea of fluorescent notes because my flighty brain will forget anything that hasn’t been written down and then had the shit highlighted out of it.
- Lack of education. I could make an entire post simply out of this point, but it breaks down quite simply – it is difficult to complete a degree in anything, particularly science, if you left school at fourteen. How have I squeaked by? A curious mind that sought out information throughout my education-impoverished adolescence, enthusiasm and Khan Academy to help fill the massive void in my maths ability. Also calculators and PASS.
- The tedium of deciding whether to disclose or not. It can be a gut-wrenching decision you churn about for weeks. Or it can be a well-picked moment with a classmate you gel with and trust. Sometimes disclosure leaks out without your say so in your lack of attendance to mainstream exams (I relish my extra five minutes in which to get my anxiety under control), or in prolonged absences spent recuperating from vague illnesses.
If universities gave credit for the precarious balancing act of madness versus ambition, I would surely be a nominee. Until then though, I’m just one of many frazzled students questioning their life choices and wondering why the hell they thought study was a good idea.