I started writing this blog in September. I (apparently) wrote the title, added the lovely stock image you see above on September 16th at 2:49am and then…stopped. Writing this now it’s the 17th of November at around 1:09am, so just over two months later.
Funny how that happens.
I had intended to write this at the beginning of the college year. It was the first time since I was three years old that I wouldn’t be walking through the doors of some sort of school, and while I can be introspective to a fault, at times, I wanted to pass on some advice to hopefully help people who might have been in the same positions that I had been: depressed, over-stressed and over-encumbered with voluntary work.
I vividly remember the first time my grandfather got angry with me. Angry might be a bit too strong, but for a man who was nothing but kind, caring and jovial to me before then, mild annoyance seemed like righteous hellfire. I was in second class in primary school, and I volunteered to stay behind after class to sweep up and help clean the classroom. Yes, I’ve always been a massive nerd. I appeared at the main gates of the school, half an hour to an hour later than expected, to an understandably worried and disgruntled grandparent.
Fast-forward to college, and in second year I start to get properly into clubs, societies and the student union. At first I got involved in a committee because a friend needed a hand, or because the cricket club needed a secretary to keep running, but I began to enjoy the work I was doing. As essays and exam study piled on, these fun social aspects to college life began to (understandably) seem like a much more preferable alternative to slaving away in the library all evening. One didn’t replace the other, at least not initially, but the work put into student life things seemed a lot easier, with a lot more immediately gratifying results. I began to cope with the stress of academia by adding more work to my plate, essentially, which I later learned is the exact wrong thing to do.
Going through life, and by extension college, with a mental illness is already *fun* enough without making it harder on yourself, and without knowing it I fell into a trap I’ve referred to as the ‘Stress-Anxiety Cycle’. This would later be explained to me by a medical professional using a diagram like the one above. Stress can fuel anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.), which causes more stress, which causes more anxiety, depression, O.C.D. (and so forth) in a vicious mental ill-health cycle. So when I used, say, being on about seven college society committees at once as a way to cope with the stress of college itself I was actively feeding into a regressive cycle that ensured I wouldn’t be free from stress for some time. A bit like quicksand – the more you do, the more active you are, the worse it can get.
Let’s not make any mistakes here, or cast any aspersions, this was all my own doing. Even when it was explained to me, what I was doing, I didn’t exactly drop everything. Hell, I was a Chairperson of a society and Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper in my final year, long after being told about the never-ending cycle I was gleefully participating in. And this is part of the problem. The work was something I elected to do – chose to do of my own volition – and something I found rewarding. It was self-medication I felt was working, even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.
I wanted this blog to be helpful, yes, but it was also part of a new stress cycle. Having left college, and having general (undisclosed) life commitments, I internally committed to writing at least one article for this website a week. I found it fun, being honest, but even if the deadlines were purely self-imposed I saw them as ironclad, something I had to meet. I missed my first deadline because I wasn’t particularly feeling this topic, but also because I was stressed about this purely voluntary expedition I had embarked on – stressed about not pushing the articles enough, stressed about negative feedback on Reddit, stressed about the writing being poor, stressed that a million people weren’t reading my blogs. I even poked fun at this when I eventually, as I thought at the time, came back. And when I didn’t write another blog the following week it contributed to a depressive downward spiral that I’m still not totally out of.
So here’s the revolutionary takeaway for you all: if you’re stressed, more stress is not the answer. It doesn’t sound too insightful, or helpful, but it’s something that you probably needed to hear if you were in the same hole I was in. It’s also important to be comfortable with saying “no” to people, even if you feel it “isn’t too much work,” and to be aware when you’re over-extending yourself, and when any extra work would be to the detriment of your long-term health.
Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by going to @JournalistRob. Have a story to suggest? Email me at JournoRob@gmail.com.