I have always loved the summer. The warmth of the magnificent sun permeating vastly, evoking radiance on everyone’s faces through the spread of its own. The brighter days seem to instantly make everything appear slightly less imperfect and more beautiful. The seemingly endless days hesitantly giving way to the cooler nights that blow a gust of relief from the occasionally harsh mornings. The ample time at one’s disposal creating avenues for new hobbies, passions, and experiences; The possibility of forging new relationships and strengthening old ones. Ah, I simply adore the summer.
But not every summer has been this blissful.
It was the summer before the 12th grade, and everyone around me made sure to repeat the significance this year held in my life.
“You need to start studying or else you won’t get into a good college;”
“You need to get great board marks because this will help shape your future career.”
“You need to get a high score on the SATs or your chances of making it to college will suffer.”
“You have to snap out of this state and start working hard.”
That was just the tip of the iceberg. Notwithstanding the perpetual reminders of the paramount importance of this year, I could not seem to grasp the reality of the situation. All my life I had known the importance of the final two years of high school, but now that I was there myself, I couldn’t bring myself to actually put the effort in. With the abundance of free time during my vacation, I would spend a large proportion of it in bed either sleeping or binge-watching YouTube videos. Still it was not as if I had nothing to do – I had to complete a few important online courses, begin writing drafts for my college applications, study the syllabus for the next year ahead of time, and even volunteer at a home for the visually impaired. Quite the to-do list.
Looking at my impending tasks, I was initially hopeful of my ability to perform them to the fullest; I had made all sorts of plans in my head regarding what I was going to do; I had all kinds of ideas about how I would allocate time to each effort. All this initial optimism would unfortunately be dashed out by the frailty of my mental health – I could fluctuate from positivity and smiles to negativity and tears. The grim reality was that I was not well, and my expectations of doing great at everything I attempted would falter.
No sooner did the time come for me to start working and make these aspirations come to fruition than my tendencies to waste time and indulge in unhelpful thinking kicked into play: I would fixate on past successes; the obsession with the past would create fears about the present – what if I failed? This fear would manifest into anxiety about the future – the present looked so bleak, why would the future be any different? Maybe, I had peaked, and now the only way forward was to descend into the abyss of my depression. Regardless of what I was thinking at the time, the end-result remained the same: I did not put in the work required of me.
Although these priorities warranted my best effort, I failed to deliver. I did not put my best foot forward for any of these major undertakings much to my chagrin, and almost instantly, I would chastise myself for this despicable lifestyle I had begun to cling on to.
What is wrong with me?
Why can’t I just work hard?
Why can’t I just snap out of this everlasting state of misery?
I was sick and tired of myself. Once again, any trace of self-compassion and understanding had been replaced by colossal doses of vitriol. Instead of looking at the underlying cause of this hindrance to my day-to-day functioning, I began to blame myself.
What I was doing here is known as personalization. Personalization is the relation of external negative incidents to something you may or may not have done. In simpler terms, you begin to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong or could go wrong – even if you were faultless in the situation. For example: Suppose you post on social media where the picture hasn’t gotten as many likes as the last post. Instantly, you begin to panic and start scouring for flaws in the picture. “Perhaps, I look a bit chubby in this picture,” “Maybe, my acne is too noticeable.” You don’t even consider any other factors; you instantly look inwards for a scapegoat. Some of you may have given a speech that may not have received the reception you hoped for, and you immediately begin to wonder whether you screwed up or if your speech was even any good. Today, personalization is all too common, and it is an unhelpful thinking style that can leave you feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.
This deluge of negativity within my own head would only strengthen my urge to temporarily make myself feel some relief, so I would continue to procrastinate (more on that later) and this endless cycle would persist. Consequently, my self-loathing would be supplemented with this barrage of pessimism and I would continue to feel miserable. It is not an understatement to say that I despised who I was turning into, however, I was oblivious to any remedy for this destructive lifestyle.
It is my duty to be transparent here – my depression was not the sole cause for my unhealthy thought processes, and my depression was certainly not the only reason for my lacklustre performance during my final couple of years at school. There were other factors at play: I was not prepared to work hard at all, I was unwilling to break out of the vicious hold that my pessimistic tendencies had on me, I would procrastinate all the time to deal with pangs of unpleasant emotions, and so much more (don’t worry, I will expound on these factors in due time). But my depression undoubtedly played an integral role in my decline. It distorted my perception of myself, the people around me, and the world itself. I saw no incentive in changing my existing coping mechanisms or outlook on life – if the pain was never going to subside, why bother?
Depression is severely draining. If left unchecked, it can not only distort your perceptions but also begin to manifest in dangerous ways. My self-destructive tendencies, my lack of concern for anyone or anything around me were all manifestations of my debilitating mental health. Moreover, my depressive state left me feeling drained even physically. I did not possess the energy required for the completion of my extensive list of tasks, and even if I tried, I would feel labored almost immediately. At the time I was unaware of the reason behind my minuscule levels of motivation and energy, but as I’ve reflected I have realized that my depression had a large hand to play in it. Constantly beating yourself up about your inefficacies, past failures, and difficulties to cope can be just as exhausting physically as it is mentally.
The manner with which society views someone afflicted with a mental illness and expects them to just bounce back baffles me. Even today, people find it incredulous that depression can have tangible physical effects; most people pass it off as nothing but a phase, but as I’ve stressed before, depression can spell grave consequences for one’s well-being if not regarded with the caution it is entitled to. It is not unlike a serious physical condition, and it is about time people began to view it as such.
In retrospect, my behavior was not very surprising at all. Back then, I was ill-equipped to handle such persistent unhelpful thoughts and coping mechanisms; how could I have expected to meaningfully do things when nothing gave me joy anymore? How would I feel happier if I did not confront what I was truly feeling at the time? I was ignorant of the vast-effects depression could have on my overall welfare, and I only exacerbated that by cursing myself for feeling the way I was. I have learnt a truth that back then I was blind to – depression is difficult. That sounds like an obvious statement, but to most it is not. It took even me two years to learn what should be a well-known fact. Depression makes day-to-day tasks seem almost insurmountable. Getting out of bed – difficult. Completing an assignment that is due for work or school – difficult. Hell, even deciding what to eat – difficult.
But most crucially, depression makes it difficult for you to love yourself. You’re often left questioning why you are the way you are instead of embracing self-acceptance. In the face of this devilish entity, it is tempting to fall victim its incessant nagging and to refuse any ounce of compassion and understanding, but there is a fix to this issue – learn to forgive yourself. If you are someone suffering from poor mental health, do not hesitate to take a step back from your overwhelming schedule to look after yourself. Mental health is just as integral to your existence as physical health – don’t let anyone tell you any different. You would not curse yourself for feeling low because of the flu, so why do the same if you’re depressed? It is natural to feed into the inner pressure of self-hatred due to some failure to deliver, but I implore you to occasionally, just occasionally, look the other way and tell yourself, ”It is okay.”
The most common lie we’re told today is that success, money, or grades should be our biggest priority. Of course, those things are important. But here is the truth: You are your biggest priority. And it’s about time you start acting like it.