PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ENTIRE POST IS JUST ME RAMBLING AND NOT MAKING ANY SENSE. it’s too late to apologise
After asking on Twitter if this would be of interest to anyone and getting an overwhelming response, here comes the not-so-long-awaited post on how to deal with depression for the duration of your A level studies, and end up with good grades whilst struggling with your mental health. For me, my depression was at its height from probably November 2014-May 2015 (aka when my A2 mocks and actual exams were, fantastic timing am I right ladies.) I don’t know whether there is any correlation between these two facts or whether it was just an unhappy coincidence; whilst, obviously, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, it can often be triggered by stress and worry-inducing events, and those of you who’ve done A levels or are currently in the midst of them will know that they indeed fit that mould nicely.
I’d like to preface this post with a few points: I in no way consider myself an expert on mental health, I am in no way saying that what worked for me will work for you, and also this is all probably going to be a load of shite anyway but hey ho, you’re all used to that from me by now. Also for those of you who don’t know and what is probably important that you do know in order to understand why I’m writing this is that I suffer from depression (something I like to widely broadcast and make light of on t’internet as a form of coping) and I finished my A levels in the summer, with the grades A*A*B (yes thank you I know I’m bloody brilliant.) (why do I over-use brackets so much ruddy hell) Also I know that this may not even qualify as advice, let alone good advice, because I know that it is somewhat of an anomaly that even whilst suffering from depression I managed not be apathetic with regards to my A levels, and whilst I did lose a lot of motivation and found it hard to function, I still did know that achieving highly was important to me so managed to force myself through it. I know this isn’t the case with everyone – remember that everyone functions differently under certain stresses and with mental illnesses, and nothing will be the same for everyone!! I know that generally speaking depression detrimentally affects academic achievements, but for me I think it actually urged me to do well, so as to oppose this stereotype.
When my brain is Bad with a capital B, I find it very hard to even function properly. I find it difficult to get out of bed, shower, eat, move, and everything else that falls under the description of ‘things normal people do on a daily basis with great ease and without much thought’. As you can imagine, finding it in me to actually commit to or even consider writing essays, reading articles, revising and actually turning up to school when my mental health was down Lucifer’s shower drain was an absolute whale of a time! Looking back on it now I really don’t know how I managed to accomplish anything, let alone pretty good grades and average attendance.
I think that a good way of looking at it, rather than seeing A levels (or whatever other sort of qualification you’re studying towards) as yet another hurdle on top of your mental health, you need to see them as an escape from your mind. Yes, they are horrible, a really difficult thing to have to do, and extremely bloody stressful, but, to me, I saw them as the lesser of two evils. I could either be consumed by this mental illness and allow it to take over so much that not only would I have this Black Cloud over my head but also end up with below average grades, or I could plow through this illness (with great difficulty) and see my studies as an escape of sorts. If I focused enough on school, maybe my mind could somehow be preoccupied. Please don’t think that I’m saying that focusing on your A levels will take away your depression or magically cure you, because it won’t. But, for me personally, the time I spent at school and completely focused on revising and working my arse off really was an escape. Don’t get me wrong, I hated practically every minute of it, but when you’re trying to teach yourself about… ok I was going to use an example from A2 history but I genuinely remember fuck all so scratch that. When you’re trying to do past papers and timed essay questions and all that shite, you really have no time to listen to your head. It will obviously still be looming and always present, but having to memorise 3 page essays on Kant really takes up a lot of brain power and energy, enough to distract you at least somewhat. I think to a certain extent that revising and working and all that was a coping mechanism of sorts for me, and a way for me to escape one part of my brain and enter another that was solely dedicated to academia.
Therefore there are two pros to this:
- having a distraction from yourself
- ending up working your tiny arse off which will result (theoretically) in good grades
Keeping busy is so important. I know that when it seems like an impossible task to even pull yourself out of bed in the morning that trying to write an essay or make a mind-map or anything even remotely energy consuming is just out of the question, but take it slow and just, essentially, make yourself do it. Get out of bed (at a reasonable hour), get dressed, have breakfast, do whatever it is that makes you feel like you can accomplish even a little thing, and just do it (#spon #ad #nike). If you can make that first step and get out of bed and get dressed, you can have breakfast and you can pick up a pen or turn on your laptop and you can write a page of revision notes. You can, I promise!!! The shame, weakness and hopelessness I feel when I am depressed is debilitating. But I promise you that it is possible to move past it. It may hurt to start with and it may take a while, but it really is possible, and sometimes you have to be harsh with and cruel to yourself and just tell yourself to get on with it.
Being depressed makes you feel incompetent and like a failure. Well, it does to me, anyway. This probably motivated me to work hard at sixth form in order to obtain good grades because I refused to let this mental illness define me and make me end up with average or below average grades that would taunt me for the rest of my life, leading me to think ‘what if’ with regards to depression. What if I hadn’t been ill? What if I wasn’t struggling? How would I have done then?
It may seem like I’m looking way too much into this, but that’s just how I think. I always see the negatives in things, and so I was determined to do well to not only prove to myself that mental illness was not capable of ruining another thing for me, but also to prove to everyone around me that I was capable. I’m sure it was no secret at school that I wasn’t coping well, and whether that was just perceived as pessimism or grumpiness or unhappiness I don’t know, but it was important to me that I showed everyone I went to school with, as well as my teachers, that despite my perceived bad demeanour and negative attitude (I’m pretty sure everyone just thought I was a grumpy trout who did nothing but complain. I wish) I was capable of achieving good things. The idea that people with depression will achieve less highly is an inaccurate generalisation.
Something else that came into it but is down to me as a person more than anything else was my competitive nature. Depression manages to strip me of many of my characteristics but apparently one of my more negative qualities – my insistent need to beat everyone at everything – manages to happily remain whenever I’m struggling, which is a good and a bad thing, I suppose. In this case, I guess it’s a good thing. When it comes to school, I have always been a ‘teacher’s pet’, and I have always strived to get the best grades in the class. Year 13 was obviously no exception. I was absolutely determined to get good grades and it was probably more down to me being disgustingly competitive than anything else that I got good grades. Some people call it driven or ambitious, I call it being an asshole. Tomato, tomato. I got what I wanted in the end. Anyway, my point here is that you need to find a goal that you desperately want to achieve (so obviously you have to actually want to get good grades in order to achieve them, really) and you need to work towards it.
I think for me, because A levels in general made me unhappy on top of being cripplingly depressed, I thought that if I managed to make it through them then I would be okay. So in my mind, I think part of me was just telling myself that if I made it out of sixth form alive, then maybe my depression would magically disappear. Obviously that’s not how it works, but when you’re struggling to find reasons to be a living human being, then you will fixate on impossible ideas and thoughts and tell yourself that they are true. This is probably not a good thing but it really did help me. I was miserable, especially for the last few months of my A levels, and the only thing that really got me through it was the idea of a light at the end of the tunnel, and the hope that maybe when they were over I would magically get better. I can’t really remember what sort of condition my brain was in when it came to the end of my exams, but I’m sure it cannot have been any worse than it was in February or March. The fact that I can’t remember is probably a good sign. So what I’m saying here is that you need to have the end goal in sight and remember that everything is temporary. A good friend of mine once told me that everything is temporary, including how you’re feeling, whether that is good or bad. This really stuck with me because it’s so true; however depressed you are right now, however terrible everything is, however much you wish you weren’t here, this feeling is not permanent. So, for those of you doing your A levels and trying to make it through them with a mental illness, while this is probably false hope or whatever because mental health is unpredictable, try to imagine that your recovery will coincide with the end of your A levels. This will help you to get through the last few months because you have something to look forward to. It’s so important to have something to look forward to.
When it comes to actual revision, this was actually easy for me. Having to focus really hard on something that didn’t involve being left to my own thoughts was genuinely really helpful. Having to make your way through several textbooks and memorise quotes and all that other crap that you have to do in order to get a stupid qualification seems like hell when you’re building yourself up to do it, but when you’re actually in the process of doing it it seems like less of an impossible task. Like I said earlier, having this to focus on and keep yourself busy with is actually a really helpful distraction. You have to remember that, if you weren’t revising or doing past papers or whatever else you have to do, you would probably be in bed on Netflix or on Twitter and plagued with your own thoughts. WORK IS AN ESCAPE. Yes, it’s not a fun escape, but anything is better than being immersed in a cloud of fog that makes you want to die imo.
For those of you who find it hard to leave the house when you’re depressed, I know this may seem like an issue when you have to physically go to school and do work. But, again, you need to see this as a positive, as hard as that may be; if you stay in your house, probably in your room, 24/7, you will be surrounded by negative energy. Being stuck in the same place all the time is so unhealthy, and you will start to associate your own home with your illness and be constantly reminded of it. Getting out of the house and being in a different environment is good and healthy, and revising and doing work seems a lot more achievable when you’re in the right kind of setting, such as a school library or classroom. Being outside of your own home also often makes it easier to eliminate negative and dangerous thoughts, because you’re having to function like a normal human being and can’t just escape to your bed like you could at home. When I was having an especially bad day I would sometimes go into school even if I had no lessons, just so that I could make use of the school library and revise in there; being surrounded by other students but still being in a quiet place where doing work is possible is quite reassuring. It forces you to just get on with it, as harsh as that may sound, but makes it seem more achievable because you’re not alone. Being by yourself is probably the worst thing you can do when it comes to being mentally unwell, even if it may seem like the best idea in the world. Believe me, it isn’t. Company is important.
You have to take each day as it comes. Some days will be worse than others. Trying to deal with depression at the same time as counting down days until exams and coursework deadlines is beyond shit but you have to try to just set yourself a few simple tasks to accomplish every day and focus only on those things – try not to look at exam dates and put even more unwanted and un-needed stress and anxiety on your shoulders. Those days are inevitable, but there’s absolutely no use in putting more worries in your already over-burdened head. Write a to-do list every day (but don’t overload it) and focus only on the few things on that list. You’ll feel accomplished and good about yourself having done those things, and it’s not too much for you to have to deal with at once. Having everything just floating around in your head and not put down on paper makes it really difficult to keep track of.
Some things that may seem obvious but are often forgotten that are important you do:
- eat well and enough. make sure you’re feeding yourself properly! I know this can be difficult when you’re struggling and on top of that don’t have enough time in the day what with A level work, but fuelling your body with good food is sooooo important.
- drink! you have to stay hydrated. when I was revising I would always have a huge bottle of water with me and constantly take sips of it. this will also help prevent headaches etc. that I know I always get when I’m not doing so well
- give yourself a break… while it seems at the time that you need to spend 24/7 working and revising, this is not the case. I spent a lot of time just chilling out and going for walks or even just going to Tesco with Mum or Dad to have some time away from not only my work but as a distraction from my brain and I still did well. you need to put yourself and your health first, always.
I’m aware that throughout this entire post it seems like I’ve just made it out like dealing with depression is easy and just doing stuff is easy but please know that’s not what I’m trying to insinuate. I am more than aware of how utterly debilitating an illness it is, but when I’m bad I really do just find that unless I am being proactive and actively trying to be busy and occupy myself, then I cannot cope and I will spend literally weeks in bed and I won’t eat anything other than dry cereal, let alone actually be productive. This is just what works for me. If I avoid even thinking about it, and focus on other things, that’s what makes it easiest for me. Again, this may not be the case for you.
Having depression is like being a prisoner of your own mind. It’s always there and you cannot escape it. You’re stuck down a deep and dark well which is murky and damp and there is no ladder to escape out of it. You have to make the best of that well. You have to either be provided with the means to make it out of it and accept it and want to get out, create the means to make it out of it, or simply make the best of the damn place. It’s almost impossible to describe how difficult it is to have to deal with, considering it’s literally impossible to escape completely. It turns you into a hollow, numb shell of a person and I think maybe that’s why the intensity of A levels was good for me, because it meant that it was essential for me to keep my mind active and busy. If it hadn’t been for the need for me to be pushing myself and revising and working, my brain would have shut down and I would have been bedridden, probably, so the fact that one of my worst depressive episodes was on and off throughout the busiest time of the academic year was possibly a blessing in disguise, meaning that I had an escape from my brain that was unavoidable. If you’re currently suffering with depression or another mental illness then please know that even making it out of bed is an incredible achievement, and I hope that for those of you doing your A levels and struggling with your mental health that you can make it through it without too much difficulty; you are capable of anything you set your mind to as long as you believe in yourself. I managed to do it so honestly in my Humble Onion that means anyone can. Anyway bye