When at college or university, a lot of people can get stressed and overwhelmed with work. If someone has a mental illness to contend with as well then studying can be even more difficult.
Imagine having depression and exams coming up. All you want to do is lay in bed and cry and avoid the world. However, you know you should be studying for upcoming exams. This leaves you feeling guilty for not doing enough. You might beat yourself up about it. This can lead to your depression worsening. It becomes a vicious cycle of being unmotivated and self hatred. You may even reach the point where you do not see the point in studying because failing seems inevitable.
I was in a similar position several times throughout studying for my A Levels and my degree. But, I got through both and I thought I’d share some things which helped me manage my mental health and work.
Take each day as it comes
It is often suggested that a revision timetable is a good idea and it can be useful for some people. However, if you have a mental illness, timetabling can be detrimental. If you are having a particularly bad day and cannot follow what you have set for yourself, this can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment. At the beginning of my revision period, I would write a list of everything I had to cover. Then, each day when I woke up I would decide what topics to cover on that day. That way, if I was having a bad day, I did not feel obligated to cover really difficult topics or lots of things. I did not push myself to do mountains of work when I was not mentally well enough to do so. This meant that I avoided the feelings of “I haven’t done everything I was supposed to so I am an awful person.”
Leave plenty of time
Your mentally well friends might start revising a month or two weeks before they sit an exam. If you are mentally unwell, I really recommend ignoring what everyone else is doing and giving yourself more time. Start 2 months before the exams. This means that you can afford to take time off and you do not have to cram which can increase negative symptoms. This applies to all pieces of work. If you have 5 weeks to do something, start now. It will mean you can do small amounts each day until it is done. It will mean that when you are in bed wanting to die, you will not have to force yourself to get to the library and finish an essay. It makes everything seem less intense and is what got me through my final year of university without getting too overwhelmed.
Your mental health comes first
I completely understand that it is hard to take care of yourself when you are trying to get good grades. However, you will be more likely to achieve if you are in a mentally healthy place. Do not, under any circumstances, ignore negative symptoms just because you do not have time to deal with them due to studying. They will build up and things will get to the point where they cannot be ignored.
Personally, I had to be really careful with eating during exam periods. I would start using the excuse of not having time to eat because I was so busy. This is not an excuse. If you are too busy to take care of yourself then you have taken too much on and need to adjust things.
If you see a counsellor, do not stop going because you want to use the time to revise. Those counselling sessions or whatever it is that you do to help yourself could be what gets you through. I would also recommend not coming off of any medication or going onto new medication during an exam/deadline period. Side effects could render you unable to do anything. So aim to take your medication every day and be aware of any potential side effects of new medication you are prescribed. When my doctor wanted to change my medication during exams, I explained that I did not wish to take the risk of side effects right now and they understood. I did not want to have a sudden bout of vomiting during an exam!
It may even be necessary to take time out if you get so unwell that you cannot continue. This is perfectly okay. In this time out, you will have a chance to put all your energy into learning how to cope with your illness and can always go back to studying at a later time when you feel better.
Take time off
It is really difficult to get the work/life balance that everyone goes on about. But it is also vital to try. If you go through two months of studying constantly and isolating yourself… well, clearly that is unhealthy. If you wake up one day and feel like you cannot handle anything then that is okay. Stay in bed and cry if that is what you can do. Forcing yourself to work when you are in a bad frame of mind will end up being counter productive.
Focus on you
I know that when I was at university, everyone was constantly asking each other how much work they had done/were planning on doing. You will always have those people who claim to do very little and those who never stop working. That is okay for them if that is what they want to do. Try not to compare yourself to others; it will only make you feel bad about yourself which is never good for mental illnesses. Besides, just because someone is in the library for 12 hours a day does not mean that they are actually working that whole time!
Talk to your tutors
If you have a mental illness then it is okay to tell members of staff. It is likely that you will be able to fill out an extenuating circumstances form. This is then considered when your results come in. If you have consistently got a certain grade and miss out by a few marks in the exam, they might take your health into account. Even when I did not feel like my mental health was impacting my work, I would still hand one of these in. That meant that I had room for error, if I had a breakdown in the middle of deadline week or exam period then knowing about this form made me feel safer. Just make sure you hand the relevant paperwork in on time!
Look after your physical health
There is a big link between mental and physical health. Even something like lack of sleep can make your mood a lot lower. So eat well, exercise (I just went for walks, the gym is awful) and get enough sleep. This is obviously easier said than done when you are in a bad state but it is something to keep in mind.
So there you have it, this is pretty much what I did to get through my degree whilst unwell! Lots of time, planning, relaxing and talking about things really makes a huge difference. Do not let anyone make you think that you cannot achieve something because of your mental illness.