13 Indians Told Us About Their Experiences With Academic Pressure And Mental Health
"I learned that I'm more important than a fucking exam."
As someone who suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, I realise that a lot of our society is based on a cult of happiness and positivity.
This is the most apparent in academic environments. All my teachers and friends witnessed an otherwise good student spiral down into a wreck, have nervous breakdowns before exams and so on, and the only thing I was told was that it must have been my fault.
There are kids studying under lamps and stuff, why can't you try and be happier? Here, read this book on how to be a corporate champ and hope it fixes you.
Someone needs to tell kids that it's alright to not feel good, it isn't criminal to not be at your best. How can we even begin to solve problems when our entire focus is actually on brushing them under the proverbial carpet?
As someone who suffers from anxiety and mild depression, law school is not the best place to be. The high level of C.T (cut-throat: an oft-used acronym here) competition makes it difficult to trust people because your CGPA is more important than anything else.
Moreover, mental health is still a taboo. Even if my depression is making it difficult for me to be an active student, I'm slotted in with those who are lazy rather than those who are actively disabled. Those with such illnesses tend to eschew the mainstream in college, leading to a self-sustained "vanvaas" that feels forced and lonely.
I was in depression for about half a year before I realised something was wrong. The struggle of maintaining good grades and trying to get into a good college for masters had pushed me deep into an abyss of depression and anxiety. From crying incessantly the entire night before my GRE, to breaking up with a guy whom I had loved for 8 years, I had lost it all in a span of 7 months. Even now, the fear of slipping back sends shivers down my spine.
And the worst part? I couldn't tell any of it to my friends or families, save a couple of trusted ones, for the fear of being judged, or of them trivialising my pain. As a recovering patient, the most horrible bit is trying to reach out to your loved ones and them not understanding.
Despite having a rather visible aptitude for writing/arts/humanities, I was forced to take up Science for the next two years. As a result, I started to fail my classes. Parallel to this, I was in an on-off relationship that, now when I look back at, was fairly emotionally abusive. I was holding up decently till one night, my then boyfriend broke up with me. I think that's what triggered everything. I had an anger management problem.
I diagnosed myself about 2 years ago after reading numerous articles on mental health. I couldn't talk to my parents, because they'd dismiss me thinking it's a "teenage phase", and I didn't have the money to go to a therapist. Since then, it took me a while to accept that I was suffering from major depression.
When I was 16, I had school till 3.30 pm and coaching classes from 4pm to 8pm. I had no time to study, I had no time for myself. I begged my dad to let me leave the coaching classes, but he said that I was a failure and that I would end up doing nothing in life. My grades went down everywhere and the pressure from my school, my coaching centre and my parents got so bad that I began to withdraw from my friends.
I started cutting myself everyday, it helped me deal with the pain. Waking up was a task for me now. I had moments where I would cry for four hours at a stretch. I also had moments where I would simply freeze, curling up into a ball without moving. I started getting headaches and it convinced me that I was dying. I looked for signs of death. I looked for ways to die. It has taken a lot for me to come out of this depression. And I learned that I'm more important than a fucking exam.
I think my depression is a bit different from the usual people in college who get depressed due to not scoring well or not being able to keep up with the curriculum. I'm more disappointed with myself for not having foresight about my future.
The only reason I chose a medical career was because I thought it was similar to Biology like in school. In medicine, it feels constricting just following books we can't stray from and not expand our knowledge.
Due to this, I have lost interest. It might seem trivial, but I have no one to talk about this with.
I have had the OCD + anxiety + depression triple threat combo since I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6. I didn't realise this until I was much older, and I wouldn't say I had a bad childhood or that I was always unhappy. I was just different, without really knowing how.
Painting and drawing has helped me gain confidence, but I think I am still the wallflower who suddenly seizes up when I am asked a question, and all the eyes in the room turn to me. I have always been the quiet, shy, timid kid and I honestly can't say the Indian education system helped me come out of my shell.
Our education system is not at all inclusive in this sense - it is not for the blind, deaf or mute. Nor is it for the autistic or kids who don't have "the right amount of IQ". It's not for kids who might be missing a limb or two or four. It's not for those who don't believe in competitive spirit. It's not at all for the "weak-minded". It's not for kids who like history, painting and reading.
If I have to tell you anything about what college life as a MBBS student is, then clearly it's not what any student imagines college life to be. It is filled with exams thrice a week, every week , all to be added to your internal scores. There is no Sunday in my life on which I can say that I'm free. I either have to study for the test on the next day (which usually is the case) or I have files to complete. And I am not saying that its necessarily depressing, but it can be very tiring.
And in this chaos of tests and files, we just end up mugging up the text. We are not learning anything, we're just trying to pass tests.
When I was little, my mom used to shout at me if I couldn't score marks, so I'd study really hard and I was my class topper for a few years. When I got older, around 12, I was completely turned off from studying. Classes were boring, headed by teachers who were more interested in completing their syllabus than what was going on in their students minds.
I carried this disdain with me to college, where I met some really interesting professors but still, I had conditioned myself to be so repulsed by the Indian education system, I spent most of my days outside college rather than in the classrooms. Because of the pressure, whether it was from home or at school, I didn't appreciate the fact that I had access to a lot of knowledge, nor did I recognise how wonderful it is to discover the world around me.
It was debilitating panic attacks that took form in my 3rd year of college. I study architecture in Bangalore and it's extremely stressful. Lot of late hours, lot of individual stress to perform and you'd have to present your work - so that involves public speaking and one on one with your faculty and jurors. The panic attacks started occurring before every review and over the months it got to becoming as bad as once a week to eventually almost twice, sometimes 3 times a day.
I ended up flunking my 4th year thesis. But now, in my 5th year I'm finally alright. Been taking medication and some form of therapy. I was lucky enough to have supporting family and some friends. But most people have no clue how to deal with anxiety. It's imperative you learn how to not take life so seriously.
Our University has this convenient trend of subjecting the kids to 2 mid semester exams in a single day, without gaps. Even if you're one of those who've fully understood the syllabus, revising it requires hours. I recently didn't sleep more than two hours a single night, for seven days.
About 2 hours into my last exam, I had a panic attack. I felt as if I would not be able to finish the exam on time and that that I'd fail. My hands began to shake as I wrote and I couldn't continue for about 5 minutes. I went outside, splashed myself with water and came back and finished the paper struggling to write. This was the first time I experienced a panic attack.
There are more such cases of anxiety and depression running throughout the college due to no gaps for revision being available. The administration says the pressure is to yield the best out of us. Are we kids or khichdi?
I am very easily distracted. My imagination can go batshit crazy at times. But it helped me understand that I had an inclination towards creativity. It also made me a poet. Poems aren't always in flow. They're erratic lines put together, all talking about one theme.
I'd think of random lines here and there and then write a poem, trying to tie them to a theme and it worked beautifully. Clearly, my writing process for poems is very odd but it worked for me.
This 'gift', as I'd like to think of it, made me a non-conformist poet, an imaginative storyteller, a slightly crazy copywriter and an obsessive day-dreamer.
During my first year of college, I experienced my first anxiety attack. I remember looking at my college from a distance and as I got closer to it, I started sweating, my heart beat got faster and I just wanted to cry/run away. I had no idea what was wrong. There have been several incidents when I'd just run home randomly because I began to feel really anxious. I couldn't explain to anyone what I was going through because I didn't understand it myself.
I haven't still totally recovered but a lot of positive things came along with my anxiety-such as finding out about who my true friends were and how to enjoy time by myself.
I want anyone going through this, to know it that its ok to seek help. Its ok to reach out to people. Its fine to not be okay, and things do get better.
Hold your head high, take really deep breaths and do not hurt yourself.💗