“You think too much. You will drive yourself crazy”.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a current undergraduate student at a top-rated public American university. I am in my fourth year of studying both biology and psychology.
I am overwhelmed. Intensely so.
Is it anger?
Desire to create changes and improve a failing system?
What is the difference, really, between an intense fascination, a fixation, a passion, and an obsession? Where is the divide- the fine line– between goal-oriented drive and maddening obsession? Does the difference really matter?
I started my undergraduate collegiate career as a biology major, along with a majority of incoming “pre-med”, “pre-dental”, and “pre-pharm” aspiring students. Quickly, those numbers drop as students find their passion in another academic field of interest or find that manipulating the structures of cyclohexanes isn’t really their “cup of tea”, so to speak. I stuck to that biology, building up my analytical skills through: experimentation, research paper analyses, and in-depth exploration of popular scientific topics. Building that scientific mind and analytical way of thinking was probably more important in the long run than memorizing the mechanisms of various neurotransmitters in the synapses.
I was still struggling to find my calling within the scientific field when I came across a honors clinical psych course my sophomore year that seemed interesting. I didn’t realize just how scientific the field of psychology was, with its Empirically-based treatments (EBT) and scientifically-valid clinical trials. The scientific manner of approaching mental health was the main aspect I found intriguing. Here is something that I could do! I could use my scientific way of thinking in helping others directly. It was finally the start of finding a calling, of sorts.
During that sophomore year period, I went to a skills training for a campus organization focused on mental health and stigma. The four-hour session was taught by students who had much more knowledge on psychology and mental health stigma than I did, at that point of my undergraduate career. I was pretty surprised by just how commonly used terminology or phrases in the English language could be so offensive. Why do we use phrases like “I am so OCD/ADHD”? Why “the weather is so bipolar”? Why “she is psycho/crazy/mental”? What is so funny about these mental diagnoses and conditions that we feel that we can say these statements in a humorous manner?
Maybe, the takeaway should be that we can RELATE to someone who suffers from these conditions. There is a range of behavior, as in terms of severity and length of time. Symptoms of any disorder could feel familiar.
Who hasn’t felt hopeless or worthless at some point?
Who hasn’t felt an intense sense of motivation or enthusiasm for something?
Who hasn’t felt an intense fixation with something, whether it be that House of Cards Netflix binge or an academic research paper/thesis?
Does that mean that you should be concerned about being diagnosable with depression, mania, or OCD? No.
What that means is that the symptoms are something that everyone can pretty much relate to, but to an extreme which requires treatment. What is so funny about that, about making one-liners minimizing the pain of those struggling with mental health? Maybe I just don’t get the joke. Hm.
Following that year, I got accepted into a Clinical Lab Science program and started doing biochemical research at another university. This is when things started going downhill- and fast.
An idea of failure popped into my head.
I cannot do the program.
I will fail.
I will be a disappointment.
I will flunk out of college.
I will never get a job.
Essentially, this catastrophizing manner of thinking led to one conclusion: I will fail at life, so it isn’t worth living.
This extreme nature of thinking led to suicidal ideation. There are various degrees of said ideation.
There is a form of simply “not wanting to exist” or “wishing I was never born”.
Then, there is the more severe form of active suicidal planning. This is the researching of different methods for effectiveness, the acquiring of materials/weapons, the writing of suicidal notes, the setting of a date and time, and finally the attempt itself.
Depression features rumination, meaning that an individual who experiences a negative thought will become fixated on that negative thought. From there, it can really spiral out of control.
You think suicide is a selfish action? Try explaining that to someone who is in such a severe depressive state that they think it would be selfish to continue to live. Their loved ones and family members would benefit from their absence. Your failures will only drag them down. Your mood disorder will only cause them intense pain. It is better to stop the pain. Now.
So, what is done? The individual isolates herself, in an attempt to isolate the pain. She sees how her condition is breaking her family. She doesn’t respond to her friends’ requests to meet up. Her isolation intensifies her depression. The rumination becomes the main activity of her daily life, her empty life.
She used to think she was “smart”. She graduated top of her class and was accepted into a fairly competitive university.
She should be going places.
Instead, she is sitting on the kitchen floor blankly staring at empty space, incapable of even forming clear thoughts.
The depression is so disabling, impairing social functioning and the ability to carry out any work.
She feels like she is suffering from brain damage.
She can’t concentrate.
She can’t smile.
She can’t laugh.
She isn’t living.
Depression is more than feeling sad. It is as if the person’s personality has been completely stripped from them. Motivations and passions no longer exist. Day to day functioning can seem extremely difficult. Before assuming that you know what someone with depression is going through, make sure that you are aware of how disabling such a disorder can be.