A Student’s Guide To Fighting Those Winter Blues

I’m all too familiar with the stress and anxiety that comes with being a student, particularly at this time of year. Having studied a science degree at a university that strongly advocates January exams, I’m well aware of how disgusting the new year can feel.

Therefore, I wanted to write something useful for the Christmas edition The Clyde Insider – our college newspaper. I decided to compile a guide that would encourage students to look after themselves during these long, dull winter months of studying. I interviewed a few health professionals on the matter and pulled together this short comfort read, if anything, for struggling students.

I’m big on openly discussing mental health, so this is probably just the first in a series of articles that I’ll write on the issue.

Either way, having been on the design team, I still have the pdf of my page. So naturally, I’m being cheeky and linking all my hard work below. Enjoy!

Your Guide To Fighting The Winter Blues

Let’s Talk About Mental Health – Positively

I’ve noticed, not just recently, but from years of experience, that suffering is conducive to silence. No one and everyone ‘understands’. There are so many more gimmicky quizzes, filled with listable misconceptions, than there are engaging fact sheets. Pop-culture has never really been the best source of depth, but it can be infuriating when something as influential as the media cages real issues in smoke and mirrors for healthy people to envision themselves in – with the help of an Instagram filter, anything can become a quirk. In a way, you can’t blame anyone for their ignorance; it seems they’ve been spoon-fed it.

Nonetheless, those who don’t have the privilege of such ignorance experience unimaginable pain. This pain encompasses three things: the initial illness, a world of ignorance (including that of some trained health professionals) and shame for feeling so, apparently, ‘weak’. All this leads to the installation of a metaphorical zipper on the guts of sufferers, which prevents them from spilling anything raw. This spares anyone the clean-up of miscellaneous trauma, anxiety, depression, general anguish, and other odd socks; all of which, they’ve just stuffed inside themselves like they’re a spare cupboard in the corner of everyone else’s world.

Personally, I do think this is all of us to some extent. I don’t believe there’s a single person out there who isn’t plagued by their own neurochemistry. It’s what makes us human.

However, often this universal struggle can lead to serious lapses in judgement from, otherwise, healthy individuals:

  • “I have bad days too but I don’t walk around all depressed about it.”
  • “I don’t feel like getting out of bed either but we all have to.”
  • “It’s just stress. We all get like that. Just breathe and the nerves will pass.”
  • “I NEED to have matching socks. I’m a bit OCD like that, as well.”
  • “This song is so depressing. Seriously, I’m due tanning my wrists.”
  • “Yeah, it was amazing! Never rained once when we were away. I’m so depressed to be back, though.”
  • “I kind of want to look anorexic, you know?”
  • “But, he was so rich! I’m sorry, but, I just think killing yourself is so selfish!”
  • “What a psycho!”
  • “I snapped a bit there. Sorry, I’m a bit schizo sometimes!”
  • “I’m so hyper right now! It’s like I have ADHD.”
  • “I can’t find anything to wear tonight. I’m about to have a panic attack!”

Just listing these began to make me really upset, actually.

The title of this article is ‘Let’s Talk About Mental Health – Positively’ for a reason. Above is, indeed, speaking of mental health, however, incorrectly so.

First of all, your idea of a bad day is entirely different to that of someone suffering from a mental health disorder. Just telling someone to ‘cheer up’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ is the most unhelpful attitude. Have a little empathy; ask questions; try to understand. For example, someone dealing with depression will be outside looking in, appear inside-out and feel heavier than a singularity. Throwing glitter in their face doesn’t help – such is just deflected by the veil of black they, unwillingly, wear over their eyes. Looking at mental health through your own prism of emotion and personal experience is always going to bend the light the wrong way. There are shadows cast outside your spectrum of feeling and perceiving that others are hiding in, cold. It’s just about opening up you mind and letting others in. Let outsiders add strokes to the bigger picture that you will never accurately complete on your own.

Secondly, apparent to social media, we’ve all dabbled in OCD, had a go on the bipolar swing and tried our hand at psychosis – to name a few. Admittedly, I do believe that we are all capable of experiencing symptoms randomly and mildly throughout our lives. However, unless it disrupts your daily life and becomes debilitating it’s not awarded the clinical term. And, that should be respected more than it is. I think the biggest issue here is the sheer lack of education. A lot of people don’t actually know the clinical definitions of the words that they are using. Again, you can’t really blame them for this, but it does indicate an alarming level of disinterest – another reason we need to open up the discussion of mental health more often.

And, as a third note, if no one’s laughing it probably isn’t funny. If two or three people are laughing, they’re probably just arseholes too. Far too many people make statements like those above, get called-out and jump on the ‘OMG everyone is so sensitive these days! Fuck being PC. You’re killing comedy,’ defense. Now, I’m actually an advocate for dark, controversial and morbid humour … you know, when the comedian is, well, actually funny. I’m just going to be completely honest: if you’re not comedically gifted you shouldn’t even be touching the dark stuff. Stick to fart jokes and maybe someone will snort.

Making light of darkness is what THE most skilled comedians do and I doubt this includes you. Wordplay, if witty and clever, can get away with throwing heavy words around as they fit well. Good humor does normally lean on the shock factor and that’s, also, okay. I laugh with gifted comedians as they poke fun at things I view as personal struggles because it’s normally insightful. A lot of the time, the object of the joke is also the object of the comedian’s own fears – you can just tell. However, a crudely and insensitively constructed bit of ‘banter’ just makes everyone feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s always evident when the joke had malicious intent or complete disregard for the reality of the issue. Therefore, if you’re called-out you probably are just being rude. So, maybe think before you speak. Or for some, think before you think … and then rethink before you think again … and then just don’t bother expressing an opinion … ever … pls. Thnx.

Saying this, very few ever intend to bring anything other than aid. It’s a difficult thing to understand when you’ve never experienced it in-depth or known someone who has.

I’m not perfect. I’ve probably said something along these lines once or twice, but it’s a main priority of mine to avoid this kind of speech. That’s all I expect from others: ask questions, self-reflect, admit when you’re wrong and together we can create a more progressive attitude towards mental health. Even sufferers sometimes slip into this kind of talk when it regards areas they’re unfamiliar with. It’s all a learning curve. But, when you’re possibly dealing with life or death, there’s no room for the negativity of someone’s nasty nature.

I’d say it’s best to just ignore such ungentle folks, but they do tend to drown out the truth with their confused ideas. Hence, why it’s all the more important that we listen to those who tell us they’re struggling – we could be their only life-line. If someone is brave enough to open up to you, understandably it can be a huge burden, but please don’t shut them down, for it’s a heavier weight on their shoulders. If you think someone you love is suffering, educate yourself on their symptoms and gently approach the issue. They may continue to be mute, but they will appreciate the display of affection and, give it time, they may come to trust you enough to open up.

We could all do with talking more about how we feel. However, unfortunately, there is a stigma within society that juggling intense emotions is a weakness. It’s not. That’s so far removed from an integral part of being human that it’s actually worrying. I, personally, see a lot of strength in those I meet who are clearly struggling on some level.

Playing on a Dumbledore quote here: ‘It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies…’ but a great deal more to stand up to yourself.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re struggling with something serious, please be brave enough to not just deal with it alone, but to boldly accept the kindness of others. There’s nothing weak about realising that you require a hand to pull you up over the cliff-edge on your climb back to safe terrain. It’s perfectly rational and sometimes the only way.

I plan to delve into mental health more in future posts. It’s something I feel strongly about.

I think the world would be a happier and less hostile place if we just talked more about what makes us so mad, angry, anxious and upset. We should talk about mental health more positively. It shouldn’t be made ten-fold scarier than it already is – basking in its own oblivion. So many sufferers actually don’t realise they’re even suffering simply because of this lack of discussion. Mental health encompasses an array of disorders, some better known than others. It’s important that there is a substantial amount of information available on all.

We’ll be a lot more grounded when we start investing more time in talking to one another than we waste dwelling in solidarity.

After all, you only exist in your mind and if that’s not healthy you will feel trapped in your own head. When unhappy, instead of being a playground, your mind becomes a prison cell. I think we can all, at least, relate to that.