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Studying while suffering from recurring depression

  1. Nov 28, 2015 #1
    I'm in year two as a physics undergrad. I have a number of obstacles in my studies, the most prominent one being a physical disability causing severe pain and fatigue, essentially precluding attendance of most lectures. That is something I have so far been able to deal with through planning, discipline and effort. However, one issue I had somehow not anticipated is the degree to which depression interferes with studies and productivity.

    Mental illness runs in my family, and I've suffered from recurring depressive episodes at least a few months long, on about a yearly to bi-yearly basis, since my early teens (I'm 23 now). I've learned to catch the signs early, they no longer result in catastrophes and I tend to be able to manage my life during them. But they do, unfortunately, make it very difficult to study effectively.

    I'm currently trying to get through the courses of the second term-half in Electrodynamics and Statistics, with exams due mid-January (thus, no panic). However, since around the mid-terms in late October I've been slipping into depression (I begun treatment two weeks ago), and I've noticed a serious decline in my performance and ability to keep pace. My head feels foggy, I struggle to comprehend what I read, I feel detached from reality and devoid of motivation, and I find it incredibly difficult to e.g. solve problems; I suppose anyone who has similar issues recognize what I'm talking about. I can sit around staring at a problem and a blank piece of paper for a very, very long time without getting anything done. When I do get something done, I am absolutely mentally exhausted.

    I've done my best to minimize sources of stress in my life; my friends and study mates are understanding if perplexed; they help me keep track of things like due assignments and the like (time, weekdays, dates etc is another thing I have a hard time keeping track of during these episodes - actually, it's usually the first sign I notice). I suppose I will manage to get through these courses somehow; I know I have the intellectual ability to do it, it's just very hard to muster the ability to put at least 30 hours a week of active, effective studying while feeling like your mental and emotional faculties are watching paint dry.

    But still, this is just at an undergrad level, with a relatively low tempo. I'm very concerned for how I will be able to manage graduate studies, research, etc, with more demanding tasks and fields, a higher tempo, less slack, and so forth. Having to regularly take long breaks would be an absolute killer. I'd be very thankful for advice coming from those who have experience in academic studies and carreers while suffering from similar mental health issues. If there is anything you'd like to ask me, that's fine.

    Feel free to contact me either by replying to this thread or via PM.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 28, 2015 #2
    Have you spoken to your doctor about this? This isn't something that can be beaten by sheer willpower, so I'm not sure what else we could possibly say to help you.
  4. Nov 28, 2015 #3
    Of course I have, but there is only so much they can do (mainly a couple of at best moderately effective pharmacological treatments, and symptom management).

    I'm far from the first person to aim for an academic career while suffering from these issues, and I'm mostly wondering what the experiences of others have been, and what if anything they may have learned from it.

    Above all else, I'm not looking to 'beat' anything. I've come to terms with the fact that I will probably have recurring mental health issues all my life, along with my (moderate-severe) physical impairments. I will probably be OK, but sometimes it's very, very lonely and very difficult to thrive. And hearing what others have to say doesn't hurt.
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