When You’re too Depressed to Stay in School

I spent five years kind of confused in university. I could easily say they were wasted, but the last five years have witnessed the biggest personal growth of my life thus far.

When this blog first started, I wrote that I was frozen with fear about dropping out of school. I nearly finished the program but I was struggling to get certain credits. And last winter, there I lay, stiff in bed, curled under layers of sheets protecting a body of glass. I wondered, “would I disappoint my father and myself by taking a break from school? Would I be a fool if I decided never to go back?” I was also very embarrassed for taking too long to finish school. These were all mind-traps created by me, inspired by expectations of my environment.

I gave myself an entire summer to think it over. Didn’t take long to decide; I was mostly building up the courage to tell my family I’d be putting my education on pause. When I’d find the strength to get out of bed, I was on the floor in a deep squat, sitting or laying down. Nerves flying through the roof. Frantically mapping out my year in plans A, B, C, and D, until I exhausted my options. It was a very sad time.

Proven Coping Methods

While I was in school, there were ways I tried to cope with the stress. I lessened my courseload from five classes per semester to four. I sought help from therapists at the health & wellness centre. Once, I asked an instructor for more time on a project. I ended up speaking with the centre for disabilities at my school, and they offered to help in various ways: providing a quiet space to do exams, allowing extra time for all tests and assignments, getting tested for learning disabilities if you think you have one (costs $$$ though, but is partially covered by the school’s health insurance), and other things that I can’t remember now. You surely have a centre for students with disabilities at your school. You don’t have to have a recorded disability to ask for help, but they help students who are really struggling. Rules might be different at each school, though. These methods all helped me. What ultimately led to my demise was a matter of not having any more money for my education and my basic needs.

Evaluating the Situation

Maybe you’re slipping through coursework. It’s not due to laziness, but because you’re stressed out or feel lost. Maybe your body is present in class but your mind is not, despite not having any distractions in front of you. Perhaps you’re not even sure that you want to continue with school at all. Well then, it’s okay to give yourself a break. Things need to be thought through thoroughly. But you also need to breathe, and not think at all about your worries every moment of every day. When we’re anxious and depressed we think a lot. Our brains have a hard time shutting off. And that can be hard. But it’s worth a try.

Be Extra Careful

I can’t stress enough the importance of planning out your schedule or your leave with an academic advisor. It may be in your best interest to also speak with a therapist at school about everything that is going on. Weighing out the pros and cons of staying and leaving is also best. Thinking decisions through thoroughly and seeking guidance is crucial.

The best lesson I learned from my break is to never get caught in pressures put on by our environment–family, society, friends, coworkers, etc. We must make decisions to the benefit of ourselves. We might have been put on this earth for a reason, but pleasing others isn’t one of them.

How to Make The Best Out of Therapy

If we attend therapy, how can we help ourselves get the best out of it? Here are some methods:

Listening with an open heart.

Take it in. Take it ALL in! Silencing our thoughts; not thinking about a reply until we’ve (briefly) considered what the therapist has just said.

Thinking about a detailed answer before responding.

For example, if asked, “how long have you felt this way?” it wouldn’t be helpful to reply with a vague answer that beats around the bush, such as, “Well, I’ve been this way for a very long time.” This answer provides a shield, keeping us from opening up to someone. Personally, I feel my chest tightening and my back curling when I’m asked a personal question like this.  But being as specific as possible, like thinking about approximately what age our symptoms started to appear, after which incident or phase, and how frequent our symptoms have been since then. So, a better answer is: “I remember feeling upset very often as a child, probably around 10 years old. I just started distancing myself from friends and family. I remember being bullied by a few kids at school because of my weight.” The professional with whom you’re working can then ask you more questions that will uncover the reason behind your emotions and behaviors.

Recording sessions with permission.

Asking to record an audio version of  sessions on our phone or bringing a notebook. The best counselors/therapists don’t let us leave without session notes that further treatment. We can write them ourselves or ask for a copy of notes and strategies discussed during the appointment.

Suggesting homework if none is given.

This applies to when your therapist/counselor is helping you achieve something, or getting you to do something you used to love doing again. We can ask if they have any suggestions on how to get back into the groove of things. Self-development happens mostly outside of therapy.

Keeping session notes where we can see them.

Single sheets of paper can be hung on the wall of our bedroom, office, a private space, or a closet. We can also keep them in a folder or binder on the desk, or next to bed. The point is for our notes to be easily accessible. We may review them a few times a week, once a day, or whenever we need to.

Maybe it’s not the right fit.

We may explain our issues to a therapist and all they say is something like, “What do you think you can do about that?” or, “You tell me what to do about that.” I’ve even gotten, “So how can I help you?” and that can be frustrating. I mean, we don’t go to therapy to have someone help us think, and we certainly don’t go in knowing exactly how the therapist can help us. But we go to gain someone else’s (positive) perspective on our matters and to gain new ideas on how to deal. So, if we have no idea what we think we can do for ourselves, or how they can help us, we must kindly reply that we don’t know, which is the reason we’re seeking help.

If we don’t feel a connection, or if talk therapy no longer works, then it’s best to seek help from someone who specializes in the exact area we need healing. For example, the help of an eating disorder specialist for disordered eating, an intuitive counselor if we are interested in developing intuition, a pastoral therapist if Christian faith is important to us. Even a life coach! The goal is just to find someone who understands where you’re coming from.

I don’t know what to do with my life.

I am lost. The new school year approaches and I’m getting more scared by the day about how I’m going to translate this to my family: I want nothing to do with where and what I am studying.  I need to take a semester off. I’m confused and this summer alone I’ve explored the possibilities of 8 different career paths.

Finding the energy to continue writing has not been easy. Sometimes the words have not yet come and I stare at blank space. I feel mildly depressed. Just a steady state of grey.

My schooling situation truly is a first world problem. It’s not ridiculous, but maybe it’s a mere problem. There’s pressure from family to keep going to school, to not take any breaks or change programs again. I’ve switched programs twice before, and the last time I switched back to my second program. These were all worthwhile mistakes except for the last time. I’d only switched back because I felt lost but wanted to get school over with.

It’s been five years that I’m in school.  I’m interested in writing, and I’m enrolled in a Publications program at an art school. It’s the wrong choice somehow; I’m at a point where I’m not getting much out of the program anymore. I learn nothing. My time and money feel wasted. I’m in class physically, but not mentally.


I spend most of the day lounging around often feeling tired or sleeping. There’s always an reason as to why I won’t write or exercise today even though I ought to.

I did do some practice recently. It has been much easier to find motivation to move my body than it was a few months ago. Lately, when I’ve been doing yoga, I’ve been crying a lot.

I feel guilty about crying all the time. There are people in much worse situations than mine–humans whom I feel for and cry with, but I still can’t help feeling so lost and confused. Scared and not brave enough. Little, afraid to rise. Also, I’m exhausted; continually thinking about my future has got me spent. I don’t know how not to. I always need to prep safety nets before relaxing into the present moment just to have no future regrets. Because regrets have happened before. But enjoying the present moment almost never happens.Save