I Won’t Let Stress Define Me, And Neither Should You

stress

Merfyn has taken the decision to not be defined by stress. You should too.

I wonder when these clouds of depression and stress will float away.

Since when did Britain decide to be a nation of depressed alcoholics dreading Monday morning? The truth is, we didn’t. Britain works the longest hours in Europe for no reason other than for the sake of international competitiveness. Why did we sacrifice our wellbeing for a crown of success? Stress shouldn’t have to be the measure of how successful a person is. We should look to our wellbeing, happiness, and how satisfied we feel with our lives, not how much is in our pocket or how many espressos we downed this morning or shots we did last night.

I wonder when these clouds of depression and stress will float away. I long for lazy days with exciting projects and people and laughs and writing and activity. Yet I’m stuck here, in the uncertain spring, crippling under the weight of stress, wondering why I was born into a country that glorifies it. Bouts of depression hit me in waves. I’m told to attempt regulating my life: aim to get to sleep by a certain time every night, to balance work and rest, to make sure I eat enough greens and drink enough water. I do everything the NHS website tells me to. But this motive of mine to maintain my health is sporadic and my commitment to wavers on a day to day basis. As a consequence, I lose focus and I forget things. I’m forced to compromise by the ideal drilled into me that I need to be successful: an hour more on my education, a restless night more on work.

I grew up with evening television full of people complaining about their stress, their lives, their jobs,  their politicians.

I grew up with evening television full of people complaining about their stress, their lives, their jobs,  their politicians. Evening television still does that, but now it’s online too: reels and reels of people complaining and moaning and crying out about train times, long hours, exam stress and uncertain futures. Is it worse? It is. Since when did Britain decide to become a country of sad, stressed, depressed alcoholics? Was it with the birth of Freshers, or was it the longer, crueller history of industrialisation? My father’s side, traditional working class, never enrolled; they worked and spent each night in the pub instead. Nonetheless, students today seem much the same, just stupider when drunk, carting down empty roads in stolen shopping trolleys and sleeping in gutters with a cold doner kebabs.

Somehow I’ve inevitably been put on the track to this human state too. Somehow I’ll be in university by September. Somehow I’ll be in debt by then too. I’m sick of it. Every time I stare at my deadlines or run around the room like a maniac I’m craving a day where I have nothing to do and I’m completely happy with it. I don’t want to be kept in this cycle of stress anymore. It’s deadly. Even when I truly have nothing left to do, I’m still itching with the secret anxiety of not doing enough.

I love exams in that they are a challenge to me and enable me to learn and be in an environment of learning.

I love exams. I love exams in that they are a challenge to me and enable me to learn and be in an environment of learning. But I hate exams. I hate the pressure of exams. I hate the brevity of middle education and it’s game of competitive academia that sets anyone out of spin. Even in a sheltered, stable household and life stress will seep its way through to corrupt the mental health of anyone dogged with the invisible pressures of the British education system. Stress is an illness. When I sit in the doctors office, rubbing my hands and picking at my skin, I stumble over my words as I realise that my brain is refusing to rationalise and memorise the activities I have done since I last visited due to lack of sleep. Stress and long hours prevents me learning. It should be barred from competitive education and business- it’s simply just not worth it. The cost of my education shouldn’t be my happiness.

In school, I am asked questions on my learning, and even as I speak in a reasonably coherent and rational manner, I know that I have little idea of what I am talking about, let alone enthusiasm. Even if I wish to commit, the stress of committing puts an obstacle in my way of enjoying my learning, something that I wholeheartedly wish to achieve. I am stunted by my own brain’s desires. When I am asked where my homework was, or why I didn’t do it, I give a blank stare. How do I tell them that I was actually watching ITV, scoffing my face with chocolates, indulging in forgetting my dreariness?

There is a raincloud hanging over my head.

‘How have you been?’ my head of sixth form asks.

I don’t know, I don’t remember. My depression blocked it out. I don’t count my anxiety attacks or my intrusive thoughts.  I choose to live my life by doing things which make me as comfortable as possible, maintaining my mental health until I can no longer take it anymore and I cave in, out on the porch  until it hits home time, just hoping that when the inevitable does happen, it won’t be during a critical point in my life. I live knowing that one day I will get better: one more day to independence, one more day to passions and happiness, one more day until freedom.

Somewhere in my head I know there’s a dubious voice telling me that I shouldn’t expect anything at all; that life won’t be smooth sailing after my first year in uni. The cycle of stress moves on because I’m in the same darn place that I was before. You may take the person out of England, but you can’t take the hardship of England out of the person. There’s a reason we’ve been stereotyped as tight-lipped and dreary. There is a raincloud hanging over my head.

It hits me in the evenings. I do as much as I can without getting too distracted during school time; often taking breaks over cups of tea and reading articles on my phone or talking to friends. Then when it draws upon the evening I become anxious: it takes me nearly an hour to walk home, should I go now?  Which work am I taking home? Will I get that work done? Ultimately, I get a minor amount of work done at home, especially on the weekends. Tasks in schoolwork are rarely completed and it leaves me feeling apathetic with myself. Why do I not study effectively? Stress. I’m clutching onto something that isn’t material yet. That’s stress. Stress is motiveless malignancy.

Stress is motiveless malignancy.

Perhaps I’ll come through. I’ll be comfortable. I’ll find a rock to bed myself in away from the tide and breathe. Perhaps we all will. That is when we find the strength to change. England needs to look at its Nordic cousins now. Look to Hygge, to happiness, to comfort and health. To knowing our NHS is safe and equipped for mental health crises. To knowing my health means more than my education. To more paid holiday and better protection. To committed teachers who don’t come into class looking as tired as the students. We only live once, and we shouldn’t spend it all over an extra large Americano with room for cold milk. I want to be more, I want to be free of stress. I won’t let stress define me, and neither should you.

If you’ve got any more questions about mental health, you can find out more from Off The Record on The Rife Guide