The sun is coming up as a new day begins and I finally click the anti-climatic ‘submit’ button to hand in the last of my several-thousand word essays. Despite the feeling of exhaustion and irritation that staring at laptop screen for hours has caused, there is joy there too. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it this far.
May 1st, aka Deadline Day
My experience of Second year at university has been a very long one indeed. After finally being diagnosed with depression at the beginning of the second term of my original Second year, I found myself incapable of doing even the minimum amount of work. Among other things, depression to me meant the constant and overwhelming feeling of tiredness, the hopeless view that there just wasn’t any point in doing my degree, or doing anything for that matter, the inability to concentrate, a complete lack of motivation and the constant self-critical thoughts that quickly halted any efforts of battling the other symptoms.
I simply couldn’t do it. And so I interrupted my degree and took a year out. When I rejoined Second year at the beginning of the current second term I was full of reluctance and fear. What if the same thing just happened all over again? I quickly fell behind, it was better than the year before but I still could never read quickly enough, five hours of lectures in one day still completely terrified me, just being in a group of students still caused anxiety to rumble inside me. I felt inferior and out of place. Again, I had no motivation and found no joy in my work.
I was tempted to just stop working for my degree, to just stop trying. A pressure point came when I found myself four weeks from every one of this terms deadlines, having done next to no research, read only a few chapters of the books I was writing about and made no significant plans whatsoever. I panicked.
But then I messaged a good friend from church, I went round, we had a cup of tea, and she helped me to see everything in context again.
So grab a cup of tea, or whatever your version is, and here are are several things that I hope will bring you comfort in the midst of the struggles of university:
- It’s ok if the minimum is as much as you can do – no person is capable of everything. In fact, as human beings we are physically and mentally limited, the time we are given each day is limited and therefore what we are capable of is limited. At university it is easy to feel like we need to do everything we possibly could, but that’s pretty much never going to happen. Put the bar at the minimum and then anything after that is great.
- It’s ok if it’s just not possible for you and you need to take a break – weakness is not something to hide or run away from, it is part of being human. Recognising that we can’t do something is sometimes what allows us the rest and recovery we need. Taking a year out of university gave me time to focus on my mental health. I am by no means perfectly recovered, but taking this space meant that, when I came back to studying, I was a little bit more able to cope. It’s ok to stop altogether too. Despite the expectations that seem to be placed upon every schoolchild, university is not for everyone and it is not the single rite of passage into the adult world.
- It doesnt matter how ‘well’ we do it, but how wholeheartedly we try. Yes this sounds like that familiar cheesy encouragememt,’it’s not about winning, it’s the taking part that counts’, but it does ring true. When it comes down to it, those we share our lives with don’t see the numbers and letters written on the results sheets, but instead they see the time, effort and attitude with which you approach your work. And this, to them, shows more of who you are.
- And what is more, our work does not define us. Life is full of so very much more than our grades and academic acheivememts.
As a Christian, however, there is an abundance of comfort to be found that I have never found elsewhere. Because not only are we not defined by our work, we are instead defined by something far greater and for more stable than any of the ever-changing circumstances of this world. We are defined by who we are in Christ.
- Christ defines us – being defined by Christ means that our identity is secure, we are defined by the relationship we have with God himself, we are defined by the love of the one who died to save us.
- All things are possible in Christ – In our weaknesses we are better able to show Christ’s strength. Whilst we are limited, Christ, the Son of God, has the power to do anything. We are loved by the one who holds power over the entire universe. How amazing is that!
- God doesn’t expect us to do more than we are capable of – God knows us and knows our hearts better than anyone else, even ourselves. He knows what we are capable of and what our limitations are and he does not call us to go beyond. He is a loving Father and does not wish to see his children broken and burnt out.
- Doing your best even when it’s a low bar is important way of reflecting God – when people see you approaching your struggles with love and a desire to let Christ’s strength rule in your weakness, they see the determination of someone who knows that God is strong, and deserving of glory.
- God has a plan – he is in control and, whether or not it seems so, this is a wonderful thing. He longs to give us what is best, whether or not this is what we want or expect. His plan is not necessarily for us to do the best in our year, to excel in our workplaces or even to get through university. But we are in his hands and he is guiding us every day of our lives.
Knowing the security we have in the work of Jesus on the cross (let me know if that makes no sense to you), and experiencing the comfort of his strength and love for us, allows us to approach our studies and our work in a whole new way. A way that seeks to bring glory to our Father in heaven. Working as though working for God means that we are not fighting for approval or acknowledgement. Instead, we are working for the one who’s approval we already have. We are working for the one who delights to see us serving him. For he is a gracious God who cares for us and longs to give us what is best.