Amplify Blog - Ill-Adjusted: Notes from a Young Person who Can’t Cope with Change
The below is a guest blog by Bri, a QFCC Youth Advocate
In 2017, I experienced my first true grapple with grief. Only ever having felt the loss of loved ones who had lived their lives wholly and wore their wrinkles to the grave with a sense of dignity, the death of my fit, healthy and thriving aunty fractured the comfort I had been developing with the end of life. It left a scar, tainted with the poison of someone else’s liquor, across the bloodline of our family.
In 2019, my first relationship came to a quick close. It had been unsafe and left me with anxieties I couldn’t surmount. The circle of friends I had spent the past four years cultivating began to wither and crack. The end of my university studies seemed to draw nigh, and I realised with increasing fear that I had no clue what I was going to do with my life when I finished my thesis. My body began to break down. I became avoidant and unassured in every sphere of the life I’d felt so comfortable in before.
In 2021, I stood on the precipice of a greatness I had spent years working towards. I marvelled at the progress I had made in my academic and personal life, and pushed myself to reach greater heights since I knew I was entirely capable. But I over-extended and fell off the edge of a cliff I’d been backing up to for some time. I failed my first and final university assignment, spiralling into fits of anxiety and depression for lack of certainty within myself and towards my future. I worried my parents, deterred my friends, and hated myself.
And yet, within a few short months of the onset of all of this trauma I was healed again. All the worries passed away as quickly as a soft cloud on a windy summer afternoon.
I’ve developed a superstition against odd-numbered years. They always seem to be the most difficult; something that seems to be astoundingly terrible at the time spins my world off course. It’s easy for me to find patterns, create superstitions in my head, to tell myself “Oh, well last year was too good, so this year has to balance the scales.” It’s harder to admit I have a problem with change.
As a child, I had a tendency to react ‘dramatically’ to situations. A minor inconvenience could lead easily to family distress, as I roped my parents and sister into the disproportionate stress I would experience if I, for example, couldn’t find a certain item of clothing in the laundry or was having an easily fixable issue with my computer.
As an adult, these ‘dramatic’ tendencies warped into something more harmful. In 2019, I experienced depression and anxiety for the first time. While I was always anxious and often had negative thought patterns, these were small periods of mental ill-health that would come and go like the rain. Experiencing sadness or nervousness occasionally is a regular human trait – but if this continues for a significant period of time without interruption it could be a sign of a developing psychological disorder that is need of intentional treatment.
After getting four colds in the span of two months, something clicked and I recalled a passage about depression from one of my Psychology textbooks, describing the negative affect of mental ill-health on the body’s immune system. I spoke to my general practitioner about what I had been experiencing and she suggested that I was experiencing a condition called adjustment disorder.
Everyone experiences significant events and transitional periods that can cause additional, unexpected stress. Moving to a new town, changing jobs, or losing a loved one can all have great impacts on someone’s emotional and mental wellbeing. However, people are generally able to adapt to these changes within a few months. You make some friends in your new town, learn to manage the nuance of your new working environment, and recover from the grieving process with the help of friends and family.
Adjustment disorder is a stress-response to these types of significant life events. The emotional and behavioural reaction to change lasts longer and emotions associated with the change event (such as fear or sadness) may feel more extreme. However, although it may take longer adjustment is still possible, and with the support of a counselling services, social connection, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (eating nutritious food, exercising the body, and aiming for a good sleep pattern) the symptoms of depression and anxiety fade.
I began to recognise that lack of certainty about my future would trigger adjustment disorder symptoms for me. In 2019 and 2021, I finished university degrees but was not sure where I would be the following year and what my life would be like, leading to anxiety that affected my ability to manage daily stressors, and depression as these challenges became overwhelming. However, as soon as I had a plan, like acceptance to my Masters of Teacher in 2020 and my first teaching job this year, all of that depression and anxiety lifted off my shoulders.
I’m lucky that my experiences of mental ill-health are relatively brief and I have been able to overcome them with the support of family, friends and the fulfillment I create for myself through fitness, advocacy and creativity. However, even those short spans of time where I feel hopeless and frightened about everything in the world remind me that we need to prioritise community empathy and healthcare support for young people who have ongoing, severe experiences with mental ill-health and psychological disorder. I’m not ill-adjusted right now – what can I do to help those who are?