• Studying with depression

    ‘I really tried, but I couldn’t do it’

    After managing to pass her final secondary school exam, Evi* thought she was well on the way to fighting off her depression. She was in good spirits when she started studying at the RUG in September -until she hit another wall.
    in short

    Evi has had depression for years. Despite this, she started studying at the RUG with fresh determination in September.

    The first few weeks went well, but due to a panic attack, she missed her first exam. When the retake also went badly, she decided to throw in the towel.

    Around the age of twelve, Evi’s depression began to grow, fed by nasty experiences. ‘There was always a war going on at home.’

    A new social group and relationship seemed to relieve her depression, until Evi was raped several times by her boyfriend.

    Following such malaise, Evi tried to commit suicide four times in the past few years, but she hasn’t made any attempts in the last few months.

    But she does not think she will attempt to study something else. ‘I feel like I have failed. I have given up hope. Maybe I can’t be helped.’

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    Reading time: 7 minutes (1,250 words)

    ‘I wanted to so badly, but it just didn’t work out’ Evi stares at her hands, deflated, when she talks about her failed study attempt. As if she is ashamed. As if she is guilty. ‘It really did not work out.’

    She knew that studying with depression would not be an easy task. But she did not count on her first exam causing a tsunami of panic and ultimately leading to her having no other option but to quit.

    Head in the books

    ‘For the first exam, I studied really hard. Studying was difficult and laborious. But I had set my heart on doing it. I wanted to so badly. The evening before the exam, I had an enormous panic attack.’

    Evi would usually crawl into a corner during such an attack, but she realised that there was only one place at that moment where she would feel safe and comfortable: Vera. ‘The people there are so sweet.’ She danced the panic out of her body the whole night long.

    ‘I did an all-nighter and got into bed at 7 a.m. I set an alarm for an hour before the exam, I thought: ‘That should do it.’ I am still convinced that that was the best thing I could have done: being with other people, looking for distraction.’


    Then she woke up, with the assumption that the panic had gone. ‘But I was laying there frozen in bed. I could not move.’ Thus despite her best efforts, Evi did not make it to the exam hall that afternoon.

    She surmises that the pressure was affecting her. The closer the exam got, the worse she did: ‘I found it very difficult to address things myself. I did go to the lectures. I liked them immensely. It was exhausting, but I did it. It’s just it’s such a big commitment.’

    Starting again

    Was going to university the right choice? Evi thought so at the time: ‘Everyone went off to study. My mother would have preferred for me not to go, but I wanted to get out of the house and start again. I was so excited about it; a new start, new people. That encouraged me.’

    The study itself turned out not to be a problem. ‘I started and I really enjoyed it. Those few weeks in which I was really studying were the best. The material was great, it was new and exciting. The people liked me. It was really nice.’


    But instead of delivering Evi onto safer shores, studying only pulled her deeper into the churning waters that are depression; a depression that had slowly been welling up since she was 12 years old, fed by nasty experiences.

    ‘There was always a war going on at home between my parents. My mother was incredibly explosive. She became very angry very quickly. She screamed, cried, and slammed doors. My father was much calmer, but he was cruel underneath. That is something you don’t see as a child. That screaming, that is something you see.’

    ‘My parents were only focused on each other. They failed as parents. They are incredibly ego-centric. It was always about them. It’s still the same actually. If I go to see my mother because I cannot cope, it actually always comes down to her telling me how difficult my depression is for her. And my father: he cheated and runs away if it gets hard. We have little contact.’


    Although her family at home functioned less and less, a new social group and a relationship seemed to relieve her depression. This alleviation was cut brutally short: Evi’s boyfriend Teun* raped her multiple times.

    ‘I am angrier at myself than I am at him. It was my own fault. His parents were at home. I could have easily called for help. I have always told myself that it would not happen to me, that I am too strong for that. Should it happen, then I would look for help. But I didn’t do that.’

    She couldn’t get it off of her chest at home. ‘I didn’t want to tell my parents, but in a fit of rage I screamed it in my mother’s face. She was very shocked at that point, but after that, she never talked about it again. My father doesn’t know. I wonder how badly he’d react. I think he would prefer not to know, so he wouldn’t have to react to it.’


    Her grief, pain and anger caused by her home life and Teun, brought her close to death. After one of her classmates committed suicide, Evi finally worked up the courage to confide in one of the teachers at her secondary school. ‘I told her that I was thinking about doing the same thing.’

    In the last few years, she has attempted to commit suicide four times, always with a combination of painkillers. Four times, she has survived. ‘After one of the attempts, I became so sick that I called 112 to ask if I would die quickly. I did not want to tell them where I was, so they told me I had to go to sleep. If I felt the same way the next morning, then I would really have to go to the hospital.’ It did not come to that.


    At present, Evi is going through the most difficult period of her depression to date, but she has not attempted to commit suicide in the last few months. However, she also has no idea how to move forward.

    Evi became completely discouraged by her failed study attempt. ‘After the panic attack, I still tried to study for the second exam. But I could hardly study. Staring at the same page for three hours is extremely frustrating when you really want to be able to study. I thought: ‘See, you can’t do it after all.’ I still went to the exam hall.’

    She failed. Regardless, she does not see herself gathering up the courage to go to the exam hall as a victory. ‘I failed badly. I should have passed. There was no reason not to.’ She decided to stop studying. ‘It was the confirmation of what my mother had already said: you won’t be able to do it.’


    Evi is back to square one, she feels. Friends of hers from the RUG ask if she will be back in September. ‘I don’t think so. I feel like I have failed. I would have really liked to have put everything behind me and start again. That didn’t work. As I have already done it once, I can never truly start again.’

    Her depression scares her, especially as she has already had it for years. Help is not helping yet. ‘I think I am addicted to feeling miserable. It is identifiable for me. I am really scared that I will find out that I am not depressed at all, and that this is just who I am. If it turns out that this is who I am, then I have wasted everyone’s time; all those people who worry about me. It feels a little bit like a scam.’

    She feels that the wall that stands so mercilessly between her and her future cannot be broken down. ‘I have given up hope. I know that that is really bad and you shouldn’t do it. But this is not who I want to be. I despise this Evi. I can’t stand her. Maybe I can’t be helped.’

    *The names ‘Evi’ and ‘Teun’ are fictitious, as requested by those interviewed. Their real names are known to the editors.

    More about depression

    This article is part of trio of stories about depression. Be sure to read the other two pieces from this series:

    The patient in the spotlight – on research into depression.

    First aid for depression – where can you go as a RUG student if you are suffering from depression?