Sooner than anticipated, the professor who’ll rate my credits got back at me and suggested we meet Friday morning. While generally the appointment suits me very well – getting this out of the way as quickly as possible – it also means that I need to put what I learned in therapy to the test now. There’s no full-blown anxiety involved, but irrational worry about scenarios that start to sound rather unlikely once I actually spell them out: one of those thought constructs involves the professor telling me that they “have no use” for people like me, for example. Basically, a lot of my fantasies involve me getting rejected or criticized, which fills me with the vague wish to avoid the situation.
The first step is to disconnect from these thoughts, since ruminating only makes them worse. If I find myself returning to the fantasies, I try to dissect them with logic: what is it that I am afraid of? Are any of the imagined reactions likely? Have I done anything to provoke such a reaction?
In the end, I always arrive at the conclusion that I feel guilt over my failed first attempt at studying, but it is not my fault that I suffer from depression, and I am doing something about it, so there’s no reason to beat myself up at all.
Another much more valid point I wondered about was whether I should disclose the depression or not. The dates stated on my credits alone already betray that there is a very long gap between the last time I still behaved like a regular student and the date printed on today’s calendar sheet, so there is no way of hiding or even glossing over the fact that there was a serious interruption. I would prefer flat-out openness about the reasons, but asked my therapist for advice in an email. He suggested to treat the situation openly, too, since I am undergoing specific treatment. “There must be no disadvantages to you because of this,” he wrote.
It’s one thing to disclose depression to the administration, as I did when I applied for the sabbatical half a year ago. I’m just one face out of many that shows up in their office. With the professor, it’s different, because eventually I’ll see him in class again, and I’d rather he judged me for my behaviour in class than for pre-formulated notions he might or might not have. I guess I’m also afraid of being branded a “loser” – one of the fantasies again – and what helps me here is that all the credits I’m going to show him have very good grades on them: the worst I had earned back then was an A -. (Which I could easily turn into the idea that I’ll disappoint everyone if I ever get a grade which is not an A… but I won’t even go there.)
So this is what happens in my head when I don’t control the negativity: I can turn pretty much everything into a fact that speaks against instead of for me. In everyday situations, I handle myself very well by now, so this is the time when I need to take everything a step further and prove to myself that I can also master situations which bear the potential for more anxiety.