Managing Depression while being a Pre-SPT

My name is Joshua Klepes, and I am a first year PT student @ D’Youville College. To be honest, life has not been very easy for me as of recently, and I am actually contemplating a leave of absence. Nevertheless, I wanted to share lessons I have learned over the past 3 years of being a pre-SPT and a SPT who deals with chronic depression. After reading this, I hope it inspires you to keep keeping on to obtain your occupational dream job. 

To manage your depression while being a pre-SPT, you need to learn how to walk the line.

There is a fine line between feeling your sadness and becoming motivationally paralyzed and obtaining your goals and ignoring your emotions completely. Obviously, either extreme is not healthy, but a healthy balance is possible. Society needs to normalize being able to do things while being sad because it is completely possible. To do this, I think there is, at a minimum, five things one must do: 

1. Admit to yourself that you are sad. Just say it out loud if you need to! Journal to yourself why you are sad. If you have no idea, then it is okay to say “I’m sad, and I’m not sure why.” I like to view one’s emotions like a young child: they want to be seen and heard, and when they are ignored, they will do whatever it takes to be recognized. When you recognize your sadness, it is like the emotion is calmed, kind of like a child would be, and you are more able to focus on whatever task is in front of you. 

2. Determine what you need to do to treat that sadness. Maybe the sadness needs you to indulge in the emotion for a bit, such as allowing yourself to cry; listening to sad music; venting to a friend etc. Sometimes, the sad energy can be channeled into creative energy, such as creating a video or making a drawing or writing a letter. Other times, the energy can be funneled into motivation, such as getting a workout in or hyper-focusing on your work. This takes practice and trial-and-error, but over time, you will recognize when you need to indulge, channel, or funnel the sadness into a specific activity.

3. Refocus on your goals. Sometimes, the sadness does not decrease in intensity, and you might feel like you want to curl in your bed and hibernate for the semester. That is okay! I have been there. However, you cannot let that desire be your driving force in your academic journey. Just like motivational speakers emphasize that success requires dedication, so too does your academic journey while you are managing depression. In those moments when you have no motivation or desire to do anything, you have to recall your goals, and you have to do the work–even if you hate it at the moment. The art of putting on your studying cap when you feel like bawling is exquisite, but it is one that you have to kindle. Some things I have utilized/lean on to help me focus on my goals while I feel terrible are: [1] motivational music [2] study groups [3] supportive friends [4] supportive family members [5] spirituality [6] short, spaced study sessions [7] excellent nutrition [8] adequate sleep [9] planned hobbies [10] HIIT exercise sessions

4. Set boundaries. When you are sad, sometimes focusing on your goals and treating your sadness just does not seem to work, and the only thing you want to do is sit in your sadness. Now, sometimes you do need to sit with your emotions, but if you have already done this and your work needs to get done, then this cannot be an option. You need to be strict with yourself and limit activities, influences, and situations that will make it harder for you to be productive. So, if that new song by Justin Bieber makes you incredible sad, then it might be that you have to only listen to it once a day instead of having it on repeat for the entire day. If studying alone in your room makes it easier for your thoughts to fixate on sad situations and past events, then you might need to only study alone in your room for an hour a day. The goal here is not to label something as inherently bad but to limit time spent with things that are going to make it harder for you to will yourself to study. 

5. Go to therapy regularly, and do your homework. Make it one of your top priorities. Mark out the time, and never miss a session. Practice everything you learn in the short session throughout the week, and be prepared to talk about your weak points in the next session. Make the best use of the short session, as it is an hour that can be used for accelerated growth. This is exactly what you would want your physical therapy patients to do when you are a practitioner, so how can you expect people to do this if you are not willing to do it yourself? Use this time as a patient to learn the barriers of therapy practice to make yourself a better Physical Therapist when you finish your career. 

There are probably more things that one must do to do work while one is sad, or to manage one’s depression while in Physical Therapy school. This is just what I can think of off the top of my head and through a brief reflection of my time over the past three years. Feel free to add more ideas in the comment section, as I would love to learn from others going through similar experiences. Here is to better days; better grades; and better times in Pre-Physical Therapy school and Physical Therapy school.

- Joshua Klepes, SPT


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