My Guilt and Cutting Anna, 20

100 Misfits - Highlighting stories of depression and anxiety in students

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“Anna,” a University student in Newfoundland made me realize that adults often focus on the external stressors students have to manage, as if we need to change everything around the student to make their lives more stress free. In reality the problem is not necessarily with the issue laid on their shoulders by society; it is often the unknown/unseen pressures our kids take upon themselves. 

 Here’s Anna’s story

Student: “Anna*,” Age: 20

My parents are the greatest ever. Like so many immigrants (or children of immigrants), they’ve struggled all their life to give us kids a much better life, something better than what they had. My folks are no exception.  

My entire life, I’ve been told that the reason they work two jobs is to ensure I have all the opportunities they never had. But there are 3 of us kids, and between the mortgage, car payments, and other expenses, putting away enough money to pay for university has not been easy. They put some away but not enough to cover it all, and certainly not enough to cover my two younger siblings after me. 

Still, they’ve agreed to cover my tuition and rent; they’ve never asked me for a penny. All I’m expected to cover are the little extras I may want. It seems like every week, all they say is ‘just focus on your studies, do well, graduate…you need to worry about nothing else.’

What they don’t know is that I’ve noticed the fact that they’ve stopped taking their regular vacations, Dad didn’t get the new car he was planning, Mom’s been working extra hours, and the tension between them has been growing. They do nothing but argue, and mostly it’s about money or how they or we are spending it. 

I’m not stupid; I realize that the financial pressures are affecting their life and their marriage. 

I’m scared every day that their need to cover my tuition, books, and rent ruins their lives and may split up. And why? For me? For my education?

I’m so grateful to them and wouldn’t want any other parents, but I feel guilty that’s too much on most days. That’s what led me to cutting; I need to stop feeling the guilt. Or maybe it’s to punish me for the trouble I’m causing them? 

So, it’s not the stresses of school work, social media, or peer pressure that you talked about today, Sam, that’s affecting my mental health. It’s my guilt. 

I know my folks love me, and I love them. But the weight of this guilt is unbearable.” 

Anna’s story is one I can relate to on many levels. I, too, was the child of immigrant parents who essentially sacrificed their lives (and often their happiness) to give my brother and me everything. And I remember the guilt I felt for their suffering. I also remember my own son’s words about the guilt he felt over the financial burden he perceived his mother and I faced.

It hit so close to home that Anna and I ended up sitting together crying. Not sure if it was the pain of our suffering or the almost absurdity that our parent’s love could cause us such grief. 

TAKEAWAYS: 

  • If you’re a student stressed under the pressure of financial guilt, please take the opportunity to speak openly about your feelings. Parents who take on the financial responsibility for your education are not doing so to punish you or to cause you more stress; it’s the opposite. Speaking about your guilt – and how it affects you – will provide each the required perspective to better communicate your feelings and create a better discourse moving forward. 
  • If you’re one of these parents, regardless of whether you easily afford educational costs or not, don’t fall into the trap of using that generosity as a tool that purposefully or inadvertently adds such guilt to your kids. The weight of that guilt is unbearable to them. They’re more intuitive than we give them credit for; they’re educated, they can read between the lines. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE 

Anna’s story is one of the hundreds of similar stories shared with me over the years. You’re not alone. 

If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911.  If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada  | USA

*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed. 

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