The primary symptoms are obvious. There are bags underneath eyes, and eyelids feeling like there are 10-pound weights on them.
Carefully put-together outfits degenerate into sweatpants and hoodies, or even pyjama bottoms if the disease is in a more advanced stage.
Sleep becomes a winsome memory of childhood; rest is reduced to catnaps driving from place to place.
Other symptoms are subtler. A general sense of irritation becomes the main emotion. A basically nonexistent social life is completely annihilated, and the happiest place on Earth is no longer Disneyland, but the comforting pillow where fears and to-do lists vanish for a few precious hours.
For sufferers, the only cure is time. The prognosis is, quite simply, USD, more commonly known to teenagers as University Stress Disorder.
Prevalent among those in Grade 12, it is similar to the flu in that it flares up annually, usually around the end of February.
USD is extremely contagious; it can sweep across entire schools at times, raging unchecked like a wild inferno.
It usually stems from procrastination, with many teenagers simply putting off applications for scholarships and universities until the night before the deadline. Known effects include a sense of helplessness or the feeling of failure.
Many of my friends suffer with these burdens. When they see the long list of interminable essays to be written, some will simply give up.
They utter phrases such as "I don't have enough time to do this" or perhaps the old favourite, "There are too many good people applying for this and I don't have the necessary qualifications."
These same people are some of the most qualified people I know, yet without the constant encouragement of their support system, they wouldn't apply.
Most of us undersell ourselves. Yes, humility and modesty are admirable qualities, but scholarships are a cutthroat business, and unless students get into the habit of loudly proclaiming themselves as the best choice, they will usually get passed over.
My self-prescribed cure for this sense of futility revolves around two words: "Why not?"
"Why not apply? It costs almost nothing to apply; usually only a mere one or two hours are needed to finish the application. It would take exponentially longer to earn the same amount. There's no harm in applying.
The problem with USD is that it attacks our brain. We get caught up in our failures, and it paralyzes us. We stop believing in ourselves, and find ourselves staring bleakly at a computer screen, resenting the application that sits in front of our eyes.
The applications are insidious carriers of this disease. They often require numerous extracurricular commitments, as well as academic excellence. They want someone who plays on sports teams, is involved in the band, joins clubs at school, volunteers their time, and manages to start a grassroots initiative on the weekends.
It's practically impossible, and those who try find their time consumed and vacuumed up at a vociferous rate.
The problem is that it leaves little time to actually fill out the applications. And taking the time out of commitments in order to finish the application means that it is harder to meet the requirements of the scholarship. It slowly grows into a vicious cycle that can drag even the best young leaders into the depths of despair and helplessness.
While no sure-fire cure is available just yet, several things can be done to inoculate against this disorder.
Starting applications early is key. With advance notice and preparation, effects of USD can be effectively mitigated.
Taking breaks is also important. No matter how many commitments there are, it is important to take time and refresh oneself in order to come back more determined and dedicated.
Like any flu or cold, the only true medication is time. With time and a sense of perspective, the scholarship crunch no longer seems as daunting or terrifying. With time, students recover from the ill effects and return to their normal, cheerful, optimistic self. With time, we realize that our problems of today are simply training us for tomorrow.
Andrew Chang is a Grade 12 student at Gleneagle Secondary in Coquitlam