Let's Speak Up
My mother went to university, and my father, and my two brothers and my sister and they all loved it. I didn’t. There was a lot of expectations to live up to, they'd all met their husband or wife at university, except my brother, Ben, who had already met his wife! They all succeeded and they all made friends for life. So, I’d set up a pretty big picture in my head of how it would be and it was nothing like it.
I hadn’t been in school since the previous April, so academically it was challenging getting back into a routine and applying myself. I found it extremely difficult to socialise, I was overcome by nerves every time I had to talk to a person, which was frustrating but even more so, shocking. I’d been at Boarding School, I knew how to live with people, how to socialise, how to make friends but here I was frozen. I loved parties, drinking, dancing, but all I wanted to do at uni was watch Netflix and stay in my room away from everyone. Simple things like going to the dining room would terrify me, I hated the thought of people looking at me, judging my appearance as harshly as I did. I thought in their minds they'd be looking at me calling me names, I would be so close to tears just saying "excuse me" to someone so I could pick up a tray, I was a nuisance to them, so I’d skip dinner, a lot. It felt like the most excruciating thing in the world to have to go somewhere alone, so I rarely did.
I didn’t realise at the time but I was suffering from depression and anxiety, mildly at first, it had started before uni, but at uni it got progressively worse and worse until I even contemplated suicide. I reached out to the GP, to the counselling services but I could only be so proactive until just showering was a huge task to undertake. I had counselling once a week and it did nothing to help me get out of my pit. I still managed to make it to most lectures and seminars but there were days I just couldn’t, if someone had come in on one of those days with a Eurostar ticket to Paris I couldn’t have done it. Physically and emotionally. I stopped doing things I enjoyed, I stopped going out with friends. I spent countless days and nights crying in my room, unable to understand why I felt the way I did, unable to tell anyone how much I was struggling. I nearly skipped celebrating my birthday with my family because my anxiety got the better of me and I ended up having no less than four panic attacks when getting ready and ended up drained, crying and shouting at my mum that I couldn’t do it anymore. Whenever someone brought up uni I would be reduced to tears, I wanted so badly to enjoy it and to flourish but I didn’t, I couldn’t.
I came back home for Christmas and after just one semester at uni, I decided it was best to leave, and although the months following were hard (I couldn’t stop the thoughts that I was a failure and I had let people down) they did become easier. I concentrated on what I enjoyed and I got referred to stage four psychotherapy. My family, my parents and my sister in particular, were my lifeline, my friends were so supportive and always there for me to have my meltdowns to. Nevertheless, I was so scared to tell people. My family, my friends, my boyfriend that I had depression, I was afraid of how their perception of me would change.
I wanted to be seen as strong, successful, empowered, intelligent and thriving. In my mind, having depression made me incapable of being any of those things. Yet, my fears of confiding in them were unjustified, they reminded me of who I was. They helped me find the spark that I had lost.
Being away from home, and the people who knew me made it all the more difficult. How were these strangers I had just met supposed to know that I didn't usually hide in my room and not go out? How could they know I was struggling, I put up such a facade that even my friends and family didn't realise for a long long time. If I hadn't left uni when I did I know things would be a lot worse now. I would have carried on pretending things were fine, whilst inside I felt worse than ever, I would have continued to push people away and struggle alone. Being at home with people who knew me enabled me to get the help I was so desperately in need of.
I was prescribed anti-depressants and I was referred to therapy (which is a lot more hands on than counselling, so don't give up hope if counselling isn't working). I was able to piece together what things triggered my anxiety, why I was having the thoughts I was having, why I felt and feel they way I do. It made me realise there were a lot of things from my childhood that affected me, that I had been trying to ignore for years, and I had to face these things head on. Most importantly I learnt ways in which to cope with all of this.
A year ago, I could never have imagined I would be capable of living and working in another country, being so far away from my support system, being able to get up and get dressed and go to work every morning and actually feel happy and positive. But I am capable of it, I am thriving off of it. Of course, there are times when the days keep fading back into darkness, but I won't allow it to become uncontrollable like it once was. I know that I will keep moving forward, my mental health will always be something I struggle with, but that struggle is becoming easier each day.
Never feel as though you have to struggle through it, take a step back, do what you need to do and do not feel guilty. Make that first enormous move and reach out, or if you think someone isn't themselves, reach out to them. My friends were always there whenever I messaged them, and for that I am so so grateful, but they rarely messaged me first. I do not know if they were busy or afraid or embarrassed. Whatever it was I don't blame them, but if you know someone is struggling - please reach out to them. You never know how much it might be needed and how much they are struggling trying to reach out to you.
Let's all speak up now because for whatever reason, it makes us feel better to know that we are not alone, that we share our struggles. So I share my struggles here with you in the hopes that if you are confused, or afraid or isolated this will help you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do.