Starting university was a new path in my life that I was very ready for. I would be moving from home to a new environment where I didn’t know anybody to start with, I’d make new friends and experience the university life that I had been so eagerly researching about. All the emotions geared towards university were of positivity and any concerns I had were mostly to do with minor things. However, university threw a curveball that I was not in any way prepared for. This was through anxiety and depression.
I think everyone experiences some form of anxiety but at university. I found my anxiety levels to be escalating constantly and I increasingly experienced panic attacks. As usual I chalked it up to the stress of the new workload and that I had to adjust to the new environment. Unfortunately, I was now going through a state of being anxious about every single task I had to complete. Simply sending an email to my tutor would leave me in a state of worry and overthinking for days before I could muster the courage to finally do so. There were weeks where I hadn’t seen daylight because I couldn’t leave my house without feeling nervous. I would be cooped up in my room with the curtains drawn and simply go through the motions without concentrating.
The fatal connection I missed was that during all these times I never came to the realisation that I was suffering from an illness. My illness didn’t start off physically so I paid no attention to it but this is the misconception a lot of us will make; mental illness is just as serious as a physical one. My mental illness manifested into physical pain in forms of abdominal pain, headaches and fatigue. I was constantly complaining of being in a lot of pain but no one could understand what was causing or why I was not getting better. Thinking about it now it’s most likely during my appointments that as I wasn’t aware of that they were linked because I rationalised my mental health as periods of sadness and stress.
Being depressed was something I was not prepared to admit to myself. I was ashamed of what I was suffering from.
I started missing one or two lectures then even eventually I wasn’t even stepping foot onto campus anymore. I was confused by my lack of motivation and was shocked at how I was in a state of simply not caring. My moods were in one sense making me feel a sense of apathy, but the other half of me was in overdrive, in overthinking and worrying about everything. I would also overwork myself during late nights in the library to catch up that I would just end up rushing to the bathroom and having a breakdown. My life became a double-edged sword where I couldn’t bring myself to care about university but I wanted to strive to achieve great grades and succeed in everything I do – this caused me to fight a battle within myself. I was stuck in a cycle where I was unable to complete my work to my best ability. My grades would return and I would sink lower because I felt like an absolute failure. I knew I could do it so I was baffled as to why I wasn’t. I felt like I was disappointing myself and everyone who cares about me. My mum would ask me about university and how my friends were doing but I would lie and say everything was okay when deep down I wanted to tell her that I was not doing okay at all.
My behaviour began changing in how I interacted with the people around me and my friends back home. I entered a state where I couldn’t communicate and I wanted to be isolated all the time. I would be excited to make plans with friends but on the day of the event I would find myself texting people with made up reasons as to why I couldn’t go. In truth, I was in stuck in my room with no reason but I couldn’t muster up the energy to leave my bed. During the day, I was completely exhausted and couldn’t seem to get anything done, then at night my insomnia would kick in and I would stay awake all night worrying about all the things I didn’t do. Some days are tolerable but other days I can’t function with doing anything. I was constantly disassociating from life and I just experienced constant thoughts that “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a bad friend.” All these were causing my thoughts to spiral even further and the worst thing is that I believed them. I would be surrounded around friends and still felt lonely. I felt like I didn’t fit in or I wasn’t liked because I wasn’t there anymore or people just hung out with me out of pity.
I start lashing out and ghosting on my relationships. I would ignore messages coming through my phone. I let a friendship with my best friend go because I was ashamed of communicating why I stopped talking to her for no reason. I ended my relationship because I didn’t see myself capable or worthy of love. I just felt like a needy girlfriend or I just showed no emotions. I felt like I was being an emotional burden on them.
With everything that I went through and thinking that I was not going to get better, a friend reached out to me and encouraged me to talk to someone. Till this day I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for pushing me to seek help with the university. The first step to recovery was acceptance, I had to admit that I was suffering and needed the support to get better. Making the telephone appointment to my university to make an appointment was one of the hardest moments in my life. I anguished over the decision many times before I finally gathered the bravery to attend my first appointment. I still recall my first appointment where my therapist asked me how I was feeling and to my shock I started bawling. I mean some deep painful tears that I hadn’t experienced before because for the first time in over 2 years, I felt lighter just having someone listen and understand the suffering I had been enduring. To be able to detail the pain I had been feeling for the last two years was a relief I never imagined I could feel. I wasn’t aware of how much I had been harbouring and to be able to talk it all out and have someone explain to me that I could get better was a relief I didn’t know was possible.
I must be honest about how writing this piece has been incredibly difficult for me but is something that I need to let off my chest because I know I am not the only suffering like this. Please if you are in a situation like this then I urge you to make that phone call to the wellbeing at your university. Universities will have pastoral officers on your course who work towards helping you get better and these can be through counselling or individual learning plans. Even finding calling an anonymous line to let out your feelings can be something that can be of great help to you. Please do not suffer in silence like I did and I understand that everything is dark right now but we can get better.