For most of us, university is meant to be place where you find your career path, friends for life, and maybe even a potential partner. Unbeknownst to me, it became the place I found my mental illness.
During secondary school, I realised my brain was wired differently – I reacted adversely to situations which most would shrug off over time. However, just as my determination to be academically successful was peaking, so was my mental illness. I’d managed to get by, pushing through my A-Levels and going to one of the most prestigious universities in the country, reading one of the most competitive courses; but I still felt inadequate. Not to mention the stress of moving away from my support network, my closest friends and my family. This new lifestyle was alien to me.
Second year was the low point of my mental health. Before, I’d accept-ed the theory that I was “homesick” or “nervous about meeting new peo-ple/starting a new degree.” Now, I realised there was something else brewing in the background holding me back. Despite my mental health issues, I’d established a good friend-ship group and was settling in – until that structure collapsed. Unaware of it, and shortly after these events, I became a completely different person. On top of university feeling obscure, I was now an alien to myself. I became agitated, angry and obsessive to the point of restlessness, and my mind would not give up. If studying wasn’t enough stress to cope with, imagine your mind turning against you, manipulating events, thinking the worst of a situation, turning on the people you love. I hated this, but I was a prisoner to my own cognitions, and there appeared to be no escape. I had turned this behaviour into the norm. There were plenty of times I reached breaking point, feeling as if I had reached beyond the point of help. My thoughts would work me up into such a panicked state that it made me feel as if I was going to collapse into a heap, or never come down from it. Despite never thinking I’d need help, I really did.
So I took a trip to student services to explain my situation. Being already well versed in the screening processes and support that my secondary school had to offer, I presumed I would be told “it’s just a stressful phase, it will pass” and be given some self-help sites to look up. On the contrary, this visit was surprisingly different. Finally a professional could see and feel my struggle, and I felt genuinely validated. I had a safe space where I could talk to someone, delve into the deepest and darkest feelings I had, and not be judged one bit for it. Albeit sceptical that anything could be fixed at that point, I had finally began to plan my road to recovery. Up and down days still occurred (and continue to do so today; there is never a quick fix for mental health) but I worked hard and painstakingly began to battle them.
My next hurdle was to see a GP. Having worked in and studied the medical profession for both my degree and work experience, I had wrongfully stereotyped a visit to the doctor regarding mental health a waste of time. I was proved wrong once again, and I finally came to my diagnosis. As a consequence, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Having these diagnoses proved both terrifying ying and relieving; it defined how I felt, thought and acted but it also meant that yes, there was something different about me. I started medica-tion and a course of CBT which was a life-saver (sometimes in the most literal sense), and started my road to recovery. Not only the professionals, but my closest friends and family be-came aids to my recovery and they still are to this day.
If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to someone feeling similar, it is to not only talk to those close to you, but also listen to them. You may not realise that you’re being clutched into the depths of your mental illness, but others will notice and desperately want to help you in whatever way they can. So please let them in and don’t suffer alone, confused and at breaking-point. Personally, it’s a daily struggle not to stigmatise myself. Yes, I have a mental health is-sue and yes, I can still pursue my degree and career like anyone else. Everyone’s experiences are diverse but, if anything, my mental illness has taught me to take a step back and evaluate how I feel and act. I am more in tune with myself and my feelings than ever before. I feel like for once, I actually know myself.