There is no denying that student life can be difficult. From constantly dodging the seemingly endless barrage of essays, labs, and assignments to trying to live an enriched social life, university can stand as a challenge to us all. The act of trying to stay afloat while maintaining a sense of personal happiness can be a taxing feat, often resulting in the inherently unhelpful combination of waking up four hours after leaving the Union, only to realise you have a tutorial in an hour and a huge section of work to plan that day. But what happens if you add an undiagnosed mental illness into the equation?
Imagine this scenario: it is 4pm, and you are finally home from lectures. Not only has it been a hugely tiring day, but you have felt incredibly zoned out for the last six hours; it a struggle to get up in the morning because your insomnia is so terrible, and everything you attempted to take in today has disappeared. You remember your lectures, but the information seems hazy. You may also have bumped into a friend, which feels like a momentary lapse of relief – but only for a second. This social contact perhaps begins to feel sour or wrong, and all you want to do is hide. But, you smiled and said hello, maybe even ventured for a coffee with them. This encounter, teamed with the frustration of having a mind, makes you feel as though you are stuck in a permanent videogame, and ignites something within you. As you trudge through your last class, you feel a prickle of irritation bloom behind your eyes – which only obscures your concentration more. Having survived the day, you finally settle onto your sofa to catch your breath; but you can’t. Your mind suddenly plunges you into the deepest depths of absolute despair, and everything around you seems revolting and cruel. Your emotional receptors are spinning out of control, and your mind begins to leach emotions from whatever music or television is present around you. You may feel sick, or become paranoid about everything in your life. As you utterly snowball into total confusion, you realise you have no idea why you feel so awful – all you want to do is finish that essay, or go to that meeting. Suddenly, you hugely miss your friends instead of being indifferent to social interactions. This episode maybe lasts for an hour, or even a couple of days, and when it finally departs you feel drained to the point of physical weakness. But like before, you wake up, and slouch your way into town.
Hideous, right? To make matters worse, now imagine you have no tangible label to cling to – having sought professional help, you are met by the news that a doctor’s referral will take three months and you simply have to wait. You go to Student Services, only to realise that (although lovely) the staff understandably cannot pinpoint the form of help you need without a professional diagnoses. As such you come home feeling deflated – ironically, only armed with a series of breathing exercises to supposedly help you. You wait for the doctor’s letter in the post, but as the weeks stretch on, the act of sorting through envelopes advertising free coupons just becomes upsetting.
This is what life is like for someone like myself. In today’s day and age, mental health is getting a larger amount of attention, which is fantastic. But for many individuals, the topic of undiagnosed mental illness seems to have been swept under the rug. While discussions regarding the understanding of depression and anxiety seem to be booming on social media, I am yet to see pages advertising specific help for those stuck in the limbo stage of their mental health journey. Almost like a lost cause, individuals like myself are forced to live by the mantra of waiting – wait for this appointment, wait for these people to understand, wait for it to “get better.”
But in reality, waiting does more harm than good. Acting as a malevolent catalyst, this inability to move forward simply re-sparks the fire of potential episodes, low moods, or emotional irregularity again – and thus re-starts the nightmarish Ferris wheel. This is exactly where I put my foot down against the hatred of mental health “labels.” Some may claim they are inherently bad; perhaps they squander our individuality. For me? I want nothing more than such a label. Not only does it offer an explanation of such feelings, but it automatically leads to treatment – without a diagnosis or well-rounded understanding of your mental imbalance, you may fall deeper into the routine of self-hatred due to your apparent inability to “sort yourself out.”
The truth? Labels, in the realm of mental health, can often quell these fears – they act as a means of separating X individual from Y illness, allowing you to realise you have a medical condition that you cannot help; without one, you may find yourself feeling increasingly lost and confused. Do not be afraid to get diagnosed, and do not lose sight of the end game – it may take a while, and the interim between seeking help and getting better is often an uphill struggle.
But while you wait, try and implement as many self-help practices as you can. Talk to your family or friends, go for walks to clear your head, try to do things that make you happy. And when you do finally get your diagnosis, embrace it with open arms – labels are not there to dehumanise you, but to do the opposite.