mental health at uni and asking for help

It is 8:30pm. I’m sitting on a train; a window seat, people watching. Wondering what the hell I’m doing here and what I’ve done to myself. Five days into my second semester and I’m already making my way home following a breakdown on Friday night. It’s the second time since September that I’ve had to go home because of my mental health, and here I was thinking (read: hoping) that university would be the opportunity I needed to escape my mental ailments, my brain tormenting me. Such was not the case, unfortunately.

I thought I’d be fine coming back after Christmas and that a short break to spend time with my family and friends at home would provide me with the respite necessary to heal my brain a little and get back into a routine of sleeping well, consuming less alcohol, taking my meds properly and on a daily basis as I should be, but it turned out that going home actually worsened my mental state and led me back to old, terrible habits, and made me feel even more lost. It’s hard not knowing what ‘home’ is any more. It should be the place where my family is, and to a certain extent it is – I view people as my home more than a physical place or building. My family is my home and my heart is with them always, but when your childhood bedroom is filled not just with furniture but with painful memories of your darkest, most miserable times, it is hard to feel at home there.

When I moved to Sheffield I gave a piece of my heart to it. I instantly fell in love. I found my home away from home, I found home in my flatmates and new friends, I found home in a city that brought me a joy I had never experienced before. I found home in my newfound independence and my ability to use a washing machine, cook meals, form a routine for myself without the help of others. Despite all of this, despite the happiness that I found in a new place, I found myself relying increasingly on alcohol, blacking out regularly, relying too much on other people for my ‘happiness’ who were actually bad for me, not taking my anti-depressants daily and not feeding myself at all. The thing is, when you’re flung into a new environment and too busy to pay attention to what’s happening, you don’t see it yourself. I didn’t even realise what was happening until early November when I looked in the mirror and saw a gaunt, miserable person who was not looking after herself properly. It’s easy to let your surroundings suck you into the belief that you’re doing equally as well as your peers, and drinking yourself into oblivion so often that you’re so intoxicated the majority of the time that you don’t even have a chance to fully look at your life from an outside perspective and realise that you’re just digging yourself into a deep, dark hole that, the further you dig, the more difficult it will be to escape from.

I went home for a week (ish) in November, in the hope that going home would help me some, would bring me a bit of much-needed peace. I needed an escape from the mess I’d made of myself in Sheffield, and I felt like that week really helped. I returned and got back into the swing of things, still probably relying on alcohol a little too much, not entirely feeling like myself but at least taking my meds and going to (most of) my lectures and seminars. The thing that people don’t always understand is that depression is not always visible. I can function relatively well sometimes, even when my brain is trying to actually kill me. I can get up, shower, go and buy food, go out and feign happiness – sometimes it isn’t even me faking it; I can be happy. But it’s an escape, a way to avoid my state of mind. Most of the time that I go out I’m dissociating anyway, and that combined with the alcohol is – let me tell you – a combination that is really quite dangerous. It wasn’t until I ended up left alone in a club on a night out absolutely black-out drunk and ending up back at a stranger’s flat that I realised I really had an issue with an alcohol, and luckily since then I’ve managed to take care of the situation to a certain extent, over-drinking occasionally but not as much as I did – for the most part I know my limits and tend not to exceed them.

Depression is not something that medication can fix. It’s something that I am fighting on a daily basis. When I can’t function properly, I find it difficult to do anything. Yesterday I left my bed to get some water and that was it. I slept for 18 of the last 24 hours. It wasn’t a peaceful rest, mind – when you’re depressed, the sleep that you get makes you feel sluggish, exhausted, shaky, and completely detached from the world. I hate it.

It wasn’t until Friday night that I realised how much I am really struggling. It’s not until you get home on your own from a club, dissociated and drunk, and end up having a breakdown in front of your flatmates covered in your own blood that you realise you probably need more help than just the odd visit to your GP and a few anti-depressants to ward away the demons. It was a massive wake-up call. I think the fact that I speak so openly about my mental health online and tend to lean towards making jokes about it both online and in person that people don’t necessarily take me seriously. I only really have myself to blame – saying things like ‘I want to die’ at the end of a truly insignificant tweet or following a minor event is only really going to end up with people not truly taking what you’re saying as what it is, but it’s also important for people to realise that when you are suffering and you’re battling against the demons in your head that making jokes is at least a healthy coping mechanism, or, at the very least, doesn’t harm you or anyone else.

I’ve taken the first step I need to in recovery, though – I registered with my university counselling service and will be booking an assessment when I get back to Sheffield next week. I’ve realised that as much as I think I can help myself, at this point I really cannot. University is wonderful, the experiences you have and the people you meet are really and truly different from anything you will ever experience, but it would be a lie to say it isn’t an isolating environment. You’re surrounded by people, and yet you’re alone. It is so easy to hide away from everyone, lock yourself in your room, starve yourself and not speak to anyone. That’s why I’ve realised that I really do need to speak to a professional on a more regular basis than just once every few months. I have accepted that the help I need and deserve isn’t possible to get from a friend or my family or from anyone I have any sort of relationship with, and certainly not from myself. As much as I know that I am trying my best, listening to my brain is doing more harm than good at the moment.

I hope this week spent at home will do me good. Home is the best place to be at times like this, and I’m hoping that this time it really will refresh me and give me the peace of mind and solace that I need. I don’t plan on doing anything other than reading good books, spending time with my cat, and going for country walks down footpaths I spent time walking down as a child. I need the fresh air, I need to read words and nourish my brain, and I need to appreciate my own company in a way that is not detrimental to my health, which, if I were in Sheffield this week, it would be.

Something that my dad is always telling me, and which I always forget, is this: people around you can provide you with the means to get yourself out of the deep, dark, seemingly bottomless well that you’re in, but you have to build the ladder yourself. I was reminded of this this evening when I was in an Uber and the driver was talking to me about his life and his experiences, and telling me that the only thing that helped him was the realisation that he needed to help himself first. Sometimes you need to hear words like that from a stranger to understand something. I really owe him a lot for his kindness and advice; never underestimate the power of a stranger’s words.

I am doing my best. And I will get better. I’m making the motions to recover, and I’m actually going to do it this time. When I get back to Sheffield, hopefully refreshed, I will feed myself proper meals, try to form a relatively decent sleeping pattern, take my meds, and attempt to steer clear of (too much) alcohol, for the most part. It’s about learning how your body and mind work, learning what triggers certain reactions in your brain, and making the effort to actually take into account these things, and not ignore them. Ignoring things doesn’t make them go away. Trust me. If you’re experiencing anything like this, and if you take just one thing away from this ineloquent and ridiculous blog post, then please let it be this: you need to look after yourself. You need to listen to your body, and your mind, and when people tell you that they’re worried about you and that you should stop doing certain things for the good of your health, then it isn’t because they’re picking a fight. They aren’t criticising. They’re trying to help you. It’s taken me three months to realise this, and I wish it hadn’t taken me getting to the point of contemplating suicide to realise that people are only trying to help me. The only person who can really help you is yourself, by listening to others. Listen to your gut instinct, and listen to the people around you who are doing all they can to help you. Make 2017 the year of taking care of yourself, the year of listening to well-meaning advice, and the year of recovery. I’m in a very dark, scary, confused place right now but I believe I can get out of it. We can do it. And I love you.

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5 thoughts on “mental health at uni and asking for help

  1. this is a really moving piece of writing and it means a lot as someone who struggles with similar issues to you to be able to read those feelings put into words. thank you for being so open about what you’ve been through and your advice at the end of the piece is inspiring, i hope all the best for you

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  2. What a moving blog. Please be kind to yourself, you are a beautiful perso. As a fellow sufferer of depression I can empathize with you. Sending healing thoughts and love. Sam

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  3. Registering with my university counselling service was the best move I made. I struggled big time at the beginning of my second year. A relationship breakdown, a kid to support at home and a degree was just too much for me. I went for the counselling (having had counselling in the past and not thinking much of it) feeling like I was just doing it to pay lip service to ‘getting better.’ I wasn’t expecting to get much out of it. But it was really the best thing I’ve ever done.

    I really hope it works for you and sets you on the path to learning to love yourself and look after yourself. A good friend used to say to me at least once a week, “remember, you’re worth something too.” Try not to forget that.

    Liked by 1 person

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