To mark international Mental Health day I’ve been uploading anonymous mental health experiences all week long. Todays one is from a friend who went to the same University as me, and is a call to talk to others about how you are feeling.
I have always felt fairly ‘odd’; as if I don’t quite always fit in. For the majority of my life, this has been fine. I got to a certain age and stopped worrying about the cool kids at school. I gravitated towards people with shared interests, like we all do, and I got to be increasingly comfortable in my own skin. At first, University was a revelation. The fun, the excitement, the independence… what a brilliant, liberating time. I studied English with Journalism, so I could indulge in my passion for great literature and great writing. Yet a combination of naivety and uncertainty meant that I didn’t really confront the aftermath of University. There was no plan; my ambitions seemed to disappear. Eventually, I didn’t feel passionate or motivated enough to pursue Journalism as a career option.
By the time my third year rolled around, I was in a state of near panic. What on earth was I going to do? There was the guilt, too. I looked at my dad, who was putting himself through physical agony to provide for our family. I looked at fellow students: chasing stories, making plans, talking about Masters- looking for the next step, whatever it may be. I had it so easy! Why couldn’t I focus? It was as if I was on a treadmill…life was moving on but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I started drinking too much, I stopped caring about my studies and my sleeping pattern became as unpredictable as our own Great British weather. It was only a matter of time before things came to a head.
I can’t remember the exact point at which I realised that I needed help. Over a period of two months, I found myself crying for what seemed like no reason, I became increasingly uncomfortable in social situations and began to dread even leaving the flat. I felt physically ill: shivering, weak, exhausted and with a shadow of my usual Homer Simpson-style appetite. Unfortunately, booze became a crutch; I figured I could drink away my feelings. On top of it all, the guilt was now an utter monster. It leeched away remaining fight that I had. Why did I feel like this? I had no real worries, certainly not compared to a great deal of less fortunate people. I should have been grateful for what I had. I should have been okay. I was able to open up to a few friends and they offered me all the support and encouragement I could wish for. Secretly, I had actually begun to see death as some sort of release from whatever demons had seemingly been conjured, but the support and the love kept me just about safe.
Finally, as winter was really beginning to take a firm grip on my already fragile state of mind (I do love Bangor, but it has what should be named ‘Ultra Winter’), I exploded into a shower of quaking, messy tears. The friends who I was with, to whom I am forever grateful, made me contact the University’s counselling service. For whatever reason, the fact that the counsellor just seemed to understand me helped. I was to go home, seek treatment and come back when I felt I was ready. There was one really horrendous night before I left for home. I shan’t go too far into the details, but I enjoyed a night in jail. At that point, I hadn’t learnt to listen to how I was feeling and to look after myself accordingly. I woke up the next morning mortified, but able to start the road to recovery. On the whole, things got better from that morning. It’s by no means a straight journey. I was assaulted around 18 months later and the shock and helplessness seemed to drag everything out of the shadows. I mistrusted everyone, and used my hate and fear to hide away in bed. Eventually, I talked again. I was listened to and understood again. Talking also helped me to understand whatever I was feeling. It sounds cheesy, but I have found it to be true. Sometimes, I still have bad days, even though I have so much to look forward to now. I do know, however, that if things ever get too much, I will find help. I will talk, I will work things out and I will keep fighting
I can only speak from my own experience, but what I would say to my younger self is: don’t believe anyone who tells you to ‘man up’. Ignore the roles, the expectations and the stigma. Cherish the people who listen and don’t be afraid to talk. Take whatever comforts you can and take the time to slow down and feel better. It can be extremely hard, particularly as we get older, to find the time to do so. But believe me: it is essential that we keep a keen sense of our own feelings and look after ourselves. I am nearly 30 and I still find a remarkable kind of solace in avidly wailing to Fall Out Boy songs (well, Pete Wentz is a fantastic ambassador for mental wellbeing support). If we cease to ‘man up’ and keep being honest with ourselves, then we might just, with the support of dedicated counsellors, family and friends, find that recovery comes just a little bit easier.