When you start university, the expectation is that you will blossom into a stereotypical social butterfly with a massive group of friends. Your first year should be a blur of drinking, nights out and falling out with your flatmates over who’s turn it is to take the bins out.
What you don’t expect is to move away from home and for it to seem as though life has stopped.
Mental health is something that was not readily talked about at the school and college that I went too. So when I found myself unable to drag myself from my bed, sleeping the majority of the day and turning down invitations from new flatmates and course mates I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on.
Friends from home stopped trying to bother contacting me once it became apparent that I wasn’t going to reply. Flatmates would nod at me in the corridors when I emerged for food but would laugh with each other in their rooms.
Answering phone calls from home turned into a struggle. My Mum would ask ‘How are you doing sweetheart?’ and I would answer with a fake cheery voice and list people on my course that I was seeing later or going for coffee with – while in reality I was sat in my room in the same pair of pyjamas I’d worn for two weeks.
The thought of going out with people, leaving the safety net that my room had become caused what I now know were panic attacks. My body locked into one position and my breathing accelerated, I would clutch at my head, close my eyes and honestly believe that I was dying.
When people hear the term depression they usually picture sadness, crying, frustration etc. Whilst you can feel those, the overwhelming ‘feeling’ is nothingness. You don’t get excited about anything, you can’t get yourself motivated to do anything, and any task or everyday thing (like taking a shower) seems like a monumental effort.
This cycle of events continued for two semesters. Until one day I was cornered by the flatmate who lived in the room next to mine, who asked how I was doing. Attempting the cheery voice that had worked in the past I assured her I was fine, whilst desperately trying to turn my key in the door to escape into the gloom of my room.
“But you’re not okay, are you?”
It took six words. To see underneath the fake cheery exterior and probe a little bit deeper into what was going on.
“But you’re not okay, are you?”
The last time I cried before coming to university was when I had split up with my college boyfriend. Those six words caused me to feel a rush of fear/sadness/happiness that someone had genuinely noticed something was wrong and I cried to my flatmate for about an hour.
After the admittance that something was wrong, things seemed to get better slowly but surely. My flatmate put me in touch with the university’s counselling service and pressured me into booking an appointment with a doctor. She would knock on my door almost daily and talk me into going for a walk with her, for a coffee or even to sit together and watch a movie in the kitchen.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, with the anxiety a main factor in my lack of socialising which had led to my depression.
The counselling service at university helped me greatly, I just wish that the system (at least at my university) wasn’t set up so you could only have 8 appointments per year. More contact and help would be a massive improvement in the way universities help students suffering with any form of mental health issue.
One good thing I found from my university was that, once diagnosed, I had an extenuating circumstances form indefinitely, meaning that if I was suffering or needed extra time on a deadline they understood and would help me.
Various trials with antidepressants later, I graduated from university and actually did damn well in my degree. I took charge of my anxiety with my counsellor’s help, and managed to not only branch out and make friends but to be the instigator in most of our social events. Attending the graduation ball and having the time of my life is one of my biggest achievements other than my degree.
Fast forward and I am currently studying a masters in London. It has been two months since my last panic attack and I am in contact with a counsellor/doctor on a regular basis.
I still have horrible days where I feel as low as I possibly can, and getting out of bed is a huge struggle, but being honest with my friends and family means that I have a support network around me who are there when I do have those days. Sometimes even a text from someone showing a bit of concern or tough love is enough to push me to get on with my day.
As much as this is said by mental health services and charities alike, if you feel as though something is wrong, if you are suffering or end up stuck in a rut – the hardest but best thing you can do is to talk to someone. Be that friends, family, or even a charity like the Samaritans, you don’t need to suffer alone when the help is out there.
You deserve to be happy.
Featured image: flickr/Hey Paul Studios