Hello, everyone! You may not be aware, but this week is mental health awareness week run by the Mental Health Foundation. As this is an area I’m really passionate about both personally and as a psychology student, to do my bit I’ve decided to run a blog feature where I and guest bloggers talk about mental health related topics paired with books and/or blogging to help raise awareness. 🙂
So, it seems like a fitting place to start by sharing my mental health journey with you. This is something that previously, I have decided to gloss over on this blog. Until now, I haven’t felt comfortable discussing it. I felt embarrassed by it, ashamed even and didn’t want anyone to know except a very small select few. Mental health has a sneaky way of doing that to you, backing you into a corner, isolating you from others and blocking out any light or positivity. Something about putting it into writing has always made it feel so… final. It’s not something you can take back. It’s a scary thing to put out there, but I’m finally ready and I’m happy with who I am now.
True story: I suffer with anxiety.
There. It’s out. I don’t think I’ve ever even written it down. However, those of you who have followed me for a long time may have suspected or picked up on small things over the years.
For as long as I can remember I have been an anxious person, unusually so, but I never really understood it. When I reached 18, it started to spiral out of control. Moving to university is scary for anyone, it’s a time of change and uncertainty. However, while others got over this quickly with their first few drunken fresher nights, my fear only got worse until I was in a state of pure terror. Every little thing would scare me, going to lectures, socialising in the communal kitchen, having to eat in the public dining hall, going to pay for something at a till, and most of all public transport. What was I scared of? A million what ifs, each more unrealistic than the last.
Amazing drawing attributed to boggletheowl.tumblr.com.
I tried to explain to my housemates and school friends why I was acting like such a petrified mouse, and apart from one or two exceptions nobody got it and just told me to quit university. I was lost. I felt like quitting would make me a complete failure and I would never be employed by anyone which meant I would never be able to get a car or a house or adult in any capacity, but staying was also unbearable. Everyone was worried about me; I was unhappy crying every day, I was losing weight, I looked tired and distressed. My body was in a constant state of hyperarousal where my vision was blurry, sounds would seem slow and disjointed, my body would shake uncontrollably and I’d feel dizzy and hyperventilate. It got the point where I didn’t even want to leave my room and I became mildly depressed. When you’re in that mindset, logic goes out the window and you can’t see how much of a cycle you’re in. It’s a difficult thing to explain. I think back to it now and realise that I really wasn’t myself, and I can’t believe how I ever got to that place. It feels like it all happened to someone else.
I can honestly say those two years transitioning to university were the worst of my life, and I’ve had a slow uphill battle to rebuild myself ever since. Most people say university are the best years of your life, for me, they were the worst.
While all my friends were telling me to quit and some of my family, I was stubborn and absolutely adamant that I wouldn’t, all the while desperately feeling like I couldn’t make it through another day. I felt trapped. Eventually, my mum convinced me to go the student counseling service. I didn’t think it would work but slowly the weeks started to slip by. I was still in a horrible mindset, but counseling gave me an outlet to address issues I had buried and helped point out irrational and unhelpful thought patterns that I wasn’t aware of.
Slowly, I started seeing through the fog, and with the help of a few new friendships, a lot of hard work, some bookish escapism and reading the lovely comments from people on this blog telling me how awesome I was (hehehe) things started to look up. I recently also started on some medication which I had always been adverse to trying, but actually turns out to really help.
Some of the things my mind told me I would never achieve: Graduating. Feeling comfortable eating out. Learning to Drive. Being Employed. Having a relationship. Well, take that anxiety!
I’m not cured, of course. There’s no such thing as a cure for mental health problems yet. It’s a part of me, and it always will be. I have my bad days and my downright awful days where I crumple into a ball and nothing in the world seems like it will ever be good again. Simple things that others wouldn’t think twice about often terrify me, and the things that most people worry about are heightened. But through professional help, understanding family and friends, and personal experience, I’ve learnt to cope with it a lot better.
I wanted to share this because although it’s scary, the more we talk about it, the more people will understand mental health, and if I can help even one person or make them feel slightly more normal by speaking up, I want to do it. Mental health issues hit everyone, and don’t discriminate by gender, age or culture. Whatever you do, if you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence. There are SO many people out there ready to help you, if you’ll let them.