Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Rejection - A not-so dirty word

Joanne writes about her experience of searching for graduate jobs, and the effect it can have on your mental health.                                                                                      
- Joanne Sarginson

It’s often said that Generation Y millennials view themselves as special – valiant heroes of this difficult world. Maybe this is true, because I, like many heroes, have a sidekick. My sidekick possesses several qualities displayed by good sidekicks.  He is persistent and loyal like Robin. Like Chewbacca, he is almost always by my side. Like John Watson, he makes me think about how I can perform better. But he also makes me doubt my abilities. He makes me sad. His vision of my future differs from mine.  My sidekick’s name is rejection.  

Mine and rejection’s relationship is like that of Shrek and Donkey’s - it has a knack of leaving me stranded in a swamp of person specifications and application forms. But rejection will never break through my ‘onion’ layers and worm its way into my heart. If anything, hanging out with rejection is building up those layers. Thanks to rejection, I’m developing an increasingly thick skin.

Everywhere you look, there are graduates working their way towards promotion by developing client-tailored marketing strategies and perfecting the exact milk: water: sugar ratio of their manager’s ideal cup of tea. But when you’re yet to establish yourself on the career ladder, this can be a difficult concept to get your head round. So I’ve developed three ways to protect my self-esteem after rejection makes its unwelcome appearance. 

1. Try Not To Personalise Rejection 
In the current graduate job market, receiving a rejection is not because you’re incapable, but more due to lots of other equally capable applicants and, ultimately, one person who is slightly more capable than the rest. Just because you’ve not been successful doesn’t mean you’re not valuable. Learn from the experience and take it forward with you - soon you’ll be that stand-out candidate. 

2. Look at Failure In Terms of Success 
Whilst getting rejected at the interview stage might initially seem like a failure, it’s not. If this was one of your first interviews on your job hunt, remember that walking into an unfamiliar and intimidating situation takes bravery and doing so is a personal success in itself. If this is the next in a long line of rejections, consider how resilient you’ve been to continue applying. Rework your thought processes so that you don’t see rejection as a result of things that went wrong - think instead about things that went well. Consider where you could have improved; even email your interviewer to ask for feedback. 

3. Realise That You Are So Much More Than ‘An Unemployed Graduate’ 
In the Social Media age, we’re constantly exposed to the successes of others, which can have the effect of belittling our own achievements. A CV is essentially a list of accomplishments and receiving a rejection can sometimes feel like an ignorance of these achievements. When writing a CV, we filter our achievements, including only those important to the employer. Try writing a personal CV of achievements that are important to you - include things as big as gaining a degree or seemingly small as carrying a spider outside. Take time to reflect on your list and realise how strong you’ve been to overcome the challenges you’ve faced. 

4. And finally, always remember: your value as a person doesn’t revolve around your status on the career ladder.

Joanne also includes some great tips and advice on coping positively with postgraduate life on her own personal blog. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Recovering your Identity from Anorexia

After years of living with in the bubble of an eating disorder, Chloe lost sight of her life beyond the illness. Here, she reflects on the process of recovering her identity.... 

 - Chloe 

Only a few years ago, I was anorexia. 

My life revolved around food, exercise, calories and weight. Losing weight was the only goal I strived for and the one thing that made me 'happy'. I completely lost myself to the eating disorder. I was no longer the bubbly, happy, chatty and fun little girl I had been. I was no longer Chloe; I was anorexia. 

During this time, I spent less and less time at school due to my ill health. Consequently, I began to lose the few friends that had stuck by me. I'd always decline offers to go out, for fear that food might be involved. My bedroom was my comfort zone, where I would exercise in secret - it was a place that belonged to my eating disorder. 

When I was forced into recovery by doctors and nurses, I was terrified. I was scared of the food, weight gain and hospital walls around me. However, what I feared most was losing 'anorexia'; the illness had become so entangled with my identity, I didn't know who Chloe was anymore. As much as I hated being known as "the girl with the eating disorder", I convinced myself that this was better than having no personality at all. 

I hated myself for the worry I was causing my family, yet their concern about me made me feel loved and wanted - something which anorexia tried to tell me I was not. I needed support and I felt that losing my eating disorder would leave me with no help at all. I feared the misconception that physical progress is the same as mental progress; that, because I was gaining weight, I was completely fine. 

During my hospital admission, I felt more anxious than ever before; however, because  my weight was improving I didn't believe I could admit these  struggles. For so long, I convinced myself that anorexia was a safety blanket, which told the outside world I needed help. So what did I do? Despite all these fears and uncertainties, I powered on. I chose to trust in recovery.

It was the hardest fight I have ever faced, but I battled through the guilt and the tears and slowly but surely I returned to a healthy weight. Yet it was through my mental recovery, that my life became less about anorexia and more about Chloe. My thoughts around food, calories and weight were replaced with music, fashion and friends. 

I could concentrate again, I laughed and I remembered how to have fun! I was getting my personality back and I realised that there is so much more to life. My fear of losing my identity vanished as I returned to the former bubbly, happy and fun girl I used to be. 

Most importantly, I allowed myself to acknowledge my own bravery. Although a lot of people think eating is a completely natural thing to do, for me each bite was an achievement. As time went on I became stronger and and things became more manageable. 

Furthermore, when I reached my target weight I continued to receive the help I needed, to guide me on my way to health and happiness. Now, 5 years later, I can say that I am so glad I chose recovery!

For more information on understanding Eating Disorders, click here.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Why going to a LGBT-friendly university was so important for my mental health

A Student Minds volunteer writes about her experience of coming out at university, and the importance of finding support that works for you. 

Going to university
I came out to friends just before I went to university and luckily most of them were really supportive - many of them had already guessed anyway. I had told my mum, though she didn’t quite believe me yet and was uncomfortable about the whole thing. As for my dad, making jokes about gay people was one of his pastimes, so I was far too scared to tell him. In a way I was happy to leave home so I could be the person I wanted to be without those pressures.

Meeting people who made me feel comfortable
In my first few terms of university it was actually quite difficult to know when I should tell people I was gay. I still felt a little uneasy and wanted people to get to know me for who I was before I got labelled as a lesbian. It was awkward when I was trying to make friends, especially when I got invited to a girly films and pizza night. Everyone was talking about the guys they fancied in the college. I felt so out of place and isolated because I thought I’d shock the room to a halt if I started talking about the women I liked. But soon enough I found people I did want to be friends with. The course mate that hit on me during fresher’s week became my best mate and I got involved with the LGBT group and made friends through their socials. Pretty soon everyone just sort of knew. In time, I lost the feeling that I needed to explain myself to everyone I met and just let people guess through the pronouns I used and the stories I told.

Going back home to family was challenging
The hardest bit was going back home for the holidays, and knowing whether or not to tell family I had a girlfriend or whether she might even be able to visit. I had a couple of girlfriends at uni and both of their parents were really welcoming. But this made me feel guilty and upset that my mum was more awkward and I couldn’t introduce them to my dad. My mum did let me have girlfriends stay, and even tried to talk to them for a bit, but it was incredibly tense and I knew it would have been completely different if it was a boyfriend I was bringing home. I eventually told my dad too, and the way he reacted I would never want to have introduced him to a girlfriend.

Feeling unaccepted by my parents was one of the major stresses (among others) which contributed to me having a number of breakdowns. There was self harm, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behaviour, and constantly telling myself I was a “selfish arsehole”. I drank myself through university, and used sex and alcohol to legitimise myself.

But this year things started to get better. I went to counselling and realised I needed to talk to my parents. As I became more comfortable in myself I grew the confidence to talk to them and tell my parents how their actions made me feel. It turned out they were actually both quite ashamed about how they reacted and it took a series of conversations and most importantly time to clear the air. Now I can talk to my parents about girlfriends or LGBT related things and it feels okay. This year my mum even got involved in Pride and I would now be quite happy to introduce someone to my dad should the time come.

LGBT-friendly university settings are important
I’m not going to lie: There is still discrimination about being LGBT. People occasionally shout at you in the street. People might ask you to stop kissing your partner because they think it’s more important they’re not offended than for you to exercise your human rights. But university was generally a supportive and liberal environment for me to come out in, and that was so important. I was surrounded by like-minded people and friends who I could vent to and even laugh about any injustices that still sadly exist. And it was this which gave me the confidence to be myself, to be comfortable enough with who I am to have those much needed conversations with family or friends back home. And these supportive networks still exist after university; the movement to reduce stigma around LGBT issues is an inspiring thing to be a part of, and becomes a support in itself.

I have written this anonymously for my parents' sake because they have really have worked to challenge their initial prejudices over the years. 

At Student Minds we recognise that the student LGBTQ+ community can be under-represented at times and may be at risk of experiencing mental health difficulties at university. 
If you would like to find out more, or find further support you can find more on our LGBTQ+ webpage.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Release of Running

Rhiannon writes about the delicate balance between triggers and exercise, and knowing how to keep tabs on both.
- Rhiannon Long

Very often with a mental health disorder, we become aware of our ‘triggers’: things we know might make us feel vulnerable, lonely, or a little like we’re losing the control we had over our illness. When we learn what they are, it can become easier to avoid situations in which they might occur. 

What happens, though, when triggers aren’t quite as clear cut? This is a difficulty I encountered when it came to physical exercise. 

I love running. I love the release it gives me after a stressful day. I love the fresh air and I love the childlike joy of overtaking dog-walkers, cyclists, and even fellow runners. When I became ill, however, this once joyful hobby became dangerous. If anyone’s tried to run on an empty stomach, they’ll know how tough it is; imagining having run on a stomach that’s been empty for days. Instead of being something I looked forward to after a hard day at uni, it became another ritual, another strict rule to add to the list which I didn’t feel I could miss. And perhaps worst of all, it became another weight-loss technique. 

In all honesty, its success as a weight-loss technique was doubtful – but in my mind, I couldn’t afford to skip it. When it comes to disordered eating, these rules are often nonsensical and based on pure fiction. But to sufferers, that doesn’t make them any less worth adhering to. 

Whilst I’m fully and happily cemented in my recovery now, this is still an area where I have to proceed with caution. Although I can no longer run due to a back injury, I’m now a member of a gym. I regularly attend classes, work out with my flatmate, and, while it’s not the same, get my running release on the treadmill. 

Personal fitness is something lauded as generally positive; everyone is advised to take some form of regular exercise, and the benefits on your body, mind and sometimes even social life are well-known. But having what could potentially be a trigger to set me back down that dark path also come highly recommended by professionals can be tricky and downright confusing. 

Instead of treating it like a regular trigger and avoiding it altogether, I’ve found simple awareness to be the most successful technique. I’m not going to deprive myself of exercise, but I’m constantly keeping tabs on how often I do it, whether it encroaches on my life, whether it becomes a fixation, and, most importantly, on how it makes me feel. The minute I see signs of it being detrimental, rather than beneficial to my mind and body, I’ll know to cut back.

For now though, I’ll keep running, getting stronger, and going further. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Christmas and Mental Health Support

Claire writes about why the holidays can be hard and how much receiving a supportive card can mean.
 -  Claire Eastham

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” Christmas trees, presents and bright lights wherever you look. How could you possibly feel anything but happiness? Well… because you have depression or anxiety. As much as I’d like to think that mental health conditions give way to the Christmas break, I’m afraid they don’t. In fairness, neither would a cold or a broken bone. Can you imagine? “oh its Christmas, I best get my arm out of this cast.”

The holidays can be hard if you suffer from a mental health issue. On top of everything else, it makes you feel guilty for not being happy when the rest of the world is. However, this is all part of the trick. Both anxiety and depression have ‘bully like’ characteristics and guilt will be used to punish you. Remember, it’s ok to feel exactly how you want to feel. Certainly, don’t curl up with it and hide yourself away from the festivities, but also, allow yourself to feel sad, anxious or low. Suppressing feelings will only strengthen them. After a while, you might find that the interactions, food, games and general vibe of the day will naturally start to have a positive impact. So just go with it.

I’m a big believer in kindness and words of support. Having someone tell you that they care and will be there if you need help, can be incredibly effective. That’s why when I spotted the Student Minds Christmas Card campaign I jumped at the chance to spread the word! Make a donation and they will send a card with a personal message of support to either yourself or a friend.

One of the reasons why I love Student Minds is because they seek to empower students, with the knowledge that they CAN look after their mental health. It’s something that I wish had been around when I was at university.

You have five days to sign up, so do it NOW… like this second!

Claire Eastham is an award winning mental health blogger and her book We’re All Mad Here is available now. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Tackling the Broadgate Tower Stair Climb

Katherine writes about why she chose to take on the Broadgate Tower stair climb and fundraise to support Student Minds' work.
 -  Katherine Hockley

Mental health is still a uniquely scary thing. When it’s not a physical affliction, when it’s an invisible illness, there’s always the worry that it won’t be taken seriously or that there is no definitive cure.

My legs hurt.

Preparing for this 877 step stair climb has certainly been a test of will. I leave for work at 8am and get home at 7pm, so it’s been pretty tricky fitting in the ol’ fitness training regime.

But I’ve certainly tried. My boyfriend looked on in dismay as I did 100 squats a day in his room, and cursed me for forcing him to do Shaun T’s notoriously gruelling Insanity workout every couple of days.

In fact, my legs really hurt. Who knew I had muscles in my inner thighs? Certainly not me. But I understand that the pain I’m currently feeling is nothing to that I used to feel when suffering from depression at university.

I was actually first diagnosed with depression at 17, but it came raging back at 19 during my first year within Higher Education. I’d moved away from home and have always suffered with chronic shyness, so I was understandably nervous about the social aspect of university. But I assumed it’d be fine, and I packed off happily to Sheffield for the next three years of my life. In reality, it was a major shock to the system and I did not deal with the tumultuous change very well.  

Without getting into too many details, I was drinking heavily and self-harming. At one point I got gastritis, which basically means I drank so much booze that my stomach lining became severely inflamed. If I had even a sip of alcohol I would be doubled up in pain, and it lasted a very long time. So not only was I depressed, I had to stop drinking, which was my one and only crutch in my battle against social anxiety and unhappiness. Midway through the first academic year, I was barely leaving my room and didn’t attend any lectures. This in turn meant I wasn’t making any friends on my course, which made me even more miserable. When I did attend the odd class, I sat alone and left immediately after, feeling deflated and angry with myself for being so different.  

Slipping through the cracks at university is painfully easy to do, especially if you’re quiet and have a very small support network. However, I was lucky enough to have an incredibly responsive and helpful mental health service provided by my university, and this is probably the only reason I didn’t drop out and end up in an even more dire situation.

So when Student Minds presented to us in our All Staff Meeting, I couldn’t help but choke up and quickly force myself to brush away a few tears. These kinds of charities and this type of work is so sorely needed that I made a note on the organisation and vowed to send an email signing up to the Stair Climb.

Being me, I immediately forgot and it wasn’t until a few weeks later that it struck me to send that email. Once I had, I spread the word on Facebook and the donations came rolling in.

Mental health is such an important issue that it demands everyone’s attention. Climbing up and training for an 877 stair climb is a holiday compared to going through the vast upheaval that university life can bring. Charities like this can fill the gap where student services are lacking, and I’m always glad to see these kinds of causes thriving. Mental health is still a uniquely scary thing. When it’s not a physical affliction, when it’s an invisible illness, there’s always the worry that it won’t be taken seriously or that there is no definitive cure.

By undertaking this challenge, by discussing my past and by writing this blog I hope that people understand that mental illness can affect anybody and everybody, regardless of age. It must not be taken lightly, and mental health is an uphill battle that doesn’t always have a finish line. I still struggle with anxiety, recently relapsing and being put back on anti-anxiety medication.  

But because it is such a difficult thing to tackle it needs extra care and attention. The happy-go-lucky, lazy stereotype that is often conjured up when we think of students needs to be re-addressed, by care professionals as well as their peers. Knowing that you’re going to be taken seriously is crucial in young people coming forward and getting the help they need, and organisations like Student Minds will make this a lot easier for those suffering now and in the future.

So instead of raising a glass to Student Minds, I raise a foot. And the other. 877 times, in quick succession…

Christ, my legs ache even writing about it.  Wish me luck.

We did it!!! 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Freshers' Week for a tee-totaler

Cecilia writes about how she dealt with university life when her tee-totalism was causing her to be singled out

I knew university wasn’t going to be like the way it’s portrayed in the films.

You know, the Pitch Perfect, Legally Blonde situation where you get accepted for who you are, somehow get on Dean’s List without doing any work and end up kissing someone amazingly hot during the closing song. That’s not the way life works, I get that.

But if you had told me that university was going to be bleak and nasty as it was, I probably would have begged my parents not to make me go, and I would have joined a convent….in Tibet.

I knew that university was going to be particularly hard for me. I’ve always been slightly out of step, bullying being a constant chorus in the musical that is “The Life of Cecilia”. But I thought at university, at least that would stop - we’re all adults now, right? We might not like each other, but we wouldn’t treat each other badly…would we?

My main issue was the fact that, at 18 years old, I was a tee-total. I know, odd. But I had my reasons, personal ones that I don’t have to share with anyone. I had never drunk so much as a unit of alcohol before moving to university. I knew the five girls I was going to be moving in with would think that was very strange and might have some questions, but that would be it. Sure, we might not become BFFs, but I was fine with that. We just had to get along.

I hoped to hide in my boringness, my anonymity. I was the court jester of our flat, ridiculed and insulted. I was ostracised, treated like a second class citizen and made to feel like a prisoner who had committed some terrible offence. It wasn’t like the school bullying, I didn’t get to go home at the end of the day, curl up on my bed and watch ‘Friends’. I had to live with them as they whispered whenever I left a room. Eat with them while they side-eyed each other whenever I said anything. Go to lectures with them while they texted each other about me. All because of the type of liquid I chose not to put into my body, something that didn’t even affect them. Please understand, I had no problem with other people drinking, I wasn’t preaching in the slightest, it just wasn’t for me - the same way some people don’t eat meat or don’t smoke. So why was it such a bit deal? My only possible explanation was that humans hate what is different.

At university I was meant to be free, but I was trapped. I was meant to be living my life to the full, but I was just existing by this point.

The saddest part of it all wasn’t losing my friends. It was losing me. I started to believe all the things they thought about me, began to question all my basic beliefs and values. Began to hate the very person I was. That self-hatred led to a deep, dark pit depression and regret, something I told no one about. Even now, three years later, it’s really hard to admit, which I know it shouldn’t be.

So I moved out. I begged a room out of the university and with the help of a couple of amazing friends, slammed the door on that part of my life for good. It took a good while, years really, but I began to feel again. I eventually got help and went on anti-depressants and went to mental health classes. I surrounded myself with the people who I loved and loved me back, and things got easier.

Thing is, I know I started this by saying I knew life isn’t like films. But I have been accepted for who I am, I just had to find the right people. I have been on Dean’s List every year, I just had to do the work. Ending up with the perfect guy? A few mis-steps later, I’m still working on that, but that’s okay. Because I’m so happy now.

So my advice to lonely Fresher’s? Hang on in there. Stay strong. First it hurts, then it gets better, then it feels like freedom. Talk to someone, even an anonymous voice on the end of a helpline. Get fresh air. Eat. Go to your lectures. Find good people, don’t settle. Accept yourself. I got through, you can.

For more information on starting university, click here.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

I Am More Than My Mental Health

For many students, University is a time to "find yourself". For Caitlin, this meant finding an identity beyond her mental illness...
- Caitlin Bracken

I used to only see myself in terms of my mental health. Honestly, I saw myself as a failure; someone who couldn’t cope with what everyone else seemed to find so simple.

I was the girl who fell apart in French lessons, couldn’t stammer out an answer in History and, for some unknown reason, found a way to flourish in Sociology – but even then, on the dark days, my word-tap would switch off. (The word-tap being the best analogy I can think of to describe how anxiety can just turn you silent at the drop of a hat: like the turning off of a tap.) I saw myself as that girl; the girl who couldn’t cope.

It’s taken a long time for me to realise that I am not defined by my mental health, but I’m getting there. I have come to terms with the fact that my anxiety will rear its ugly head from time to time. It means that, afterwards, I can accept that it happened and move on; not that this makes the panic attack any easier at the time!

If I forget my planned response and stammer over a few words, I am better at realising it’s not the end of the world. I know that I have the power to keep going, or to just stop if that’s the choice I want to make.

It’s okay for me to decline every invitation to join in student nightlife; although this is partially linked to my fear of losing control, when I’m not in a familiar place, clubbing simply isn’t my cup of tea. That’s okay.

I’m so much more than the girl who wrung her hands to infinity and beyond. Nowadays, if I feel the need to fall back on that, I’ll pull a tube of hand cream from my bag and use this once-destructive action to do something productive. Sometimes, in school, I’ll lean on the old favourite, “hands in a basket.” Although making me look like I’m trying to be prim and proper, it doesn’t give away any clues.

I also work hard to fill my head with other things, like sock animals. They’ve become my speciality, and I’m proud that something so quirky and beautiful could have come from my need to occupy my time. I know where busy stops and manic starts, so distractions are key.

I’m more than my silence. After reading Susan Cain’s incredible account of introversion “Quiet: Growing up as introvert in a world that can’t stop talking”, I’ve learned to celebrate my introversion. I like being quiet. I enjoy social gatherings that aren’t overcrowded and intimidating. I would never have dreamed of being a writer, if I hadn’t learned to use my own company to my advantage.

Ploughing through books isn’t so easy in a mass of people either. I don’t have the extrovert buzz of being around others, but I’m realising how this can be an advantage. My introversion and anxiety have a strange, complex relationship, but for the most part (not always) they seem to work well together. This was not always the case, but right now it’s working out well.

There’s enough information out there about university being the place to find yourself, so I’m not going to turn this into a deep (yet obviously one-sided) conversation about discovering myself. It seems obvious now that I’m more than my mental health, and yet it’s something that is so difficult to remind myself of on difficult days.

When I look in the mirror, there is no stamp on my forehead that says “ANXIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING,” because this isn’t the case all the time. Yet even if it was - and it certainly used to be - there still wouldn’t be visible clues as to the world inside my head.

I am Caitlin. I happen to have issues with my mental health, but I am not my mental health.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Freshers’ Week, for the anxious introvert

Caitlin shares her experience as a fresher at university, and offers some advice to anyone feeling the same way.

-Caitlin Bracken

If I’m honest, with the struggle I was having at the end of my A-levels, for me to get to uni – my first-choice, and with flying colours too – was nothing short of a miracle. I’m now studying for the course I’ve always wanted to do, among people who are like me (although not exactly like me, for reasons you’ll soon be reading) for the first time. We’re all heading in the same direction, and it’s great. Things are going so well, now that my course has started, and the hell of Freshers’ is over (sorry, to those of you who found it exhilarating; a sacred time to forge new relationships!).

Before I moved in, I thought (perhaps naively) that during Freshers’ week it would be easy to find my fellow non-partygoers. Evidently, I didn’t think this through, because I conveniently forgot to factor in some pretty important factors:
  • All the non-partygoers are probably a little like me, in that they’d rather go to bed early (by uni standards at least) than spend all hours of the night and early morning in a club. Meaning that when the party crowd went out, we were never going to find each other!
  • Having anxiety made me 102% unwilling to go out of my room when things were getting extremely rowdy and alcohol-fuelled, out on the corridor. And even less willing to try and find any new friends once things had finally quietened down. 

I also didn’t bank on not-drinking being the cardinal sin of starting university. I didn’t expect there to be so much social expectation to drink. I suppose I was being na├»ve when I imagined it would be a simple task to find the people who weren’t drinking. It was nigh on impossible – in fact I didn’t find another person like me in this sense until my course started, a full nine days after I moved into Halls.  Student drinking culture wasn’t something that I thought I would find so intimidating! 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the first night but the second that I found the hardest. I felt like the only person on campus, which I know was only the musing of an anxious mind, but that didn’t make the thought any less real at the time. It was the first time I’d felt truly lonely. I remember pacing the length of my long corridor from one end to the other, feeling like my chest was on fire. I’d have done anything to keep on walking til I was home. But as usual, the rational part of my brain took over and led me back to my room behind the safety of a locked door, with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle. 

I made it through Freshers’ quite independently, as is too often the case with mattes of mental health, my own especially. I did a lot of reading, I continued making sock monkeys (because it’s what I do best and is my favourite therapeutic activity), and I enjoyed the peace of early morning, when my flatmates were mostly still asleep.

I don’t want it to be a negative post, a moan about how much I’ve struggled at university to juggle my mental health with transitioning to a new life. Nor do I want to condemn the people who live Freshers’ Week to the fullest and take every event as a new socialising experience. If I was a drinker, I probably wouldn’t say no to £1 shots either. I don’t know if I did Freshers’ wrong, or just differently to the vast, vast majority. But there have been some excellent perks too, such as assembling an Ikea flat pack at half past ten in the evening, with a new friend and very limited instructions (possibly the best “icebreaker” I did all week), meeting my course tutors who reminded me of some of my most supportive sixth form teachers and were even more inspiring, if that’s possible, and discovering the education stack in the campus library.

Coming to uni was without doubt the best thing I’ve ever done – my confidence has skyrocketed and my anxiety, for the most part, has been under strict control. I just wish that my Freshers’ experience hadn’t been so… introverted. Am I wishing I was different? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d like to swap places with people who partied until dawn and got on the wrong side of their tutors from day one for missing important induction lectures! Maybe what I’m wishing for is that I hadn’t been so afraid to open up and come clean about myself, and perhaps find like-minded people across the campus much sooner. 

The rational part of my brain is back, the one which reminded me to go back to bed on that difficult, anxious night when I needed to cope by myself; and I did cope, so that’s okay. It wasn’t the total disaster of a night I first saw it as. 

In a piece like this, I feel like I should be giving some kind of advice. I’m not built for this, forgive me if I’m too wordy or too boring. I think for first years like me, the best advice I could give would be to step out of your comfort zone earlier. Despite how intimidating it may feel, open up and find the people who don’t want to drink and dance until morning. Perhaps find the #BestNightIn posts a little earlier than I did, and reassure yourself that even in your little room, in an apparently empty Hall of Residence when it seems like the world is partying without you, you are not alone. 

(And definitely complain if the heating isn’t on and your building is cold!). 

Friday, 14 October 2016

My Journey with Depression

Lottie discusses her personal mental health journey, and how depression affected her time as a student.

-Lottie Thomas

To understand a person’s experience with depression you need to understand their circumstances. Everyone’s struggle is different and they find different ways to deal with it.

My journey began with my transition to uni (which was always going to be a hard one as home is such a great place for me). First year was a struggle for me but I was so happy to have completed it and was excited for my second year to begin. My depression crept up on me without me realising it, I got homesick a lot in first year so when I experienced the same feelings again I just thought I would get over it. I spent a lot of time crying on the phone to my mum telling her how much I hated my room and how noisy our neighbours were. I felt like I had nowhere I could relax and I was always on alert for something to happen. I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was feeling; I thought ‘other people have it worse than I do so I should just suck it up and get on with it’. 

Simultaneously to this, my twin sister had just started first year at university after a gap year and was really struggling. When I wasn't on the phone to my mum I was texting or answering phone calls from her and I felt like I was being pulled in all sorts of directions. Eventually I got the phone call to say that my sister had decided to leave uni and this was the first chink to my armour. Knowing my sister was at home and I was struggling on, 4 hours away, made everything so much harder.

When I was home for Christmas I was so happy, but soon I started revision for my exams in January and I started to feel the pressure again. Second year exams contributed towards our final degree mark so I felt extra pressure to get it right.

I was worried about going back to uni, and didn't think I would be able to cope with exams but I kept these feelings to myself. The turning point for me came on Christmas day when I woke up with this deep misery inside me. I couldn't stop being angry with myself for being so selfish during such a happy time of year and I couldn't understand why I couldn't snap out of it and be grateful for what I had. Before we even finished unwrapping presents I made my excuses and escaped upstairs, lay on my bed and burst into tears. My sister and mum found me and I finally told them how I was feeling. My mum reassured me that this was something we could deal with and that she would book an appointment at the doctors, however, because we were going on holiday the next day it wouldn't be for a while. 

The next two weeks were the toughest I have ever lived through. I cried every day and continued to worry about my exams and returning to uni. I started looking into dropping out of uni and my thoughts got darker and darker. I spent most days in bed and when I did get up it felt like I was dragging around this heaviness that I couldn't shift. Feelings of worthlessness began to creep into my subconscious and I became increasingly withdrawn from everything and everyone around me and suicidal thoughts began to rear their ugly head.

What happened after the holiday is a bit hazy. I got in contact with my university and they granted me mitigating circumstances so I missed my exams and took weeks after that to recuperate at home. Following an initial doctor’s appointment, which I pretty much cried my way through, I was sent to see a psychiatrist who eventually diagnosed me with having depression and anxiety. I was placed on anti-depressants and had several sessions of cognitive-behavioural therapy.  It took me 10 weeks to get back to uni and after a hard internal struggle I managed to complete second year.

Living with depression is in no way easy, but learning to deal with it can change everything. This is my journey with depression, and everyone's is different but all I can say to those going through anything be it depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, do not live through it silently. Plucking up the courage to admit what you may be feeling is so hard but it is a huge first step and the most important. Just know you are not alone and will not be judged for how you feel.