Wednesday, 26 July 2017

What You Don't See

'This blog is about educating people on anorexia and how by looking at someone, you cannot know what they are going through inside.'

                                                                                                            - Claire McKenna

In my blogs, I have talked about how people’s comments can be so dangerous for those suffering with eating disorders and other forms of mental health difficulties.

The most distressing comments I endure that have the biggest effect on me is on the lines of ‘you don’t look like you have anorexia’, ‘you’d never think by looking at you… you eat enough though don’t you…?”

Yes. You may have seen me eat and it may not have been just a plate of lettuce leaves. You might look at me and be aware that I don’t look malnourished or emaciated anymore.

But, you don’t see the constant battle inside that is happening every day of my life.

You don’t see the struggle and anxiety I feel before facing a meal and how much my head is telling me not to eat it.

You don’t see my terrified thoughts and how daunted I am to put that food near my mouth.

You can’t see anorexia screaming so loudly at me to not eat, telling me I am fat and this next meal is going to make me even bigger and how everyone thinks I am greedy.

You don’t see me after meals hating myself for what I’ve just put inside me, or trying to fight the urge to get rid of it and feel ‘empty’ again.

You don’t see me standing in front of the mirror, hardly able to open my eyes because I’m so mortified, distressed and repulsed by what stands in front of me!
You can’t see how alone and inadequate I feel or my desperation to get rid of the excess fat from every part of my body.

You don’t see me when I feel obese and can’t allow myself to sit down because I know you burn more calories standing rather than sitting or lying down.

This is because anorexia is a MENTAL illness not a physical illness, just like you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have depression, PTSD, OCD, Bipolar etc.

Being told you don’t look like you have an eating disorder just sends the message that one needs to do more to lose weight or that they are ‘not ill enough’ to have an eating disorder or receive treatment/support.

Each time I hear the words ‘you don’t look anorexic’, my instinct is to plan how from that moment on what meals I will skip, how much extra exercise I should do. I can’t put my finger on why it does this, but it just does. That one comment can put a halt in my recovery and send me backwards, upsetting all the hard work I’ve done to get where I am now. This is because eating disorders are fatal mind games.

Therefore, it is so important that people are aware of how comments can create distress and trigger individuals. The only way people will understand this is by being educated on the matter, in which I have created this blog.

Hi, I'm Claire. I have recently just graduated with a first class honours in BA Education at the University of Birmingham. I currently write my own blog to try and raise awareness of mental health and remove the unhelpful stigmas that are often attached. I wanted to share some of these blogs and write for Student Minds as I have been suffering with Anorexia and depression for over 8 years.




If you're struggling with an eating disorder, there is help and support out there. Visit the Student Minds support page where you can find more information and places to go for help.

Visit support page here. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Why I chose to walk a marathon for Student Minds

Rosie writes about why she has chosen to walk a marathon for Student Minds.
- Rosie Steele

In March of this year I became a fundraising champion for Student Minds.

I am extremely passionate about student mental health and my role as a fundraising champion. My problems with my mental health have been apparent from childhood but really started being a problem for during my GCSEs and A levels. University has also been one of the toughest periods of my life through coping with separation anxiety, loneliness, isolation through not wanting to leave my room, and academic perfection linked to a fear of failure. I became aware of the work Student Minds do during my second year of university when my mental health started to become more of a ‘surviving over thriving’ period and looked through the different resources available to me, making me feel less alone, and reminding me to prioritise my own mental wellbeing.

Student mental health is an issue that really needs to be supported as 1 in 4 adults experience a mental health difficulty through any point in their lifetime. Next time you’re in a large lecture theatre or just in public look around and think of how many people may be suffering in silence without access to or the knowledge of how to gain support for the help they need. Through early intervention ‘the considerable risk’ of academic failure and dropping out linked to mental health can be lessened. Research has also shown that undergraduate students have lower levels of wellbeing than the rest of the population.

On University Mental Health Day in March of this year Student Minds brought together the link between physical and mental wellbeing through their Active Mental Health day

Throughout the worst periods of my mental health during my GCSEs, A Levels and university exam revision my mum made sure I got out of the house each day to walk the dog. I found and still do find these walks extremely therapeutic. Stepping away from the stress of revision for half an hour gave me time to clear my head but also talk freely to my mum about all the worry. There’s nothing quite like telling your anxious thoughts to a large field and not taking them back to the house with you. Even when at university and away from my dog, if I began to feel anxious and could feel thoughts creeping in I’d try my hardest to step away from my desk and get myself outside, even if I just walked to the Tesco at the end of the road and back.

As well as this, in April the BBC aired ‘Mind Over Marathon' in which ten mental health sufferers trained for and ran a marathon showing just how closely mental and physical health are linked. One of the runners Jake Tyler “blackdogwalks” on Instagram is now hiking his way around the UK to “promote movement as a way to manage mental health”. This really motivated me as I thought I won’t just be helping others but also myself, being active for my own mental wellbeing.

This is why myself, my mum and my little scotty dog Jack are taking on the challenge of walking a marathon across five days from the 7th -11th August. When thinking of ways I could fundraise a sponsored walk was my first idea. I toyed with the idea of a marathon in a day or a bigger amount say 50 miles across a week but then I thought no that is not realistic. I want to show other students, other young people the benefits of walking in a realistic manner that anyone can do. Motivating yourself to do any kind of exercise with a mental illness is hard, I’ve certainly never gone for a proper run (I used to run a mile with my best friend Lucy on a Friday night down some country lanes) but I’m not sure anyone’s going to sponsor me to do that. Finding something you enjoy, find bearable even is key to becoming active for your mental health. I’m seeing it as my own version of ‘Mind Over Marathon’ albeit not a traditional one.


We are taking on this walk from the 7th - 11th August and I’d love for you to support both myself and the amazing work Student Minds do. Just a pound or three pounds instead of your coffee will help towards changing the face of student mental health.

Through your support Student Minds can continue the amazing work they do, researching and advocating for students across the UK and creating campaigns who help students just like you and me to not just survive but thrive through what can be very challenging years.

Any donations and support are so gratefully received and I hope you’ll support me (and my mum and dog). Link to donate - https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rosiesteele1


I'm Rosie and I'm about to enter my third year of a media, culture and communication degree in Liverpool. I suffer from anxiety, and separation anxiety which has made university a tough time, leading me to find Student Minds. I am now a Fundraising Champion which allows me to share my mental health story whilst raising money for something I am so passionate about helping to bring awareness to. 




Friday, 7 July 2017

We Need Mental Health Education in Schools


Kate draws upon her own experiences with mental health to advocate for better mental health education in all schools.
-Kate

All of us have mental health and all of us can at some point suffer from mental health difficulties, yet mental health remains steeped in great stigma. In fact, 26% of young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts*; 1 in 10 suicides in the UK are by those aged 15-24**; and 10% of young people have a diagnosable mental health condition**. Why then is mental health not on the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools?

I vividly recall, throughout my primary and secondary education, lessons on safe sex, healthy eating, drug use and bullying, but not even one on mental health. Mental health is equally as important as – and can often be a cause or consequence of these issues. In fact, a 2014 survey by Beatbullying found that 55% of those bullied as children develop mental health conditions as adults, with more than one in three having suicidal thoughts or self-harming. So why is it neglected from the school curriculum?

At 11 years old, I experienced notable changes in my mental health. I started to experience insomnia, often struggling to get to sleep until 3am which at 11 years old was confusing and distressing. And, apart from going to school or to the odd sleepover/meet-up with friends, I barely left my room let alone my house. I found myself constantly making up excuses to avoid going out. I didn’t know why: I just couldn’t, nor did I want to, leave the house. 

My difficulties got worse when I was 12; I had just moved back to the UK and started at a new girls’ grammar school. I remember going to school each day and spending all day with my friends yet feeling so alone. As I struggled more with depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts, I had what felt like these huge and shameful secrets and that I had no one to go to. One part of me was desperate for someone to read my mind, to notice I wasn’t okay, whilst the other part of me put all energy into masking my struggles – I was terrified of anyone finding out and seeing into my private world. 

Throughout my school years I didn’t realise that I was suffering from serious mental health difficulties. I had never been taught about depression, eating disorders, anxiety, or suicidal ideation, so how on earth was I supposed to understand my own mental health? It is no wonder that I spent so many years living in fear and shame for conditions that could have been treated much earlier on. 

When people do open up about their mental health, they are often faced with invalidation and stigma. The stigmas attached to mental health often stem from ignorance. Without mental health education, it is inevitable that young people are going to be ill informed about mental health and thus will likely struggle to openly discuss, understand and support others with a mental illness. 

So, can we blame people’s ignorance when schools have failed to educate them about mental health? Until people start talking about, normalising and understanding mental health, ignorance and stigmas will continue to be reinforced. The stigmas attached to mental health need to be broken and compulsory mental health education in schools is an incredibly important step towards this. 

Being taught about mental health may not necessarily have prevented my mental health conditions but I may have been more aware about my mental health and may not have suffered for so many years in silence. Maybe I would have felt able to seek help without fearing being judged and would have recognised sooner that I wasn’t well. 

Ultimately, mental health education in schools could encourage a young person to speak out about their own mental health with the confidence that they will not be stigmatised, but that their feelings will be validated and that they will receive the support they deserve and need.

If you're feeling low or anxious as a student we might be able to help you get support. For more information about finding support services visit www.studentminds.org.uk/find-support.html.

* YoungMinds (2016a) Mental health statistics. http://www.youngminds.org.uk/about/whats_the_problem/mental_health_statistics (Accessed: 6 November 2016).
** YoungMinds (2016b) Mental health statistics - young people statistics. Available at: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics


Hi I'm Kate, a Psychology undergraduate at King's College London. I want to write for Student Minds to share my ongoing experiences with mental illness, hopefully helping others to feel less alone, more able to speak up, and to break the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Do you want to go to a Summer Fete that openly supports mental health?

Angela and Andrew are holding a Student Minds Summer Fete to raise awareness of student mental health, raise money for Student Minds and most importantly for people to have fun!  
- Andrew Morbey and Angela Hulbert

Have you ever wanted to go to a summer fete that openly supports mental health? Then look no further because on the 6th of August a Student Minds Summer Fete is coming to Clapham Common, London. This will be a day packed full of fun. There will be 6 hours of touch rugby, henna, facepaints, a raffle, some traditional summer fete games and more, all in the name of Student Minds.

This is a day that is being organised by Andrew and Angela, two fundraising champions who passionately believe in raising awareness about mental health. But why exactly are we doing this?  After both being affected by mental illness there are stories behind our passion:

Angela: “4 years ago my life turned upside down as my mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour, the prospect of possibly losing her, left me suffering with depression and anxiety and as a means to cope I began to self-harm. After a while spent in a rut I eventually began recovery and whilst it was a long process 2 years later I realised that I wanted to turn my negative experience into one that could empower others. I created my blog and my journey as a mental health advocate began. Being a Fundraising Champion is allowing me to meet new people who are just as passionate as I am and together we are all helping to remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness.”

Andrew: “After waking up one morning 8 years ago and not knowing whether I could physically get out of bed, I began ignoring the other classic signs of depression. I spent 2 months hiding these feelings from my parents, until I came home from school crying. There is no real cause for my depression, maybe genes, my subconscious or perhaps chemical imbalances, but it’s something I’ve had to accept. It’s taken me a while come to grips with. But since joining the Student Minds Fundraising Champions, I’ve found new confidence in being open about my mental health and a close group of friends I can just chat to. I have also found people just like me who are passionate about making a difference removing the mental health stigma.”

We really hope you will join us for not only fun but also this educating and stigma reducing day. If you would like to keep up to date about the event then you can do so by liking our event page https://www.facebook.com/events/1877270549265403/ .

We hope to see you there.
Angela and Andrew

Friday, 30 June 2017

My First 3 Runs - 12 Runs in 12 Months

Andrew is running to improve student mental health and documents his experience completing the first 3 runs.
- Andrew Morbey

I decided that I’d sign up to one 10km or half marathon each month for a year, as this was a great way of tying my passion for fundraising and sport together. I wanted you to follow me in my journey so here is how I found my first 3 runs.


"All I ask for during these fundraisers, is for people to start talking about depression and mental health."


29th April 2017 – Sheffield Colour Run
I knew what a Colour Run was; a few of my friends in Sydney had done them previously in the past and had seen their photos. But I had never participated in one. Once hearing that there was on in Sheffield, it meant I could meet up with a friend who lives in Sheffield, as well as take part in my first colour run. The run was 5 km starting and finishing on an open-air dance floor with DJ’s and an MC, cheering everyone on and providing the entertainment and music.

I had previously just finished my year of sobriety, so for me, it was incredible seeing people dancing, singing, socialising and throwing colourful chalk all over each other, with no alcohol in sight. I’m not against alcohol, I enjoy a drink every now and then, but being able to dance and laugh with a group of sober strangers was quite a nice feeling.



28th May 2017 – Hercules Festival of Sport
Having decided to run 12 running events in 12 months, I found this one as I was browsing running events. It was based at Merchant Taylors’ School near Watford. There were plenty of people there lining up to participate in either a triathlon, duathlon, cycling, fun run, 5 km run or a 10 km run. I had signed myself up for the 10 km. My aim was to finish with only 3 stops for walking and finish under an hour.

I completed it in 58 minutes with 3 ‘rest walks’ and immediately called my mum back in Sydney. The feeling of accomplishment is quite special, especially beating my targets and surprising my mum with a phone call. However, I ended up going back to my friends place in London and slept on her couch for the day. One event at a time I guess.


18th June 2017 – Hampshire Hoppit Half-Marathon
I was asked to replace my co-worker, Oli, in this run as he had been called to Portugal for a work trip. He had explained that it was a trail run, which meant nothing to me, but there were was a free half pint glass and a medal. I thought ‘a free medal and a half pint glass would be well worth it’. Little did I know that a trail run literally means off road, up and downs hills and potholes that could do some serious damage to someone’s ankles.

I got to the starting line surrounded by happy and motivated people, going for personal best times or just wanting to finish the run. We all knew it was going to be tough, it had already reached 26oC at 11am and within the first 2 miles we reached the ‘Hill of Death’. It was a hill you would associate with rolling or sliding down, not running/walking up. It wasn’t the best of starts, but everyone powered on.

Throughout the run, I was amazed by the Hampshire countryside, the rolling green hills, the crops and the blue sky. It was quite a special run, but fitness and soreness was starting to take over. I got the chance of meeting a few people along the way, talking about other runs they had done or just general small talk on how hot it was. I was lucky enough to make friends with Natalie, a fellow runner/walker whose boyfriend had run off ahead and left her to continue by herself. I told her she had to motivate me to keep running every now and then as she was the experienced half marathon runner, considering this was my first.



When we did finally finish, I had felt a huge sense of accomplishment finishing my first half marathon. Then Oli’s brother, George who had finish well before me, and his parents greeted me and congratulated me. Then knowing that I’ll be putting myself through this 9 more times will be quite a challenge physically and mentally.

A lot of people have called me crazy, but when I tell them why I’m doing it and about my depression, I see them empathise and congratulate me for trying to make a difference. That is all I ask for during this fundraiser, is for people to start talking about depression and mental health.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Student Drinking Culture

After months of binge drinking at University, and eventually finding out the hard way that alcohol is not good for her mind. Erin made the sensible decision to stop drinking. Despite being keen to “fit in” and not be perceived as boring, she put aside society’s judgements and focused on making her mind as healthy as it could be.
-Erin  Cadden 

I have never had to contemplate my relationship with alcohol. Drinking was always something I did socially, I didn’t abuse the substance so I couldn’t have had an issue with it, or so I thought. What I have come to realise, is that alcohol can be self-destroying and a depressant in itself. Mixing my complicated and frazzled mind with alcohol is not healthy. I would never participate in any activities that I knew would add additional pressure to my mental illness, so, why did I continue to drink? knowing the negative consequences?

I thought I was sensible when it came to alcohol. Yes, sometimes I drank a little too much, but doesn’t everyone at university? I thought this was normal… Everyone just seemed to be in a constant cycle of being drunk then hung-over and then drunk again. Due to this, I never considered stopping drinking. I was a student, for me, this meant I had to drink to fit in. Only now, at 3 months sober, I realise how wrong I was.

People drink to be social, I drank for different reasons. When I drank, it was to numb myself...to numb my mind. It was to stop my thoughts from constantly ticking over. All too often my social anxiety would get the better of me, especially when socialising in big groups. The only way I thought I could overcome this, was to drink. Don’t get me wrong, there were times where I drank to enjoy myself with my friends. However, most of the time I drank, it was to try to rid myself of the pain in my mind. I was so desperate to not be the “odd one out” that I drank to give myself, what I thought was, more confidence. Really, all I wanted to do was stay in bed and never leave.

A few drinks later and I would notice my thoughts hadn’t gone quite, hadn’t slowed down like wanted them to. The reality was quite the opposite. My thoughts would gain momentum, accelerated to a speed that was uncontrollable. I would be socialising, having fun, meanwhile, my mind would be constantly telling me things I did not want to hear. So I continued to drink, it was the only remedy I knew. I’d drink until I no longer heard the racing thoughts. I’d drink until the thoughts had drowned in the vodka I had consumed. At this point, I would be in a state, where I simply could not handle myself.

Frightening, isn’t it? I was putting myself in this a state, to try to save myself, from myself. I was so concerned with being judged by my peers that I thought drinking was the best way to be accepted socially. I would have far rather drank myself silly and endured thoughts that made me hate myself than accept who I am. Until I realised, alcohol isn’t good for me or my mind.

It’s hard sometimes, to refuse a drink when I am out with friends. However, I can feel my mind getting healthier every day and I will not let one drink of alcohol put that in jeopardy. I find the hardest part of being sober is not turning down a drink. It’s admitting to people that I don’t drink. 

The looks, the surprise, the questions, I receive from people when I order my virgin cocktail or non-alcoholic beer is, embarrassing. It makes me feel belittled and awkward. I am confident that I do not need to drink to have fun. So why do others question my ability to be social, without having a drink?

Why do my peers find it so peculiar that I don’t drink alcohol? Ask yourself, would your reaction in a situation like this be much different? It can be so unintentional. To be honest, these responses come mostly from my friends and other people I regularly socialise with. 

So, if there is anything you can take from this post, it’s to be less judgemental. If you come across someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, be it myself, or anyone else, think before you respond. Remember that not everyone drinks alcohol to be fun and drinking alcohol is not a positive experience for everyone.

I am happy and comfortable with myself. I know I don’t need any substances to enjoy a night out. If anything, I’m having more fun without alcohol than I ever had before!

 

Hi, my name is Erin, I am currently in my final year studying Design Management at UAL in London. I shave suffered from my mental health from the age of 10 years old. My diagnoses are still ongoing but suspected off; Depression, Anxiety, Autism, Bipolar and Borderline personality disorder. I began writing for Student Minds in order to share my own experiences of my journey with mental health. The aim is to increase awareness and to decrease the stigma attached to mental illnesses as a whole.


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Calling All Graduates: The Best is Yet to Come

Beth is a 23 year old Psychology graduate and Trainee Counsellor. She currently runs her own mental health blog over at www.memyselfnmentalhealth.wordpress.com
- Beth

I’d like to share with you a post that I sure would of loved to have read back when I finished my undergraduate degree. It’s for all graduates (or soon to be) that have hit that brick wall, been rejected or are panicking about that big old question: what now?

So, I guess starting at the beginning would be a good idea; firstly, I did an undergraduate degree in Psychology. We covered a LOT in those three years; we even had an option of doing a placement year halfway through. I actually didn’t do this for various reasons, which now, in hindsight, could’ve been more helpful than I ever imagined…

I left university after the third year (which was incredibly difficult all round) and moved back home with a 2:1, having the pictures in my cap and gown to prove it. I remember feeling happy to be home and hopeful for all those potential jobs coming my way. However, quite the opposite ended up happening.


It may not be the case for everyone, but I think a lot of graduates do struggle to get into employment. Sometimes people land a great job but equally, some graduates end up going into a job completely unrelated to their degree or in other instances, no job for months.

From my own personal experience, I was one of those people who did manage to get a job but not one I could use my degree I’d worked so hard for. Although this first job was of interest to me, it just wasn’t what I’d always seen myself doing. I left after just over half a year to fully commit to finding that “dream psychology job”. I was so determined, hopeful and enthusiastic I would find it, I spent pretty much every day searching and applying online. It was a huge reality check for me; I was so sure I was going to find something straight away but I was constantly met with rejection or, even more disheartening, no response at all.

I will admit it was difficult. It left me feeling like nothing good was going to come my way. I felt at a dead end, I just couldn’t get to where I wanted to be no matter how hard I tried. I was miserable and was beginning to lose hope.

BUT…

After months of feeling down, frustrated and worried that I was never going to get to where I wanted to be, I noticed that a university counselling course near where I lived had introduced some more places. I applied and the rest all happened very fast! Before I knew it, I had been offered a place and was sitting in the lecture room on my first day of the course suddenly with new hope and excitement for what lay ahead.

My point is, so much can change. This time last year, I wasn’t in a “dream psychology job” where I was using my degree; I couldn’t see a future in one anytime soon and I was facing bucket loads of rejection. Now I’ve completed a counselling course, have secured a placement in a counselling service with my own caseload of clients and have refreshed hope for the future.

When it feels like you’re at a dead end, I really believe that it can and it will get better. I’m living proof of that. We can feel defeated but this can change in ways we just don’t expect when we least expect it.



So, my name is Beth. I am a 23-year-old Psychology Graduate and Trainee Counsellor who struggles themselves with their own mental health difficulties. What many people don’t know about me is that I have OCD, anxiety and have previously had depression. Last year, I started up my own blog to share my experiences in the hope that people no longer feel that they are alone. You can check it out at www.memyselfnmentalhealth.wordpress.com


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

12 runs in 12 months!

Andrew is running to improve student mental health and explains how he is tying his passion for fundraising and sport together.
- Andrew Morbey

When I heard fellow Champion Fundraiser Jess Mell was doing the Sheffield Colour Run, I thought it was a great chance to participate in my first fundraiser, meet Jess and catch up with another long term friend. Whilst running the 5km circuit, I enjoyed the feeling of surrounding myself with other runners and walkers who were there to have fun and shared a common connection of fundraising. This is when I decided that I’d sign up to one 10km or half marathon each month for a year, as this was a great way of tying my passion for fundraising and sport together.


Having grown up in a very active and sporty family, I was out playing rugby, cricket and athletics at any opportunity I was given at school. Once school finished, with University round the corner, I struggled to keep fit and stay on top of my depression. However, by joining Lindfield Rugby Club back in Sydney I was able to keep motivated to exercise and turn up to training so that I didn’t let my team mates down. 

Fast forward to February this year when I arrived in England, I joined Burton Rugby Club to meet new people and attend training to keep up my fitness. It wasn’t long till I found myself moving to Warwick as I was offered a job at FEC Energy and with the rugby season coming to an end, I had to come up with a new way of staying fit. My initial thought was to go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, but with depression, I found that finding the motivation to go by myself after a long day at work was hard.

Deciding to complete this year long fundraiser has given me motivation to train more seriously, running 5-10km once or twice a week as well as going to the gym. So far, I have completed the Sheffield Colour Run (April) and the Hercules Sporting Festival (May) in Watford, as well as signing up for the Hampshire Hoppit Half Marathon (June) and the Wimbledon Half Marathon (July).


It also helps when work is celebrating its 50th anniversary by organising walks, cycling and running events for the year for another mental health charity, Mind. In September, FEC Energy has allowed me to compete in the Warwickshire Wolf Run in a joint fundraiser for Mind and Student Minds.

Running gives me the freedom to explore the beautiful England countryside and discover the hidden places of Warwickshire, as well as staying fit and distracting my brain from over-thinking. Participating in running events around the UK has also encouraged me to do some weekends away, instead of sitting at home and sleeping all weekend.  



I am a twenty-five-year-old Aussie bloke chasing my dream of living in the UK. After buying my one-way ticket and making the big move, I came into contact with Student Minds through a mental health charity in Australia called Batyr. I applied for their Fundraising Champions initiative earlier this year, and when I was elected, my head filled up with ideas on how I can help break down this mental health stigma. I wanted to start by sharing my story with Student Minds and the extended mental health community.

Find out more about what the amazing fundraising champions are up to and donate here.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Coping with Clubbing Anxiety

Tamsin talks us through the often complicated relationship between clubbing and anxiety, and typically unrealistic expectations of a 'good night'.
- Tamsin McLeod

Fresher’s t-shirt packaged in tissue paper and overpriced yet apparently necessary textbooks in hand: I am identical to thousands of other ‘fresh meat’ on this foreign university campus. A campus I barely remember from the open day and now call home.

As a fresher, it’s deemed undeniably important to go into the negative numbers of your student loan to buy five jaeger bombs, followed by the sugar coma that are VKs for a new bolt record on a Wednesday night. Clubbing is necessary whilst deadlines are not, at least according to the guidelines of how to have the best first year at university. For many people, first year doesn’t count so obviously, us ‘freshers’ must be partying like there’s no tomorrow. Cheesy tunes, drunk texting and a non-existent sleeping pattern all in the name of a good night out. Napping and coffee replacing home-cooked meals and curfew in tribute to going out minimally twice a week.

This was the most anticipated aspect of being a first-year student and all I heard about in the time leading up to starting university. It was daunting and exciting at the same time. It created unrealistically high and idealised expectations of Freshers’ Week as I ran a hundred different scenarios in my head. My social anxiety was having a field day due to all these unknown possibilities of an alcohol fuelled first week of university continuing throughout the year. Except, that’s not now first year truly has to remain.

It is a lie to state that clubbing is a fresher obligation. Not every night has to be lived like it’s your last and you’re at one of Gatsby’s decadent parties, griming to some obscured remix.  For many struggling with anxiety, the idea of clubbing is more daunting than exciting. This feeling of obligation to enjoy such occasions as a fresher only amplifies the anxiety as explaining why you’re turning down yet another night out seems too complex to explain.

For me the idea of not being completely in control due to consuming alcohol terrified me. What if I lost my housemates? What if I lost my phone or ID? What if I fell over onto the sticky floor? What if I looked stupid dancing? What if I am being too clingy? I mean I did attach myself to my housemate’s arm every night we went out. What if people expected me to drink more and drink every drink in the fastest possible time? Every thought about a night out started with ‘what if’ and ended negatively. This alongside the claustrophobic and rowdy queues did not fill my five-foot-nothing self with excitement, like it somehow did with everyone else on a night out.

Nights in are perfectly acceptable, but to be honest we all secretly miss going to bed at 11pm instead of missing half the day to get more than five hours sleep and avoid a hangover. Some of my best nights at university so far have been popcorn and pyjama orientated with my new housemates and friends.

If you prefer to stay in and anyone tells you, you’re ‘boring’ or ‘uncool’, don’t listen to them. It’s okay to stay in sometimes and it’s okay if social anxiety becomes too much some nights. And when these nights do happen, curl up with your favourite movie and a hot chocolate. Do not deny your feelings, or put them down. They are valid and so are you. Night in or nights out can both be good.

However, if your anxiety is at a place where it can be managed (which is a possibility for everyone, even if you don’t believe it now) I have also discovered the joys of clubbing on anxiety free days. The joys coming from putting some glittery eye shadow on and a cute outfit, dancing and singing at the top of your lungs. Going a little crazy with friends on the dance floor can lead to some of the best photos of uni – but so can the nights in were you all cook dinner together and chat about home. 

All in all it’s what you feel most comfortable doing and most comfortable with, and don’t let anyone pressure you into an anxious situation you can’t control and they don’t understand.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

My Anxiety, My Epiphany, and Me

This student suffered from anxiety their whole career, and studying for their PhD was no exception. They were able to move on after an epiphany, when they realised they been trying to please the wrong people.
- Anonymous


I’m a PhD student and, like so many others, I suffer from anxiety. I take medication to help me manage it, but sometimes that’s not enough and I experience panic attacks, episodes of irritability, anger, crying, and feeling utterly helpless. I often struggle to sleep, which amplifies things. It’s all made worse because I’m in my fourth year and no longer have an income through a stipend, but still have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. My family are affected by my anxiety every bit as much as I am.

My latest episode of anxiety was because I had not been able to write for a long time, and I had reached the point where I had to write or I had to give up. I’m not lazy; people with anxiety generally aren’t. We’re anxious because we want to write but are afraid to. Writing is putting your ideas, a part of yourself, of your soul, out for scrutiny which, for someone with anxiety, is terrifying. And anxiety is reinforcing, so being unable to write increases your anxiety, which makes it even harder to write, and so on ad infinitum.

To people who are thinking, or have said, “can’t you just do it?”, no, I can’t. If I could ‘just’ do it, wouldn’t I have already done it? Please don’t say that to people; it’s not helpful. It’s much deeper than sitting down and making words appear on the page.

I am, and always have been, very sensitive to criticism. My rational self knows I can’t please all people all of the time, and my writing is no different. But my anxious/irrational self doesn’t let me think like this. Clearly everyone should be bowled over by the quality of my work. It’s not that I’m a narcissist or I want huge recognition, or think my work is better than everybody else’s. It’s just that it should be unambiguously right, and everyone should be able to see that.

I started my PhD feeling very positive, thinking ‘I can do this’. My problems started with my upgrade/confirmation panel. Instead of a constructive discussion, I was bullied. After the panel I had a leave of absence for depression. It took me two months to return to work. I had counselling for a year.

Even so, I didn’t really get my confidence back until a few months ago, two years later. I was talking to my partner about giving up or carrying on and I had an epiphany: I realised I’d been subconsciously trying to satisfy the upgrade panel. They were never going to be satisfied, and so it was an impossible task. I’d been afraid to write knowing, in my head at least, that I’ll fail and this has held me back for years.

My partner and supervisor have been telling me to forget all about the panel since it happened. They’re obviously right but, as anybody with anxiety will tell you, it’s really hard to let go of that negative voice because nobody should think you’re wrong. I need to get better at rejecting invalid criticism, but for now my confidence has returned and I’ve been able to write again.

Realising what’s happening has helped me to move on; you can’t begin to fix something if you don’t know what’s going on. Writing this has helped me to understand and articulate what happened. Writing for my supervisors who support me, rather than the panel, has helped tremendously. Most importantly, believing, truly believing, I have something worthwhile to say, even if some people criticise it (and they will) has been the thing that has most helped me to write again. Arguably I’m even in a healthier position by recognising that my work is not immune from criticism, rather than naively thinking I’ll scrape by unscathed, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

(I've submitted this anonymously because I don't think any good can come from identifying the institution and the academics, involved, and not because anxiety is something that should be hidden. Don't be afraid to talk to others about your anxiety.)