Caitlin writes about her time at University, as she put her mental health first and accepted the help surrounding her.
It all went a bit wrong for me, about a week ago. I should have noticed myself, really, that my old ways were coming back. It should have been my canary in the coal mine, when two people asked me if I was okay, in the same afternoon. I didn’t want to accept that I was losing control again.
Perhaps it’s the freedom of being at university that allowed me to lose control at all. I felt much the same as I had through my A-levels, my reference point for all things mental health. I was inexcusably nervous over the smallest thing, like sitting on the front row in class (which had been, at one point, my coping mechanism, but clearly not this time). My hands were shaking all over the show, embarrassingly, so it was easy to fall back on how I would sit on placement, with “hands in a basket” (if you’re unfamiliar with this, it’s what teachers sometimes tell children who can’t stop fidgeting. It’s also what my head of sixth form told me, when I was preparing for university interviews). I could feel my words drying up, like a tap being switched off. I became a wallflower, in spectacular fashion, finding it easier to observe rather than participate. In school, on placement, I didn’t have the time or the headspace to allow my mental health to creep in, at least, not in the presence of the children. I know that I must have been a nightmare of a placement partner sometimes. Strict routines in a primary school are really good for me. General freedom and loose routines at university - not so much.
For someone who hadn’t had much experience with mental health, accepting that I needed help felt impossible. Why couldn’t I just get on with things and be normal? Why was it such a big deal to cope with everyday, menial tasks?
So I’ve spent a week at home, which at first felt like the biggest confession I’ve ever made to my brain. I’ve skipped a lesson, a couple of days, but never a week.
Fast-forward, and the fog is lifting. It’s not as dark. My mum (my magical, superhuman mum) says I’ve come back out of my head, and that’s how she knows I’m getting better. She means that I went quiet for a while, just sort of floating through life. And now it’s like I’ve come back up for air; started living again. I’ve started noticing things, and began making my own happiness. I’ve made more progress on my novel in this last few days than I have in months.
This is probably aided by my new medication, two new boxes of pills trying to curb the sharp edges of my anxiety, and soften the blow of mild depression. But I’ve also found it to be just the way my brain works. It’s hard to remember this, in the depth of an intensely low period, but as a rule, there’s always a reprieve, a high after a low. As bad as things were before, they always seem to come around eventually. Even when I was an absolute train wreck, in a very anxious French lesson, I could usually (usually!) find something to smile about afterwards, even if it was only the peculiarity of a French novel about a hunchbacked, madman of a rabbit farmer (not even joking.)
In a roundabout sort of way, I think what I’m trying to say here, is that things will always get better. When things have stopped going wrong, there’s only one other way for them to go. You have to get yourself up somehow, dust yourself down (as I’m writing this, I’m imagining Amanda Thripp, the girl who was thrown by her pigtails in Matilda) and pick up where you left off. Even if that means checking your university portal with horror, trying to work out where to start with catching up. There’s a quote that I always find myself returning to, that seems quite apt here.
“You wake up every morning to fight the same demons that left you so tired the night before, and that, my love, is bravery.”
We’re all just fighting the same demons over and over again. Scary stuff. Catching up lecture notes? Easy peasy, in comparison.
(As an extra note, I have another quote that I like, that sometimes is easier to relate to! “I’m just going to put an Out of Order sticker on my forehead and call it a day.”)