So, as this is my first blog post, first let me say that my personal experiences with depression and anxiety are exactly that-personal to me. Everyone on this earth experiences things differently. And that’s a really important thing to remember. Although there are symptoms of illnesses that people who have them can relate to, there may be some that only they feel, or that they don’t and that’s fine too.
My point is that when I talk about my experiences with mental health issues, they are my own experiences, and so things that help me get through bad days may not help other people and vice versa.
With that being said, let me explain why I wasn’t quite ready for University yet and why I dropped out.
I got ahead of myself
This time last year I could never have pictured myself a) taking a gap year, b) taking a gap year because I dropped out of university or c) dropping out of university due to a nervous breakdown. Definitely not.
In fact, this time last year I was on top of the world having just received an offer to study Sociology at the University of Exeter. Life could not have been better. The end of my A-Levels was in sight, I was counting down the days for the summer holidays, and my life for the next 4 years was seemingly all planned out for me. A bit naive wasn’t I?
Not that being excited about university makes you naive, but really you never know where life will take you. And I definitely learnt that the hard way. To be perfectly honest with you, looking back on how excited I was for the ‘greatest years of my life’ makes me cringe. Moldy windows, insomnia and daily panic attacks are not my definition of great.
I didn’t accept what I was feeling
As someone who has never really suffered from mental health issues, it definitely came as a shock to me when suddenly I just wasn’t okay. There is no other way to describe that initial feeling. I was just not okay. After having had such a fantastic year, dreaming of the day I would walk into my new home in Exeter, realising that actually being there was damaging me took a long time to sink in.
I would tell myself, ‘Oh I just don’t like the degree’ (which was true, but not the only issue), ‘I need to go out more’, ‘I just need to get more sleep’, ‘everyone feels like this at uni’. And, well, none of that was helping. Denial doesn’t help. Treating depression and anxiety (which are medical illnesses) like they are just passing feelings, or behavioural things avoids the actual question you need to ask yourself. ‘Am I okay, or do I need help?’ If you decide you need help, make sure to get it. Call Samaritans, go see your GP, talk to a friend, speak to your Univerisity’s mental health services.
Do anything that you think might be a step forward.
I blamed myself for being ill
A lot of what I felt at university was guilt for feeling this way, without even knowing what ‘this way’ even was. I felt guilty for sleeping all day and not going to my lectures, I felt guilty for telling my mum I was fine, I felt guilty for telling my mum I was not fine. I felt guilty because I had amazing flatmates and wanting to leave university would look like I didn’t like them(or so my depression told me). I felt guilty guilty guilty 24/7 for feeling something I couldn’t even explain.
I blamed myself completely and was convinced I was letting everyone down. In hindsight I know this is a common symptom of depression and maybe I should have gotten help earlier. However, it certainly didn’t help when the very first doctor I spoke to about it all basically confirmed my fears. It was all my fault, apparently. “You are doing this to yourself”, “You are making yourself depressed“, “Why don’t you just leave the university?”
Let me say one thing right now.
If you enter a doctor’s office crying and then they tell you that your medical condition is your own fault and they can’t offer you any help, and then they let you leave still crying-you need to change doctor. ASAP. Obviously at the time I was a mess. That was the last thing I needed to hear. She offered me no support, no advice on how to at least get some support and sent me on my way.
I finally accepted that I needed to leave
What really gets me now is that even though Dr-knows-nothing wasn’t right in what she said or the way she talked to me, I ended up taking her advice and leaving. It’s not that now I have left university everything is fine like she so brilliantly suggested it would be, but staying in the place that triggered my depression was toxic and I needed to leave.
Fast forward a few months and it’s early January. After four very very difficult months at University filled with hysterical crying fits, endless sleepless nights, panic attacks, trips to the doctor, trips to the councilor and trips back home to my parents, I finally decided that enough was enough.
Staying in a place that makes you wish you weren’t alive anymore is not something I would recommend. But like I said, it’s not that that specific place is the root of all my issues and now that i’m not there everything is okay. It’s more that going to University is a big life event for anyone, and the stress of everything from moving away from home, to writing essays all night and trying to make new friends really took it’s toll and caused me to become depressed, and it caused my anxiety to increase by a thousand.
Now that i’m back home, in a place where I feel comfortable, where I know the area, I live with my family and I can take a breather to take care of myself I think i’ll be okay. Maybe tomorrow it’ll feel like I won’t be okay, but right now everything is looking up. I still have depression. I still have anxiety. And they are affecting me everyday, sometimes I have good days, sometimes I feel entirely empty inside and life feels worthless. But the way I felt at University everyday is not the way I feel everyday now, so I figure that’s progress.
I don’t yet feel comfortable thinking back on my time at uni, it makes my stomach knot and I start to panic, telling myself off for being so stupid and weak. For giving up such an amazing opportunity, and letting people down. When i’m feeling better I know it wasn’t weak to say “i’m not okay and i need help”, but it’s easy to criticise yourself when you’re at your worst.
So this post got a lot longer than I had intended, but I want to finish on another note. I don’t regret going to university. I don’t regret making the friends I did, learning to cook for myself, and learning that I wasn’t quite ready to set off on my own. It was definitely the most difficult decision I have ever had to make so far, but I know when I look back in 10 years that I will have made the right choice.
It’s important to never regret things. This is something I have learnt from experience and also from help from a councilor I spoke to the other day. The past is the past and it helps to shape who we become, but we can’t change it, so we shouldn’t dwell on it. I tried something, and it wasn’t for me so now i’m going to try something else. Maybe a few times until I get it right. But something I read in a really great blog post when I was deciding whether or not to leave university really stuck with me and it helped me finalise my decision:
“Prioritise your health and happiness. Everything else will come together. And you will be fine.”
This really stuck with me, and it put everything into perspective. Do what makes you happy. If anyone reading this identifies with what I’ve said at all, I would definitely recommend following A Little Grey. And following me, of course 😉