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As a student going into my second year, I already knew that the demands of university could take a toll on one’s mental health having experienced it already in my first year: the pressure to meet multiple academic deadlines, maintaining a social life whilst trying to make time for myself, keeping in contact with my family, as well as finding time to just carry out the mundane day-to-day tasks to survive in general.
Living a balanced, all but care-free life seemed to have become increasingly difficult than it was before. Amongst all of this, to some extent, I had begun to feel the increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
But, I was in no way taking them as seriously as I should have, neither was I realising that these issues had been suppressed long before entering higher education.
In fact, coming to terms with having depression and anxiety was something I struggled with a lot up until this year, and accepting this simple fact was nothing but liberating for me in the end.
The truth is the whole time I had been so busy trying to convince myself I was actually fine and ‘just being dramatic’ and that my intrusive, negative thoughts or problems and feelings were not that significant in the long run-especially when compared to others- that I didn’t realise what I was actually doing was neglecting my mental and emotional health in the first place.
That was my first mistake and one I hope to not make again, nor would I wish anyone to make. Ignoring my feelings and comparing them, alongside myself, as less significant than other people was drastic to a decline in my mental health and perception of myself this past year.
Of course, this was not the only thing that dragged me down. The immense pressure I felt to do and be nothing but the very best at university was stressful enough by itself.
I kept listening to this constant, nagging voice in my head telling me I should be doing more studying and work, or that I wasn’t doing enough, or that all I was doing already wasn’t good enough.
In the moment, I rationalised this as stress, which is partially true. Studying for a degree is extremely demanding at times. But ‘stress’ eventually became my go-to response for any feelings of these kind, even the ones that were unrelated to my studies at all.
Things such as worrying over how much money I could spend to survive when I was already financially stable, obsessing over the amount of time I had to complete all the tasks I had to do in a day even if I had all the time in the world, listing all the things that were so wrong with me and my life to the point of tears and fearing others close to me thought all these things too.
This was all a manifestation of anxiety that I was experiencing to a degree I hadn’t felt before.
I knew I suffered with it, and in the past, I had been able to deal with similar racing thoughts and the occasional panic attack with my own coping mechanisms: through regular mindfulness and meditation.
Yet, all rational thought had gone out of the window and I was becoming less and less inclined to practice any of this because my mind was so consumed with all these worries that taking time for myself seemed such a chore and something I couldn’t fit into my life.
Not to mention, the energy I was wasting doing all this thinking was exhausting on both a mental and physical level.
My second mistake in my mental health journey was not taking time for myself to relax or taking the time to listen to what I was so caught up about and how to deal with these problems.
To cut a long story short, throw in one turbulent relationship and becoming distanced and somewhat isolated by the best friends I lived with, and my situation just worsened.
I was spiralling. At the time I didn’t care, and for the most part, I didn’t even realise how badly I was treating myself emotionally and physically. That was how depression grabbed me in its claws. Depression, after all, is known as a silent killer.
A predator, even. Sometimes it just begins to creep up on you, and it becomes so normal that it is hard to tell what life was like before you felt so unhappy in the beginning.
Depression for me was like that. It started with the smallest of things, such as skipping meals or barely eating at all because I was no longer concerned with eating, to suddenly lying in bed for hours, mindless and numb, sleeping all the time because I was always exhausted for no reason, and not wanting to leave the house, yet feeling isolated and neglected and unwanted in the house due to the environment I was living in, convinced I had nowhere and no one to turn to.
The mind is a scary place when it becomes all you have to listen to and interact with. A self -critical voice you can’t escape endlessly telling you you’re worthless, unloved, and that you shouldn’t exist. It is all-consuming and seemingly inescapable.
But, it’s not. This was one of the first things I discovered on my road to coping with my mental health and recovering.
Looking back to about four months ago now when I was at my worst, I always say that the best thing for me that I did was physically escaping the environment I was in so that I could heal.
I remember reading something online about recovering along the lines of this: you cannot look for healing in an environment that hurts you or surrounded by people that have hurt you. It really resonated with me, and still does.
For me, coming home for my summer break to a safer environment was my first step in getting better, my second was counselling.
I was not new to therapy and I knew that finally seeking help again was the solution to overcome this period of suffering. Getting professional help is nothing to be ashamed of and I will always remind myself of this before ever trying to suffer and make sense of anything I am going through alone again.
Thinking I was worthless was one of the most prominent negative thoughts I had during the worst of my depression. I felt unwanted, useless, and unworthy to be alive.
In tandem with this was the anxiety telling me I was never going to be anything else other than those things. It’s safe to say I was not in a place where I could say I loved myself or the life I was living. I was hardly practising self-love or self-care at all at that point anymore.
Today, I can say these two practices are so much easier and accessible. I can look at myself in the mirror and not pick at all the things I thought were wrong with me, or feel as if a corpse is looking back at me, as I am no longer feeling worthless or numb inside, miserable at the thought of waking up and existing each day.
That’s not to say I feel this way all the time because that is not a rational concept. But I have learnt that this is not necessarily a bad thing, that it is completely okay to not always feel okay. It’s normal even! We cannot feel one way all the time. Emotions are constantly changing and evolving, and that is healthy.
Remembering and accepting this knowledge really helped me in coming out of that dark place, and allowed me to start realising my emotions and feelings, rather than suppressing them. This also sparked a journey towards self- love and accepting myself.
Now, whenever I find myself engaging in negative self -talk, whether it be about my character or appearance, I let myself feel them in the moment and then reframe them into something more positive, usually through writing down affirmations.
Journaling has always been a huge part of my life, I kept diaries all the time when I was younger, and I discovered this was the best coping strategy for me in overcoming all things negative, be it my depression, anxiety or times I lack in self- love.
Writing it out allows me to think more rationally and positively when it all gets too overwhelming because it doesn’t seem so scary or upsetting when it’s just a bunch of words on a page, instead of a huge tangle of thoughts filling up my mind.
I’ve come far from the emotional and mental space I was existing in, but it is still a struggle some days, and that’s not to say I won’t ever struggle badly again. But I am aware that overcoming mental health issues is a process.
I also found that this goes for learning to love oneself as well. Processes are not linear! There will be good days and bad days, and that doesn’t mean that I, or anyone, should beat themselves up or ‘feel like a failure’.
One of the most important philosophies I now live by is to take every day as it is and to always be mindful of the fact that one bad day is not detrimental to healing, as tomorrow is a new, fresh start, and an opportunity for a new perspective.
Moving forward is always key.
By Katie Lanney