It was a huge step; packing up my belongings and leaving to go to university 200 miles away from home. I was excited but terrified. I was leaving friends, family and a boyfriend of 2 years. I was sure we could make it work long distance.
The first 6 or so months of my university experience were thrilling and an adventure. I was learning a subject I was interested in, meeting new interesting people, learning how to look after myself and doing it all in a big happening city. Living with 11 other people was a bit like Big Brother at times, but was an experience I’d never forget. My boyfriend was even talking about moving up, after he loved it too after his visits, and we were starting to look for a flat together. Out of the blue, he broke up with me. It was a messy situation but my new friends helped me by listening to my heartache and taking me out to parties. At the end of that year I couldn’t face going home for summer, so looked for a job and moved straight into a flat with a few friends.
My dad didn’t look himself and was coughing and out of breath
I did go home for a few days and went to visit my parents. My dad didn’t look himself and was coughing and out of breath. He said it was just a cold; it definitely didn’t look like one. My mum and my brother took him to the Out of Hours, while I was told to lock up the family business. They returned later that night without my dad, they had kept him in still not completely sure what was wrong with him.
I stayed home as long as could, but had a job I started on the Monday and couldn’t afford not to take it. After a few days of my new job and living out of the poorly stocked freezer, I got a call from my mum. Things had got worse with the whole situation. I spent the last of my money on a train ticket and headed home. My dad was still in hospital, suffering from pulmonary embolisms and my mum in the meantime had found debt letters that my dad had hidden or left unopened. My mum had made the decision to leave the family business and move into my grandma’s house. I helped as much I could. My mum cried on my shoulder caught in between worried about losing my dad, but also not being able to trust him again. Everything was a mess.
She said I was depressed
After a while my dad started to recover and my parents started to rebuild their life together, with me returning to university. I hadn’t cried at anything that had happened with my family and was starting to feel numb. It was months before I started to think there was something wrong with me. I would lie on my bed staring at the ceiling with hours going past, be unable to sleep or concentrate so my course work was going downhill. I didn’t feel right, but didn’t have the energy to properly notice. It took a friend to notice my state and got me an appointment for a counselling session. I really didn’t think I needed to go and felt awkward talking about things. She said that I was depressed, which I didn’t believe. I knew what depression was but I didn’t know it was the way I felt. People use the term so loosely that I didn’t feel I could tell anyone, for fear of judgement even if I did have it.
I vividly remember the moment when it finally dawned on me that the counsellor was right about my illness and that I really needed help. I was walking down the street to a lecture and almost got ran over by a white van. The first feeling a well and functioning person gets is relief and a racing heart from the shock. I had none of that, no relief, no shock, just an inbuilt bitter disappointment that the van hadn’t hit me. I knew I needed help, and went for more counselling and started to get treatment for my illness.
I could only talk to one friend about it
It was a tough road as I felt I could only talk to one friend about it and the only counselling session I could ever get was during lecture time. Everyone on my course just thought I was a massive skiver; no one could see how I really was due to the fake smile I would force on every day. Through the counsellor’s advice I did tell my parents about my condition but only in letter form. It felt like a weakness and that I had failed at life to let everything affect me so much, so couldn’t tell anyone about it.
After not doing too well in my exams that year and being told I couldn’t do honours because of it, I went to see my advisor and told him about my situation. I then went to see my course advisor and took a letter from both my doctor and counsellor to back up my story. I later received an email stating that there was no room on honours for me and that I would have to take an alternative route. At the time I didn’t want to speak out about it as I was ashamed of my own condition but as I get older and wiser
I have made an effort to talk about my depression
I realise that discrimination of those with mental illness is much deeper than I thought in individuals and within companies or institutions.
These days I still live with mental illness, but know it as an illness. I take medication and take time for myself. I have since met people who have went through similar experiences, which has been helpful. It is definitely nice to know that you are not alone and mental illness is more common than would first think. I have made an effort to talk about my illness, but there are still people that don’t know. My advice for anyone living with mental illness is to talk about it. Don’t take as long as I did to accept help.