April 24, 2014

There was a time three years ago which I often identify as the time where I was at my worst. As an international student in his first year spending the Christmas break on campus was not easy. I was deeply depressed (although did not know the name at the time) and would spend the entire day in my room for weeks on end apart from going for the occasional run. I was also anxious and felt unable to connect with anyone.

I felt I was not unwell enough to deserve support

Being a psychology student was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it slowly made me see that what I am experiencing is legitimate and normal and there are people dedicating their lives to studying and helping people with depression and anxiety. But it was also a curse because studying psychology made me see just how much some people struggle and suffer from their mental health difficulty. And that was not me – I was still able to attend lectures and get my coursework done after all. It made me feel I did not deserve any support because I felt guilty for taking away the limited resources that someone else would need a lot more than me. I felt I was not unwell enough.

I braved to bare my wounds to the world

But I was unwell. And no matter how much I tried to hide and contain it the pain started seeping out of me. In the form of words like the ones you are reading now. First a private journal, then in private messages to people who barely knew me but I felt safe (and desperate) enough to tell them. And then I couldn’t hold it anymore and I wrote it all down in a blog. Several blog posts, a whole week’s worth. I poured all of my pain and suffering into words and told the world. And I kept on writing and another Christmas came and once again I was feeling so helpless and wounded but I braved to bare my wounds to the world. I was feeling out of control and was scared I would harm myself and I told that to everyone.

My tutor listened and did not judge

A few days later I got an email from my university tutor who is also the course director for the clinical psychology course I am doing. He asked me to come in for a chat to talk about how things are going. This was unusual, but deep down I knew what this was about – one of my course mates had read my blog and informed him about it. And so I went and for the first time I told someone who was not my friend about how I was feeling and that I found things really difficult. And my tutor listened and did not judge. He offered support, an open ear, mentioned the university counselling service, and the possibility of medication if I wanted. He did not do any magic and he did what everyone would have done. He cared.

All I needed was someone to say "You are not alone in this. You can get help."

But to me that chat changed everything. Because I suddenly felt I was allowed to feel like this. And I was allowed to seek help. All this time I did not allow myself to seek the support I needed because I felt guilty about being miserable and depressed and anxious in my circumstances. I needed someone else to tell me that it was normal to feel like this and that I could go and get help. I realised that I desperately wanted help but I needed someone else to give me permission. I realised that in my blog posts I was crying out for support and deep down I knew all I needed was someone to say “You are not alone in this and it’s not forever. You can get help.” And that is just what my tutor did. I made a GP appointment on the same day.

I made a commitment not to let mental illness ruin my life anymore

I am now just finishing my second month of antidepressant medication. I have also had my third session of counselling. It has completely transformed my life. The medication has markedly decreased my anxiety and I can now get through most days without constantly being on the edge. The counselling has made me more compassionate towards myself and look after myself better. I am still struggling with depression creeping back in from time to time, but I made a commitment not to let mental illness ruin my life anymore.

And I still write and that still helps me enormously. I now live openly with my mental health difficulties and it is the best decision I ever made. 

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