Francesca, April 4, 2019

“My friends and teachers began to worry about me, but I refused to open up. I was worried that they would judge me.”

Talking about mental health can be hard, which is why I bottled up my feelings for so long.

I worked hard for my AS levels but a difficult question in my first exam threw me. I panicked and started spiralling, doubting my ability to pass the subject, get into uni, get a job. It shattered my confidence and I was so worried about failing that I started working even harder for the rest of my exams, barely giving myself the chance to breathe. I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly; I became withdrawn and felt miserable and exhausted. My friends noticed that I wasn’t quite myself but I was insistent that I’d just overworked myself and would feel better once the summer holidays began. I didn’t.

My anxiety and low mood didn’t disappear just because it was summer. By the time I started Year 13, I was really struggling and could barely get through a day without crying. I’d always been a model student but suddenly had no interest in my lessons and hated being at school. I couldn’t look forward to the weekends because of the overwhelming anxiety that my Saturday job brought me.

At home, it was easy to pretend that everything was okay, but it was harder in school, where I was constantly surrounded by people. My friends and teachers began to worry about me, but I refused to open up. I was worried that they would judge me. I thought I was the only one who felt like this and that they wouldn’t understand. I didn’t want to be seen as weak or inferior, and I didn’t want to be a burden, so I isolated myself from them.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t solve any of my problems – it just made me more miserable and everyone else more worried.

My teachers kept me behind a few times at the end of their lessons, always asking if I was okay and trying to get me to talk to them, but still I refused, desperately trying to cling onto the pretense of everything being fine. My best friend was getting increasingly worried, but I kept pushing her away, so she spoke to one of our teachers who then insisted on having a chat with me.

My teacher asked what was going on, but I didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t tell her much in that initial conversation, but it made me realise how much everyone cared about me and that I needed to stop pushing the people close to me away.

The next day after school, I told my best friend everything. I can’t express how much of a relief that was to both of us. I’d been carrying this huge weight by myself for weeks and suddenly I wasn’t on my own anymore. With my best friend’s encouragement and support, I told two of our teachers how I was feeling, and they helped me access the help I needed.

The minute I started talking about my feelings was the minute things started getting easier. As cliché as it is, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Talking meant that there were people who knew what I was going through and could support me. My friends and teachers all made sure that I knew they were there for me. After that first conversation about my mental health, I knew that there were people who cared about my wellbeing. Whenever I felt low or anxious, I made sure to reach out to them and talk about my feelings.

I ended up doing well in my A levels and am now in my second semester at university. I’m in a much better place than I was a year ago and I very much doubt that this would be the case if I hadn’t opened up about how much I was struggling. I’m so grateful to my friends and teachers for starting the conversation about my mental health, and for continuing to be there for me.

Talking about mental health can be hard, but for me, it makes everything so much better.

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