When I was in my first year of university I wrote a blog, like this one here, for Time to Change. It was about going to university knowing you have a mental illness and the decision I made to tell my flatmates.
That was two and a half years ago now and I’ve just graduated. That sounds bizarre even to write and it doesn’t feel quite real. If you would have told me, maybe five or so years ago, that I’d complete university, have a degree, and even do fairly well, I wouldn’t have believed you.
This is because I have anxiety, suffer from highs and lows in my mood and for the past seven years have struggled with self-harm. Although I am doing so much better these days, I still have anxiety attacks in busy supermarkets, struggle to drive to new places or use public transport, meet up with friends and some days I feel so low I struggle to get out of bed. Because that’s what mental illness is, it’s real life and it’s raw.
However, somehow I managed to write a dissertation (easily the worst part), make hand-ins (had the odd extension but I’m counting it), balance work and a social life, and complete my degree. It was hard; I had to use the local mental health services various times, including the crisis support, and there were plenty of times I felt like dropping out.
I put it down to my friends, tutors and the support from the university that I managed to make it through.
I was worried about involving the university when it came to my mental health - I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t trying or just using it as an excuse. I didn’t want them thinking I was over dramatic or making a fuss over nothing. In reality though, they never did.
I informed them when I wasn’t doing well, and if it wasn’t for the university, in particular my tutors, I don’t think I would have my degree. I felt my tutors and friends were in my corner, and I believe being open about my mental health was the reason for that. When times became really tough, perhaps I was having strong suicidal thoughts or was in the clutch of a self-harm relapse, I always knew that people were there to support me.
Just the small things, like being invited out for a coffee (or hot chocolate, I’m not a big coffee fan), made a massive difference. I found talking about my mental health at the start was hard, but once you’ve made the first step, I can tell you it only gets easier. I educated people on mental illness, and in turn, they quite literally educated me.
I never thought I would be where I am now. This has taught me to go for things you think you will never be able to do and to never give up on yourself, because there’s a good chance you’ll surprise yourself.