An anonymous student talks about their experience of depression and social anxiety and how it has impacted their university experience.
The university experience is marked by the exciting opportunity to meet new people, make new friends and try new things. Depression and social anxiety are marked, at least from my own experience, by an unwavering commitment to the idea that you are universally loathed for being the abhorrent human being you are, anxiety attacks triggered from minor social interactions and a total apathy towards getting out of bed and showering, let alone checking out some society’s taster session. Bearing that in mind, then, it might be fair to say that I was not best prepared for a life at university.
Fresher’s week was an interesting one. It’s a week specifically designed to help you get to know new people, some of whom you are living with, by filling you up with paint-thinner grade vodka and running you through Timepiece to the tune of Party Rock Anthem. That in itself is a pretty standard Freshers evening and I would not blame anyone for enjoying themselves, even if they’re grimacing through the music and feel like it might be a bit of a put-on. The difference for me came from a couple of factors.
Firstly, alcohol is a depressant which, if you’re suffering from depression (or even if you’re reasonably “healthy”) will wreak absolute havoc on your brain chemistry if you over indulge. So, binge drinking, check.
Secondly, I hate meeting new people. I don’t mean I hate people, I mean that because, particularly if I’m having a bad day/week/month, meeting people starts with the assumption that they will hate me as much as I hate myself (let’s keep things cheery, folks), it’s a very stressful experience and one which I will do my best to, “script” beforehand if it can’t be avoided. Let’s add massive amounts of unpredictable social interaction into the mix where I’m also living with some of these people and you can see why that week is not an ideal situation for me and I imagine many others.
I have nothing but good things to say about the Wellbeing Centre, I only wish I had sought out help earlier. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s suffered from depression can attest to, deciding that you are worth getting help for, and then subsequently chasing that up when most of your energy is dedicated to crawling out of your pit and going to a lecture is easier said than done. It took me until the end of the summer before my third year to decide that I needed help, and from a standing start the Wellbeing Centre knew exactly how to deal with me. The counselling was superb, and even the GPs that I have been involved with for medication purposes have been incredibly understanding and helpful, they’re a credit to the University.
University life is, totally unintentionally, almost designed to exacerbate mental health issues; there’s a lot of downtime, you’re on your own, there’s a serious alcohol culture and it’s generally a stressful time. I have had the best and worst times here, and I know my case is not unusual. What’s important for people who suffer from mental health issues, is that it can be discussed openly with the people you want or need to share it with.
It’s much less a case of, “How are you going to fix my problem?” and much more, “Please understand why I have not surfaced from under my duvet in three days.” My only advice to anyone who’s suffering at university is get the help you need and talk to the people who care about you, people will surprise you.