As a student, it can sometimes feel like life is flying by at 100mph. One minute you're sunning yourself on a secluded Italian beach and the next you're drowning in deadlines and getting heart palpitations from the copious amounts of caffiene in your bloodstream. Add a weekend job into the equation and the semester is almost over quicker than you can say: "Would you like fries with that?"
Since reaching the ripe old age of 22 it feels like time is escaping me. I barely have time to breathe let alone eat three regular meals, socialize, stick to my deadlines and make sure that I drink enough water (Echo Falls doesn't count, apparently). Call me crazy but I love the thrill(?!) of trying to find a healthy balance between university life, work and down time; I'm the type of person that likes to be kept busy. An extra shift is available, you say? Sure, sign me up. A fun run this weekend? See ya at the finish line.
The Dolche Vita family, catch us serving you fresh coffee and sass on a daily basis
Have you ever been driving down the motorway, singing your heart out to High School Musical, and suddenly realise you're pushing 125mph and there are blue flashing lights in your rear-view mirror? Nope, me neither, but you get the idea. I was enjoying life; I was THRIVING. New flatmates, new course, new friends...there were so many new things going on that I was able to push all of the old, slightly less exciting, things out of my mind for a while. Some people call it 'thought suppression' but I like to refer to it as 'if I pretend that didn't happen it means it didn't, right?'. Probably not the healthiest coping mechanism, I know, but I went from living life in the fast lane to not being able to get out of bed very, very quickly.
For the first time in five years I didn't just have to slow down, I had to stop. This time alone, completely alone, in my room gave me time to think. It was like Pandora's Box had been opened and I began to get flashbacks; flashbacks of things that had happened to me that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I felt numb and alone. My best friend had not long relocated to Switzerland and wasn't readily available to provide a shoulder to cry on. Who would I turn to? Who liked me enough to care about me? I'd been keeping myself so busy that I was able to block everything out. I'd had suicidal thoughts before but this was a whole new level.
I consider myself to be relatively lucky. I have a girlfriend that adores me (who has just handed me a tub of Pringles, I'm onto a winner here), just as much as I do her, and a great circle of newly-found journalism friends that I love and wholly support. Sometimes, though, it's difficult to forget the past. Maybe that 'if I pretend that didn't happen it means it didn't, right?' state of mind wasn't the healthiest coping mechnism for my personal wellbeing. I knew I would break eventually and, well, I guess here we are.
Funny to think we hated each other when we first met...
Official studies have shown that 1 in 4 students experience mental health difficulties during their time at university and I can confirm that I am that number 1. I'm not ready to share my mental state with the world, in fact I'm very far from doing so, but it can safely be concluded that I'm not the epitome of mental stability.
It can be difficult to know who to turn to in times of crisis. Sometimes it's easier to talk to a 'stranger' rather than those we love. I hate worrying those closest to my heart so, naturally, I subjected my adacemic advisor to a spiel of un-coordinated thoughts which somehow represented my mental state. I told them EVERYTHING and, frankly, I think I left them a little traumatised. I felt useless and broken but they understood. It was the very first time that I had admitted to myself that I was not as okay as I thought I was.
All of the things that were once new and shiny and exciting had become dull. I had no interest in completing my course or socialising with my new friends and I even stopped contact with my family. I completely isolated myself and I felt stuck. The thrill of alcohol and nicotine lost its novelty and became more of a habit, a habit I'm not necessarily proud of. It once helped me feel alive but it had got to a point where it helped me stay alive.
Everyone has heard the phrase 'it's okay not to be okay' at least once in their lives and this could not be more true. Rather than focus on the negative aspects of the British mental health system which, by the way, there are many, I want to focus on the amazing support I have received in the last few days.
Referring myself to the nursing services was simultaneously one of the most exciting yet scariest moments of my university life. Hands shaking, coffee pumping through my veins, I found myself almost sprinting into the nurse's building on the Canterbury campus. I was desperate for help; I needed someone to make a plan of action before I made one of my own.
It was agreed that I would spend the night on campus. I didn't feel safe to be alone and, frankly, the nurse wasn't too keen on letting me drive back to Gillingham after my close shift at work. They say time flies when you're having fun so, naturally, I worked the longest shift of my life. I was told to return to the nurse after my shift and I was determined to do so. I devised a personal vendetta against every customer that approached the till but being able to sneakily consume my bodyweight in curly fries carried me through the shift from hell. I was told, by my supervisor, that I looked like I had lost weight and it dawned on me that my mental instability was beginning to present physical side effects. I didn't feel ill, per say, but I was most definitely not well.
I soon found myself standing outside the nursing services building once again. It was late, I was incredibly tired and the stench of deep-fried chicken offended my nostrils. I needed sleep but I wanted a more permanent solution to my suffering. I also wanted a plate-full of turkey dinosaurs (says the vegetarian) and smiley face potato waffles but, hey, you can't have it all.
It's difficult to describe the rest of my time in the care of the nurse, it's all such a blur. I remember getting shown to the room and being given a handful of toiletries to see me through until the morning. I was scared and alone. I had my girlfriend and a small number of tutors checking up on how I was and it was reassuring to know that support was there when I needed it. For the first time, in a long time, I felt safe.
The essentials were provided to see me through the night (car keys not included)
Delirium is almost a constant state for me but this new adventure felt like a holiday. I was in a completely new environment and I had someone to help me if I needed it. At the time it felt like I was in a 5-star hotel with room service. I still refused to admit that I was incredibly ill, this was exciting! My girlfriend and peers were concerned for my wellbeing but I was thrilled with being presented with a new addition to my rather mundane routine.
This was more exciting than Brexit
I have to admit that I was scared for myself. I was scared for what flashback my brain would decide to present to me and I was scared in case I decided to take impulsive action. The nurse didn't give me a razor and, upon reflection, it was probably the best decision that someone has ever made for me. I remember, at one point, contacting as many people as possible in the hope that they would provide me with reassurance that everything will be okay. I was overwhelmed with responses and slowly drifted into a light sleep.
I would love to say that I had the best nights sleep and walked out the following morning feeling refreshed but unfortunately this is not the case. I found myself being haunted by my past and being woken up every hour by the lights flickering on to maximum power. Frustration grew as I angrily pressed the 'off' button time and time again. I wasn't in the slightest bit impressed but I was lucky enough to have my laptop by my bedside playing 'RuPaul's Drag Race' to keep me the slightest bit sane. Who needs sleep anyway?
Hourly wake up call? Thank you very much
The next morning I swiftly departed the room, purchased an obscene amount of chocolate from Essentials (I refuse to call it the Co-Op), sat in my car and cried. I was thankful for the support I had received throughout the night and for the people that had been there when I needed them the most. I am generally a rather self-sufficient person and relying on others is very un-characteristic of me but I couldn't express my gratitude for those people even more than I have done so already.
The CFJ UniKitty making herself at home
Days seem to fly past in a blur of medical assessments, prescriptions and counselling sessions and, sometimes, it feels like there is no way out. Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like this is all life has to offer for me and that this is the best I'm going to get.
This brings me to the present moment in time. I'm sitting in the kitchen with the girl I love, who is providing endless amounts of support and comfort (although I'm ending this post a bottle and a half of wine later). I couldn't be more grateful for the people I have in my life right now, especially the support I am receiving from the CFJ staff, and I can only hope that the only way is up from here. I'm not entirely sure what the underlying message of this post is (every one is meant to have one, right?) but I would highly encourage anyone struggling to talk. It may seem like the whole universe is against you but I can guarantee that this is not the case.
Admittedly this photo was taken pre-wine consumption
I have been in contact with a number of mental health charities in the past year, particularly in the last week, and would highly recommend the following:
A service that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
A suicide prevention charity that aims to help prevent suicide in those under 35
Not a fan of talking over the phone? Shout is a 24/7 text service that can provide you with immediate help
These services are there to help and they do an amazing job. Of course, if you feel in immediate danger, call 111 or get in contact with your local mental health crisis team. There are always people around available to help and no one should feel like they are alone in the world. It really is okay to not be okay.