A bit of disclaimer: after I wrote this, I realised it’s very ‘all about me’. Sorry about that. It’s also not particularly cheery; spoiler alert: it features struggling with work, depression, attempted sexual assault and being pushed into the open arms of PTSD. Basically, this is really long and not exactly a ‘feel good’ piece of writing, but it’s not all bad.
Having muddled along quite nicely for many years with my anxiety problems, the bigger problems which have now become a significant feature of my life probably started about two years ago, when I was beginning to struggle with all the horrors that are second year university life, where I went from the safety of my college and the knowledge that ‘first year doesn’t count anyway’ to living out, fending for myself and having to keep on top of the endless list of reading and essays which needed to be completed. And when those essays aren’t going as well as you hoped (I think a low point was when I was awarded the grand total of 45% and given completely annihilating comments which made me feel useless and incompetent, and led to me bursting into tears on the walk home) and when you can’t keep on top of the reading because you’re beginning to realise that maybe you’re degree isn’t quite what you hoped it would be, you start to lose sight of what the point of any of all your hard work up until now has been for.
It was about this time that I started to stop sleeping and I began to experience near-constant headaches. Getting up in the morning was a huge effort, and falling asleep took hours because I would lie awake worrying about the seemingly endless mountain of work. But at least I was attending lectures and trying to keep on top of things.
Then I became Welfare Officer. Having run (and subsequently lost) the previous year, getting elected was the accumulation of a year long wait. A year of planning all the things I would do in my head. But it was shortly after I was elected that I think my depression really started to creep in. I was having to catch up on a huge amount of work which had been neglected over the past terms whilst also planning an entire exam season worth of ‘Stressless’ events for my fellow students, ironic considering the amount of stress this led to. During the Easter break, I became more and more stressed, my mind racing with ideas of what I would do whilst forgetting that I also needed to be doing my degree at the same time. But why would I do something that I secretly hated when there was something else I could be doing that I loved and which made me, for the first time in a very long time, happy?
It hit me how bad things were when term started again. I came back home one day from college and broke down. I didn’t know what to do. I just sat on my bed and cried and cried and cried. I couldn’t stop (months later when talking to the university councillors I realised this was an anxiety attack, and it sucked). The next day, I went to speak to someone. To say I was terrified is an understatement, because this was the first time I began to admit to myself that everything wasn’t as okay as I made people think it was. I spoke to my college’s Assistant Senior Tutor, and she made everything better. I was sent off to see a doctor to talk about medication that very day, a couple of days later my exams were deferred until the summer, and I was going to go home for a few weeks to recuperate away from the stress of university life. I was, to an extent, ‘banned’ from coming to college so as not to get sucked into JCR life for the time being, and generally speaking I was on the mend. I’d finally told my parents what was happening and my mum was going to come and collect me to bring me home so I wouldn’t be on my own.
Had it not been for what happened the following week, I think I might be a very different person to who I am now. I think I might have gotten through this phase of my life and looked back on it as a blip, a hiccup, a bit of a tough time which I manage to get through. I might not have slipped into the realms of long-term depression.
When I look back on my life, it is divided into two phases: before and after. Before a man attacked me and tried to sexually assault me, and after. Even typing that feels quite odd in all honesty. I look back on what happened and I constantly question every decision I made that day. What it I’d walked a different way to my college? What it I’d not been walking on my own? What if I hadn’t crossed the road at the point where I normally didn’t but for some reason that day decided to and subsequently walked past this stranger who decided to turn around and follow me?
If there had been any doubt in my mind that I was developing depression, this was the event which pushed my into it head on. I lost faith in humanity. I couldn’t understand why someone would want to do what he tried to do; what goes through someone’s mind when they make the decision to try and hurt somebody. I went home for two weeks. I don’t really remember what I did during this time, my mind has done a pretty good job at blocking out this time in my life. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to be on my own but hated having to be around people at the same time. I just wanted to hide.
When I returned to Durham, I don’t know how I felt. The most likely thing is that I felt a mixture of anger and fear. With the exception of my housemates and a few other friends, nobody knew what had happened. It was the sort of thing I don’t think any of us knew how to talk about. I was shipped off to counselling which I detested; whenever I started to talk about it I felt scared, and when they asked me how I felt I wanted to scream at them “How the hell do you think I’m feeling?!”. I was on edge constantly. Over the first few months the police would call me to tell me what was happening, that they still hadn’t caught him, could I come in and look at a line up, they’re scaling back the case, there’s nothing they can do. Even now I’m still waiting for the moment I get a phone call saying ‘We think we know who he is’, even though I know deep down that’s not going to happen. It’s never really going to be over, not properly.
I started taking anti-depressants shortly after I returned, and ever since then I’ve felt the way I feel now. Sleep continues to take hours to arrive. Getting out of bed in the morning feels like an impossible task. I continued to take medication for several months, but eventually stopped when I realised they weren’t actually making me feel any different. The number of different doctors I saw is countless, and every time I went to get a new prescription the process was the same: “How are you doing?” “I think I’m ok, but I still can’t sleep or get out of bed in the morning.” “Well we’ll give you another prescription then.” I began to get fed up when one doctor told me that the reason I was struggling was because I was a typical lazy student, leading to yet more tears on the walk home (crying at this point was a prominent feature in my life). I stopped taking medication shortly afterwards. I told the last in the list of Durham doctors I saw that I was stopping and they didn’t question it. They just asked if I was okay, and I said yes. End of.
Months went by of me ticking along in my depressed-but-not-knowing-I-was-depressed state, and then exam season came again. But this time was different. Exam concessions were sorted well in advance this time, and I felt like I was actually in control. Revising was still a huge challenge though, mainly because I had been unable to attend the vast majority of my lectures that year because what’s the point of attending a lecture when you’ve had a couple of hours sleep and your mind is a constant haze, and going to a lecture where nothing that’s said registers just makes you feel even more useless than you already on a day-to-day basis. My mum was wonderful during this time, as she always is. If there’s one thing good to come out of all the bad over the past two years, it’s that I’ve realised just how amazing a person she is, willing to drop everything at the blink of an eye to be by my side. This is the woman who drove for 8 hours in a day to bring me home from Durham after I was attacked, and who I don’t know how I would survive without. She came up to visit me during this time, took me for food to make sure I wasn’t putting myself under too much stress, and managed to take my mind off the thorn in my side which is the thoughts which run though my brain 24/7. And then my exams were over. I was finally free. I filled in the forms to explain to the exam board why my performance was so terrible telling them everything I had hidden from my department over the year, that I had sat exams on quite literally no sleep (I think the low point was where I had been awake for 27 hours before sitting a 2-hour exam), that I had not attended lectures and that I was experiencing at this point quite severe depression.
I got my degree. Just. I scraped a 2:1 with the skin of my teeth. In hind sight, I should probably have some sense of pride that I managed to do this despite two years of problems, but I don’t. It feels like I cheated. Because I can’t shake the feeling that there’s nothing wrong with me, that I don’t deserve the help I’ve been given. But when I see it all written down I think I’m beginning to realise that maybe I did deserve help. I didn’t ask to become depressed, and I didn’t ask to be attacked. During all of this time I wanted to attend my lectures, I wanted to be able to open a text book, to be able to read and to learn. Coming to Warwick and meeting the people who I have met has made me slowly come to realise this, because we live in a world where mental health affects everyone, and where the reason why we get the support we do is because we need it. Gradually over the past few months I’ve come to accept that I am depressed, than I have a bit of an anxiety problem, and that I have PTSD. That’s not going to change, and it’s not my fault either. I think the thing which has made me realise this is that when I have been able to talk to people about it I’ve been met with acceptance and support, something which my muddled up mind has been telling me I don’t deserve for a very long time. I’ve been met by flatmates who I have cried with and laughed with, who I have shared things with which I thought I never would. I’ve been met with a department who gave me a huge level of support when I finally managed to tell them that I was struggling. I’ve been met by doctors who seem to actually care and want to help me, who let me say I don’t think I like the medication I’m taking and that I want to try something else, and who will give me referrals to specialists who might actually be able to help me. I’ve been met with a mental health department (I still marvel that I’m at a university where there is an entire team dedicated to student mental health) who will help me take control of my life and acknowledge that there will be days where I can’t get out of bed until lunch time and that doing just 5 minutes of work is better than doing nothing. In short, I’ve been met with open arms into a world where for the first time in a very long time, I feel that some day in the future, I might be okay.