In the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on with me. I couldn’t understand why, all of a sudden, I was struggling to get up in the mornings. Why I was so afraid to interact with other people in a public space. Why I had no motivation to do anything anymore.
It was only for the fact that I was studying A-level psychology at the time that I began to realise what was going on; I was now battling with depression and anxiety. This, I believe, is one of the issues still faced today; a lack of awareness and education leaves people in a state of limbo, not knowing what’s going on with them, just aware that they don’t feel like their usual selves. This is why I believe one of the biggest steps to helping everyone and anyone dealing with a mental health issue is education. We need to understand what is happening to us, safe in the knowledge that this is something many people go through, you are never alone in whatever symptoms you are exhibiting. Even to this day, after having dealt with my mental health issues for nearly seven years, I am still discovering that certain things I do can be attributed to my mental health and I just didn’t realise.
My most recent example is recently I have been crying at everything. And I mean EVERYthing. Anything on TV that’s even vaguely sad, I cry. Even scenes that aren’t sad but they’re just spectacular and, to me, overwhelming, so I cry. It was happening so much that I started to wonder what the hell was going on with me. So, I conducted some research and read around and eventually discovered that this could potentially be another symptom of anxiety, getting easily overwhelmed and overcome with emotion and so my body’s only way of dealing with it is just to cry. Now, this may seem at odds with most people’s idea of depression, in which there can be feelings of numbness or a lack of feeling at all. This is something else I believe is important in raising awareness about mental health – everyone will experience mental health differently. You can be suffering from depression without the feelings of numbness, perhaps your symptoms are different, but absolutely no less valid. It took me years of self-discovery and self-research to understand to what behaviours of mine were down to my mental health, and then learn to stop being so hard on myself for this. It took me some time to accept this as part of who I am, realise it’s okay, reach out for help, and keep myself moving forward in life.
By no means is my mental health ‘cured’ now, but I have been able to move through life with my mental health issues, and now I always try to talk about my struggles as openly as possible in the hopes that others will feel comfortable talking about their issues. After all, one of the biggest steps to recovery is talking, and taking that first step to reach out and say that you are struggling. I tried to ignore my mental health issues during my sixth-form years and it was only was I came to university at Brunel that I started to talk about it, and started asking for help. Luckily for me, Brunel has, in my opinion, one of the best student support systems that anyone could ask for. Within my first few weeks at Brunel I booked an appointment with the Disability and Dyslexia Service (DDS), a service Brunel provides to specifically help those who feel like they may need that little extra support. The DDS service built a tailored report for my specific needs. I was made to be put into a smaller room for exams so that my anxiety would not become overwhelmed in a massive hall full of hundreds of people. I was allowed extra time in my exams to help ease my anxiety again. This report also made my lecturers aware of my mental health conditions in case I ever needed to step out of a lecture to calm/gather myself. I can honestly say going to the DDS service was one of the best decisions I made. I dread to think how stressful my exams would have been if I had been made to do them in the big hall, pretty sure I would have had about 27 panic attacks in one go!
Another excellent service that Brunel has to offer is its Wellbeing Team, of which I have a slightly unique perspective as not only did I use the service, but in my final year at university I also worked for them. At Brunel, there is a subdivision of the Wellbeing Team called Well@Brunel, which is lead and run by students. My job as one of the Well@Brunel assistants involved promoting and providing resources for students who may be struggling, as well as signposting them to the Wellbeing Department when they required more in-depth help. At the Well@Brunel team, we also planned and run events on campus throughout the year to engage more directly with students. We held a games event once a fortnight as an outlet for students to release some stress and just have some light-hearted fun. Other events included tea and coffee get-togethers, mindfulness walks, and so much more. I gained first-hand experience with students who needed/wanted help and was able to feedback to the Wellbeing Team on what else we could do to help students. It made me proud of the university to see how much they cared about their student wellbeing and it made me proud of myself for being a part of it, no matter how small.
Having experienced the Wellbeing Department previously as someone external who reached out to them for help, I can also say, from that perspective, that they are an excellent resource for students at Brunel who require some support. Reaching out to the Wellbeing Team made me aware of many resources that I could utilise to help myself. They also offer six weeks of counselling if you are particularly struggling for a short period, which I thought was amazing for a university to offer. I did six weeks of counselling and do believe it helped me when I needed it. If you require more long-term help then the team is there to support you nonetheless, they will make arrangements and guide you towards other resources that can help you.
Most of the time I’ve spent dealing with my mental health I’ve been trying to go it alone, just meandering through day by day but pretty much-hating life. I can honestly say that it hadn’t been for the support and resources from Brunel I would have been even worse off. Again, my mental health is still something I struggle with today, I have my good days and I have my bad days. Now and again I have a really bad day. But I can make it through, one day at a time. I can’t say there’s a complete cure, but mental health can be managed. And what’s important to remember is that dealing with it will be different for every individual. Your symptoms/combination of symptoms will be different from other people suffering from the same issue. The way you cope may be different from others as well. The way you move forward and heal may be different as well. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting medical help, one size does not fit all. I was put on anti-depressants which, ironically enough, lead to me becoming even more depressed. For me, my healing came from reflecting inwards and taking the time each day to take care of myself. I started going for walks, spending more time outside/in nature. I made myself more present in my daily skin-care routines, I started seeing this as something soothing and fun to do for myself, rather than a task I had to do every day. Self-care was and continues to be, a massive part of my coping strategy. Even something as simple as making sure I shower every day is enough to make me feel marginally better when I’m struggling. It may take time, but it’s so worth exploring tasks that you can do daily to make yourself feel better, no matter how small or mundane that task is. Take time to take of yourself. And if you can’t find something like that to make you feel better, then talk to someone. I truly do believe that talking is the one size fits all starting to making yourself better.
So, for anyone else out there who may be struggling, I am here to tell you the cliché ‘it will get better’ is a cliché for a reason, because it is true. It may not feel like it now, it may not feel like it tomorrow or even next week, but eventually, it does get better and you will be okay. Make that first step to reach out to someone, whether it be a friend, a family member, your GP, just talk to someone. Take those steps to heal yourself because we all deserve to be living a full and happy life. In the meantime, I am sending everyone love and positive vibes! You got this!