For the past two and a bit years I have been at home trying to find a way out of the darkness and back into the light. During this time I have spent far more hours alone than I care to remember and when I’ve dared to leave the safety of my home it’s been to see doctors, psychiatrists, counsellors, care co-cordinator’s, psychologists and a key worker. It’s all been about appointments and therapy.
Now, all these months later I have finally begun my third attempt at getting a degree from university. My first attempt was 13 years ago when I followed the path into nursing. It didn’t work out because of my then husband who did all he could to ruin it. I had no choice but to give up after 6 months. I was gutted at the time but my self esteem and belief in my abilities had taken a massive hit and I wasn’t in the right place. I couldn’t focus, I was constantly walking in egg shells and the stress was just too much. I walked away.
My second attempt began in Sept 2011 and ended abruptly in June 2013 when I was suspended whilst on placement. I was doing social work and a few months prior to my suspension I showed signs of a mental breakdown. I was taken to emergency by my concerned mentor and admitted how dreadful I was feeling.
The university did nothing to support me during this time despite the numerous attempts I had made prior to June’s events. It was a confusing time and I really shouldn’t have been at uni let alone on a placement with vulnerable people who were far too easy for me to relate to.
Now, I have moved on and am enrolled for a degree in psychology and counselling. It is an attempt to do what I’ve always wanted to do but never felt like I was good enough. Getting my place in the first place was extraordinary, but to be there for real is just overwhelming in a hundred different ways.
In social work and nursing there are great number of mature students, this course it’s harder to spot older students. It’s intimidating to be surrounded by so many young people. It shouldn’t and doesn’t really matter, but it’s hitting home how much time has been wasted and how much more complicated it is going to be given my other responsibilities as a mother. My eldest is a year younger than a lot of these kids and I can’t help but notice similarities between them all. I feel out of place and to be honest, really old!!!
This week has been freshers week. Intense and utterly exhausting emotionally. I’ve not been in a group of more than 15 people and they are all in a similar position to me. The cohort is 320 strong and on Monday I was plagued by anxiety and panic attacks. It was so hard to keep myself together and just focus on what I needed to. Even now I am still feeling emotionally like a train wreck at what I’ve had to do this week.
I know I’m not in any state to work yet, and honestly I’ve wondered so much whether I am ready for this. But having talked with many people the facts are that if I spend one more week at home on my own I am likely to start going back downhill again. I have been so bored and the feeling that I am just watching my life slide by me is depressing. I really don’t want that. I want to be involved in life and make something of myself.
I don’t want the past to be in control any longer. Reading some of the modules I am going to be facing some of my biggest demons in the next few weeks. I’d be lying if i said I was ok about it. I’m not. I don’t want to do these tasks because I know what I’m going to have to look at, but if I don’t start facing it i may never be ready.
I feel like I’ve been dead for the past couple of years. Friends have got married, had babies, achieved new things with work etc and I’ve just managed to get through a day at a time and have bugger all to show for it.
The course is daunting but I know deep down how much I want this, how much I need it. Whilst I may have to face things which are ugly and scary, I’m trying to hold on to the support I have around me, the fact that I am no longer a kid but an adult who has a lot to give to others.
I’m still unwell, I’m still in treatment for addiction and I can’t see that I am going to be finished with therapy for a long time yet to come. But I do know that despite how hard this week has been. The knowledge that I am doing something to make my past worth more is giving me a little bit of a push to put it behind me once and for all.
Not living and hiding away has done me very little good. It has disconnected me from the world and added to my fears and social anxiety. The fact I’ve had panic attacks in large quantities this week shows how massive this has been. I’ve not had panic attacks since Feb. However, it is good to say that they were due to the enormity of going to uni rather than my freaking out that I couldn’t find my meds. That’s a huge thing. I know that it’s been ok to feel this way and people understand this. With support and kindness I have managed to get through this week.
One thing which has really helped has been the support at the university itself. I’ve been completely blown away by the way the faculty has been. They genuinely care and are understanding. On a social work course you would expect the same. But no, the faculty and students had a cold hardness to people having problems. It was not welcome and support was therefore non-existent.
I have felt able to disclose about my mental illness to my tutor group. I’ve told one of the main leaders about my diagnosis and the support has been amazing. It’s refreshing to not feel like I’m a weird freak. It’s really good to feel like it’s ok to be unwell and be in uni.
These are all good signs and have made me feel just that little more determined to make this work. I feel that I should be able to manage with chunks of the modules and my personal experiences should also really help me when it comes to the more personal stuff that the counselling asks of us. It may not always be easy and I may sometimes struggle with the enormity of it all. But I am no longer afraid that I am going to be ignored and not taken seriously. Instead I feel that I will be supported and helped through those times which are a bit too much emotionally and mentally. It’s the first time that I’ve really felt that the sincerity is there and that there is a willingness to disperse of stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s a really good feeling and I feel grateful that I can go to a place as nurturing and supportive as this one.
From a financial point of view. Student finance England are bloody awful. I’ve spoken to so many people and told so many different things it’s been a nightmare. Right now my previous uni have put a spanner in the funding because they have confused things and made it sound like I was in attendance for the 3rd year of the degree. It’s a load of crap and makes me so angry that despite talking to the course director earlier today, they are still as shit as ever with things and I hope that I never have to speak to him again. Having to talk with him today, knowing how unsupportive he was and is, took me straight back to where I was two years ago. All the things I had to go through have come flooding back and it’s taken most of the day to feel calmer. I’m still not happy and now I’ve got the weekend to stress about it followed by my first full on week of lectures. Fortunately I had student union involved when I was suspended so I will be able to get their help too which is a good thing but still more stressful than I need it to be.
I can only hope that the old university will amend my record for finance and tell them that whilst I was indeed still enrolled I didn’t attend any lectures. I was advised at the time not to make any irrational decisions and to wait and see what could happen.
My message here, is that no matter what you have been through or what you are going through, there is always hope that one day you will find the right people to help you move forward.
I had given up hope and believed that the stigma of having a mental illness would follow me for the rest of my life. This week has shown me that there are hundreds of people out there who want to help us achieve our potentional and give us back our lives. It may seem overwhelming and scary. Anxiety might well take over, but we have as much right to a full life as anybody else.
Don’t let your mental illness stop you from living. I’m trying my hardest to find my way back and to really live life again. It will be hard and it will feel like it’s all too much, but the knowledge that you have pushed through it and done something for the first time in a long time is a great feeling. Emotional of course but deep inside is the satisfaction of knowing that although people have laughed at me and have little belief in my abilities, I still got my place at uni. I still fought through all my fears and managed to get through this first week. It’s still scary and I’ve still got a long way to go yet but I can hold my head up and know that i have pushed myself and am still here.
You can do this too. Whatever it is that might be holding you back, whatever your fears and anxieties are, it is possible to overcome them slowly and successfully with support and a bit of determination. It does take time and it’s not without its potholes. But having a mental illness doesn’t have to mean that you can’t do things. It just means we need a bit more help and support to do these things and that no matter what it is that we’re wanting to do, there is someone out there who will be willing to help you get through it and move forward.
So don’t give up, don’t let life pass you by and think that you’re not worth it. You are worth it. We all are and one day that light will shine bright for you again. My light isn’t bright yet, the tunnel is still dark more often than not, but I know that I’m making steps forward to the light and one day I will get there. I just have to believe in myself and accept that there are people who want to help.