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September, 03, 2013

How to do University with Depression

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Name: Joel Tennant
Member of: Student Panellist
Joined: Jul 2013
Joel's Full Profile

If you, like me, have the same insane notion that I began my university career with, a thorough determination to learn (rather than drink and have sex with almost everything in a mile radius), then it is not a wasted one. Yes, I have thrown up at uni, it was a delicate mixture of cider and instant noodles, I’ve stumbled home in the early hours of the morning, I’ve laid out on a dew-covered lawn staring at the stars discussing life with strangers – and I’ve smoked some things… The aim of gaining a ‘healthy’ balance of partying and education though shouldn’t seem too hard – you have free will, use it – but what complicated matters for me was when I was diagnosed with social anxiety and depression half way through my first year.

Depression

Photo by Anjan Chatterjee

I remember Fresher’s Week very well. The large majority of it I spent in my room, my box-set of Friends at hand, whilst avoiding my new flatmates at all costs. I was lucky in many respects to be in the more modern accommodation on campus, not only were our rooms and kitchens large, clean and not infested with sexual disease or bubonic rats, but I could also get away with ignoring the chaos going on outside. I of course did go out, as I have already alluded to, and I still remember the bar crawl I went on in the first week, making friends with a kid who referred to himself as “Northern Paul” (which, in the South East of England, was presumably considered safer than allowing people to find out for themselves) and finally making my way back to accommodation, glad to be done with a night of socialising. Some anti-climactic nights of pre-drinking and clubbing later, I found myself having something I later found out was a panic attack, curled up in the corner of my en-suite bathroom (a very middle class panic attack, perhaps).

Depression

Photo by Rachel Carter

Over the coming weeks and months I was to be found not sleeping more than three or four hours at a time, using the kitchen at 1am so as to avoid being seen or spoken to, drinking alone and in worrying quantities, and finally missing seminars and lectures because facing the outside world was just too much. I made few friends, I stored my food in my room so as to avoid having to cook alongside people, and I spent almost every night alone, listening to music and playing games online with headphones on, so no one would know I was in my room at all. The night I spent alone, drunk and not wanting to wake up the next day was the night I realised something was wrong. The following day I rang the on-campus medical centre.

Depression

Photo by Leo Hidalgo

Despite the myth that doctors just want to medicate everyone, in my experience, this is just not true. In fact, it was some weeks after that initial appointment that I finally had to request to be put on anti-depressants. I began counselling, a weekly event in which I spent more time trying to downplay my feelings rather than discuss them, and I began to email lecturers and seminar leaders explaining why I was so seldom in their classes.

A lot of people refer to depression and anxiety as solely a mental illnesses, but that never helped me, I wasn’t concerned about the medical definition – what helped me was viewing it as an addiction. Like smoking – or, to use a more culturally relatable issue, vampirism – you need to feed the monster inside to keep it alive. Since that realisation, starving my depression, shoulder-barging my social anxiety as I walk out of my student house, is on every To Do list that I write myself.

Depression

Photo by Alessandra

University should be fun. I know of no other environment that allows so much freedom to express yourself and to be who you have always wanted to be. I have so far learnt during this unpredictable and incredible two years that you never know what is coming next and that conforming to what you think society wants you to be is the last thing you should do. I now inform lecturers of the issues I face before my first lecture with them, and I get more support from staff than I could have ever imagined possible – empathy, all without having to get drunk and wake up in a field with a curious selection of empty alcohol containers and tired farmyard animals.

Depression

Photo by Josef Grunig

There’s no magical cure, but mental illness isn’t a curse either. If you’re considering going to university, or you’re already there, don’t let your fears or worries overcome you, talk about them, and don’t stop until you get every bit of support you need.

These have been my experiences and everyone is different, there is no way to understand what it is truly like to be someone else. However, since publishing this on my own blog, I’ve discovered that many of my friends have to wrestle with similar problems every day, our lives are markedly different yet we aren’t alone in a that uphill slog towards happiness – and I’d like to think there’s strength in numbers, wouldn’t you?

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