If I’m honest, I don’t remember much of 2014 to 2016. During my second year of uni and into my third year, I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression, which wasn’t diagnosed until late 2015. I remember enough of it to know that I was extremely unwell, something that I don’t think I realised properly at the time, and that I was in an extremely negative place.
I have now learnt that my anxiety derives from my extreme perfectionism. I’m a workaholic, 150% dedicated to anything I do and failure is my biggest fear. For some reason in 2014, I decided I was failing at everything to do with my degree (I wasn’t!) and this anxious, terrified person came into existence. Suddenly, the person who was passionate about history and loving their degree vanished and this shell was left. I remember one day before a seminar spending an hour and a half sat outside on a bench in the middle of February because I was too scared to go inside for lecture I was supposed to be in. I got it into my head that I didn’t deserve to be there, that everyone would be deeming me to be a failure and so I didn’t go in, even when I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. I was so cold by the time I gained the courage to go inside for my Georgians seminar that I spent the entire two hours wearing Liv’s hoodie and falling asleep when I was supposed to be completing an assignment in exam conditions.
There were days when sitting up in bed was all I could do and there were some days when I was so terrified of seeing people, I hid underneath my bed so no one could find me. Thinking about it I’m amazed I fitted under there because of all the junk that was thrown under there. I don’t think I ate a proper meal sometimes for a week because I feared being forced to talk to people in the kitchen and I had the best housemates in the world. Sometimes I’d think that I was okay and then I’d find myself volunteering and during a conversation with a visitor suddenly having a panic attack, thinking that I wasn’t good enough to be talking to these people who had paid money to visit the property I was in. It was like being on a rollercoaster and I hate rollercoasters!
I guess everything became very real to me when, after a discussion with a lecturer where I admitted that I didn’t want to do my degree anymore, I stood at the side of the road and considered walking out in front of a car. I didn’t want to kill myself but I was so terrified that I was failing the degree that I loved so much that I thought that seriously injuring myself would stop me from the humiliation of failure. I scared myself so much in that moment that I went back to see another doctor. This was the third doctor I’d seen about feeling so down and she immediately understood what was going on. I was put on anti-depressants, which I took for a year before deciding that I wanted to try without them (I’m happy to say I’ve now been off them for a year). It was, however, people who got me through all of this.
I was very lucky to have fantastic housemates who were extremely understanding, a great friend who put up with so many messages from me at random times of the day, and lecturers who were willing to their sacrifice their time to listened to me while I sobbed, gave up on numerous occasions, and then tried to help me rebuild my confidence. It’s because of these people that I came away from uni last year with a 2:1 History degree and managed to complete my MA in September with a 68 in my dissertation on Holocaust interpretation.
I strongly believe that talking is so important for your physical and mental health. I understand how terrifying it is to feel like you’re a stranger, to find getting out of bed in the morning the biggest challenge and for that to be only the first task of the day, and how difficult it is to force yourself to start a conversation with someone when you just want to hide. Talking to people saved me though. It saved my sanity. You don’t even need to discuss how you’re feeling, just talk. Talk about complete rubbish, I had so many conversations that weren’t even about me.
Today my anxiety can still be a challenge but it’s only occasionally, rather than most days of the week. I look back at those two years and I’m extremely proud of what I managed to do and so thankful for the people who had helped me through it.