Helen blogs about the challenges of getting a university degree while struggling with depression.
University is stressful for everyone. It’s tiring, you’re skint, usually you’re away from home and you’re convinced that you need to socialise to be a ‘real’ student.
Depression can be a struggle at any time. It’s not like you wake up one morning and tell it to go away until you’ve caught up with your coursework. It’s a constant battle in your own head, trying to get it all done when you’re also getting weighed down by anxieties and low mood. You hardly feel inspired.
Even though there are a few hundred other students on my programme, I constantly feel singularly pressured with my deadlines. I feel like it takes me ten times longer to do anything.
It seems strange that you can feel bedbound and achieve nothing when you work from your laptop. But it’s difficult to pull yourself out of a negative mental state, one that can drain you physically as much as having the flu can.
Some days I just have to wake up to feel exhausted.
I have always felt low, since I was a child. It’s something my primary school, secondary school and college all noticed but, not unlike many other people, nothing was done about it.
Sometimes I just don’t feel like I have the energy to move, I find myself almost paralysed. I become trapped in my head with thoughts that, in the past, have led me to abandon my education.
I have gone to university once before, when I was 18. I immediately felt worse. After having my bag stolen four times in three months, I became incredibly anxious about going anywhere alone, and so it became almost impossible to go to university.
Something about the bus to campus just completely froze me with fear. It was always packed, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified I would anger someone if I was breathing too loudly, and felt disgusted by the thought of breathing in air contaminated with their germs.
Soon I only left the house for work, a means to an end so I could afford to pay off my year’s rent and move to the city where all my friends were. I only ate takeaway delivered to me as I couldn’t face going to the supermarket on my own, and I soon gained a lot of weight... but I just didn’t care.
I felt like there was no long term for me anymore, there were no consequences to not going to class. I had become numb in the daily flood of morbid thoughts.
I don’t know how many times my housemate had to pick me up from the bathroom floor, or come get me at work. She’s the only person who physically supported me. Even though I had a few friends down the other end of the phone, I didn’t feel like anyone would stop me.
After a gap year I went back to university in the city I come from. I’m in my third year now and have decided recently to try medication.
University is a painful reminder to me of the worst time of my life, and a reminder of how much I feel like I failed myself and my family. I do struggle to complete assessments, turn up to lectures or even care. Then I remember I do care and that can be just as upsetting when I get a disappointing grade or I fall behind.
Despite my struggle getting my degree, on my better days I know that I’m achieving something. Not just by getting an education, but by doing something I couldn’t do before when I was crippled by my depression. I respect everyone who studies that also struggles with mental health. It isn’t easy to use your brain logically when it turns against you emotionally.
As for my future career prospects and succeeding in my degree, I now have the invaluable support from my sisters, friends and my boyfriend. In the end it may take me ten times longer to write an essay, but I will graduate. And it’ll all be worth it because of everything I’ve overcome.
If you're struggling with a mental health problem at college or university, our 'How to Cope with student life' guide has coping tips and advice about where to get help.