My sister is about to graduate this summer. In celebrating this achievement with her it has given me some time to reflect on my own time at university.
I won’t be alone in admitting that my own time at university was difficult for my mental health. However, it was also turning point year for me. I was diagnosed as having depression and started, slowly, a series of treatments and techniques to get myself well.
I can’t begin to tell you how alone I felt back then. I felt like a black sheep, constantly pushed aside and unable to understand why I was feeling so low. I would frequently find myself silent and in the foetal position when things were tough and not going my way.
I felt that I shouldn’t feel the way I did, I was from a loving home and had a great upbringing – mental illness isn’t something I should have. But it can hit anyone.
In a lot of ways I was lucky, where so many people like me aren’t.
"It was after a particularly difficult Christmas, which I spent avoiding members of my family and being huddled in a corner as much as possible, that my mum encouraged me to go to the doctor about how I was feeling."
Reluctantly I went, but looking back this was really my first step back on the road to recovery. After bottling up your emotions for so long, I couldn't believe what a relief it was to finally admit to someone else exactly how I felt.
It isn’t uncommon for people, particularly men, suffering from mental health problems to bottle up how they are feeling. It shocked me the first time that I heard the biggest killer of men aged 18-30 (the age group I am in) was suicide. But I genuinely believe that talking about how you feel can help.
Shortly after my diagnosis I found myself in my first counselling session. I’m not going to pretend that just going to a couple of counselling sessions cured me, but very slowly I was able to start seeing a change in myself. The more I opened up in counselling, the less of a burden I felt on my shoulders. What was always reassuring with my talking therapy was that it felt like that load was being shared, I felt I was being supported.
It is an odd journey to go on from not wanting to talk about yourself and being a closed-off person to being able to open yourself up to someone you have never really met before. In some ways I think it is much easier to open yourself up to someone that you don’t know, apart from in this counselling capacity. It is a relationship you wouldn’t be able to have with anyone you know already and I found myself discussing thoughts that I had pushed so far to the back of my mind, I didn’t even know I had them.
I know from my personal experience that it can be incredibly difficult to start talking about your problems. However, I believe that it was by opening myself up that I was able to identify some of the things that triggered my illness. I used talking therapy to help me to figure out why I was feeling the way that I was.
What you can do?
I would encourage anyone who thinks that they are suffering from a mental health problem to seek out some counselling or talking therapy. By sharing my problems I was really able to ensure that my depression didn’t get the better of me.
I am better able to cope now that I have recognised this isn’t something to be ashamed of. I can talk about my illness like an illness without a constant feeling of shame hanging over me. I’m now an active volunteer and campaigner for a number of mental health charities and I am going to be taking on my second big fundraising challenge for Mind later in the year – climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.
I know that if I hadn't started talking about my problems then I might not be here today. For that reason I will always be grateful for my talking therapy and the people who made sure I got the help I needed.
There are many great places you can start your journey to recovery. Take that first step today.
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