Be Honest and Open
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Earlier this year, my mum told me to just own the fact I have anxiety. I liked that, I’m still a good person, a fun person, despite my struggles and so are you.
Tell the people you are going to be living with so they can help you if needed. In my experience, everyone I lived with was supportive and didn’t judge me. If they do, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
You Don’t Have To Disclose Everything Though
I only told a lecturer I really trusted when I was struggling. Other than that, I haven’t disclosed everything. I know that one lecturer mentioned it to others, as we are a small course and I’m fine with that because I didn’t want to tell my story over and over again. I was mentally really well during the first year, so I didn’t tell any of my lecturers until I had a panic attack crying my eyes out at my tutors’ desk during exam season. I wish I had possibly mentioned my anxiety in passing. They didn’t need to know the whole back story of therapy and medication but it may have helped them understand me and my obsessive work ethic a bit more.
As for friends, especially friends you make in the first year you don’t know how long you are going to be friends with them for. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t opened up in ways that I did. It’s hard to know that people who you don’t have the same bond with anymore know the deepest parts of you.
You Don’t Have To Go Clubbing
I didn’t enter a club until Christmas of the first year. Most importantly I didn’t enter a club until I was ready. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything during Freshers by not going. I especially think during Freshers when everyone is testing their own limits to sit it out as people may not be able to help you if you’re struggling with your mental health when out, especially if they’re extremely drunk.
I occasionally drunk during my first year, but not really. Again, I don’t think I missed out on anything. People care a lot less than you think they will. In fact, no body ever even questioned why I chose lemonade over gin and lemonade.
If you’re on medication that means you can’t drink, or it negatively affects your mental health, don’t do it just because everyone else is.
Or Anything You Aren’t Comfortable With
Sex, drugs, going to some random house party just because everyone else is. Don’t want to do, don’t. Also important you respect others wishes, no means no.
I think I’ve had a really sheltered university experience, I live out wildness through others stories and that’s just the way I like it. I really do not care if people think I’m boring, I’m putting myself first. You do you.
Alternatively, If You Do Turn To Alcohol, You’re Okay
I had a weird few weeks in the second year where I drank a lot. As someone who hadn’t drunk a lot before, this turned into a lot of vomit, a lot of tears, and a lot of needing to be looked after. Luckily, my friends were there for me and realised I wasn’t doing it for fun. We talked it through and I realised I didn’t need to drink to forget my problems, they’d still be there when I woke up along with a horrid hangover.
If you too turn to alcohol to have fun or feel something other than what your mental health is telling you then that’s okay. It’s not okay however if it’s taking over or you’re struggling to function without alcohol. Then is the time to seek help. If you think a friend needs help with their alcohol intake also help them. The student drinking stereotype can be extremely damaging in this aspect, drinking every day is not healthy.
Here is some reading on this topic you may find helpful:
Find Out What Services Are Available To You
Your university will have services you can access. At my university, it’s called SAW (student advice and well-being). The hold confidential drop in services, a hotline, among other services with a mental health practitioner. Your university will have something similar, so go and speak to them if you’re really struggling. It’s what they’re there for!
Register with a GP if you need prescriptions, you’ll need your NHS number to do this so make sure to pack it. If you’re moving into student accommodation you’ll most probably be given a list of GPs where you can register or there may be a dedicated student doctor if you’re in a big enough student town, like I am, in Liverpool.
Again, if in a big city like Liverpool there will be other options such as charity based drop in centres. So google mental health services in your area.
You can also turn to online based help such as:
Try And Get Outside
Mental illness is cruel. It will make you isolate yourself and loneliness is addictive. It doesn’t need to be this way.
If you can, try and get outside every day for some fresh air. A short walk a day can really help and sometimes is a massive achievement.
I know for a lot of people who suffer from mental illness social situations can be hard. When I made some new friends at university, they would always invite me out to spoons. I would always say no, then I said yes and let me tell you my university life changed. I made new friends and made incredible memories for life by just saying yes and going to the pub. If you aren’t comfortable with the plan, maybe suggest something else. A coffee, or the cinema, whatever is manageable for you. If these people are the sort of people you want in your life, they will do what they need to do to accommodate your mental health.
Get A Routine
As tempting as it may be to stay in bed all day it isn’t healthy so try not to. Try and get up, get dressed, eat and do something every single day.
My lectures were at the same time every day so this really helped me to keep to a routine. When you get home from uni try not to get into bed, and if you can work in a room that isn’t where you sleep. As most of my anxious sad moments happened in my bedroom I found working in the library a much more productive time as I was surrounded by other people which always helped me to feel safer.
I also had little things to help me get through the week. For example, I did my food shop on a Monday night, on a Wednesday (my day off) I’d think of something to do, such as go to the cinema or go into town and have a coffee. Even if I did these things on my own, they got me out of my room and it really helped me feel better.
Try To Eat Well
During Fresher’s Week, I really struggled to eat. My first night I made cheese pasta and immediately threw it away as when I’m anxious I gag food back up. When I’m anxious my go-to food is Miso Soup sachets as it’s flavourful, has more calories than hot drinks but very thin – so easy to drink. I went to uni armed with sachets. If you have a ‘comfort’ food make sure you have it with you. Remembering to eat when you have to cook for yourself is hard, so try to make a conscious effort to cook when others are even if just something small. I ate a lot of spaghetti hoops on toast the first few weeks but that’s okay because I was eating.
When you’re more settled try and eat well. Frozen veg packs are a good way of getting vegetables into your diet cheaply and easily without them going off. I know how tempting it is to live off convenience food but you will feel worse off for it. Facing your problems head on is a lot easier when you feel better, so try and get your five-a-day!
Don’t Let Others Use Your Mental Health Against You
In my first year flat some drama kicked off on Facebook over the bins, yes I know, it’s petty but it was exam season and emotions were high.
During fresher’s week, I had a panic attack quite late into the night, so I went into the communal area to get myself a drink and calm myself down. One of my flatmates was in there, he made me a cup of tea and then sat with me, albeit whilst smoking weed. At the time I was grateful. However, when this drama kicked off on Facebook he used this against me to the jist of I had no right to be angry at him, as he had helped me during that one panic attack. Er no! That is not how it works.
Do not let people use your mental health against you.
When people don’t understand they try and use the way they helped you to make them seem like the hero and you the bad guy for asking for help in your most vulnerable moments. They also may make it out that you aren’t easy to be friends with, easy to live with, dramatic, not easy to be around. I promise you, you are so much more than your mental illness and you will find people who accept, love and support you.
If the feelings Don’t Pass
Everything takes time. Settling in, making friends, understanding the course, learning a new city, learning how to use a washing machine… Everything at first will be overwhelming, scary and at times like you won’t ever enjoy yourself because it’s just so damn hard. However, all feelings are temporary and you will settle in and hopefully have some amazing times.
If the feelings don’t pass, however, please do not struggle on in silence, and do not be afraid to ask for help.
Struggling in silence during a part of the second year was the worst mistake I’ve ever made, and everything started to pick up when I admitted to one of my lecturers I’m really bloody struggling, I’m anxious and I need some help.
As a fundraising champion for them, I’d also like to point you in the direction of Student Minds here. They are the UK only dedicated charity to Student Mental Health. There are plenty of resources on the site on dealing with mental health at university, and the blog is an excellent place to read other students experiences and realise you are not alone.
You are not alone no matter what your mind tells you.
Lots and lots and lots of love, support, cheerleading for you, from Rose x