Dropping out of Uni and University depression

Someone reached out to me recently to ask about how to cope with depression at University as they were starting Uni this September. They also asked me “how can I avoid depression?” to be honest I didn’t know how to answer this question. I still haven’t replied to them. I read through the very long facebook message and just sat there staring at my screen. I genuinely do not know how to go about responding to them, which is ironic considering they only reached out to me cause they attended one of the events the organisation I work for organised on student mental health. I don’t know how to be of any help to them because I’m still struggling with this myself. My university depression hit me the hardest this year, so much so that I dropped out for about a month. But soon after I realised that I made the biggest mistake and I just fell even deeper into depression and did not leave my house for three weeks straight. I didn’t shower, eat or speak to anyone. I just slept and existed. I cut off all forms of communication with everyone. I kind of just wanted to disappear. Every night I went to bed hoping not to wake up. I prayed but it didn’t help. The lowest point was when roaming the internet for some answers on how to overcome depression without medication I found myself on a page that was very triggering. This page was like a pro-ana page. For those of you,  that don’t know what Pro-Ana is, it’s  a movement that supports and encourages the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Now this page was like that only it was all about suicide. It was a pro-suicide page basically. I couldn’t believe it! There are actually people sitting behind their phone/computers etc writing on this website giving vulnerable people tips on how to commit suicide. I was so shocked. I remember reading through this and then suddenly my phone just died. It was like a sign, so I got up showered and went out. Now this was on a Thursday morning. I got dressed and just left the house. I didn’t know where I was going but I just walked around aimlessly for hours. Something happened during my walk that made me think twice about life. There was a minor car crash that happened right before my eyes, I remember thinking “damn I wish that was me that car hit” I didn’t understand why I thought that. At this point, I knew that I didn’t want to live anymore, but suicide was not an option. I started thinking about my family and how much pain I would cause. At the same time, I  thought about how I’ve not been in contact with anyone for a long period of time and nobody reached out to me to see how I was doing. I felt so horrible, this feeling of extreme loneliness suddenly came over me. I’ve never really felt lonely before as I’m so used to being by myself. I don’t have a lot of friends so I don’t really care much for the company of others.

Anyway, this post is about overcoming University depression. Depression is something  I struggle with but it does not define me as a person, one day I will wake up and be free from it. But University depression is very real. University is stressful for everyone, it’s exhausting , you’re broke and away from home. Depression can be the biggest struggle ever. You can’t just wake up one morning and tell it to go away and leave u alone. You can’t tell it to go away cause you have course work to do and it’s occupying your time. No. It’s a constant battle in your head trying to get everything done with the already stress of Uni course work while being weighed down by anxiety and depressive mood. You never feel inspired or motivated. Some days you wake up just to feel tired. Being tired becomes second nature. Mental exhaustion is very real. It’s almost paralysing, some days I don’t even have the energy to move. I find myself so depressed that my depression is depressed. Depression is crippling. I’ve been depressed for so long that I’ve learned to hide it when around family and friends etc. But because hiding it is even more exhausting I find myself cutting people off or drawing myself away from family members. I’m a fairly chatty person, so when I am around family I find just talking in general about anything other than my depression will take the attention away from them asking why I look sad.

So when you start Uni or are already at Uni and find yourself slowly drifting into depression, don’t be like me and suffer in silence. These are what you should do:

1) Student Support well-being. Every Uni provides this service , utilise it. You’re not paying 9k a year to just attend lectures and party. Uni gets very overwhelming and you need all the support available to you, to help you to cope.

2)Make sure you get away from the stressor. Try to go home as often as possible (I know those train fares can be a killer, but use ur student discount and railcard).

3) Talk. When you feel down for any reason at all do not bottle it up, pick up the phone and call someone to talk to. You don’t even have to talk about how you’re feeling. Just general chit chat, it takes your mind off of whatever is triggering you for a moment.

4)Have structure. If u can, get a job it will set a routine for you.If you have something to look forward to, it helps take your mind off what you may be feeling.

5)Plan things. It may be anything from a short trip home to completing a deadline.

6) MAKE FRIENDS. Don’t be like me, I almost refused to make friends throughout my entire University experience and suffered the consequences of not having friends. Being around friends that share common interests as you will help. Start with people on your course.

7)Find a hobby and make a routine of it. Example: if u like painting, buy some art supplies and paint, this will distract your mind and it can also be very therapeutic, a lot cheaper than a counsellor.

8) Don’t cut yourself off. Don’t just sit in your room and sulk all day, no matter how awful you feel. If u live in halls, go sit in the common room and interact with those around. Even if it’s just talking to the security guy. Just don’t sit alone all day.

9)Recognise when people aren’t good for you. Example if you find that your new friends are always very negative do not cling onto them, you don’t have to cut them off completely but do distance yourself. You don’t need all that negativity, it won’t do you any good.

10) Alcohol doesn’t help. So if you’re feeling low, avoid it. Listen to music, go for a run etc.

11) Exercise. I joined the gym and found that attending classes regulary really helped my mood. You don’t have to join the gym, u can simply go on youtube, find a home work out video and follow it (I used to also do this). Trust me a good sweat out will really elevate your mood.

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The absence of normality

Psychology teaches us that “normal” is relative. It states that social pressure determines what is normal and what is not. Therefore normality is subjective. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I had a conversation with a friend about what it feels like to be normal. What does “being normal” entail. Having suffered from depression for five years and having been medicated for three years I think I lost my identity.  For sixteen years I believed to be normal until society told me otherwise. It (society) told me I was not normal for feeling what I described “sad” all the time. Therefore one is not normal for being down every now and then. It labelled me as being “clinically depressed”. I remember going home to Google the definition of clinical depression afterwards. The mental health industry states that when u feel a certain level of discomfort you’re “abnormal” and must have a disorder.
It equates abnormal with unwanted, turning “I don’t want to feel sad” into “I have the mental disorder of depression.”

This afternoon I had a rather strange encounter in starbucks. I met a guy named Chris, who had just buried his brother. Asked him why he was in starbucks rather than at his brother’s wake. He said because two weeks ago that was where he met his brother for the first time in ten years. He felt guilty for his brother’s death,  like everybody else in his family. His brother, Ben committed suicide. He suffered from depression for twenty five years. Twenty five!  Two weeks ago for the first time in ten years they saw each other and two weeks later he was dead. He said he felt like they (his family and himself) could have prevented their brother’s death. I was very curious to find out how. So I asked him, he said “by asking him how he was doing every now and then”.  Because his depression was so severe and lasted for so long it became normal to them. Because he learned to live with it, so did they. This hit home for me.  Three months ago my cousin passed away. He too suffered from depression and committed suicide. It really hit home for me when I found out he was depressed for eight years before taking his life. I felt a sense of guilt. I felt as if I neglected him. I met him twice in his twenty eight years of life. Twice, I spoke to him once for less than five minutes. It got me thinking about how selfish we are.  How little we care about one another, we only seem to care when it’s too late.  At his funeral all I wanted to do was apologise to him.  Something Chris also said to me. I couldn’t help but feel so connected to this man. Up until then,  I’d never met him before in my life but somehow he was so comfortable to open up to me about his personal life. Yet all he knew about me was my first name. But one thing that drew me even closer to hear what he had to say was when he said “all this time I thought my brother was normal”. I was quite offended by that. He suggested because his brother was depressed he was not normal. He then said “it felt like he switched it off every now and then”. Depression is not something you just switch on and off. It’s not something you learn to live with.  For the first time in my life I spoke up about my depression,  to a stranger. It was overwhelming. I wanted to stop myself but couldn’t. The more I spoke the more realistic it became. That’s just it. Real. It’s not about it being normal for me, it’s about it being a real thing. I didn’t think it was a real thing. Because growing up we went to church, they told us depression was the devil’s mind games. That it wasn’t real. If you’re depressed you pray about it and God would heal you. Bullshit. I felt alienated.  There was literally no one I could speak to about what I was going through because they would not understand. If I was to tell my sister I was depressed her answer would have been to take me to church to see a pastor. Yes,  because a pastor laying his hands on me to cast away this “devilish spirit” within me would have helped!
I asked two of my friends last night “when was the last time you felt normal?”. One said, most times he’s too high to even tell the time so he’s not the right person to ask. The other said she lost her sanity when she became an adult. The only normal people in the world are infants who are not yet labelled by society. What psychology calls “tabula rasa”.  We’re all normal until society tells us otherwise.

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