When I chatted to my family about writing something for the surf club about mental health awareness week they were all for it. They all chimed in with different things, that can help people’s mental health like yoga, baking, or mindfulness. When we discussed all these suggestions out loud it all sounded like the posts we’ve all seen by Buzzfeed or the Tab clogging our newsfeed. Headlines like ‘Things to do when bored at home’, ‘Or stay at home workouts’ and a million sourdough bread recipes reverberated in my mind. While all these distractions, mood lifters and exercises are important that isn’t necessarily what the point of this week is.
It’s a week about mental health awareness. That doesn’t mean drawing awareness to different tips and tricks of ‘how to cure mental health’. Anyone who has suffered with mental health issues can tell you first hand that there is no cure. However, what can help hugely is tackling the stigma that surrounds talking about our mental health. One of the things I’ve found most helpful in my experience of suffering from depression is hearing someone else saying that they are struggling and have struggled to. As the old saying goes ‘misery loves company’. But this saying doesn’t necessarily need to have a negative conversation around it.
I remember early in first year having a typical drunken conversation with my best friend in the toilets of some third year’s house at a surf social. We realised that we were both taking the same antidepressants which we had been prescribed during sixth form the year before. I couldn’t believe that there was someone else who had gone through the same experience that I had. I’d always thought there was some sort of glitch in my system that allowed me to feel such intense lows. I remember a huge sense of relief washing over me as I realised that the shame I felt at having to be medicated so that I could cope was completely irrational. Looking at my friend and wondering how I could ever judge her for relying on medication made me realise how unfairly I was judging myself.
My mental health is so fragile at the best of times. Add a global pandemic meaning I have to leave all my friends in Exeter, move back into my family home where my mental health has been at its worst and the pressure of a dissertation looming over me and I was pushed over the edge. No exercise regime, baking tutorial or zoom call was going to stop my mental health from deteriorating.
There were some really long days. And then some really long weeks. My depression took a toll on my family as well. One thing I wish was spoken about more with depression is the effect it has on everyone around you. You’re not just a sad shell of a person that hides in your room. You’re full of envy of others happiness, anger at people reaching out, grief for the person you used to be. You feel poisonous.
One thing I’ve learnt during this lockdown is that there is nowhere to hide. The feelings that I might have covered up with being busy at uni or going out every night of the week with friends couldn’t be buried anymore. My family held me accountable and helped me to get in touch with the wellbeing team in the university, get my medication sorted out and organise counselling sessions. Mine’s not a story of triumph over adversity or miraculous recovery. I just simply woke up every day and tried to keep moving forward. In those hopeless moments when it feels like the pain won’t ever end, it is impossible to believe that you will come out the other side. And maybe you don’t have to believe that. But what you can know for certain is that someone else is going through the exact same emotions that you are.
I wish I had been more honest about my mental health at uni. Not only to give myself peace, but to help other people too. In my experience there is nothing that helps my mental health more than that light bulb moment when you realise that someone else feels the same way that you do. I hope that these words will offer that to some people.