Balancing university and mental health: “My dirty little secret”

SENSITIVITY WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS CONTENT AROUND SELF-HARM AND ATTEMPTED SUICIDE. ONLY READ ON IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS TOPIC. THANK YOU.

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Credit: Blogspot

by Anonymous

When I made the decision to come to university, one of my biggest mistakes was not taking my mental health into consideration. My struggle with mental health has been life-long, yet my mental health has never been my main priority. It’s my personal dark cloud, my “dirty little secret”

My struggle with mental health began in secondary school when I was figuring out my sexuality, my identity as a woman of colour and dealing with the impact of years of bullying. I began to internalise the emotions that I was dealing with and that manifested as self-hatred and disgust. That’s when my behaviour became self-destructive.

I began self-harming to deal with this emotional burden and battle to become comfortable in my identity. It was the only way to calm myself down and it quickly became an addiction. I felt like it was one of the only things in my control. This manifested into more destructive behaviour. I began to restrict my eating, and I began self-medicating with pain killers and alcohol. A few months later I tried to commit suicide for the first time.

I began looking to the future as I entered recovery, and that included university. Embarking on university is a huge decision and a huge challenge. Leaving home, leaving your form of security, your support system, your family, friends and challenging yourself academically is a great strain on your mental health. The fact that I didn’t consider any of this speaks to my level of regard for my own mental health and my own recovery.

University is a point of great change and transition into levels of responsibility that not everyone is prepared for, it’s very unfamiliar ground. Having just finished another year of university I am beginning to feel the impact of university life on my mental health. Dealing with the academic pressures and expectations is one of the biggest strains on my mental health. I have always held myself to such standards with academia. I have always used academia as a form of control and I used it to measure my self-worth.

The pressure that I put on myself to achieve the best grades possible has been the constant force that pushes me back into a battle with my mental health. If I don’t achieve the best grades, or I feel I didn’t try hard enough I default to destructive behaviour as a coping mechanism. I am left in a constant cycle of control and self-destruction.

University is a constant, full-time academic pursuit and it requires constant work. It’s not the work load that I struggle with, because I enjoy dedicating my time to studying. It’s my own personal standards in academia that I struggle to match. My view on education is that I will never do enough or achieve enough to feel successful or accomplished. That’s what pushes me to my lowest points.

The social aspect of university has been a blessing and a curse for me and for my mental health. The atmosphere of university social life can be very triggering and can send me into weeks of depression, fighting the urges to self-harm and forcing suicidal thoughts out of my head. The need to socialise 24 hours a day causes me to have little time to myself and focus on my mental health and recovery, which can send me back into a dark place before I even know it’s happening.

It’s so easy at university to want to socialise and go out and drink and party as much as possible, but that just isn’t me. I feel like I’m not living the full University experience and that I’m being boring or I’m not fun to be around. The problem is I can’t do it. I can’t go out and socialise and drink every other night because, my mental health isn’t in a good enough place that I feel safe enough to not fall into self-destructive behaviours again.

This lack of ability to socialise leaves me feeling isolated and I begin to withdraw from my friends and family. I can go weeks without socialising at all. This constant cycle of wanting to socialise and not being able to and then withdrawing is something that I am constantly dealing with.

There is a culture of drinking and socialising that comes with the university experience and the constant demand and expectation to be drinking or having a good time creates a false sense of happiness and an unachievable reality for most people. The pressure to fit into the box of the overt socialiser.

Living alone, was initially extremely difficult and heavily impacted my mental health, but is has become one of the best things for my mental health this past year. It was initially challenging for me because I wasn’t used to having to completely only depend on myself. At my lowest points, I would spend weeks on end alone in my room and would completely isolate myself from all my friends and would barely respond to anyone by phone.

Living in university accommodation made it easy to isolate myself. I barely knew my flatmates and didn’t establish close relationships with them. It made is easy for me to withdraw from everyone without anyone noticing. It had quickly become my coping mechanism. In a way, it has helped me to control my thoughts, and deal with in my head by myself instead of becoming self-destructive around others.

Living off campus however, has been one of the most incredible experiences and has been the saving grace for me and my mental health. Having a constant support system is an essential tool for both my mental health and for coping with the pressures of university. Knowing that there will always be someone to help you pick yourself up is a safety net that I am thankful for. I am lucky enough to have an incredible group of friends who know me inside out and can instantly tell when my mental health is slipping and will be there if I need them.

University has been a challenging experience so far. Almost every aspect has put a huge strain on my mental health in some regard. I thought my mental health would fix itself when I came to university, I told myself that the complete change would somehow kick-start my recovery, but the urges to self-ham and the suicidal thoughts still linger. They often feel stronger than ever before, and my ability to deal with them can feel weaker each time. I underestimated the toll of university on my mental health.

My recovery is a daily battle and it doesn’t have a day off, and I can’t forget that. I am going to seek support and finally put my mental health first. I am going to reclaim myself and take control of my life and my happiness.

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