Moving into a new student house

Moving into a new student house

I’m not going to lie. This probably won’t seem like a massive deal to other people. I have moved out of my home in Nottingham, to a different place in the city, into my student house. It’s not far from home and I could get two buses and be back to my parents within an hour.

But it is a big deal for me.

Living in halls last year was a humongous step from being on high observations in a CAMHS PICU for until just a couple of months before I started my degree last September. On the unit, the lowest level of observations I had been on was 5 minutes. 5 minute observations felt like freedom at the time. In the 5 minutes between someone checking me, I could go to the toilet without someone watching. I could wash my hair. I could start tidying my room. For the majority of my admission, I was on 1:1 in all isolated areas (my bedroom, the bathroom, any other rooms with no patients or staff in).

But living in halls was still a very protected space, especially as the Warden and Tutor team knew me very well and understood my mental health issues. The Tutor for my block would come and knock on my door whenever she was on night shift just to check that I was alright. I had regular meetings and there were multiple times where I had to be taken to the emergency department. Luckily, I’m doing a lot better now.

In my new student house, there’s no Warden looking out for me. There will be no professionals checking up on me, nobody reminding me to take my medication. Nobody insisting that I need to be taken to my mental health advisory centre appointments. There could be times (hopefully not many) where the other girls in my house are all away, and I’m home alone. This is a step that I’m taking.

At this moment in time my mental health has never been better. I’m motivated and I’m on the whole, happy. I’m on medication that actually works. I am super excited to get back to university and see my amazing friends and get on with the second year. I am being positive and looking after myself. It’s what I have to do. I see my CPN regularly, I will (try my best to) comply with the university mental health team, and I have access to Crisis/Home Treatment Team if need be.

It’s still scary, but I know that I can do this.

My house is really, really nice and the girls that I am sharing with (some of my close friends) are really lovely. It’s going to be really good to live with girls who all already know each other and get along really well. We all do the same subject so if nothing else, we have that common ground.

Here are my challenges for the next year living in this house:

  • To walk to university. It takes less than half an hour, and there’s no way that I’m paying for bus fare when the student price has just gone up (cheers, NCT).
  • To actually feed myself. When I was living in halls I struggled to use the dining room (anxiety) and struggle going to the shops (anxiety) so I didn’t eat much, lost a lot of weight, and struggled with concentration.
  • To actually take my medication. I don’t know why my brain suddenly convinces itself that taking medication is a Massive Effort™ but it gets me every single time.
  • Not to isolate myself when I’m feeling like shit, because there’s really no excuse. My friends are in the same house, my best friend is a two-minute walk away, my Mum and Dad just a few buses.
  • To try my best to attend university. Last year I kind of got into the pattern of ‘Well, I had a panic attack in that lecture hall’ or ‘That seminar tutor doesn’t like me’ so I just avoided it in the future. I managed to do well last year, but I know that I could have done better had I not been reinforcing my own anxiety so much.

 

I’ve already faced a few minor challenges in the house (a TV remote that doesn’t work, a broken toaster that blew the fuse and left me and Cora devoid of electricity, a clogged up dishwasher) but the real issue this year is of course going to be my own mental health. I’m determined however that this is going to be a brilliant year and I’m so excited to see what it holds.

 

 

To the one who made me feel like I was too difficult to love

To the one who made me feel like I was too difficult to love

I  live with a mental illness that intensifies every tiny little emotion to bursting point. It sometimes feels like most other people have barriers to stop their emotions from becoming so overwhelming, and because of my disorder, I don’t. I’m permanently vulnerable to becoming suddenly overwhelmed by difficult feelings. It takes every ounce of my energy to maintain control.

In one small way however, I feel like I have a tiny blessing in the midst of a horrible and life-threatening illness. I feel this way because it isn’t just my ‘negative’ emotions that carry with them so much weight. It’s the happy ones too. And whilst BPD means that I feel pain deeply, I can become absorbed in happiness, in gratitude, and in love.

 

Recently, I’ve been made to feel by someone that I’m too difficult to love because of my mental illness. Constant reminders that I am ‘just paranoid’ or ‘overreacting’ over genuinely hurtful things have driven me to the point where I’ve sank back into depression, convincing myself that they’re right. That I’m not deserving of anyone else’s love. That I add no value to the lives of people around me. That having BPD sentences me to a lonely life. It’s an easy belief system to slip back into.

But I’m at a stage in my life when I’m bigger and better than letting someone make me believe that I’m something that I’m not. I have borderline personality disorder, but I am not, and never will be borderline personality. I have positive and loving relationships with so many beautiful people, and I am so lucky to be able to say that. My illness might make me difficult, but it has not reduced me. I’m still me.

When I love someone, I really love someone. I just want them to be happy. I want them to know that I care and that I’m listening and that they have me. I want to know their story, their hopes, their dreams. I’m that friend who is constantly giving random hugs, who always replies to selfies on Snapchat stories to remind someone that they look so damn beautiful, that constantly tells people that I love them. I am scared of losing people. There is that. Life is fragile and there are people gone now who I wish I had told one last time that I loved them so very, very much. But it’s more of this overwhelming gratitude and love that is the wonderful silver lining of my deadly disease.

My illness can be hard to understand, but I refuse to accept such toxic comments that I am undeserving of that understanding, or of love. I have a lot of pain, but equally I have a lot of love and a lot of love, both of which I want to give back to a world that I am finally beginning to love.

 

Surviving panic attacks at university

Surviving panic attacks at university

It’s completely normal to have a panic attack at some point in your life. Some people have them occasionally. However, it becomes an issue (a disorder, actually) when they become so frequent and so intense that they have an impact on the quality of your life and your ability to get on with ‘normal’ things.

I’ve suffered from bouts of panic disorder for a few years now. These attacks can happen at any point, but most often occur in the middle of the night, or when I am in a room full of people and feel like I can’t get out. The latter, of course, has caused a few dilemmas at university, particularly in the lecture hall.

It is really embarrassing because people don’t have a clue what’s going through your mind. It’s humiliating for me to think that other people think that I’m ‘weak’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘being dramatic’ when in actual fact my throat is closing up and I’m feeling like I can’t breathe and that if I don’t get outside quickly, I’ll suffocate. They don’t know that I can’t see properly, that I can barely hear anything. Imagine you’re drowning, and everyone else is looking at you telling you to ‘just breathe’.

What I’ve kind of learnt since being at university and being in lecture halls so often (I hadn’t attended assemblies at secondary school for years) is that there’s only two things that I can really do: minimise the likelihood of a panic attack happening, and being brave when it’s over. There’s no point beating myself up about it. It happens, I have this disorder, and it sucks, but it’s much better than it used to be. You never really get used to it, but you do learn to be prepared.

Minimising the likelihood of a panic attack in a lecture

  • Getting a proper night of sleep, especially if the lecture is at 9am. I feel so much more vulnerable when I’m tired, and by sleeping enough it takes the edge off.
  • Getting to the lecture hall 5 minutes early, in order to avoid the rush of people surging in. Me and my friends have been doing this all year and it does save a lot of stress.
  • Sitting where I can get out, preferably the end seat on a row that isn’t too far away from the front. Being able to see the door makes me feel more comfortable.
  • Bringing my essentials: a water bottle, mints, and my tangle toy. I’ve seen quite a few people with fidget cubes, tangles and other things in lectures. I just like having something to distract myself with if there’s a pause in the lecturer talking, or a short break.
  • Taking medication before the lecture, but only if this seems like it would be impossible without. Propranolol and drugs such as diazepam do really help, but they can often be addictive and aren’t really a long-term solution.
  • Talking to people on my course who are in my lectures. It’s just so much more comfortable when you’re surrounded by faces that you know, and it makes me feel safer.
  • Speak to your friends about panic attacks. Let them know why you might have to leave something early, and tell them how they can help you. For me personally, I prefer to be alone when I’m trying to calm down, but there have been occasions where I have passed out during a panic attack, and kind of need some help.

Putting a brave face on 

The hardest thing about suffering from panic attacks, for me, is going back into the situation that the attack occurred. Not only is there the fear that it could happen again (although this unlikely considering how absolutely draining one attack can be), but it’s embarrassing walking back into a lecture hall after you’ve just walked (or stumbled) out. Awkwardly getting back into your seat, putting that fake-earnest face on as you try to get a grasp of what’s happening on. It takes guts. But it’s something that you have to keep trying.

The reality is that anyone who is a decent person isn’t going to think it’s funny or judge you for having anxiety. Lecturers will have seen it all before, and we all either know someone with anxiety, or suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder ourselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s bloody brave to struggle with it and just carry on.

I just realised that this is my education and my life, and despite the support I get from disability services for panic disorder, it’s 100% better for me to go back into the lecture hall, stop myself from reinforcing my disorder, and take notes for myself. There are days when this just isn’t an option, where I’m too ill. But as long as I can, I’ll be carrying on fighting and proving to myself that I am so, so much more than an illness.

Thank you to all my new-found friends, and academic tutors, who have supported me this year and helped me so much when I was really struggling with anxiety. I’m continuously working on myself, and I’m so excited to be back to university for Round 2 in September.

Mental health at university

Mental health at university

I have survived my first year at university. Despite my ever-precarious mental health, I’ve done it. It’s done.

I want to talk about my experiences of mental health at university in order to enlighten other sufferers that might be starting university in September, or perhaps going back into their second or third year. So many people suffer in silence, and so many people are unaware of services that are available. Although I attend the University of Nottingham (woo), I’ve tried to write this in a general way in line with how mental health services work across the country.

DO try to set up help before you arrive. You can do this through several means. You can contact the university mental health service, the university counselling service, disability and academic support services, the disability liaison officer in your school or your hall warden. By making people aware of your mental health issues, they will be able to work out how to support you the best. If you had a Community Care Team in your home area, put yourself on the transfer waiting list immediately, because this can take a long time.

DO find out where the local GP, walk in centre and emergency department is. Have basic First Aid equipment in your room. Have crisis numbers to hand. Use the taxi firms approved as ‘safe’ by the university. Write down important numbers and put them in your purse. Know the university night line number. Find out about free counselling services in the local area. For example, Harmless and Let’s Talk in Nottingham provide many free, useful services for people struggling with mental health.

DO bring relevant paperwork about any mental health conditions. This might be needed in order to access certain levels of support, to apply for funding to help you with specialist equipment (Disabled Students Allowance often allows for support workers, recording devices or other equipment), and to allow for special circumstances in exams or with coursework. For example, you could be entitled to have a exam room on your own, or to have rest breaks.

DO arrange to see your new GP as soon as you have registered with the university health service. My GP has become a great point of contact for other services, and it’s really useful to have a Doctor that knows you and can help you specifically. Even if you only check in with this Doctor every few months, it can be beneficial to have someone else in the ‘know’.

DO find safe and quiet places where you can come to when you’re feeling anxious or low. For me, this is in one of the small gardens around the university, or in the Disability/Chaplaincy office where a cup of tea and a chat is always available for those who need it. Having found these spaces means that I always have somewhere I know to go when I’m on campus and feeling like I’m about to blow a fuse.

DO make your own room also into a safe and positive space. In my room I have positive postcards and notes all over the walls, photos of my family and friends, posters, reminders stuck on the mirror and wardrobe, lots of fluffy blankets, and of course, teddies. Whether I’m studying, relaxing or even pre-drinking with my friends in my room, I’m constantly reminded of the power of POSITIVE THINKING. Cheesy, I know. But it helps. It’s my space.

DO approach members of academic staff if you have missed something or feel like you have fallen behind because of your mental health issues. This isn’t sixth form anymore and tutors are unlikely to contact you first. But, if you approach them, they will be more than happy to help you. You don’t have to be on your own, and your illness doesn’t have to stop you from achieving. Don’t lose your passion for your subject.

DO continue to take your medication. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first semester was stopping my anti-depressant medication. With the buzz of Freshers and a new start, I felt like I didn’t need it anymore and that this energy would drive me through. Wrong. It’s incredibly dangerous to just stop taking medication, and it’s usually a bad idea anyhow. Anti-depressants work for depressed people for a reason.

DO get involved with things. Of course the whole ‘you don’t have to drink to have fun’ is a bit of a boring trope because let’s face it, the majority of people drink at university. But it’s not the only thing and although I love a good night out, I have so many precious memories of events and activities that didn’t involve excessive alcohol consumption, and were possibly much better for my mental health. Join societies, join the gym, go to events, make friends. Expand your circle, expand your horizons.

DO understand that universities are extremely accommodating of mental health conditions, just as they are of physical illnesses. The university will do its best to ensure that you can continue your studies, but it is an option for students to resit years or take gap years in order to give them time to get back to health. There are safety nets at university that possibly weren’t so much an option at school. It’s fair.

DO ignore people who are rude to you, or make you feel awkward or out of place. Over the past year I think I have toughened up considerably in terms of dealing with abusive comments related to my scars, but at the start of the year I was very sensitive and found it really difficult. It’s really important to just keep your head up high and ignore these people. They are a minority of d*ckheads. Be confident, be yourself.

DON’T feel like you have to tell everybody immediately about your mental illnesses. You are not your illness, and sometimes it takes a while to build up trust. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and you should be able to talk to new friends when you feel the most comfortable. Some people may be less used to talking openly about mental health. Some people might find it uncomfortable because they’re ignorant (yes, there are people like that at university too), others maybe because it’s close to home. Be open-minded.

DON’T expect to get on with everyone, or for everyone to understand you. Like I said, some people sadly don’t understand, and some people don’t know to act. This isn’t your problem! I have found plenty of kind and caring people at university who, whether they suffer from mental health conditions or not, accept me for who I am and are always there to help me.

DON’T be disappointed if you’re not doing as well as you thought you might. University is a whole different ball game, and the workload can be very heavy at times. The grade boundaries are a lot lower than what students are used to at A Level, which can be disheartening at first. Just remember especially with first year that it’s a learning process.

DON’T expect everything to be perfect. There are going to be tears. They are going to be times when you don’t want to be at university, when you maybe don’t want to be anywhere. But these times will pass and you will enjoy some of the very best times of your life at university.

Cheers, The University of Nottingham. I’ve had a brilliant first year in spite of my struggles and I can’t wait to come back in September for another year of amazing memories.

Me and my best friend Victoria, who I became friends with only in January but is now one of the most important people in my life. Things don’t always work out straight away!