Abbie talks about how it is ok not to follow the normal path, and the importance of getting help and taking the time to decide what's right for you.
- Abbie Mitchell
I've had mental health problems from the age of 13/14, but I was formally diagnosed after my breakdown at the age of 19. This happened shortly after I first attempted to go to university.
I was all set to move to a reputable, fun seaside town and embrace the wild and awakening student life that I'd seen so many embark on the year before me. I had travelled for a couple of months, the year before, on a shoe-string in attempt to 'free myself' from depression I never quite understood.
I came back and had uni lined up so that I'd "have something to focus on, to help shape my future", as advised by family. It was supposed to be some sort of direction.
People would respond in excitement when I told them I was moving away for university. "Uni - Oh, those will be the best days of your life!" they'd exclaim with joy.
I then went off and tried to settle into my new dorm. A friendly bunch of housemates, we all bonded fairly quickly. But as Freshers week loomed, and it was 'house party galore', I found myself feeling like it was a big effort to be seen as being fun and social. Getting involved felt like a lot of pressure. I didn't see the big deal and I just wanted to be alone.
Quite the socialite in my previous hometown, I didn't expect these new feelings. To my surprise I found myself increasingly anxious and began avoiding nights out, which is what I'd been told was 'essential' in making friends when you move away for university. I kept to myself, cooped up in my new little bedroom for as long as possible, 'away from it all,' until the breakdown warning signs began.
I couldn't eat as I'd lost my appetite. I'd be crying uncontrollably, pleading for help silently, with a knot in my stomach. I was continuously feeling sick, mentally and physically. When I couldn't get off of the bedroom floor, at my lowest point, is when I finally realised I needed help.
Eventually, I got in touch with my home friends and family and they encouraged me to come back and visit my GP.
I’d accepted that I wasn't well mentally when I had thoughts and engaged in self-destructive behaviours. Then came an admission as an inpatient at a mental health hospital. Therapy and medication followed along with a diagnosis of "Anxiety and Depression". It was a bit of a relief to find out more about this as I'd felt so isolated not knowing and just struggling with my mental health.
A simple conversation with a psychiatrist when I was in hospital was what helped me to figure out what I really wanted to do, instead of just going to uni for the sake of it. "Who are you? What makes you, you?" He asked. I thought he was being silly and sarcastic but the truth was that I had felt lost for a long time. The question made me think. I realised I'd gone to university simply because it was something everyone else did, not because it was something I wanted to study or do. The time was not right for me.
I managed to volunteer during my recovery and landed a paid role that led me to have confidence in the field I wanted to be in. A year later, I moved back to the city (where I was born and raised) and made a second go at a different university. I enrolled on a course that was more suited to my interests and not just for the sake of 'having something to do/to get direction'. Just because others may know what they want to do and it's a move that many make straight from A-levels doesn't mean it will be the right path for everyone. The sooner I accepted this the better. I can now reflect on my journey and recognise my own courage, rather than compare where I'm at to people who transitioned more smoothly.
In more familiar territory and with less of an emphasis on 'having to go out all the time and live life to the fullest', the second time round was a success for me. It was the right time and I felt more ready. I still struggled with anxiety but it was manageable. I completed my course and I'm now working in a field where I belong.
Everyone's experiences are unique and it's important that they find a route that's right for them. I may have taken the long way around, perhaps for me a wrong turn, but I built up some essential resilience a long the way.