About one year, and two months ago – I started a year abroad in France. About 11 months and 2 weeks ago, I caught a plane back to England and turned my year abroad into a term abroad. It had simply become too much for me. Anxiety and depression have always plagued me, making life less than easy at the best of times. But in another country, with a language barrier, isolation and a complete lack of purpose to my days – what had previously been a hindrance quickly manifested into complete debilitation.
For a period of about five days, I left my room for a total of around 4 hours, the rest of the time I spent in bed. It weighed heavy on my mind that I should be out enjoying a different culture, that I’d never heard of anyone struggling quite that much and that I was a failure for being so unable to cope. I had never even heard of anyone dropping out of a year abroad before, so if everyone else could do it: why couldn’t I? My mind ran in circles over what I should do. I could stay and try and pick myself up, or return home and focus on getting better, with there remaining a possibility of returning to France later in the year to finish my Year Abroad. I rang a suicide hotline, I went to a counselling session where I had to explain the extent of my depression to a well-meaning but ultimately clueless ‘psychologue’, all in French. (Still probably the proudest I’ve been of any of my French conversations). This, I knew, was rock bottom. It was incredible hard deciding to call it a day and return home, but ultimately it wasn’t that I couldn’t survive any longer in France – it was that I couldn’t survive any longer in my own head.
Without the support network I was used to, picking myself up from rock bottom nigh-on alone was simply not feasible. To get to the positives, the best thing about ‘rock bottom’ is that the only way is up, and this was more than true for me. It wasn’t at all easy, at various stages in my ‘year out’ I wondered if I’d made the right decision. I wondered if my French was going to be drastically worse than everyone else’s on my return to Durham, I wondered what the meaning of life was as I spent a few months doing nothing at all to recuperate, I feared I wasn’t at the stage I ‘should’ be in life as I pottered about my village working a café job and spending my weekends at the pub. Ultimately, the place I’m at now I could not have achieved any other way.
The time I spent at home gave me the chance to jump off the treadmill and take control of my own life again. I had previously spent my whole life running from one thing to the next – doing things in order to achieve the next thing – but this year was entirely my own. I had time to get treatment, start anti-depressants, apply for Disability Support, to rest, to think about what I want to do in the future, and find the fun in old hobbies again. For the first time in my life, I was in control.
One of the biggest hindrances to me getting help prior to that, was the fact that being at University meant I was never in the same place for long enough to receive effective treatment. I had tried many different networks of mental health support in my life before this point, but they were all fruitless and felt temporary- or I put off reaching out for real help as it just felt too inconvenient. My approach to my final year has been unprecedented. I’m not afraid of my classes anymore, I’ve accepted that people may be better than me – but so long as I’m doing my best it really doesn’t matter. I’m happy every day for how far I’ve come, because every time I have a ‘bad’ day now, I know I can pick myself up from it.
The help I needed was always out there, I just never wanted to admit to myself, knew how to, or had the time to ask for it. Taking a step back and gaining some bigger perspective has allowed me to find resources that have completely changed my university experience. Anti-depressants, counselling, CBT, a disability advisor, disability support, a wonderful family and a commendable choice of housemates on my part have got me to a point where I know I can handle anything this year throws at me. It’s been hard work, a road to recovery years in the making, but I’ve gone from not knowing it was possible to feel so low, to being overwhelmingly appreciative that it’s possible to feel this happy.
This article was published in conjunction with ‘Heads Up Durham’
‘Heads Up is a student-led society and the Durham branch of Student Minds. Student Minds is a nation-wide charity with the aim of raising awareness and support for mental health problems in university.
We ultimately aim to set up student-led support groups, improve student welfare, reduce the stigma and raise the profile of mental health issues within the university setting.’
If you feel like you are suffering from any mental health issues, or feel that you need some help, there are a variety of different services you can turn to which can be found at:
‘Mental Health Matters’ is a new feature column in ‘The Bubble’. We are in need of more people to write. If you are interested in writing about your experiences for us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.