Why I Decided to Leave College for My Mental Health
University was always something I wanted to do, but I never felt it was right going straight to college. I couldn’t have imagined leaving home and being a real life adult at 18 years old, so I took a few years to save up some money, pass my driving test and generally get some “real adult” life experience. At the end of 2013, I was working a full-time job, feeling stable and relatively happy. I decided it was time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.
I got accepted to a musical theater course in the spring of 2014, and by September, I found myself living in halls of residence with a bunch of people I didn’t know, in a city I had never been to before and back in education after two years away. I felt so empowered, and I honestly thought this would be my saving grace, a chance to start again. But reality began to hit me when the fun stopped and the work started piling up. I suddenly noticed I was becoming that stressed, anxiety-ridden girl I was two years ago. I would sit at my desk for hours, staring at a blank laptop screen, willing myself to just try, but I had no motivation, nothing would work. I started to get behind in the first couple of months, and this just spiraled into a frenzy of panic and procrastination. I was feeling sub-par in my practical lessons too, began to doubt my abilities and would constantly ask myself, Why am I here? I’m nowhere near talented enough. I would come home almost every weekend because I was so homesick, which on reflection was a bad move because it only made it worse when Sunday afternoon arrived and I had to go back to the place where I was so lonely.
It was around the beginning of December when I really noticed a deterioration in my mental health. Nothing was fun, nothing was exciting. I found myself skipping lectures so I could be alone and self-harm, which would then in turn prevent me from going to dance classes because I wasn’t able to show my skin. I was self-harming most days and nights, not even thinking about it, it was routine. I constantly felt anxious and nauseous. It was like a never-ending vicious circle I couldn’t fight my way out of.
One Wednesday, I had made the effort and dragged myself to tap class (the only class I really enjoyed), and within 20 minutes of the lesson, I was running down the corridor — tapping with every step — to hide myself in the bathroom in a fit of anxiety. I was terrified. It was by far one of the worst panic attacks I have had to this day. I spoke to my mum on the phone and she eventually encouraged me to go back into the class and get my bag to go back to my apartment. My roommate left class early as well to walk me home. I don’t think she knows how much I appreciated that help and reassurance.
I got into my room and I paced back and forth for a while, until another of my roommates came to see if I was OK, which of course I wasn’t. I must have been a complete state to look at! I had decided I wanted to drive home that night because I couldn’t stay there any longer, but obviously my parents weren’t convinced it was a good idea. I couldn’t care less, all I wanted was my home, so I quickly packed a bag and ran down the stairs and before I knew it, I was in my car en route to home. I got home at about 8:30 p.m. and I thought as soon as I walked through the door I would feel calm, but I didn’t. This attack lasted late into the night, probably a good 10 hours.
I stayed at home until the Sunday when I decided it was best I went back to school, as it was the last week before Christmas. I didn’t make it to many lectures, but at least I was there. I didn’t sleep until about 7 a.m. most nights that week. I had so much to think about. Can I handle this or do I leave? What happens if I leave? What if I can’t get a job? What if I regret my decision?
During the Christmas break, I had a lot of thinking to do, but mostly I was just glad to be at home for two weeks. I did go back after the break, but only for three days. It all started again the moment I got there: the anxiety, the stress, the loneliness, the sleepless nights. Finally, after three days of tears, self-harming and no sleep, I made the decision that this wasn’t a healthy environment for me and it was time to go. I packed a bag and left that day without telling anyone, not even the university. I spent a few days deliberating what I would say to my course leader and tried to pluck up the courage. Once I did, I felt relieved. Dad and I traveled back up there about a week later to pack all my stuff up and clear my room, I handed in my key and drove away, never looking back.
Since leaving university, I still haven’t worked, and haven’t completely gotten back on my feet. In the June of the same year, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and since then, it has been a mission to learn to live with what I’ve been dealt. It certainly has not been easy for me.
I do not regret going to university at all, in fact I’m glad I did because if I hadn’t tried it, I would never have known if it was for me, which clearly it isn’t! I do have days when I look back and wonder, What if? What if I stayed and I was in my third year now? Would I have gotten through it?
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Thinkstock photo via HsinJuHSU.