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What Helped Me Get the 'University Experience' With My Mental Illness

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When I announced to my friends and family I was planning on going to University there wasn’t a lack of shocked faces. Me, the shy, anxious little girl who had never been away from home for more than a few nights was announcing she was moving hours away to study for a degree. Not only have I never felt the “smartest” one in the family, I have definitely never felt the most confident. My choice to go to University was the result of a burst of confidence I had on a “good day.” This choice changed my life path.

There’s many expectations when you move away for University:

“You will become best friends with everyone you live with.”

“You will have so many great new experiences.”

“These will be the best few years of your life.”

When I arrived at University and I wasn’t immediately having the best time of my life, I felt cheated. Apparently, it doesn’t actually work quite like that. With the expectations of University life playing on my brain, I got frustrated when I couldn’t join in with all the “normal” aspects of life due to my struggle with anxiety and depression.

My anxiety often stops me from going to lectures and seminars, and when I am able to go, I can’t hear through the voices in my head rendering my attendance useless. I will frequently have panic attacks over mundane tasks, such as getting a book out of the library. When it comes to the social side of University life — well, many people with anxiety and depression might agree on how mentally excruciating things like meeting new people and nights out can be, and this tends to be a big part of University life.

I didn’t quite imagine my University experience to consist of days stuck in bed due to anxiety, or countless visits to the doctors and a number of desperate visits to the “Student Life Center.” All the expectations I had for University seemed shattered right before me by my mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t seem to take days off for important events, and it doesn’t disappear when something exciting and important happens to you.

A lot of University involves self-motivation. No one is going to care if you don’t go to a lecture, no one is going to chase you about your assignments, no one is there to check if you’re feeding yourself. Illnesses such as depression can make self-motivation hard, like getting out of bed in the morning, go to a lecture or write an essay. I struggled with this a lot in my first year of University and still struggle with it daily, but I’ve learned ways to help me through it.

My tips:

  • Routine — routine is so important, write out a very simple to-do list with achievable targets.
  • Forget all expectations — when you expect something to happen and it doesn’t, it can be a setback. If you put less pressure on these expectations you might feel more relaxed.
  • Ride the waves — in my experience there are always going to be ups and downs at University, especially when you add mental illness on top on everything else. In my experience, accepting defeat on the smaller things helped me accomplish bigger things.
  • Praise yourself — sometimes simple things aren’t so simple for someone with mental illness. If getting out of your room was the biggest thing you did in the day, don’t be hard on yourself, be proud.
  • Get to know your University — your University may offer help for students with a mental illness, get to know what they provide and make good use of it.

It helps to remember these feelings are “normal” and help is out there. I have made some amazing friends who have helped me through a lot, and I feel I am in a very supportive environment. You are not weak if you reach out for help. You don’t have to have the stereotypical #unilife experience; everyone’s University experience is different, just “ride the waves” and try to make the best of it.

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Thinkstock photo by: Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Originally published: May 4, 2017
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