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How Coming Home Saved My Life

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At the age of 18 I did what most people my age do — packed my bags and headed off to university. I moved over 100 miles away to study at my dream university after getting an unconditional offer. If only I had known it wasn’t going to be quite the dream I had imagined…

I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, and as a teenager I was discouraged from getting professional help as my parents believed it would hinder my future. I had been self-harming for two years by the time I headed off to university, and being two hours away from my parents gave me the confidence to finally seek the help I needed. I booked a doctor’s appointment within a week of being at university and was immediately diagnosed with depression and put onto anti-depressants. Although this gave me a brief sense of hope, not long after I was falling deeper into a depressive state than I had ever been in before. I started to self-harm more frequently and started to have suicidal thoughts.

In the spirit of my new-found confidence in asking for help, I reached out to my university counseling service. The waiting list was relatively short, as it was still the start of the term, and I was quickly booked in for my first session. Off I went with hope that I would get some help, but I was met with the opposite. The counselor threatened to kick me out of university if I continued to have suicidal thoughts, despite me saying that this would only make me worse. I was terrified that what my parents had said was true — if I got help, I would have no future. So, I canceled my counseling and hid my thoughts away.

This, of course, only made things worse. I started to isolate myself and spend all day in my room, not eating and not going to lectures. One night I told a friend I was thinking of taking an overdose and she took me to the emergency department, where I was met with hours of waiting only to be given some pills and sent home again. No referral, no actual help, just some pills to calm me down for the night. It was no surprise that less than a week later I was back in the emergency room having taken an overdose. The result of this? I waited for six hours only to be told that if I had really wanted to kill myself, I would have done it. This sent me spiraling even further — I couldn’t do anything right, not even kill myself.

I spent the rest of my first year of university in and out of the emergency room, and this, combined with exams, bad flatmates and being put on different meds every week, my mental health kept spiraling down and down. My second year was much like my first, lonely and dark. Then lockdown happened. I couldn’t go home and was stuck at university in an empty house all on my own. No lectures, no friends, no family. My counseling stopped too with the lockdown, and with no support groups open I spent most of my days in bed watching Netflix and sleeping. I barely ate and didn’t talk to anyone.

This pattern stayed much the same for my third year of university — my lectures went online, but most weeks they were “self-study” sessions, my counseling never started back up again, and my housemates hated me. I was alone all over again. With my final year assessments piling up, I felt like a failure. In March I was at my lowest ever point and took an overdose in an attempt to put an end to my misery. This time, instead of being sent home after a few hours, my parents were called. I always thought that they would be angry, but all I received from them was love and concern. It was like the past three years of my life had been spent in misery for nothing.

When my dad arrived at the emergency room he was in tears — a rare sight to say the least. He hugged me tight and told me to never scare him like that again. The hospital themselves weren’t much help: I didn’t even see a crisis counselor. But what happened afterwards saved my life.

My dad helped me pack up my university room that day and took me back home. It felt weird after three years living at home again, but soon I got back into the swing of living with them again. My dad made sure I didn’t spend all day alone again, and so I spent my days watching tele with him in the living room, walking the dogs round the nature reserve, playing x-box with my brother or just simply existing with other people. I wasn’t alone anymore, and I was starting to feel happy again for the first time in years. My parents helped me plan out a time table to finish my university assignments, and what had felt like a mountain of work dwindled down to nothing within just six weeks. With my assignments finished, I started working again. Seeing all my old work colleagues filled me with joy and I was welcomed with open arms. I never would have thought that coming home would feel so good, and the weight I had burdened myself with for three years melted away to nothing.

I know that for a lot of people living with family whilst struggling with mental health issues can be very stressful and many may dream of getting away and living solo like I did three years ago, but sometimes we don’t know what we have until it’s gone. In the brief four months I have been home the suicidal thoughts have faded away to a distant whisper, and my self-harming habits have been kept at bay so far. I’m so glad that I have a loving family around me to keep me afloat in this deep dark sea. My depression hasn’t disappeared, and some days I still feel the dark claws tangling around me and puling me into darkness, but now I have the torch that is my home keeping me in the light. I always thought that going to university was going to be the savior for my mental health, but in reality, it was coming home that saved my life.

Getty image by Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: July 19, 2021
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Take Me Home