SA and my life – Part 3(1) (University)

The following couple of posts will look at my time at university – the current ‘chapter’ of my life.

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I started university last September. I’d been looking toward it with a mixture of excitement, hope, and intense anxiety. Despite this anxiety, I did manage to go along to a field trip sort of thing where a few lecturers, 30 other students and I did a series of different environmental science/ forensic tasks in the Edinburgh area. We also did some ‘icebreaker’ activities. I somehow ended up making conversation with a woman who had worked with me on some of the tasks. I found it very difficult to talk to her, due to both my anxiety and the fact that her English wasn’t very good at the time (she’s originally from Poland) and she tends to speak very quietly, but I was amazed that I was actually somehow having a conversation with someone without looking like a weirdo. Despite having to to psyche myself up for ages to go on the field trip, I enjoyed it a lot. The woman I talked to (let’s called her JW) and I exchanged phone numbers later that day. I was happy that maybe I’d finally found a potential friend, or at least someone I could talk to at uni.

That September was the happiest I’d felt in a long time. I was somewhat ahead of other students in knowing what to do, due to attending summer school. I had online friends who I talked to regularly, and I had now met a potential friend at my uni. I was free from the years of bullying and torment of highschool. This was a chance to make a fresh start and finally overcome my crippling social anxiety. However, as with highschool, it didn’t work out like that.

I started to sink into depression again about midway through October (it seems to always be October). I started to self harm and feel suicidal again. One thing I was glad of though, was that my grandparents had allowed me to stay at their house during term time, so I’d live there during the week and only go home at the weekend. I don’t think I could ever cope with living in halls of residence, and as I can’t drive, it would take me at least an hour and a half either way to travel to and from uni if I stayed at home. The fact that I was only home at weekends, however, made me feel even more lonely and isolated. I continued to hide my self harm/ suicidal state from my family – or well…not really ‘hide’ as such; I simply just didn’t tell them. This of course led to yet more misunderstanding from my parents and more gibes from my dad. I was glad that I could get away from him during the week. It was somewhat easier to fool my grandparents into thinking I was okay, though I think they still suspected that something was up. I did find it annoying that they would constantly be asking who I’d talked to at uni that day (and having to lie about this), and my grandmother would constantly be saying that I should meet people by getting a job or joining a club and that making friends was just a simple case of “smile and just talk to people”. They’d also moan at me for being lazy when I’d come home from uni in the afternoon and just collapse into bed in exhaustion, due to my S.A.D. I’d spend almost all my time (unless I was at uni) in ‘my room’ (the guest room) just sleeping, studying, playing video games, or mucking about on the computer.

JW (the woman I’d talked to at the field trip in the induction week) continued to talk to me at uni and started to regularly drive me to uni. I was initially very grateful and amazed that someone actually seemed to want to talk to me, but it didn’t develop into what I’d call a proper ‘friendship’, like I’d hoped. Sometimes I wonder if I am incapable of having friends ‘in real life’ (as opposed to just online). It will always end up that I’m too afraid to just be ‘myself’ or reveal anything about myself. The conversations never go beyond the superficial level of “I hate this weather” or “What did you do at the weekend?” (my old favourite) or just simply talking about the work at uni. I’m terrified to take it past that for fear of people judging me and realising how much of a freak I am. I don’t think I could ever really get anyone to understand or put up with my mental health difficulties. Even if they did understand, I can’t imagine them putting up with me being constantly suicidal and having nothing positive to say for 8+ months at a time. I don’t think I am worthy of friendship and I often fail to see the point. In an ideal world, I’d somehow be able to reach the point where I could speak my mind with a close friend and they’d accept me for who I am, and I could laugh and joke and be myself around them. However, in reality, I don’t ever reach that level, and people usually get fed up and just leave me. Sometimes I actually want them to leave me because I hate having to put on an act for them, and like I said, I don’t think I’m worthy of friendship. And anyway, what’s the point of making friends with someone if you’re too anxious to speak your mind and they’re going to leave you regardless? People always leave. I stopped seeking friends a long time ago because I’m convinced that no one would ever want to be friends with me anyway. I feel I can’t let people get close to me because they will just end up hurting me and mocking me like some of my old ‘friends’ did.

Aside from my issues with friendship/ revealing things about myself to people, I don’t feel I can be friends with JW due to us having almost nothing in common. She loves dubstep and I hate it; she’s outgoing and I’m the least outgoing person ever; she loves smoking cannabis, I’ve never even been drunk; she’s 25, I’m 18; she has a lot of friends and a boyfriend, I have none; etc. On the topic of drugs, we were at her flat once, doing an online assessment for uni together, and she said she could get me some weed if I wanted. Whilst it’s somewhat tempting when I’m very close to suicide, I think it would most likely only mess up my crap brain chemistry even more. As I’ve said before, I don’t drink either, and I think that if I ever got drunk or high, I’d probably soon end up addicted and use alcohol/drugs as a social crutch/vice. Of course being someone who never drinks is, I imagine, another sure-fire way to be an outcast from almost all social events at uni, even if I did somehow manage to start talking to people. I don’t have a problem with other people doing those things, as long as they’re not disturbing me (another reason why I’m glad I don’t live in halls – I’ve heard a lot of stories about people causing a disturbance to others or setting the fire alarm off at 3am, meaning that the whole place needs to be evacuated, when drunk) but it annoys me when people act like alcohol is all there is to life.

*Trigger warning for the next paragraph: I talk about self harm and suicide methods*

My depression only seemed to get worse as the days got darker and colder. I struggled to get out of bed every morning and ate too much. I was exhausted all the time despite sleeping a lot more. My memory was shot to pieces and I couldn’t concentrate. Despite this, I’d get good marks for assignments at uni but it would have no affect whatsoever on my mood and I could never feel proud of what I’d done. I felt like a complete outcast and freak to everyone at my uni. I was lonely, miserable and suffering from ‘derealisation’ most of the time. I started to cut my thighs and stomach, as they were easier to hide than my forearms. The cuts were still somewhat shallow at this point but I was doing it quite extensively. I started to think about/ look into various ways that I could kill myself. I’d walk past the railway and just want to lie down on the track so badly. I soon ruled out this method after I learned that train drivers often get post traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives after running over someone on the tracks – I wanted my suicide to cause as little pain, to as few people as possible (though I now know that’s impossible). I started to become obsessed with jumping from a bridge instead. I’d look at the heights of, and try to find out the probability of death for various bridges. I planned out routes to both the Dean Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge. I tried to talk to my mum about how I was feeling in late November, but I got nowhere and she just ended up getting annoyed with me when I told her how much my depression had been affecting me. (I’d only managed to list physical symptoms in the hope she’d realise something was up, as I was too afraid to say outright that I was suicidal). Everything seemed completely hopeless and pointless, and I felt like no one cared about how I felt. I was unable to even cry even though I felt like doing so all the time. I would have given anything to just be able to cry. Crying usually brings a sort of relief in the end. The only relief I could find was though cutting myself. I started to do somewhat dangerous/ stupid things like walking through isolated areas alone in the dark. I didn’t even care what might happen to me at this point. I decided if I was going to kill myself, I’d jump off the Forth Road Bridge, since the likelihood of death is far greater than jumping from the Dean Bridge. This remains my default suicide plan to this day. I was convinced that I would take my own life before my 18th birthday. I remember relating to this song a lot at the time:

I was finding it difficult to even have the focus or cognitive abilities to do my uni assignments. I fell behind and ended up frequently having to ask for extensions to deadlines (thankfully student support know about my mental health difficulties and were quite helpful). It’s very hard to explain to someone who’s never suffered from depression just the sheer, seemingly limitless depths of hell into which you sink during an episode. I think it’s probably impossible to completely understand or imagine if you’ve never been there yourself. The thought of being back there again for even a day terrifies me. I’d have times when I’d wake up in the middle of the night and just feel like killing myself there and then. I’d just stare and the walls, unable to cry, and wish so badly for death. I wanted my thoughts to stop, to lose conciousness completely, anything to make it stop. It took me about an hour or two to get back to sleep, but it felt like decades. I’d just end up having nightmares when I finally did fall asleep.

One good thing that happened was that I went to see 2 of my favourite bands – Rise Against and Coldplay – within a month of each other, which made me feel amazing for a day or two afterwards and reduced the blackness for a short while. It was the first time I’d ever been to see a band live (I’d always been too anxious to do so before, but my mum and sister came along with me). I was very anxious to begin with but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would have been and I enjoyed both nights a lot.

I finally got a second autism assessment via 3 appointments throughout December. The woman who assessed me is an expert on high-functioning autism in females, so I’d hoped that she of anyone would be able to give me an accurate diagnosis. She accepted the fact that “you definitely have very severe social anxiety” but seemed to think that this was merely a feature of HFA/ Asperger’s and couldn’t be separate from this. This is the opinion that the people at my first assessment seemed to share, which infuriates me. In my experience, most NHS professionals don’t seem to know a lot about social anxiety disorder (and some are completely clueless/ ignorant of its existence). It was frustrating trying to get it through to her that although I meet some of the diagnostic criteria for HFA, I don’t think any of this can’t be explained by social anxiety. I think my severe depression distorted things as well (which she later admitted herself, after finding out just how badly depressed I was). I was extremely nihilistic at the time, which I think she mistakenly thought was a lack of understanding of relationships/ others emotions/ lack of cognitive empathy. When I’m in that mood, if someone asked “What do you think the point in friendship is?”, I’d answer that there is no point and that there’s nothing to be gained from it because people will ultimately always screw you over. I have the understanding that people form friendships because it is emotionally and socially rewarding and it’s interesting and nice to get to know someone, etcetera, but I’m unable to express this when in that mood because depression makes everything seem meaningless. I can easily see how this could be misinterpreted. I told her about my depression but she simply asked if what I call ‘depression’ is just a label to hide autistic symptoms. When she found out that I self harm, she simply said “Don’t do it”. Her ignorance infuriated me. And with regards to the self harm comment…yeah, it never would have occurred to me to just not do it… Professionalism at its best. I obviously didn’t tell her about being suicidal (no one knew about it at the time besides my psychiatrist and a couple of online friends). Having my actions misunderstood by her continued to be a source of annoyance to me.

I was glad to get a few weeks off uni for Christmas (first years at my uni don’t have exams until the second trimester, so get an extra 2-3 weeks holiday at Christmas) but was still completely miserable. I can’t really even remember what I did during most of December except the last of my assessments and sleeping an inordinate amount. We have a family tradition that we always go ice-skating on Christmas Eve, but I felt completely miserable the whole time (which my parents noticed and wondered about) so couldn’t enjoy it. I spent most of Christmas morning lying in bed feeling completely miserable and exhausted and trying to cry – to no avail. I had to put on a ‘brave face’ for extended family members when they arrived for Christmas dinner, but did end up feeling a lot better after talking to/ joking with everyone. I hoped that the new year would bring an improvement to my mood.

******************************************************************************* Edit: Wow…I’ve fairly blathered on a bit. I wish I could write this much in so little time when it comes to my uni assignments. 

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