Today is one year to the day I came close to ending my own life. It took a long time to recover but I’m now at the stage where, although I still have days when suicide seems inevitable, I’m glad that I didn’t go through with it. I can only hope that I never, ever again feel so incredibly hopeless, helpless, and morbid as I did back then. I’m immensely thankful to the 2 people who talked me out of it – it’s nice to know that there are some genuinely nice, caring people out there and not everyone is out to get me. Although I’ve got such a long way to go, I’m a million miles away from where I was mentally this time last year. I’m able to function again and even have good days when I feel happy and able to cope. I find moments of joy and beauty in life which make everything worthwhile. I find that it’s the simple things – good music, a beautiful sunset, laughing at something funny, having a lovely view of the city, a good meal, a sunny day, being surrounded by nature, etc – that make life feel worth living.
It was my 19th birthday a few days ago. I usually find my mood worsening around this time as I tend to view my birthday as a reminder of how far behind and how ‘stuck’ I am. Thankfully, this year hasn’t been quite so bad and I was able to enjoy the actual day with my immediate family and grandparents. Speaking of which, I am glad to have family members who – although most of them don’t understand my mental health problems – are accepting of me. I can finally be myself to a certain extent around them. Hopefully I’ve managed to educate them even just a little bit about mental health issues and can continue to do so. My mum in particular seems to have become very enlightened about the subject. I remember one time when I was about 10 years old and we were talking about various professions/ ideas for what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’, I briefly mentioned psychologists. Her immediate response was: “Oh no…don’t do that. You don’t want to work with crazy people.” Since seeking help for my mental health, I’ve seen her opinion of mentally ill people change dramatically. Although I’m still reluctant to talk about feeling suicidal/ urges to self harm with her, I can now have an open conversation with her about my own mental health and she is generally very understanding about it. I’ve also learned who my real friends (despite them both being online) are – the ones who accept and support me in spite of my mental health issues and put up with everything they entail. For all of this, I am thankful.
Like I said before, I have such a long and hard journey ahead of me if I want to overcome or at least reduce my social anxiety. I have a feeling that the next few years are going to be the most difficult of my life (or they should be, if I am focused on my goal of overcoming SA). This semester at university hasn’t been too bad with regards to my anxiety, though I have been trying to push myself to not avoid eating in the busy canteen and to brave the library (where I always feel as if people are staring at/judging me negatively or laughing about how stupid I must look/ the tiniest ‘flaw’ in my behaviour or ‘performance’ while there). The 2 situations I’ve mentioned probably seem like nothing to most people, but they fill me with considerable dread/ anxiety. I also realise many of my beliefs as to what other people are thinking about me (they’re probably not) are completely illogical, unrealistic and unfounded, but I’m still unable to fully convince myself otherwise. Hopefully this will improve in time as I do more CBT.
One thing which has me extremely worried already is that I know for a fact that I will have to do many oral presentations and a lot of group work in most of my third year modules. Looking at the module descriptors, it really is as if someone designed them with the sole goal of trying to inflict as much suffering on the socially anxious as humanly possible. I really want to push myself to finally face my deepest fears head on, but the fact that the oral presentations make up a large part of our grades have me very worried. I’m convinced that the panic attacks are going to be so bad that I’ll forget everything I want to say, or that my eye contact and general presentation skills will be so badly affected by my anxiety that they’ll dramatically (and unfairly) reduce my grades for the module. There are also 2 residential field trips on my course that I’m freaking out about considerably because of all the social interaction that sharing accommodation with everyone else – and doing group work with them the entire time – will involve. It would be almost funny how difficult this course is for someone with SA, if I wasn’t too busy being terrified at the prospect of having to do it all myself. I’ve just emailed student support to ask if there is anything they can do to help me with this but I’m really not sure if they will be able to. I want to eventually be able to do these things but I’d rather build up my exposure gradually. Hopefully I’ll initially only have to present in front of the tutor/s (even this is probably still enough to cause a bad panic attack), and try to work up from that.
I’ve been considering going part-time at university after this year. It would mean that (if everything goes well) my degree would take an extra year to complete, but I think it’s probably very much for the best. I’ve constantly struggled with the workload and meeting deadlines throughout my first and second year, no matter how much I’ve tried to ‘hit the ground running’ at the beginning of each semester. It baffles me how I spend almost all of my time studying and still seem to get nowhere, when there are people who have part-time jobs and social lives who can work much more efficiently and get things done much quicker than I can. Essays are the worst for me. Sometimes it will take me hours just to write a few sentences because I’m so worried about getting a bad grade for it/ saying something stupid or irrelevant. It seems I have very poor time management skills when it comes to the workload. When you take into consideration the fact that my high anxiety in lectures/ tutorials makes it very hard to focus/ take anything in while I’m actually there; and also the fact that a combination of this and my S.A.D means I am frequently so burned out by the time I get home that I just want to collapse into bed for a few hours, it does make keeping up with everything quite difficult. Thankfully, my depression has not affected my studies nearly as much this year as it did in first year. After applying for ‘Disabled Students’ Allowance’, I now have a voice recorder which I can use in lectures, but it means that I effectively have to sit through another lecture at home just to take in the same amount of information that non-anxious people would have been able to take in the first time. Considering all the stress and intense anxiety I’ll have to face in upcoming years, I think going part time is definitely the best option in terms of my mental health.
I’ll probably be updating this blog a lot less over the next couple of months, due to the insane workload of this semester, but I’ll let you know how I get on with student support and trying to do more things to reduce my anxiety. There is a mountain to climb and it’s time I finally started to climb it instead of just standing immobilised with terror at the base, wondering how on earth I’m going to make it to the summit. I have to tear down the wall I’ve built up around myself and give other people another chance. I have to change my own mind and move forward because I can’t stay stuck in this cell forever.