Sunday 15 September 2019

The Weekly Read: 'I've lost an entire academic year to my battle with anxiety'

Anxiety is now the greatest concern facing college students
Anxiety is now the greatest concern facing college students

Zainab Boladale

My second year of college wasn’t supposed to go like this. This was not what I had imagined. This was the year I was supposed to improve on the previous year’s achievements.

I started this academic year motivated and inspired by unexpected opportunities that my writing was opening up for me.

While I do have a history of depression and self-harm, I thought I had left that behind. Everything was going well for me, the things I had achieved in the year prior to my breakdown was more than I could ever have expected.

September was the peak of my nine months in college and then everything went downhill. I found myself without motivation, unable to leave my bed in the mornings and having breakdowns before it was even midday.

On days where I managed to push myself to go into college, I wasn’t able to stay the full day because I was afraid I’d burst into tears in classes.

When asked what triggered my breakdown, it was nothing and yet it was so much. I have never been one to shy away from hard work or from stressful tasks that benefited myself and others.

To others, I came across as though I had my life together and had so much going for me. They didn’t know that all ended the moment I was alone and confined in the four walls of my bedroom.

At first I thought if I kept myself surrounded and busy with the company of others I wouldn’t have to deal with the creeping thoughts that lurked in the back of my mind.

I’d think things like, “Once you leave college you’re never going to find a job” or “Everyone is going to think you’re crazy if they really knew what’s going on”. At first, I could manage it, I could ignore it, I could pretend my emotions weren’t real.

I understood what I was feeling was anxiety and depression. I made an attempt to tell a doctor about it, but having never mentioned this to them before, it was brushed off. Chalked down to simply a college student's emotional imbalance.

I felt like nobody could help me nor understand the intensity of what I was going through and how it was eating away at me, taking away from me every aspect of everything I enjoyed. I knew my lack of productivity wasn't due to laziness, I knew I was sick.

I was eating takeaways upon takeaways despite the fact that I enjoyed cooking. I was gaining weight and when people mentioned it to me I’d feel like I had tripled in size, despite the fact that I knew deep down I actually loved my body.

I picked up awful habits as a means of coping, pinching and digging my nails into myself when I felt like I was going to have a panic attack in public.

Every time I tried to write about something, I’d read it knowing full well there was nothing wrong with it, yet feeling like it wasn’t worth being shared.

The depression I was feeling even affected simple things. Like when my friends would ask me to go somewhere with them, I’d feel like there wasn’t a point in me being there.

Christmas rolled around, I was doing something almost every day so I didn’t have time to think, stop or feel, I was never alone for more than an hour, I thought I was better, I thought I had gotten over it. I was writing again and I was getting paid to do so. I was me again. But I couldn’t have been anymore wrong.

Yes, I had hit a low in my first semester, but the New Year brought with it a decline like no other. I wasn’t able to even maintain the illusion of happiness anymore. My bad habits worsened, my close friends started to notice and would check up on me very frequently.

I was shocked by how obvious it was to them. They pushed me into availing of counselling services which helped incredibly. I hadn’t realised how much I had been holding back from myself and from others. I hadn’t realised the power of asking for help, the power of talking.

While by no stretch of the imagination am I fully recovered, I am however almost at the end of a long fight. While I’ve lost an entire academic year to my battle with anxiety and depression, I have something I didn’t have before - I have clarity.

If I had gone ahead with some of the ideas that crept into my head at my lowest point, I wouldn’t have this story to tell.

Mental health is being talked about, but not enough. While some may be tired of hearing about the woes of others and their battles with their illnesses, it needs to be shared.

We need to realise that addressing these issues, sharing our stories and eliminating the stigma that surround it are the only way we can improve the mental health services in this country.

The only way we can help people like myself from feeling less valued due to their illness is by discussing these issues and not behind closed doors as though they’re a secret. It’s hard to see yourself as a victim when you’re still struggling to survive.

I could include some fact about the percentage of young people that go through mental health issues in Ireland to highlight how much of an issue it is, but it wouldn’t make it any less or more of an issue.

There are students all over Ireland who will be able to identify in some way with my story and to them I say it is okay to ask for help and it is okay to talk.

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