Living With Anxiety | An Update on My Mental Health & University Life
I wrote this post last Sunday morning and on Sunday afternoon, I had the worst panic attack I’ve had in a long time, so I didn’t really feel comfortable publishing this fairly optimistic blog post. But I’m feeling a lot better now and, after a necessary couple of days off university, I have managed to subdue my feelings of anxiety pretty quickly. I think it just goes to show that mental health ‘journeys’ are not a straight line of progress and just because things are going well, it doesn't mean they’re going to stay that way, and vice versa! But anywhere here’s the blog post I originally wrote. Despite what happened on Sunday, it’s still fairly accurate in conveying how I feel about my mental health and detailing how I’ve been feeling generally over the past few months….
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but I haven’t felt as though I’ve been in the right headspace to do so. That is, being comfortable with putting details about the current state of my brain on the internet that anyone who wants to can read. But I kind of feel ok about it today! So I’m here, writing this post. The motivation to write it is the response I had to the original post I wrote last May about my experience with anxiety and the response I get every time I write any type of post discussing anxiety or mental health issues. I always receive messages from people who are happy that I’m talking about it or who find what I’m saying relatable and, because the normalisation of mental health issues is so important to me, I feel I really should be writing and talking about my own!
So, where to start? In the original post, I discussed how my anxiety began, developed and how I dealt with it during my first year of university. I’m currently half way through my second year of university and lets just say, it’s been a little bit wobbly so far! I had a fairly anxiety-free summer. I worked full time at All Saints, which was for the most part enjoyable, whilst living at home and travelling A LOT. If you’ve read that original post, you’ll know that I was finding ways to deal with my anxiety during the second semester of my first year at university and I managed to keep up with them over summer.
But moving back to Manchester for my second year of university disrupted all of that. Pretty much as soon as I moved into my new house, which I was SO looking forward to, I forgot all of my coping mechanisms, seemingly because I hadn’t needed to use them much over summer and because I was so looking forward to moving back to Manchester, I hadn’t prepared myself for the fact that they might now be required. My first week back at university was honestly one of the most difficult weeks of my life. I was in a constant state of anxiety. I wasn’t really sleeping or eating much at all, which is really unusual for me as I’m very much a stress-eater, and my IBS was crazy, which is always a sign that I’m anxious.
What’s more, I was just so confused. I didn’t understand why I was feeling so inexplicably anxious. Second year is supposed to be easier, right? I should be feeling more settled! I’m living with my friends in a house rather than student halls and I don’t have the stress of not knowing anyone or my surroundings. I still can’t really put my finger on what sent my anxiety into overdrive on that first week but, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter.
What has been really important for me to understand is that anxiety isn’t logical. That’s what’s make the question ‘what’s wrong?’ or ‘why do you feel anxious?’ so frustrating. They’re usually isn’t a reason and the reactions are so physical, for me, that they often feel completely removed from any type of rational thought anyway.
Anyway, after my first week of university, I headed home for the weekend. Luckily I only live around an hour or two (depending on traffic and train times) away from my family home so I am able to go home for the weekend if I want to. But this doesn’t make me feel any less guilty about it! Even though I was physically unable to cope at university that first week due to anxiety, going home wasn’t the welcome solution that it maybe should have been because there is so much shame attached to going home from university, in my experience. It feels like you’re giving up or not living the student life properly. But, quite frankly, I think the shame and guilt that has been created around it is ridiculous.
In fact, I’ve started coming home from university pretty much every weekend in my second year and it has done wonders for my mental health. My anxiety took a turn for the worse at the beginning of the academic year and due to other (physical) health issues, I haven’t been able to drink alcohol. This makes being at university very difficult because the primary activity for most students is drinking alcohol and going out, which I’m generally not comfortable doing sober because I inevitably spend the whole night being asked why I’m not drinking, which makes me feel very out of place and anxious. So going home on the weekends is therefore the perfect solution for me.
Going home means that whatever is stressing me out at university (which I will come on to) can be largely ignored for a few days and it also means that I can spend my time doing whatever non-drinking related actives I want, whether it’s seeing friends, my boyfriend or spending time with family. And yes, before you mention it, there are non-drinking activities to do at university. But most of them involve spending money (i.e. eating out or going to the cinema), which I don’t have very much of and staying in and having an early night isn’t really possible when I’m at university, even on weekdays, because the road I live on is generally full of drunk students/noisy cars!
In terms of what it is that makes me anxious about being in Manchester, I’m not 100% sure! One thing I know that makes me anxious is that the area I live in isn’t a particularly safe one and is very well-known for burglaries, so I’m always a little on edge about that, but I’m definitely becoming more relaxed about it, especially after returning for semester two. I think the fact that I don’t really live the conventional student lifestyle, from the not drinking thing, to the clothes I wear to just generally how I like to spend my time also adds to my anxiety and just makes me feel more comfortable at home, where the people around me are perhaps a little more accepting of that.
I do have some really great friends at university who don’t judge me at all and they’re honestly probably the only thing, along with the fact I like my degree, that stop me from dropping out! But I tend to spend a lot of time with them during the week and, because of how exhausting my anxiety has been over the past few months, I’m not always up for socialising every day of the week. So being in the comfort of my own family home, where there are still people around me but I don’t necessarily have to socialise, is really helpful for me.
I feel as though I’ve gone on a huge tangent about university here but I couldn’t really talk about my anxiety without mentioning it as it has really affected my mental health. Since returning to university for Semester 2, after some much needed time at home over Christmas, I am feeling more able to cope with my anxiety. Routine is a really important way of managing my mental health as I am constantly thinking ahead and worrying about the future, so knowing what’s going to happen, for the most part, and where I’m going to be relieves quite a lot of stress. So being in the routine of staying at university on weekdays and coming home on the weekends is really good for me. Plus, now the nights are getting lighter and I’m edging closer to the end of my second year (not to wish my life away but I think you can understand I’m looking forward to changing my living situation) everything feels a little bit easier to cope with.
I am still struggling with anxiety, especially when it comes to appetite and being by myself at night. I’m not going to act like everything is perfect because it’s really not and I think that’s why I didn’t want to write this post. I didn’t want to present a negative version of my life, both for self-preservation and because I don’t want to make other people who are struggling feel hopeless. But I think an important part of normalising mental health issues is talking about things when everything isn’t at its best, rather than just looking back at the bad times when things have improved.
So there you have it! I’m not at my worst and I’m not at my best and I’m coming to realise that anxiety is something that I’ll probably live with forever. It’s not something I can get rid of but I can find ways to cope with it. And I have found many ways to cope, even if other people don’t understand them or think I’m not living my life properly, I know that this is how life actually seems doable to me and maybe even (shock horror) enjoyable!
If you take anything from this post, let it be that! Do whatever you need to do to cope with your mental health struggles because every single person has them, big or small, no matter what other people think or say. I know what I need to do to make me feel good and I’m sure you do to so go with your gut.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m writing it because people have said they find them helpful or comforting so if you did feel that way, or want to talk about anything I’ve mentioned, please do send me a message on social media. I’m always around for a chat!