A journey of depression

Hello, my name is Callum. I'm 19 years old and I experienced my first mental health issue about 18 months ago. I remember it like a light switch in my head. In my younger years, I was confident and regularly participated in social events with friends, got up on stage and was vocal in school classes. Looking back on this part of my life now, it scares me to see how much I've changed. Before I was carefree and now I struggle to talk to new people.
It began in October 2013. I was 17 and was attending a big party, which the whole year of my sixth form was invited to and this might sound cliché but my first instance of depression was triggered by unrequited love; my interest in her was essentially laughed off. I returned home from this party, ended up vomiting and then after a terrible night's sleep I woke up, wishing that I hadn't. I suppose at first I was hoping this was just a phase but these feelings ensued for months. Sixth form was becoming a struggle every day and I'd escape into my own world, headphones plugged in, playing my music so loudly that I couldn't hear what people had to say. I think it was fairly noticeable that I wasn't doing well, but one thing I can say is that these few months really showed me who my friends are.

The Christmas holidays came around and I was still struggling. I often questioned my existence and it was the first time that I self-harmed, punching a wall until I bled. I already wanted to escape Sixth Form, however following a slight public humiliation after continuing to pursue this girl I liked, my depression got worse. Over the holidays alone I lost around tow stone from not eating and had barely said a word to anyone. During this period I was regularly asked by my parents if anything was up, to which I replied with "no everything's fine". My parents had a lot on their plate and I felt that they didn't need my problems. That might sound absurd, but I felt as if I didn't matter to anyone, family included.

In A-levels there was a lot of pressure on exams; an area in which "Old Callum" used to excel. That was certainly not the case come April 2014. With the continued depression and bottling up of emotions teamed with the stress of exams, I broke down. I had my first anxiety attack and it felt horrendous. I was about 10 minutes from school when I turned to my mum and told her I couldn't go in. She seemed a little confused, but I really couldn't go further. After taking me home I sat on the floor of my room and cried listening to music for a few hours. After a few days away from school with anxiety, my Dad dragged me in and I was referred to counselling. It was really useful for this particular time in my life; someone to talk to was what I needed and after a couple of months things were starting to look up. Although I still felt down, there was no more self harm and I was coping with my stress and anxiety levels better than before.

After exams and a summer of ups and downs of equal measure, I embarked on university life. It was a mix of emotions for me. I couldn't wait to leave home, a place I associated with depression but I was scared to meet new people and socialising, especially given that I'm not much of a drinker! I was wrong. Although I was practically silent for the meet and greet event in my accommodation block, I came away with 3 fantastic friends, who I will get the pleasure of living with next year.

Finally, things were getting better. I was enjoying my course, I met amazing people and I was in an exciting new city far away from home. The only problem I faced was that I was still feeling depressed. I couldn't understand why and this drove me to become really angry at myself. It had been a year since I started feeling this way and despite everything being right, I still felt wrong. Although I was grateful that I finally had a friend to talk to who had similar experiences and without whom I'm not sure I could have made it through university.
After another bad winter break and the largest mental breakdown I've suffered to date, I realised something needed to be sorted out. A talk with my friends led me to the GP, after which I got prescribed medication. Afterwards, I called my family and explained what had happened. I wish I had done it sooner as even my dad, who I did not always get on with, was compassionate and understanding. Needless to say my family relationship has improved since.

I'm just shy of a month into my course of medication and despite a few early hiccups things are starting to improve with a few days of clarity, something I haven't felt since the beginning of it all.

I hope my journey has helped you know that you're not alone and I think if I can take anything away from this, it would be to trust those close to you with your mental health issues. Chances are, they will be there for you and a problem shared is a problem halved. I know that it can be tough, but stick at it, it will get better.


Callum.

#1 University life: What choice will you make?

What choice will you make?

As many of my readers are in post 16, and are at an age of leaving school, I thought it would be useful to begin my uni-life series, which will take you through a step by step process of university.

There are many life changing decisions we have to make in life and university can be one of these. It's not just young students that are considering taking this path, but mature students too. There are many possibilities with higher education; it's not all about the stereotypical image and can be far from it.

For many higher education students and for some mature students, university will be the main thing that is on their mind. It is a life changing decision after all. Nevertheless, I think it's extremely important to make an informed decision as to whether it's something you want to do, without buckling under the pressures of schools and parents. Therefore, I've decided to create a mini series in which I work through university step by step, including the decision making, UCAS, what happens on arrivals and the academics. Although my school gave me books full of information, nothing really prepared me for the whirlwind I was going to go through, which is the beginning of my first year of university.

Schools are putting a lot of pressure on students to go to university, but please don't let that sway you. Schools are only doing this to look better in the league tables, but of course there are teachers that should guide you in the right direction. You have to remember that by the time you reach the ability to decide university, you are at an age where you are in full control of your life. Don't let schools or parents make you do something that you don't want to do with your life. Of course, university has many benefits, but it's not always for everyone. It's up to you to weigh up the pros and cons.

There are so many opportunities besides university too, and please don't feel like a failure if you don't go to university as I know that's what many pupils think. There are full time jobs, apprenticeships, diplomas, and so on. Although, I feel I have made the right choice for me, it may be completely different for you and don't feel ashamed. Take your time to decide and make a choice that suits you.

Best wishes,
Amy Xx

training your doubting thoughts

As an anxiety sufferer you'll know that your mind is crowded with doubting thoughts. The "what ifs". I'm sure like many others, I wish there was a off switch. Instead, there isn't exactly an off switch, but training.

Getting rid of the doubting thoughts is, I think, the most difficult part of anxiety as it's what stops you from doing the things you want to. But, with time it is possible to train your thoughts. It is extremely hard and it is like a battle against an equal force.

Through CBT, for example, you can begin to tackle this. You may even get to a point where you can block off your thoughts; section them. You can do this through distractions and practice. Of course, the one thing that will eat the evil thoughts is doing the action that it doesn't want you do to. But, don't feel angry at yourself if you can't tackle it. That's understandable; it's better to start off small and things like CBT can help you to do this.

It all takes time, so don't expect something to happen overnight. But, the more you work at it, the easier it's going to become. Don't get me wrong, I still have doubting thoughts, especially with health anxiety, but they're no where near as strong as they used to be. It has taken me a long to time to get where I am, but it's possible to get there with the help of therapy, medication and so on. Stick with it!

Best Wishes,
Amy Xx


The time will come

I've always been one for seizing the moment and making the most out of life. Don't get me wrong, anxiety hasn't made this easy as I couldn't take part in every opportunity I would've liked to. Nevertheless, I still try to.

Although people say that it is important to do this, I find that we aren't always ready to, for various reasons. Whether that be development or a mental health issue. This is completely normal and everyone at all stages of life, develop and change at different rates. I think we forget this sometimes, and that is why we can get frustrated if we don't achieve something that someone else is. There's also the haunting feeling that it will never get easier and no matter how hard we try, we will still get anxious and scared.

Since moving to university however, I've had a bit of a revelation. Although I see it as important to seize the day, I find that by going with the flow of whatever life throws at me, helps. For example, two years ago there is no way that I would've moved out, no matter how much I tried, but in time I have and I am having the time of my life. The one thing that really brought all of this to my attention was the fact of going on nights out. For years I've hated it, because it's made me really anxious and the environment just isn't my thing. But the other week or so, I suppose something clicked and it doesn't feel as bad anymore. I managed to go clubbing three nights last week! I feel this is because the time has come, that I finally feel comfortable with it. 

This isn't to say, that we should never get out of our comfort zones, but perhaps if you struggle with things routinely, then there may be a time when you won't anymore. I'm hoping that this happens with driving and employment.

I find it strange how a few weeks ago, I would've stayed in and now, I'm going out quite a bit. 

It all takes time.

Best wishes,
Amy Xx