I’m coming to the end of my first year at university and I have an essay to write, which I’m not used to at the moment; I study at UAL and my course is Set Design for Screen, so most of what I do is practical. Yesterday on the bus home I was thinking of ways to get my writing flow back and I decided that I’d write this piece, it’s a candid view on the challenges I have faced in my first year as a university student. It’s tough being unfathomably ambitious with a brain that’s sabotaging your every move.
I’d like to start by saying that my university campus is a magical place, I couldn’t be anywhere better or more accomplished considering the field of work I want to enter into, I’ve had lectures and talks with infinitely interesting people and I’ve had access to the best facilities imaginable. So this piece is in no way a critique of them, it is more an analysis of myself. However, my brain doesn’t take my privileges into account when I am struggling- not my loving family or my supportive friends, not my perfect suburban childhood house, nor the opportunities I’ve had handed to me all of my life…
I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression after the death of a very close friend, I started a stint of bereavement therapy with a friend of my mum’s and my GP started me on citalopram. I was almost 17 and studying at sixth form: Claudia had always struggled with her mental health, going through CAMHS and I remember picking her up from Springfields once, that’s a very hard backstory to go into, she had a very traumatic past but she remained the largest, loudest personality I knew or rather will EVER know. It was a road accident and we remember every anniversary of the incident and her birthdays by visiting where it happened to lay flowers and decorations, we also designed a memorial bench and I’m still in regular contact with her mother who is a lovely woman and we get along very well. I found out that she was in hospital through a friend and I got the call, from my mum, to tell me that it’d been posted online that she had passed. I remember I was sitting with a bag ready to get the train over to the hospital to see her, as soon as I heard my mum’s voice break I remember I sobbed and didn’t stop for hours. She had been on life support for two days and her family had to make the gut-wrenching decision to turn it off. The memory of this is so strong that writing this feels like I’ve been winded, I remember the howling, the screaming and my friends destroying themselves and eachother. We would go to parties and try to carry on as normal however it always ended in tears and vomiting and falling, we all just generally stumbled through life like little zombies for a long time. A girl that used to bully her tried to jump on our tragic bandwagon and watching her sit front row at the funeral effectively ruined my friendship with those girls- they defended her actions and I couldn’t stand it, I loved and hated them all and I pushed and pulled them away until I was shunned from the group and I stopped spending time with them all together, there were other things involved but mainly being around this girl made my blood boil and to this day her face makes me angry.
To put this into further perspective, the day of Claudia’s funeral was also a drama performance I’d been practicing for months *I don’t even remember much about this because I felt so distant and confused with my own life that I have blanks in my memory. I DO remember that it added to the stress of the day. Between looking into the open casket and seeing her, in a coat that I watched her brazenly steal on a day out, with her purpley-pink hair and the teddy that her dad made her in prison… laying there lifeless and performing my sad princess role with real tears rolling rather than my previous crying on cue technique, I went to bed that night feeling sadder than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I’m too soft for drama anyway, I did a group performance for a drama festival that got terrible feedback, I auditioned for representation by the agency that was linked with my outside of school group and was rejected and I was turned straight away from an open audition. I know that’s how acting tends to work- rejection after rejection but I do not have thick skin, I am a marshmallow, I have paper skin and glass bones, every rejection came with days of self loathing and tears and I decided that I needed to stop for my own good.
Drama was something that I always pushed myself to do as much as it scared me, I started going to classes with Claudia because I thought it would help me to overcome my shyness but I have since given it up as I mentioned. I remember one graded monologue, standing infront of my two teachers and an outside examiner, in my maid outfit trying to recall the monologue from ‘the maids’ that I had spent hours learning and just staring blankly into the stage lights feeling like I had left my body. I ran out and cried hysterically in the cold school bathroom, my meticulously planned black and white makeup melting down my face. I still had to go to school during this period as it happened in early April and I was trying to pass my AS Levels, I remember I had a head of faculty tell me that I needed to stop using the bereavement as an excuse and that’s when I lost respect for school and let my depression drown me until the summer came around and I could be sad without any guilt over it. I ended with the grades DDU and I didn’t know what I was doing with my life nor did I care.
That Summer I met my first serious boyfriend, it was the epitome of a first love, I met him at a party and we clicked instantly, it was so exciting and I truly did love him. I was a lot happier for a while. He became safe and supportive, I leaned on him heavily. He was a good boy and we were together for two years before I ended it. (More about that in a sec)
The extenuating circumstances meant that I could carry on to my second year of sixth form and through winging it I managed to scramble some grades back, despite my English teacher telling me ‘You’re delusional if you think you’re ever going to pass this course’ but I got a C. However I still didn’t have enough in terms of UCAS points to go to university, I did push my luck though and give it a try- applying to a few places for film courses. I did get into London Met but it really didn’t feel like the environment for me. I had found Wimbledon College of Arts and became obsessed with the idea of going there, when I was rejected for the course, rightly so, I spent the summer putting together a big portfolio of illustrations that got me into an Art & Design BTEC at Kingston College, there I met a great group of friends who struggle just like me and although my anxiety and depression sometimes kept me from my studies, I made it out with all merits and overall I had a fantastic year at that college and that pathway got me into Wimbledon.
So my first boyfriend was a sweetheart and neither of us were bad people but we became very unhealthy very quickly. Everybody used to see the cute side to us on social media, the selfies and adorable long captions detailing our love for eachother but what they didn’t see was the torment. Our arguments were preposterous, a change in the tone of his voice would send me into panic attacks, I would cry and scream. Once it was so bad, I was screaming so loudly and I couldn’t stop, someone must have called the police because they turned up to the park, I left as discreetly as I could. We were arguing on the phone once and I had a panic attack, my dad didn’t know what to do with me so he took me to our local A&E where I saw a psychiatrist who suggested that I may have BPD from what I told him. Another time when we were arguing on the phone he had some sort of heart problem and an ambulance had to be called. We were just a nightmare but I was so invested and attached that I wouldn’t see anybody else and we would spend every day together, I became so comfortable with him that going anywhere without him was a real struggle and we lived in eachother’s pockets. The longer we stayed together the more I wanted to lash out and I didn’t want to drag him down this path I could feel myself about to take, and that’s why I left. I broke up with him shortly after our first holiday and I planned to start university as a new person- independent and stronger, I was only 19 and I didn’t want to settle. I underestimated the upheaval it would cause, it sent my life into cataclysm.
I very quickly gave up on the idea of being alone, I couldn’t handle it, I entered into a string of short lived, unstable relationships. I was being treated terribly and I thought I deserved it, this lasted for several months- I was being used and abused over and over again. All the while I was spending my life at rock bars, clubs and ‘after-parties’ which were effectively just me hanging out with people a hell of a lot older than me in random flats and getting into some pretty dangerous situations that I don’t feel comfortable talking about because they live in my head and writing them down or speaking of them aloud makes them feel too real. I didn’t care at the time. The person that I thought I was was diminishing and I felt numb a lot of the time, I didn’t really recognise myself and my sense of identity slipped out of my little hands like a wet fish. The only time I would ever get into these feelings was with strangers who didn’t really care in smoking areas at 3am.
My long Summer break came to an end in early October. I started university with hope, so much hope. However because I was still struggling with my identity and a lot of the time I felt like I didn’t even exist, I had trouble getting into the swing of things and even now I still don’t feel settled in. I was watching everybody make friendships and flourish and I felt like I was on another planet. Rather than try to include myself more I became more and more distant, going out excessively to try and distract myself became more of an issue, I was drinking every day and acting recklessly.
I missed a lot of important time at university and the times I did go in, I wasn’t performing to my best standard, I was struggling and on a few occasions I went in on 0 hours of sleep. I would stay with my best friend who I later tried living with, sitting around getting obliterated to sad music and becoming more and more dissapointed with myself as I watched the sun rise. When I slept I would be disrupted by scary dreams that would leave me jolting and talking unconsciously and I still have weird lucid nightmares which can often feel like I’m strapped into a car that’s skidding out of control on an oil slicked road and although I’m hyper-aware of what’s going on, I can’t get out.
When I take a stab at an average day, my anxiety works like this:
- I wake up and immediately feel sick
- As soon as I walk through the college gates I keep my head down and my eyes blur the paving stones into eachother like an optical illusion, I feel as if I am floating above them
- Whilst discussing projects if I try to throw an idea out there, I feel like everyone thinks I’m an idiot and I need to stop talking. I feel them looking at me as if they would do anything to get me to leave them alone.
- If I don’t talk to other people then I also worry, I worry that they think I’m disinterested or lazy
- I would feel like my body is disconnected or an arm goes numb or get really dizzy. I found out from a friend that posted about it online that this is called ‘depersonalisation’ and it happens to me often.
- A lot of the time I used to give up and go home
Is where you do not feel real and your mind feels disconnected from your body. Your body and especially your limbs do not feel like a part of you, they often seem different and out of place.
You feel withdrawn, numb and often as if it is not you performing the actions you are doing. Many liken it to watching their life through a film in which they are not the participant.
Speaking of home, when I was at my worst, dissapearing for days on end, I was hurting my parents and I tried to take the problem away from them by moving in with my best friend. However it wasn’t a healthy environment as all of my self-destructive behaviours were being enabled and every time my parents saw me they seemed more worried and told me I was looking more and more ill each time, and looking back at pictures now I can see it; I was bloated, grubby, exhausted and not looking after myself. The thing that convinced me to go back home was a long talk with a good friend after breaking down in china town (good band name if anybody wants it). We had been out all weekend then sat at an after-party and let conversation loop around us until we finally needed to get some air so we went to the barbican and sat by the fountains, recuperating and we walked around London all day getting into deep life talks. I expressed to her how physically, mentally and spiritually EXHAUSTED I was feeling and how badly I wanted to go back and sleep in my own room, we went over how I was feeling and decided I definitely needed a more stable home. I’d been living away for a month and my mum accepted me back home. She didn’t know how tired I was because I downplayed everything in an effort not to worry her but in reality I was living in a room cluttered with the remnants of our anarchic lifestyle, the door was revolving with friends who came over to have fun and left mess in their wake as they went back home. I naturally tried to make everything homely and I wanted us to start fresh but neither of us could keep our head above water and it wasn’t sane for me to try and keep living that way.
It was the Easter break when I moved back home and I took that month to stay indoors and try to get to know myself again, in that entire time I don’t think I achieved anything other than rewatching Twin Peaks and staying hydrated but I was proud of it because I really reigned in my damaging behaviours. There have been several incidents since though, for example I recently have been working hard on a presentation about 1930s interiors and I had it perfect, the day before I was due to present I met up with a couple of friends, acted so irresponsibly that I took a bath drunk, then woke up from a blackout at 6pm having missed my entire presentation day. I also completely missed my appointment with local NHS service Sutton Uplift which I have done before but I’ve got around to making a new appointment, they are my only chance to start CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which is the main treatment for BPD. I want to be officially diagnosed with BPD as I’ve felt that I’ve had it for a very long time and I fit the criteria, not only that but I’ve always felt that there has to be more to this than Anxiety & Depression, the way I feel is more layered than that. This all happened two weeks ago now and it scared me so much that I’ve been toeing the line, not going out at all in fear that my impulsive urges will sabotage me once again.
My last visit to the doctors was on Sunday. This doctor printed me a medical record for the time being but the information on it was excruciatingly personal and I didn’t want to have it on me, let alone hand it to my tutor so I will be waiting for an actual letter written to explain my circumstances/ He also wrote me a prescription for Mirtazapine, I believe it’s also been called Remron,
Mirtazapine is a tetracyclic antidepressant. Exactly how mirtazapine improves depression symptoms is not known. It is thought to increase the activity of certain chemicals in the brain (eg, norepinephrine, serotonin) that help improve mood.
I’m weighing up the pros and cons currently because…
Common mirtazapine side effects include:
- drowsiness, dizziness;
- strange dreams;
- vision changes;
- dry mouth;
- increased appetite; or
- weight gain
I already have real problems with my dreams and I’m really working on creating a healthy sleep routine. Also I’m tracking my eating and I’m making sure all of my foods are nourishing and healthy, the last thing I want to do is gain weight and feel down on myself again.
I’ve been off of medication for about a month now having tried citalopram, fluoxitine and sertraline. None of them have had much of an impact. The way I’ve been tackling everything at the moment is mindfulness and grounding techniques because that’s really all I can do.
Honestly this first year of university has been harder than I could ever imagined and I know I am not the only person who has ever struggled like this, I want so badly for my peers to have an understanding of why I act so strangely at times or float at the edge of the group, I also want this piece of writing to act as solidarity for other people who feel that their mental health is misunderstood.
I will be starting my second year of university with the support of a therapist, a new set of coping mechanisms (will make a post about this soon) and a well being diary in which I’ll be tracking positive steps that I’m taking every day. I have been completely sober for nearly 3 weeks. I plan to graduate uni, achieving the best grades I have in me and then progress into a career in freelance film work. I know I can do it.
Thanks for reading my first blog post! Here’s what I’ll be writing about over here:
- FILM AND TELEVISION- reviews and fan theories
- SET DESIGN- bits that I’m working on
- GENERAL CREATIVE PROJECTS AND RAMBLING