Friday, 21 February 2014

University life

I concluded a few days ago that I have officially four assignments and two exams left until I finish the first year of my BA Honours English Literature degree, my last assignment deadline being the 2nd of April and my exams finishing by the 16th of May (terrifying, right?)

I realise that I haven't spoken much about my degree on my blog, and I suppose that's mainly because I don't want to jinx it. This is my third attempt at a degree and once more, there was every possibility that it could backfire.

Considering the tribulations of first year, I should applaud myself somewhat. I've achieved all solid 2:1's throughout my assignments, with one first (which as you can imagine, I was so excited about!), I speak when I can in seminars and try my hardest to contribute to classes and I make utmost effort to contact with my lecturers and tutors as possible to get the most out of my degree.

I remember getting to the end of first term and proudly exclaiming to my tutor that I'd done it - this was the furthest I'd ever come in my academic career and I never could ever have predicted I would have gotten that far. I've mentioned this before but it was my private therapist, Heather that encouraged me to start looking at universities, and as with most aspects of my life it was impulse that prompted me to apply again and two days later I received my first offer from the University of Greenwich, and here I am, very close to finishing first year.

I'll never be sure if I made the right decision by returning to education. I stand by my notion that university isn't for everyone, and that university shouldn't be forced onto people - my Sixth Form spent three years drumming this idea into its students and I don't think that students who didn't feel like university was an option (like my boyfriend, for example), had enough support as to where to direct themselves after leaving school. My parents were concerned that I'd spent so many years of my life succumbing to intense stress and anxiety over school, exams, and education that another three years of even more intense pressure would send me straight over the edge.

University is so different to A-levels, and I'm saying this even as somebody who doesn't live in halls (which I have tried before, I must add). It's going from being watched over and analysed 24/7 to being left to be a free independent spirit, which is difficult when you have a mental health problem. There's no-one to watch over you, to check that things are okay. I've confided in two incredibly supportive lecturers since beginning this University journey regarding my mental health, and it has made heaps of difference knowing that there are two people that understand that I won't be perfect all the time and that I will struggle. It's far more difficult to have the courage to approach those at University then when at school, my illness was fairly known amongst teachers at school whereas now it is in my power to make people aware that I have reasons why I act the way that I do. It's difficult to have no-one watch over your attendance as it just seems so easy to turn back to the comfort of your bed and the four walls of your home when you're struggling with anxiety or negative thoughts, knowing that nobody would really care about you if you wasn't there. But I so far have only missed a couple of classes due to the depression and try my hardest to attend most classes (which also stems from the perfectionist aspect of my personality where I don't want my lecturers to think I'm a failure!).

University, without meaning to, adds hugely to my negative thoughts of being a failure. I often feel compared so much more to others regarding grades and it feels that I am looked down on by lecturers because I'm young and because I don't know things or never will have the academic success that they will. It makes me wonder why I'm there and why I don't just give up. How could I possibly complete a degree when I'm nowhere near fixed yet? But surely I've come too far now to just give up again, right?

I am struggling with the degree but I can only hope it will get easier. Despite the fact that I should be proud of my academic success this year, the only grade I've been proud of was my first. I'm so behind on my reading because I struggle to concentrate for long periods at a time due to heightened anxiety (this is when reading on public transport or in bed) and everything I do, never feels good enough. I feel like I need to work harder. Be stronger. Be better. Please the lecturers who are secretly doubting me. Not show them how ill I am.

Another thing weighing on my mind is life after University. If I ever reach the end of University, then what happens? I used to think I knew what I wanted to do, and now I don't think I do anymore, I think my illness has prevented that career path entirely, I think I'm not good enough for it. I'm tired of people asking me where my degree will take me and having no answers to their questions. It seems like everyone around me has what they want efficiently planned out and for once, I have nothing planned because it seems impossible that life will ever run smoothly for me. It's an ever increasing anxiety and one which runs through my mind every day.

I guess one thing I must remember is that I'm not the only person who feels this way, and I won't be the only person to ever feel this way again. I'm grateful that I've been given a third chance to make things right. I'm grateful that I get to study in one of the most beautiful and admirable buildings in the country, the Royal Naval College. I'm grateful to be able to study wonderful novels taught by great lecturers. Life isn't great right now but there are always things to smile about.

I don't have the energy to fight right now but I have to hold hope that I can and I will one day and that in two years time I'll be saying that I'm a few months away from finishing my degree and finding what I want out of life again.

I am always happy to take questions about university, mental illness and university and about the experience in general, so if you have any questions, do tweet me @a_louisem, or email my blog address at


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Looking back - my childhood & school reports

In this post I'm going to replicate a post I wrote over three years ago now where I considered the personality traits I exhibited as a child, discovered by trundling through school reports from nursery/reception age. As that post is private now I'd like to address the topic again.
I found these school reports over three years ago and found that the comments I received regarding my appraisal as a young child did not differ much from the lack of progression of confidence and the insecurity I've carried with me into my adult life. I took some specific quotations from teachers I had at that age that I feel relate to my current situation. For example:

Nursery – In this instance I would have been between the ages of 4 and 5 years old.
  •  “Amy-Louise found it very difficult to express herself at first. She would hover and wait to be asked. Her confidence has developed but Amy-Louise can be withdrawn if asked something”
  • “She is still sometimes reluctant to speak up and express herself as clearly as she is obviously able to do”
Reception – Here, I would have been between the ages of 5 and 6 years old.
  • “Although a little shy to blow her own trumpet as it were infront of the class, she is nevertheless been proud of her reading ability”
  • “She is more comfortable dealing with subjects which have one correct answer, rather then more ambiguous ideas, and therefore quickly memorised the facts portrayed in this years topics”
  • “Indeed she works better on independent rather then collaborative tasks”
  • “Amy-Louise is often very insecure. She can be extremely confident in areas she knows she excels in, but if she feels she is being put on the spot, or if she thinks she may get an answer wrong, she may clam up, and refuse to do something, needing gentle coaxing and reassurance to get her back on task. She is very much a facts girl, and prefers to share these rather then opinions. Although she is sociable when she needs to be, she tends to work alone, and even in the playground seems content in her own company. She is friendly with many children but does not seem to have a particular favourite friend”
  • “She responds to instructions looking for praise for her efforts, which is more important to her then quality”
  • “Is worried about failure”
Here it has become extremely apparent that my insecurities, intense fears of failure, lack of confidence and inability to retain friendships that I carry as a 21 year old have been apparent in my nature way before that, way before I could even remember what it was like to be insecure or have low self-esteem. I remember next to nothing of my childhood, I push it to the very back of my mind and view it, retrospectively as a negative period of my life, and when I read extracts of school reports such as these I feel that my points are being continuously reinstated. How it is possible that I exhibited these traits at the age of four years old, and why?

Although reluctant to place blame on anything other than myself regarding my depression, if previous counsellors and therapists have forced me to 'blame' anything it would be the bullying I received as a youngster, or the circumstances regarding not growing up with my biological father. But, as far as I can recall, serious bullying for me began in the later stages of primary school, perhaps the age of years one and two, not possibly before that. Likewise, the issue regarding my father has to me, in my adult life, never been much of an issue (even if I have serious issues with my step-father now) So what, if anything, could ever be the root cause of my illnesses?

I don't think I'll ever know, truthfully. Yet I'll always wonder. It's something that I could be always continuously reaching to discover, yet it would be no use. There never is a way of turning back the clock. Which in a weird sort of way, I'm slightly grateful for. But alternatively, I'd love to rewind back to a time where I could see myself as a four year old and tell her not to hate herself, not to be insecure, and to warn her against all the dangers of the world. Now, as a 21 year old, I'm tormented with anxiety every single day and realistically, it seems, not much has changed from the life I led seventeen years ago. It saddens me and it dampens my hopes of recovery for the foreseeable future. Which I'm aware, sounds incredibly heightened with pessimism, but embedded thoughts can be so difficult to alter. Seventeen years, possibly longer of negativity will most definitely not begin to change any time soon, and I do not currently possess the strength to make that change.

I'd like to thank all of you for your support throughout my blogging journey - you motivate me to continue blogging honestly and openly through this continuous fight.   

Sunday, 2 February 2014

High-functioning depression

Some would describe me as what is known as a 'high functioning depressive'.  I am quite inclined to agree with them on this, although being this way has its perks and certainly its downsides.

I never used to be this way. Way back when, in 2010 when my depression worsened to a severe state, I went through a stage where leaving the house wasn't an option. I'd abandoned my friends and the furthest I would go would be to my boyfriends house (who at the time, lived two roads away from me). I must have achieved a maximum of 40-50% attendance in the whole year at the Sixth Form, and especially during the time I had to take out of that establishment in order to try and 'recover', I barely left the house, succumbing to the same four walls, turning to literature, my boyfriend, and treatment as my main sources of support.

In 2012, I succeeded in getting a job in retail. I'd had previous retail experience, in a local shop near to where I live, and after that in Oxford Street, around the same time when my depression hit its worst state. I didn't last in the job very long and quit very shortly after my overdose. I called in sick on Saturdays with 'migraines' which were actually a result of hiding under the covers for three days straight.

I realised when I started working for this company that my overall state had improved, and was no-where near better, but I had begun to function as a normal person again. I'd completed my A-levels by this point, quite literally three days after my final A-level exam I got this job - and I soon realised that being depressed at work wasn't an option. I have called in sick once (for mental health purposes, anyway) for this job, after a day of non-stop crying and actually feeling unable to leave the house, but relatively, I've done well at hiding my illness, putting on a brave face for my colleagues as well as the customers I serve, and staying strong. The day after I took an overdose back in July last year - instead of staying at home as I was in so much pain and being sick, I attempted a four hour shift at work, just to prove to people I could be ill and still function.

I've adapted this to other areas of my life and more recently I've realised how much I hide from the world. I would argue that I'm still very much in the grips of depression, yet three times a week I travel to University, once a week I work a shift at my retail job and I plaster on my smiley happy face. The one people want to see. It's a brave face and it's becoming easier and easier to put on because it is easier than admitting the truth to people. A lot of people are very aware that I supposedly suffer from depression, but can't quite see how sometimes when I'm so jolly and 'optimistic' all the time, there for other people. And no matter how hard I try, I can't shake this off. It's gotten to the stage where I can't cry in front of people, not even my therapist, or any University lecturer, when I am open and honest about my illness I say it like I'm joking about it and laughing things off, with, would you believe it, a smile on my face. Because that's the only way I can deal with suffering from this for such a long time anymore.

The truth is, alone, I turn into a completely different person. I bottle all of this emotion and sadness, I absorb all the negative comments, the bad essay marks, the self-neglect, the worthlessness all day and as soon as that door hits slam and I'm back on my own it's like darkness has invaded my brain. I'm invited to events which I can't attend because I want to be on my own, anything other than University and work is a chore. I can't make myself relax and do simple things to calm myself down, easily frustrated, my mind sends itself into overdrive and I start thinking awful things. That's where the self-destructiveness comes in and takes over, whether it be in the form of actively self-destructing or mentally. The cycle repeats itself, day in and day out. My head feels so heavy and weighed down, my heart beating a thousand times a minute, unable to reinstate calmness. Sitting down to write essays feels like an utmost burden, I sometimes just sit and stare at screens praying they'll write themselves and I won't have to submit something that I'll no doubt receive an awful grade for anyway. My confidence is nowhere to be found and I can't WRITE IT DOWN (like everyone keeps telling me to do) because I have no energy, no creativity, no willpower, no mental force any more. Any words that I read in novels or films/tv programmes that I watch don't resonate with me anymore. I forget everything. The tears. They'll start and sometimes won't stop. It might just be a trigger word from the day that replays itself in my mind. A picture I've seen on someone's Facebook page, or just sometimes not even anything. Just general sadness.

I've come to terms with the fact that I'll always be a depressive. But as one of my wonderful University lecturers said to me last Tuesday, 'you may always be the depressive, but you don't have to always be depressed'. That has stuck with me all week and I've been overplaying it again and again. The truth is, I don't know where to start, where to start on the road to ,not always being depressed'. I thought I was in recovery but the truth is, I'm not doing anything actively to help myself and I'm still having the same thoughts as I did three years ago, I'm just processing them slightly better and just getting on with things, but only because I have to, and not because they fulfil me with excitement or extreme happiness. The people pleasing and perfectionism also play a huge role in this, letting people down/failure is my worst fear and being depressed and showing people I'm depressed is, for me, letting the side down.

A few weeks ago, I typed a list of what was on my mind at that particular time. I never published it on here as I was too ashamed, but the list took up a whole page worth, and since then there's been more to add to the list, I've suffered a bereavement since then and I've lost a few friends too. I've reached the conclusion that I've always been like this. I've had my good days, great times, and fantastic memories over the years no doubt, but it's always there, whether in the forefront of my mind or at the back, and currently it's sticking out like a sore thumb, screaming at me and tearing me down. Getting rid of negative feelings that have been forced into you since you were at least 5-6 years old is just too difficult to rid altogether. I'm too terrified of spending the rest of my life as just a high functioning depressive, with no career prospects and nothing to show for myself, because I'm just a depressive and nothing more. At the same time, I've no idea where to start in trying to work towards a better future. I'm stuck in a cycle, a limbo of forced happiness and repetitive sadness, and I really want out.