Despite the fact that we talk more and more about mental health as a society these days, it’s nearly always in general terms. It’s rarely ‘I have dealt with x’, or ‘I need help with y’.
As someone who’s dealt with mental health issues for far too many years, I was pretty used to keeping quiet about it. I’d only ever talked to a few close friends about the stuff I was feeling, and it was usually only ever after the fact. I had avoided counselling for years, out of fear and discomfort talking about these things, and also because I felt like I was never ‘sick enough’ to need professional help. I had always managed to get myself out of bad times, and so, clearly, it was no big deal and I didn’t need to talk to anyone about it.
My last semester of my BA was awful. I put my GPA well ahead of my mental health, because college was something I just had to be good at. I had to get good grades, and I had to graduate with a first to feel worthwhile. For the longest time, doing well in college was all I felt like I had going for me, and so maintaining my GPA was the most important thing in my mind. So I ignored everything else, it all got swept under the carpet, because I couldn’t look after myself and get good grades.
So after my exams and after the end of an unhealthy and pretty abusive relationship, I broke down. I pretty much didn’t get out of bed for two months. I would wake up in the morning and part of me was disappointed that I hadn’t died in my sleep. I was in a really shitty place, for a number of reasons. And it took me the best part of three months to get back to anything resembling productive. But I did get there. I had contemplated looking into going to counselling at UCD when I got back to college once I got accepted into the MA program. But when things got a bit better, I just left it. Counselling, in hindsight, would have been helpful in a preventative sense, but hindsight is always 20:20 vision.
Semester One of my MA started off pretty well, but soon enough I was back in bad habits. Controlling what I eat has been a coping mechanism for me when I don’t feel in control of anything else. I started to get more anxious about everything. But as usual, neither was bad enough to be a thing that I needed help for, or really needed to talk about. And then, in the beginning of December, I experienced an assault and attempted sexual assault. In order to deal with my fear and anxiety about this, I recoiled into myself a bit and sort of hid from the world. I then went through a really shitty break up/end of dating/whatever you want to call it, in which the 25 year old I was dating acted like a 12 year old and let me know he didn’t want to date me anymore by completely ignoring any attempt at communication I made. This started the day after I was attacked – some people have impeccable timing. This, on top of the general anxiety I was dealing with, as well as body image issues and anxiety around eating, meant that I became even more hermit-like to try to deal with things. Then, a friend passed away, and there was a lot of stress and anger in my home life, and I became even more concerned about the academic side of my life.
Eventually, it got to the point where I had no motivation, and I realised I spent the last three weeks doing basically nothing. I realised that I hadn’t talked to most of my friends in weeks. I was so miserable and not myself that I had no motivation, and any motivation I did manage to rustle up was destroyed by my anxiety about everything. And I realised that I couldn’t do this again. I didn’t have three months to be a recluse to try and make myself better. I needed help, which is something I’d never actively sought after before. So, I asked around about counselling in UCD, because I’d heard mixed reports, and a friend recommended someone she’d been seeing who was affordable
In the process of asking about counselling services, I realised that a lot of people I knew had had mental health issues. And honestly, knowing that other people I knew were in my position made me feel less apprehensive about going for counselling. And I think that while talking about mental health in general terms does wonders, talking about your own experiences (when you can) does even more.
I made a really difficult decision to put my mental health ahead of my GPA, ahead of everything really, to decide to get counselling, to write this piece. I’m not OK. But I know that I deserve to be, and I know that I can’t do it on my own. Asking for help is hard, and makes you feel vulnerable, but it isn’t a sign of weakness.