I am writing this from a place of hypocrisy. Well not literally, I am actually writing this in a coffee shop near my house (shock) but the statement stands. I am currently having a week off before the next university semester starts again and, aside from the week I took off over Christmas this is the first week I have had properly off in a long time. Great, I here you say…but not so much.
The reason I am writing this piece at 9 o’clock on my second day of what is supposed to be down time is because I saw a video on my newsfeed. Produced by the charity, Mighty it portrayed a girl discussing what high functioning anxiety is and what the symptoms are. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I knew myself what high functioning anxiety was. It essentially manifests itself as persistent negative thoughts, ‘what ifs’, restlessness, having too many thoughts inside your head and even nail and lip biting and muscle tension.
Like all mental illness, anxiety is invisible and trivialised by society. As humans we don’t like things not being clear cut and mental health isn’t as simple as some of us are okay and some of us aren’t, it is a spectrum. The charity, Anxiety UK found that 1 in 10 young people experience a mental health disorder with an increase in prevalence of mental health problems at 16-19. Because you can’t see the problem it’s so easy to ignore and deny it. Initially, I thought I just had a massive fear of rejection and failure and that is why I would draft out emails to tutors and placements three times, or rereading and redrafting texts to friends so not to seem off or snappy or mean. When I woke up I would go and brush my teeth; 30 seconds each on the bottom left, then 30 seconds on the centre and 30 seconds on the right side and then repeat on the top. Even if it made me late it had to be done or my teeth would be horribly discoloured and fall out (I know how ridiculous this sounds). But when last summer swung round (I have written about this before), when there was nothing to do I was left to sit and actually listen to my thoughts, this all reared its head.
I think it’s so easy to look at other people and think ‘well I am not as bad as them so I can’t be that bad’. I wasn’t having panic attacks so surely I wasn’t really that anxious. Like so many other people I live my life by ‘to do’ lists and I won’t go to bed until everything is ticked off. What’s the point of a week off if you’re going to spend the whole time feeling guilty?
University is such a breeding ground for stress, anxiety and mental health issues. You spend 12 weeks so switched on and awake for too many hours in the day, so how are you then supposed to completely switch off? Especially when you feel like everyone else has got more placements than you have, or are volunteering with 5 different organisations and are still managing to go out and get drunk every night. As a society we have come so far in recognising mental health issues but we still have so far to go. I can tell you from personal experience, there are a lot of faddy solutions out there on the internet. I was so committed to the cause I gave up caffeine (it lasted 10 days and I turned into a bed bound, nasty witch). I know the amount of caffeine certainly doesn’t help and isn’t healthy but for the sake of my personal relationships it had to be reintroduced.
The most important thing is, if you feel like you are struggling or you’re out of your depth, tell somebody. It doesn’t have to be a professional, it can be your parents or a friend. It’s easier to nip it in the bud and recognise when your behaviour is starting to spiral than breaking down into tears at 1am in the library because you feel like you don’t deserve to go to bed yet.
Believe me, I know it is important to be the best you can be and do everything you want to do but this shouldn’t come at the expense of your health.