I’ve done my best to keep my blogs light and breezy in the past ten weeks since I arrived in Texas. After all, I am having an amazing time here. I’ve done things I never thought I’d be able to do, grown up and become stronger than I ever thought possible and I’ve met some amazing people who I already know I’m going to be devastated to leave. So why, when I could be writing about my trip to New York, the amazing gigs I’ve been to this past two weeks, fun Halloween celebrations or my plans for winter vacation, did I decide to write about mental health?
I decided to write about it for several reasons; because I want to be honest and share the ups and downs of my year abroad, and more importantly it’s important to talk openly about mental health to help end the stigma surrounding these conditions so that more people don’t have to suffer in silence and feel compelled to share their experiences and their stories and seek help if they need it. I know this blog post isn’t going to exactly revolutionize the way mental health is treated, but if even one person reads it and connects with it I’ll be content.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been an anxious person. I’m prone to worrying about and overthinking even the tiniest of things, things that objectively I know are irrational fears but that are very real and that I can’t stop. For example, when I was in middle school I went home for lunch one day and when I returned to school I couldn’t remember shutting the front door so I asked a teacher if they could drive by my house and check for me. At work I once accidently dropped a bottle of wine behind the checkouts, some of it got under the electrics before I could mop it up and I spent the whole night awake in terror at the prospect the store could catch fire. In hindsight I’m able to look back on this things and see that they were things I needn’t have been worried about, but at the time the panic is real and all-consuming. I first realized my anxiety was something more serious than just being “a worrier” when I had my first panic attack after I started university.
So that’s something that has been with me for a long time and I realize I should have done something about sooner – nobody would wait years to get a physical problem examined by a doctor and part of my reluctance to seek help speaks to the way society, in general, prioritizes physical over mental health when in reality mental health /is/ a physical health problem. Many conditions classified as mental health issues are directly caused by, or result in, physical symptoms. So now I see some of you wondering why I’m deciding to talk about this now – because since I’ve been in America my mental health has deteriorated significantly.
Apart from the anxiety which had become part of my life that I’d just accepted, I’ve entered a period of depression. Even my parents have noticed that I’m not myself when I skype them, and that’s because I’m not myself at the moment. I’m perpetually tired, prone to crying at things that wouldn’t usually bother me and sad when I have no real reason to be. However a month ago I decided to stop beating myself up over having a “reason” to be sad (after all, to paraphrase Stephen Fry, what reason has an asthmatic to be an asthmatic?) and seek some help. It was getting to the point where some days I didn’t want to get out of bed, and would come back from classes and not leave my bed again for the rest of the day, and I knew I couldn’t continue like that. The University of Texas at Arlington has as Counselling and Physiological Services (CAPs) and, fully expecting the month long wait time, I booked an appointment that was last Monday.
However when I went to the appointment it turned out it had been canceled. The receptionist said they’d left me a voicemail, but I had no voicemail and no missed call so I didn’t know the doctor I was meant to see was out of the office. I’d prepared myself for the appointment and become reliant on the prospect of finally getting some help for problems that had, in some cases, been with me for years so I was crushed when it turned out I’d have to wait until December to see someone. They have an on-call psychologist, but I’d rather get someone who will see me for all my appointments rather than have to explain myself all over again in December. However, after explaining to them my situation I was actually able to get scheduled with a different doctor I was actually given an appointment tomorrow morning, and although it’s during a class time I decided for once to prioritize my mental health over my education. I’m so happy that I’ll finally get help and I’ll keep you updated with my progress and how therapy is helping.
I guess the point of this long and rambling post is to encourage anyone suffering from any kind of mental health condition to seek help and do it early. Your feelings are real and important, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s “all in your head” because, after all, where else would a mental health condition be? You don’t need a reason to be sad or afraid or anything else. Ask people who helpfully tell you to “Stop worrying” or “Just cheer up” et cetera if they’d tell someone with asthma to “Just stop having asthma”. You’re certainly not alone either, one of the things that shocked me when sharing this blog post as a draft with friends and family is just how many people experience mental health problems silently and how willing people are to help you when you reach out.
If you need support and help there are people out there – if you’re a University of Leicester Student the mental wellbeing service is there for you. It even has resources to help you while you wait for your appointment.
If you’re not at Leicester, your university or college or local health authority will have some kind of therapy that you can access. In the meantime, MoodGym is a great online resource recommended to me by a friend.
While I’d welcome and encourage a discussion about mental health, particularly whilst at University or studying abroad, in the comments I’d like to remind people that I’m not in any way trained as a counselor and the links below are much better places to find help.
MIND – UK based charity that offers support and guidance, including emergency help.
Samaritans – Crisis support.
Master post of numbers and hotlines – A master post of a wide variety of support helplines for people of various backgrounds suffering from various issues including a wide range of international hotlines for issues including abuse, suicide, LGTBQIA+ support and mental health. It’s on tumblr so I’m not responsible for other content of the page!