I’m going to let you in on a little known secret; most of the people around you, who appear perfectly cheerful, are probably not happy. Depression and sadness at university is surprisingly common and I find that pretty scary. We’re young, we’re away from home and we are frighteningly vulnerable out here in the ‘big, bad world’. I’m very passionate to write about this (a) because I am going through my own phase of depression and (b) it genuinely worries me that other people out there are feeling the same way but don’t know how to get help. Part of the problem is that sometimes, when we recognise something is wrong, we actually don’t want help. I have been quite cruel to people recently who want to help me because it feels like I’m just being heartlessly and robotically fixed and what I want is someone to listen to me. When they listen to me I then get upset with the poor ears I have been torturing for not helping me. I get stuck in a vortex of self-pity, unable to escape, only falling further and further into reclusion and feeling increasingly more sorry for myself.
I’m admitting this because I know that there are others like me out there and if you are anything like me you will be in denial or think you can fix yourself; it’s just time. The amount of times I have been told to give it more time! This is logically absurd for many reasons; depression itself doesn’t just go away on its own, neither do the things that cause depression. You could give a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter an infinite amount of time and he could very possibly write Shakespeare but his sadness at being kept in captivity would not go away. This is because problems need to be resolved because humans are problem-solving beings by nature. The first and most important step is reaching out and to the right people – for me, this was my Dad. I tried talking to my boyfriend at the time and I had the same issue of loathing talking to him because he tried to fix me (which may well be a widespread, male problem and we can forgive them for that – they have our best interests at heart.)
I really needed a listening ear so I did one of two things; I emailed my personal tutor and I made an appointment with my GP. People sometimes forget that personal tutors can offer pastoral care too – my tutor seems to be encouraging me to pick up a language with his suggestions of going to a French-speaking part of Canada for my year abroad or his idea of reading German philosophy in its original language. His advice seemed to be to remain social. He asked if I’d joined many societies, I had only a few so I joined more. I spent more time at my friends’ flat and have since been adopted as ‘honorary flatmate’. These are great short-term pick-me-ups because they feel great for the time you aren’t alone but I found that as soon as I went home and was alone in my room my thoughts went to dark places. At my lowest point I didn’t see any point in being at university, I was lost and felt directionless in my future and even struggled to see what I had worth living for.
This is where the doctor can provide a longer-term solution. At home in Kent I went to my GP and got referred to counselling which was really beneficial and so I paid a visit to my doctor at the Student Health Centre here at Exeter. He was unexpectedly friendly! When I think ‘doctor’ (apologies to all the med-students) I think quite cold and rushed people who are always busy but the human-touch made all the difference to me that day. He couldn’t help me much but pointed me to Wellbeing Services across from the health centre which was all I needed – a nudge in the right direction. Unfortunately, the list for counselling seems never ending but this is not to dishearten you. It shows just how valuable the service is and just how many people are in the same boat, so I would stick with it.
I would not consider myself depressed now and that’s why I feel like I can give this advice with confidence. There are many other things which also help with dealing with depression: firstly, don’t forget your old friends – my best friend from school lives in Bath now and I didn’t think I could talk to her because I wasn’t sure if we were still best friends which, of course, is daft. She will always be my closest friend – I mean, for a short time, I owned her soul (I literally won it in a bet). Just because someone isn’t there in person doesn’t mean they can’t ‘be there’ for you over the phone or skype. Secondly, as clichéd as it sounds, keep a diary. This is actual advice from the before mentioned best friend. You’re not some sad, pre-teen girl for writing down your feelings but instead a deeply emotional and engaged writer to yourself. I have twice written letters to myself because I find, in-between highs and lows, I completely forget what triggered my last cycle of happiness or sadness. I call it emotional-amnesia. Also, writing to yourself can feel very silly and I complain, in my writing, that I sound like my mum. I thus offend myself and have a good giggle. I would also advise calling your parents. My Dad has become a best friend to me through sharing my problems and he gives me fantastic advice having so much more life experience. He also complains about work which puts essays and exam deadlines into prospective. He advised that I take a book and read in a public space which, although it made me feel self-conscious, was liberating (especially as it was a rather raunchy book about a monk who is tempted by a woman masquerading as a monk in training – called The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis.)
I realise that I can list all these tips and you are unlikely to want to use them because when you are down motivation is the hardest thing. I quite often feel like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer, switching the alarm off at 7am but staying in bed, going to the corner shop in just a bathrobe to buy junk food and yelling bitterly at happy couples walking down the road. It is the numb feeling which it is the hardest; you feel absolutely apathetic towards everything. The emotion can be summed up pretty much as ‘meh’. It’s a grey/beige feeling of impartiality towards the whole world and it prevents us doing things but I really have no solution to this. I find those moods tend to come and go but a woman (who happened to have the same bag as me, although this is irrelevant) once told me to remember my values. I value altruistic human beings and the want to be a good person motivates me to be a good friend, a spectacular role-model to my baby sister but also (hopefully) an inspiring writer. What is the point in doing something if you can’t do it for some good?
I hope you have found something that helps you here (if so, Achievement Unlocked!) but here are some websites that I might point you to if not:
University of Exeter’s Wellbeing Services
The Student Room – Depression
University of Exeter’s Mood Disorders Centre
Exepose article – Your own worst enemy? Dealing with mental illness at university