Surviving University When You Have a Mental Health Condition
One of my teachers once said that I soak up knowledge like a sponge and in all fairness, she’s not far wrong! I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with education: I love learning but I’ve always hated the school environment. From the day I started school to the day I walked out of my final exam, I was bullied & it’s had a pretty big impact on the rest of my life.
I’ve already covered that little sob story in this post here so I won’t go all that jazz again. Suffice it to say it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had.
I was very lucky with the university I did my HND (Higher National Diploma) at, it was a super small place and I only had 7 people in my class. To be fair I’d have been surprised if there was more than 500 people enrolled throughout the entire university! Everyone in my class was lovely and I actually still miss them even a year on. We all had similar interests and everyone was really inclusive, I never felt left out or included only because they had to talk to me. We had some great laughs and created some of my best memories. I’m actually feeling nostalgic just writing about it.
For the first (and probably last) time ever, I actually couldn’t wait to go back after the Christmas and Easter holidays! Normally I’ve enjoyed getting back to doing work and learning but I’ve never wanted to go back to see the people in my class too.
Guess there’s a first time for everything!
When the course was over and it was time for us to go to different Uni’s to complete our top ups, I was actually sad. Me, the person who quite literally ran out of both primary and secondary school without a backwards glance, feeling sad at the thought of leaving.
I’d blame the medication but I wasn’t even on any at the time!
Those warm fuzzy feelings didn’t last though. I progressed onto the digital media course at Sheffield Hallam and it’s almost laughable how excited I was to get accepted at a “real” university. Yeah that happiness didn’t last. Within the first week I realised this was going to be like high school all over again; everyone had their own little groups, there were the stupid immature idiots that started with the snide comments almost the second I sat down and I spent the first week completely isolated and alone.
As you can imagine, depression kicked in. Badly. I must have considered quitting at least once a week for that first semester. I had to force myself to get up, get dressed and do my own makeup. My attendance dropped and my motivation to do coursework became none existent, almost unheard of for me! I normally get my projects finished with at least 3/4 weeks to spare…not this time: I finished one of my projects on deadline day!
Here are some of the things I’ve done to get me through this last year:
Get some help.
Luckily the support department set up a Learning Contract set up for me. This explains to my tutors what mental health conditions I have, how they might effect me and gives me access to extensions to deadlines. Not only that but because of it, I’m able to work from home when my anxiety or depression get too bad for me to make it in which was definitely a lifesaver in those first few months!
Take mental health days.
University is really intense and all that stress and pressure isn’t good for your mental health. This one applies even if you don’t have a mental illness: take a break! Take some time away from work and relax. I know it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re a worrier like my who’s brain doesn’t seem to have an off switch! Creating and using a Mental Health Survival Kit has been a lifesaver for me, it’s stopped me burning out and having a breakdown. Plus it’s an excuse to eat chocolate and play on the xbox!
Lists, lists, lists!
Lists are honestly my best friend, I rely on them so much! At the start of each project I create a general to do list, so I know what I need to include in the project to get the highest mark. Then once I’ve settled on what I’m doing in the project I’ll make another list of each task I have to do for it. I know this will be different for each person, with my course being design based I don’t have to do a lot of things people on say a journalism course would, but just adapt the idea so it fits you!
Admit when you’re struggling.
I hate admitting I’m not instantly perfect at something, it one of my biggest faults. I’ll just keep trying until I finally figure out how to do something. Or you know, YouTube it. But asking for help isn’t a bad thing! Whether it’s help with a project you’re struggling with or if you feel that things are getting too much, reach out to either your tutor or student support. Don’t struggle through on your own, there is support out there to help you when you need it.
I’m dreading next year, its going to be a miracle if I manage to get through it without killing someone or Chris leaving me. But once it’s over and I’ve got a First Class Degree (probably wishful thinking but a girl can dream) it will all just be a bad memory! People say university is the best time of your life where you make your best friends…maybe for some, but I have to strongly disagree with that one
What tips do you have for surviving university?