Thursday 10 March 2016

Focus of the mind – the help through helping

One student writes about their ability to be brave and overcome their mental health by helping others and volunteering.

Five years ago, I heard about an organisation called Marrow. Marrow groups sign students up to the bone marrow register to help save the lives of people with blood cancer. As an eager first year medical student, helping people was the reason I wanted to come to university in the first place. The idea of being able to make such a difference to the lives of others through volunteering for this society really appealed to me and I came along to a few events. I had no idea how much impact it would have on my own life a few years down the line.

Mental illness crept up on me halfway through first year. Controlling it was like trying to keep a row of candles alight outside on a windy day. You can’t attend to them all at once. Academic achievement was the first light to flicker. When I first started to have trouble studying, my natural reaction was to focus all my attention on it. I would stay up all night, sometimes going days at a time without sleeping. I stopped socialising and ignored my family’s advice to take breaks now and then. I was too afraid of losing the one thing I was good at, but in the process, I let that light burn out.

Repeating university the first time went as planned, but after that, I convinced myself that I didn't deserve to be there. Things escalated over the couple of years that followed. I was consistently late for class because there was always ‘just one more’ OCD ritual to complete before leaving the house. I started getting anxiety attacks, which put me off going into lectures and I wasn't studying either. The shame and frustration of it all got to me too much, and I felt completely stuck.

By the time I eventually asked for help, it had got to the point where I couldn't function normally. I got diagnosed with anxiety, depression and OCD, which came as no surprise. Countless difficult appointments, long waiting lists and several medication changes seemed to be making very little difference. By this point, being in university seemed pointless. But there was one thing in particular that stopped me giving up, and that was Marrow. The harder things became, the more I threw myself into volunteering. The one light that for some reason, never faded. When you get the opportunity to focus your time and energy on something so worthwhile instead, it can make an incredible difference.

Helping others always was and still is the main reason I was drawn to Marrow. When things aren't going well, it gives me a reason to leave the house and an opportunity to be a part of a really special community all working towards the same goal- to eventually find a match for every patient that needs one. I think that over the last while, it’s helped to light that old candle again. For the first time in a couple of years, I can think clearly enough to get some studying done.

It’s easy to think you’re not good enough, that there will always be someone better, but everyone can contribute something, particularly when it comes to volunteering. For me, it was Marrow, but for you, it might be another cause, a sport, or politics. I like to think that something can be that candle for all of us, and I wish you the very best with finding out what it is for you.

For more information on finding support through university click here.

For information on stress during university click here.

For more information on volunteering click here.

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