Thursday 5 May 2016

Putting your health first: How leaving University aided my recovery

 Naomi tells us about how making the decision to leave University helped her recovery.

-Naomi Harding

This is the story of how I faced my demons and left University to give myself time for recovery. I hope that by telling my story, it will encourage anyone suffering in silence to make the first step in helping themselves. Being nice to yourself can be challenging but I’ve found that the more you try, the easier it gets.

My difficulties started near the end of my second year at university in London. I didn’t feel like my case was bad enough to qualify for counselling, I thought they would wonder why I was there. I thought I should be able to manage everything on my own, and certainly didn’t want to go dredging up a past I had successfully put behind me (or so I thought). Needless to say, I thought wrong. I needed the help very much. I sought help from my university counselling service, which was very supportive and helped me finish the year. It was a big step to overcome, but I really benefited from my first counselling experience.

Then it was summer, and although that had its own challenges, I assumed my mental health would be better by the beginning of third year. When I moved back into my flat in London for the start of term, I still wasn’t any better. I felt anxious on my own but afraid of talking to my friends. I isolated myself, even from my flatmates. Getting back into research for my dissertation was slow, and even when I could concentrate, it was hard to find the motivation or courage to go to the library to work with my classmates.

I ended up spending more and more time at home with my parents as they live just outside London. I gained a lot of strength from the support given by my family. My boyfriend at the time was always on the other end of the phone. He talked me through the scariest times when I was alone. I was reluctant to admit it, but I needed something to change. Eventually, I realised that I didn’t actually have to stay at university, (I wasn’t getting anywhere anyway!) and it was pointless trying to continue. My whole degree was going to be marked on this final year, so the pressure was high. Being so close to the finish line, I worried that taking time out would mean I was giving up, somehow confirming I was weak (that’s depression for you, not the truth!).

I had to face up to the truth that I couldn’t just knuckle down and smash out my final year, I was too unwell. I couldn’t see this at the time but I had to start caring for myself, put my health first and get the support I needed. Once I had made the decision to defer (with a lot of help from my nearest and dearest), a weight was instantly lifted from my shoulders. There were no negative implications for my previous grades or future study, and I was going to give myself some time to recover and regain control of my life. My course leader was fantastically supportive and understanding of my mental health difficulties, and she was with me along each step of the deferral process. Talking to the right people helped me feel confident in my decision and I felt sure deferring was the best thing for me.
Taking time out of university and moving back home to my parents hasn’t been an instant miracle cure, but I haven’t regretted my choice for a second. Living with my parents has been conducive to my recovery, the support and care I’ve received from my family has been immeasurable. Through a combination of countless visits to my GP, CBT therapist, a mindfulness course and daily home yoga practice, I have come a long way in 4 months. There is certainly no direct route to recovery, it’s a winding path, but I’m firmly on it now. I feel confident now that when I’m ready, I can take this opportunity to make a fresh start and look to finish my degree elsewhere. Allowing the time for my recovery has actually given me more time to learn about myself, and discover the infinite opportunities I could take.

So, if I could give any wise words of advice to others in a similar situation to me, it would be to not hurry your degree, put your health first, and take your time.

If you're struggling at University and considering deferring or leaving, there is academic support available. Speaking to your academic tutor, a Students Union representative, welfare tutor or a member of the University's support services can help give you the necessary support throughout the process.

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