Tuesday 5 September 2017

How to: Navigate Uni with a Dissociative Disorder

Recognising mental illness at university can be hard. Especially, as with dissociative disorders, they aren't talked about very often.
-Elise Jackson

University is undoubtedly amazing. However, getting through the first year can be a challenge for many. Moving away from everything that is familiar, meeting a diverse array of completely new people and having to adapt to an entirely new way of learning is not easy, to say the least. For me, the summer before I started university was the hardest of my life. I lost a lot. My mum had moved half way across the country, my family sold the only home I’d ever known and my friends, destined for universities up and down the country, had to say goodbye. This summer of loss was made only more difficult, by a previous, truly world shattering, loss that occurred during my A-level exams. Four days before my 18th birthday, I lost my big brother to SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). It was one week before his 22nd birthday. We came to terms with it somehow but grieving whilst simultaneously moving house, sitting A-level exams and leaving home for the first time to embark on my new student life, unsurprisingly, proved difficult. 

I struggled. Within two days of being at university, my parents had phoned the university to help me get some support. I was in the counseling service before the end of Freshers. The counselors were brilliant, very understanding, informed, and acted immediately. Thankfully, when I had settled in, things got better fast. My entire block of fellow first years was super sociable. We spent a lot of time living as one huge flat. I was also lucky enough to have one of my best friends from home living two blocks down. Between my block and his flat, housing for second year was sorted by mid-November. Things were going well so I stopped going to counseling. 
 The thing about mental health is that it can fluctuate, it's somewhat unpredictable. Around February time I had to return my mum's new home in Norfolk for a few days because I felt... wrong. At the time, I thought it was exhaustion and decided a few days at home would solve it. And it did, for a little while. These short periods of what I can only describe as fogginess came to every couple of months but always passed within a week or so. Exams came and went and summer returned. 

During summer, I’m often between places. I usually choose to spend most of the holiday period in Sussex as it is where the majority of my friends are. It also means I can be close to my dad’s family. Reflecting on that first summer of University, I think I must have felt it coming to some extent but not really acknowledged it. I went to stay in Norfolk and something hit me like a tidal wave. This time, I was forced to realize that something was going on in my brain that couldn’t be simply solved by a week at home. I lived for a month feeling like I wasn’t in my own body. I felt I was watching life through a hazy screen. Eventually, I found out that I was suffering from DPD (depersonalization disorder), triggered by depression. 

When I returned to uni, I found out about Student Minds and began volunteering for them. I decided I needed to take control of my own brain. My mental health still fluctuates a lot. I’ll often be feeling fine and then become unwell for a few months. Learning how to deal with this has been the biggest challenge of my second year. Dissociative disorders are not often talked about nor are they well researched. During a relapse, I feel drunk all the time or like a robot who can’t feel anything under the surface. Knowing that there are ways to reconnect with your body is the most important thing. I practice mindfulness, meditation and yoga to stay connected to my body and remain grounded. I intend to return to counseling. But as always, more needs to be done, but I remain optimistic that it will.

Hello! I'm Elise. I'm currently in my final year studying English Language and Literature at the University of Nottingham. My writings for Student Minds will range from pieces about depression and DPD to coping with loss, bereavement and change during your studies - all the while remaining mindful and getting the most out of university life. Thanks for reading!

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