Friday 11 January 2019

A Journey to Diagnosis

Daisy speaks about her experiences of mental illness at university and eventual diagnosis of autism.
-Daisy Shearer

I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I remember but it all came to a fore when I turned 16. With GCSEs over and done with, I started the transition into 6th form and struggled socially. Constantly self-criticising and feeling as if I did not fit in meant that I spiralled into a depression. At this point my body decided to manifest my stress in the form of shingles, giving me a good excuse to not attend school… for 10 weeks. This didn’t help me face my social anxiety and exacerbated my depression. 

I scraped through A-levels and miraculously got offered a place on the physics BSc course at my first choice of University. I had applied for the MPhys course and was on the fence about whether I should take up my place as I had started to doubt whether I was cut out to be a scientist. I decided to go for it.

Moving away from home was hard. I had to learn to look after myself and no longer had the comfort of the routine I was accustomed to back home. My depression worsened and by the end of first year I was considering dropping out. Luckily one of my friends took me to the university counselling service. Although I didn’t realise it, I had become depressed and wasn’t looking after myself properly. I needed a helping hand from somebody who wasn’t in my head to acknowledge that I needed help. I was offered 6 sessions but didn’t go to all of them as, at the time, my anxiety often prevented me from leaving my room. At the end of second year I got the grades to transfer onto the MPhys which I had originally applied to; I began to think that I could be a scientist after all. 

The MPhys included a year-long placement in industry and I chose a placement close to my family home. With another big change my depression got a lot worse, but this time my family was immediately around me for support. My mum accompanied me to the GP where I was prescribed antidepressants and referred to a psychiatrist. At last I was diagnosed: I had generalised anxiety, recurrent depression and mild OCD symptoms. 7 months later, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

I applied for Disabled Students Allowance for my final semester and got examination adjustments plus a specialist mentor. My mood began to stabilise, and I developed techniques to manage what I now recognised as sensory overload. The adjustments made a huge difference to my results and in July 2018 I graduated from my MPhys with first-class honours! I was also offered a PhD project at Surrey. Now I’m a PhD student I have psychodynamic therapy fortnightly and prioritise my mental wellbeing. I’m more confident, self-assured and have fewer invasive thoughts as time goes on.

So, what should you do if you find things aren’t going to plan and you feel helpless?
Take opportunities that come your way 
Seek help if you can
If you can’t bring yourself to access support services, ask a friend to accompany you, or seek out online counselling
Never give up! Managing mental health conditions can be an uphill battle and takes time
Build a support system- this can be family, friends, mental health professionals etc.
Use online resources like Student Minds- read other people’s stories and explore what support is available.

For more information and advice on finding support, click here

Hi, I'm Daisy. I'm a first year PhD student in physics studying quantum technologies and spintronics. I graduated with an MPhys from the University of Surrey in 2018. I've suffered with anxiety and depression for many years and was recently diagnosed with autism. I wanted to share my experience on the Student Minds blog to help raise awareness about the support available to students.

I'm always happy to help discuss mental health as well as accessibility, equality & diversity so feel free to get in contact with me @DaisyShearer on Twitter or @notesfromthephysicslab on Instagram

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