Thursday 19 March 2020

The 'Shame' of Dropping Out

Rylee shares their experience of dropping out of university due to mental health and how it benefitted them in the long run. Hopefully, they highlight the importance of putting your mental health first.

- Rylee 

The excitement

It had arrived. The week I had been waiting for since I was 16… Freshers Week! I had fun, made friends, signed up to clubs, ate too much pizza and drank too much red wine. An incredible time. My flat seemed nice, my room was a good size, and I made it cosy and personal. Everything fell into place. I was happy! I was at a Russel group university! I was excited and loving this new-found freedom.

The realisation 

After three weeks or so, I realised this huge environment was swallowing me whole. Disconnected from students and lecturers. Lecturers who wouldn’t set you apart from anybody else. “Why am I here? Does anyone notice me? Does the university even care that I’m here? Wait, isn’t uni meant to be the time of my life? Why do I feel so horrible here?” This trail of thoughts continued for weeks…

Halls were loud, disrupting my sleep. I had abuse shouted at me through my window. Flatmates were unclean. Lecturers weren’t understanding of my physical health conditions. I stopped singing, I stopped playing guitar. I refused to drink and eat whilst in my flat, so I didn’t have to walk out of my room to go to the shared toilets. I nested in my “cosy” room most days which ended up feeling like a prison. My eating disorder tendencies were returning, my panic attacks were rising, and my depression prevailed. I saw no point. No point in continuing. No point in being in an environment that doesn’t see you as a student… you’re just a number.

The struggle

I made a few trips home to seek the comfort of my dog (and the family too). Every time I had to go back to university I got this sinking feeling, a drop in the stomach, a pain in my chest. I didn’t want to go back to that isolating place. Sure, I had friends I could go out with into town but the overwhelming confusion and turmoil in my mind stopped me from seeking the support from my relationships built at uni. In hindsight, maybe I could’ve spoken to them? But I couldn’t even comprehend my own emotions. I was so lonely. I was alone.

Seeking student support was a big step for me – challenging and daunting. Different universities will have different support available, but my experience accessing support at that time was very disappointing. Signposting from one person to another. I sat in a room and broke down in front of a drop-in wellbeing advisor who sent me to another service which then sent me to an external company. By the time my referrals had gone through I already made my decision… I needed to leave that environment. I ended up leaving early December, feeling ashamed of my defeat. “How could I be a dropout? Education is all I care about and I’ve just thrown the towel in?” – my mind was filled with those self-loathing questions. (How I wish I could’ve told myself then that it would be the best decision of my life!)

Life after the decision

I moved back home, worked full time, went on a couple of holidays and allowed myself time to recover from the decline of my mental health and eating disorder relapses. Now I am enrolled at my new university and I am thriving. The mental health support team are incredible, they have a genuine care for us all. I am back to eating well (for the most part, I still like pizza and red wine), I can leave my room without having a panic attack, and my depression has subsided. In no way am I saying I’m “cured” – intrusive thoughts still peek through and it can be tough, but now I’m in an environment that facilitates growth and support. If you’re struggling with your environment at university, speak up, talk it through with friends, family and university to work out your support plan.

There is no shame in being a “drop-out”, especially when it is to take care of YOU. University can be redone. There is no set timeline or plan you must follow in life. As cringy as it sounds, listen to your heart. Go where you need to go. Do freshers again – have that pressure taken away from that one week and go into university to see it for what it is: an academic journey with friends and laughter. It won’t always be the time of your life because let’s face it, life doesn’t always work like that when you have mental health issues. But you have power, you can change your fate and help yourself. I am an unrecognisable person to who I was at my last university, and it’s all for the better. However, I wouldn’t change a moment of this journey. It’s all another chapter for the book.

You can find more about support at your university and further here.

Hiya! I'm Rylee and I am a first-year Psychology student at the University of Chichester. I am vocal about LGBTQ+ Rights and passionate about changing the stigma around mental health.

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