Tuesday 21 April 2020

The More You Talk, The Better: My Journey Through University and into the Workplace

Emma writes about why and how to ask for help with your mental health both at university and at work.
- Emma Johnson

I was officially diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression at the age of 25, but from my late teens and throughout university life, I struggled on and off with crippling anxiety and depression. 

Initially I was excited to go to university to meet new people, go out more, learn some interesting things in more depth, and become my own person. During my first two years of university, I knew I wasn't feeling my best, but I went on as normal enjoying a lot of the student lifestyle. It wasn't until my third year I realised something wasn’t right with myself; I stopped socialising as much and caring for much, experiencing anxiety and lack of overall motivation to go out, meet new people, and socialise. 

Every now and again I would confide in my good friends I lived with who were absolutely amazing and completely understanding. In my third year, I went to the university doctors to seek help for my anxiety. The doctor was really helpful and suggested that I try talking therapy, online CBT, to eat better, to exercise more, and not to be afraid to say yes to those social invites. Although I was sceptical at first, all those things in turn would go on to make me feel better. Speaking to my mum was also helpful at that time. However I regret never talking to my tutor about my needs and the possible academic adjustments, and would therefore encourage anyone to speak up and ask for help if they are struggling. You wouldn’t ignore a broken leg. 

Throughout university and going into my first years of working life as a fundraiser, I continued struggling with my mental health; I was always second guessing myself, my achievements, my thought and my actions. I would ruminate over the smallest things, the smallest conversations and focus a lot on what people thought of me. It became like a trap. No outward thinking and I lost my focus on the external and others, creating a strange lack of self-purpose. I often confused this for perfectionism and a want to thrive, but now I understand this as a result of my anxiety disorder. These negative thought patterns would manifest themselves into physical symptoms, an upset stomach, insomnia, sweating, chest pains, and palpitations just to name a few. 

Going into the big wide world of work, during the first few years I did enjoy my work, but I took on some challenging jobs that unfortunately I couldn't quite hold down with my ever-fluctuating mental health. I would often burnout, breakdown and question everything I did. I developed imposter syndrome meaning that if ever I experienced constructive criticism at work, I would really struggle, take it personally and it would spiral further. 

Then came hope; after a couple of really difficult experiences I took myself to my local GP knowing how helpful they had been during university. I was given more talking therapy, sertraline (although other treatments and medications may be appropriate for different people) and a lot of support. I also went to a counsellor under their recommendation. The Time to Change campaign and Mind campaigns also changed everything for me. I became more open in the world of work and beyond about my diagnosis of mental health difficulties. I honestly and openly spoke to friends, family, and colleagues if I wasn't feeling too well. It got easier to talk. I witnessed openness, understanding and validation. I kept taking myself to my lovely GP and although it has taken some time to find the appropriate dosage of sertraline for me and after another job loss, I have also found journaling, meditation, mindfulness and talking therapies amazing alongside my medication. I am now open about my mental health diagnosis and looking back speaking to healthcare professionals has always been helpful in making me feel better.

With my most recent job loss and at this strange time during a pandemic, I felt I should do more, share more, and make something that could help others. So 3 weeks ago I set up Worry Knot. Worry Knot came about because one of my main physical symptoms of anxiety has been picking the skin of my thumbs until they were sore, bleeding and became scarred. I wanted something pretty to wear that I could fiddle with to stop me from damaging my thumbs. My friend mentioned worry beads and how they can help you feel calm, so I bought some, I fiddled with them and I felt calmer. There was just one thing: they aren't something I would usually wear or carry, so I made my own worry bead jewellery. discreet and pretty but I take off and twirl every night to calm my anxiety.

My hope for the future is people will be as honest about mental health as they are about their physical health and share many more ways to help themselves and others.

Visit Student Minds website for more information and advice on finding support and managing anxiety and depression

Hey everyone! I’m Emma and I graduated having studied both Psychology and International Development at university. After experiencing anxiety for a long time, I launched my own Worry Knot Jewellery and blog about my experiences and my work on Worry Knot Blog

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