Thursday 4 March 2021

Strength in stories

Dan shares his experience of mental health issues at university and provides reassurance that things do get better.
- Dan Gordon

It was at the end of my second year at university that I first acknowledged that I was a bit off. I had two things I was really looking forward to in the summer and when I was doing them, I remember being aware that I was flat and just not feeling anything about it. That year at uni hadn't been the easiest. I went through a breakup, I wasn’t enjoying my course and I was rarely going out of the house, other than to go out and drink. I would always be thinking that everyone else was having a great time compared to me. At that point, I just put how I felt down to what was going on in my life. I never considered that it was anything more.

My year abroad was coming up and I think I pinned a lot of hopes on it. I thought that would be the solution for all of my problems. It was a huge thing that I’d wanted to do for ages, but when it came around, I didn't feel positive, I didn't feel sad, I didn't feel nerves, I just felt nothing. I tried to tell myself “this is amazing”, but inside, I was just empty. By Christmas, I was starting to think “okay, something might not be quite right here,” and that it might be more than just who I am as a person.

I was at home in England in February and knew I’d put it off long enough, so I booked to see my GP. The doctor suggested that I could be depressed and advised that I attended some counselling. I thought I’ll tell my parents and we’ll book some counselling for when I get back from Vienna in Easter.

On the first Saturday of our Easter holiday, I was watching the TV and having breakfast as normal when suddenly my brain started racing at a million miles an hour. I felt like my head was falling, falling and falling. I suddenly got intense, depressive, overwhelming thoughts of “what’s the point in anything? - it’s all pointless, a waste.” My whole perspective had gone. Everything had changed in that moment.

The day after, I had to tell my mum that something was wrong and that I felt different. I remember I broke down in tears as I told her. I was terrified. I just didn't know what was going on. I was later informed by my counsellor that I had experienced a stress induced mental breakdown. After a few weeks where I didn’t improve, she suggested that I try some medication. From then, it was just a long, long slog.

When you first start medication, you think you’re going to be fine straightaway, but antidepressants take a while to properly work. It is really up and down. Sometimes they can make you feel worse for periods, which makes you feel like you're just back at the start. Those few months was the toughest period of my life. Depression is like a heavy weight. When it comes on strongly, you feel like you can’t move. Everything becomes a massive challenge. At points, you just want to melt into the bed and to disappear. It requires such strength of will. You have to be strong because there are points when you want more than anything for it all just to stop.

Thankfully though, I battled through it and after a couple of months had passed, the medication I was on started to level me out. I stuck with the medication and tried to incorporate some lifestyle changes. I was still very flat but it at least stopped me having the deep plunges and the intense spiralling of my mood.

Once I was back in England permanently, I went to see a psychiatrist who recommended I change my medication as I could still improve. I was now in my final year of uni. Having the breakdown was almost like my mind telling me that I need to change some stuff, because I wasn’t looking after myself. I started to change a few things; going to the library to work, getting more of a routine, drinking less. It took a while, but I slowly started to get some positive emotion back. It was very small at the start, but I remember I started waking up and actually feeling excited for things. It was such a nice feeling.

At the end of my final year, I managed to secure a 2.1. Getting this felt like a huge achievement and was such a relief. I had also managed to get an internship in Birmingham which started in the summer. Moving in on my own and starting my job, I suddenly felt like I had found something I loved. I started finding things that I actually had a passion for, and I loved the routine of work and feeling productive every day. I’m still in that job to this day.

I can definitely say now that I enjoy life more than I ever did at uni. If you’d said that to me a couple of years ago, I would have never believed you. I’ve learnt so much and I know myself so much better now. I know what I need to best look after my own mental health and I am in a much better place for it. I’m by no means perfect, I still take medication to this day and still do CBT, but overall, if I look back on where I was, the difference is huge. I’m genuinely positive about the future and look forward with optimism. I think that in itself is the biggest sign of how far I’ve come.

Find out more about depression and how to support someone.

Hi I'm Dan and I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2019. When I was going through my initial period of intense mental health issues, I would always search the internet for stories of people who had been through the same experience as me. If I ever found a story of someone who had managed to overcome their difficulties and go on to live a content life, I clung to it like a lifeline. I would think: 'this person was able to get through it, I can too.' I hope my story can be a source of reassurance for others. This is also why I have set up my Instagram @strength_in_stories to provide a place for my story, as well as others, to be shared.

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