How It Feels To Attend University When You Have Depression
In a sense, to be there but never arrive
I've had depression since I was 16.
I wasn't formally diagnosed with it until I was 19. But when I described the symptoms, which had been so painfully consistent for so painfully long, I rolled back the years in my head and realised just how long it had been. Three years. I hadn't just been sad. I'd actually been depressed. This year, I have seen my mental health spiral massively for reasons I'm not sure I understand, still, this far along. And I've started to genuinely realise how hard I've found it to attend university. Sometimes I become numb to these things. I forget my struggles because it seems people don't want me to have them. I forget my feelings because they so often don't seem to matter. But now I'm alone, it seems I can muse on them more intensely. So, a typical Uni day from January until term finished looked like this.
It's 7:40 in the morning. I should be leaving. I'm not. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm not actually even dressed yet. It really took me 40 minutes to decide to get out of bed. I can't even imagine why, so I put on the first thing I can find and leave, sending my lecturer the obligatory "stuck in traffic" email (despite knowing damn well that I'm not) as I go. It's a three mile trek from my ancestral home to university at an hour when the roads are busy and it's tough to be on time even if you set off early, which I most certainly did not. As I make my way there, either by public transport or my car, I notice that I don't feel half as confident going to my lectures as I did last January, when I resolved not to let other's opinions define me. My time at Uni, from the beginning to now, has been far from easy. I won't be guilted out of telling the truth about how I've found it, and I recognise that it's probably my own fault, but at the same time I don't believe I could do anything, knowing how I struggle with my mental health, to cause myself so much mental pain. It's been hallmarked with feeling ostracised and a mentally taxing rape case in a society that I used to be in. And right now, I feel so crushed and small, just like when I was a very young girl starting school. The crying, the butterflies, the homesickness, but every single day. When I walk into class, I feel a range of very potent feelings. Annoyed, bitter, miserable, trapped, conspicuous and yet strangely invisible all at once. The divide between myself and everyone else never feels greater than when I come into this classroom. I can't tell if I'm in a bubble or behind a wall. Other people in this class have experienced or are experiencing similar problems, it's just that their ways of dealing with them seem so much more mainstream than mine. It's almost a clique that I'm not part of, but I still have to be within it every day like an interloper. Somehow they, and everyone else, are all so much more eligible for the sympathy of others than I am. It's always felt like one rule for me and one rule for everyone else. I've always felt so markedly different, like everyone's been given special instructions on how to treat me before they even know me. I feel a sense of frustration at this apparent divide. What makes me different? I may build the rocket, but I won't shake hands with the stars or converse with the moon. The sky is cloudless but still grey. All that seems to keep me in my class is my love of law, like a magnet. After class, I usually go home then to the gym, or to the gym and then home, take a nap if I have time (depression induced fatigue is VERY very real, you do need to try and rest when you can and you do need friends that understand this and don't judge you for it) then go to the university library to work on my assignments or just study in general. This is the best part of the day for me because I can go at my own pace, cover what I want in a way that I can understand and, most importantly, not feel judged simply because no one knows me.
Surprisingly, I actually laugh all the time. I laugh when I look up from my computer and see a little note attached to my notice board that says "IT'LL BE FINE!" in my sister's handwriting. I laugh when I realise that it doesn't matter how hard I try to be friends with people who aren't like me or to chameleon myself into other settings, it will just never be as simple as that because everyone I meet seems to sense, maybe even before I do, that I was born a little off-centre and will always be like that. And I laugh when I imagine my classmates reading this and challenging me over it, because if I don't laugh about that I know that I'll cry. It seems that so many people in my life think that they can filter my experiences, how I see things through my lens, by pointing out how I've done them wrong or why they were justified in doing what they did. Or pretending that we are or were close. Let me tell you this. Close friends of mine know that I have had suicidal thoughts since I was at school, that I've felt like I am irredeemably different to everyone else in completely the wrong way since I was 8, and in my entire life I've attempted suicide 5 times and contemplated it on a basis that you could set your planner by, and I actually have spent around 8 years planning my life around suicidal thoughts. No, this isn't a pity post, and I don't understand why everyone considers me to be seeking pity and others who talk about mental illnesses to be brave. This is genuinely how I feel. If we don't validate every experience, how will acceptance, understanding and normalising of these conversations grow? Why can't I help make that happen? The answer is that I can and will. And I can start by persisting in sharing my experiences, even if no one listens.