Mental health has become an increasingly prevalent part of our society. The unrelenting pace of modern life is enough to drive the most organized and motivated person to exhaustion at times. Without sounding like a cynic, I think the problem is becoming a pandemic. The generation financially handcuffed by a love for avocado on toast is experiencing this in large swathes. Nowhere is this more evident than in universities. By this, I mean issues with mental health, not masses of Instagram-worthy breakfasts.
These words are the culmination of what have been a perplexing three years of my life. An unrelenting mix of highs and lows, tears and laughter, love and loss, rest and work. My short three years in my twenties feel as if it has made me age at five times the rate of normal time. I have been at war with myself. A war that has forced me to confront my inner demons. While this makes me appreciate the complexity of our brains, it has taken me to the very edge of existence. Quite simply, I have had a breakdown on more than one occasion. I’m 23. How messed up is that?
It feels a bit ridiculous talking about my problems. I am a white heterosexual British man, my exposure to discrimination in any sense is astoundingly little. But those things do not discredit the pain I lived in for so long, just as anyone going through the same pain should not feel discredited or unworthy of help in any way, at all. Everybody deserves to feel happy, or at least somewhat balanced.
I spent a lot of time hiding from these problems, finding solace in things that merely accelerated the mess I was in. Only retrospectively do I realise how absurd it was for me to continue with an unhealthy lifestyle involving binge drinking, laziness and unhealthy relationships. But there will be people reading this right now who are in the same predicament. More likely than not, they will wholeheartedly disagree with what I’m saying. They will be currently telling themselves that everything is fine and that their lifestyles are great. I’ve been there. I spent three years there. I wasted away days, weeks, months, years, numbing a problem that eventually exploded and took over my life.
It has only been very recently that I have returned to normality. By normality I mean stability, the ability to apply myself to the things in life that interest and inspire me. But it has been an unbelievably challenging time. I guess the point of me writing this is to show people that there is an end to the pain, to the sleepless nights, to the feeling of worthlessness.
It’s easy to seclude yourself in your own world, despite our world being a significantly smaller place with things like social media. As soon as this starts happening, things can really multiply and snowball and lead to even worse circumstances. As difficult as it is to assess your own lifestyle when things are not going well, I believe it’s important to have frank conversations with yourself about what it is that is bothering you. Why it is bothering you? Are you happy? Are you fulfilled with the path you are taking? Only by engaging with what is going on in your mind can you begin to start the process of healing.
The best advice I have for anyone going through deep-rooted difficulty is to stop and admit that there is something wrong. Surprisingly that is one of the hardest parts. Saying it aloud to someone you trust, or even just saying it to yourself. Something that sounds so simple is actually incredibly profound. Now you can address the problem, you can stop running, you can get the guidance that so many of us desperately need.
Use the help that is available at university. It doesn’t necessarily have to be seeing a counsellor, as anyone who has tried will realise that they are overwhelmed with students in need. Obviously, that would be ideal, but there are other ways. University is full of not only incredibly friendly people but people who have gone through the same, if not worse, experiences than you are going through right now. Talk to people. This doesn’t mean you have to stop a stranger and pour your heart out to them on the way to the library, but be open to a conversation. Don’t shun people’s attempts at having a chat. A five-minute exchange of pleasantries could make someone’s day, it could give them the energy they need to finish an assignment, it could even disperse the cloud of dark thoughts that are building in their mind.
Don’t be afraid to talk.