I’ve struggled with my mental health for almost as long as I can remember due to a series of traumatic events I experienced in my childhood.
I wouldn’t know this until I was a bit older and learnt more about mental health, but I struggled with anxiety, depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), all of which really impacted who I was growing up, most notably negatively influencing my self-esteem, but also positively impacting my empathy skills.
I don’t feel like I have been treated unfairly or stigmatised for my mental health because I learned from a young age to mask a lot of the emotions I was feeling. However, I held a lot of internalised self-stigma about mental health and for that reason struggled to speak about it.
In primary and high school in particular, I didn’t feel able to share that with anyone my own age as I didn’t want people to see me or treat me differently because of it. I also felt isolated and like I was ‘different’ from my peers in a bad way. I was lucky to have a very supportive guidance teacher who provided a space for me to talk about and work through some of those things. Without that non-judgemental space to express what I was going through, I think I would have found high school even more difficult and isolating.
I learned a lot more about my mental health struggles after finishing high school and spending some time reflecting by myself, but also through talking about my experiences with my family members and a counsellor. This understanding was incredibly helpful as I feel like I finally moved away from believing that my poor mental health was my own fault because there was something wrong with me rather than something that had happened to me because of some of the difficult things I experienced at a young age.
Unfortunately understanding my mental health did not erase it entirely.
My mental health continued to impact me and my motivation and focus while I was at university, which resulted in me not reaching the pass grade to progress into the honours course for my degree. I almost dropped out of uni, but I ended up finishing with a three-year degree in my other subject instead. I then took a year out to work on my mental health and decide if I wanted to return to uni, which I did.
I was honest about my mental health in my applications to complete my original degree at a different uni. I was only offered a place at one of the five universities I applied for, although I cannot say if this was due to my mental health or just lack of space on courses as I was applying to go straight into third year.
Unfortunately, during that year off I also had a negative experience with a free counselling session that I waited several months for as I found the counsellor quite condescending and dismissive. I was lucky that I had the support of my family and was able to pay to go to a few private counselling sessions where I found a therapist who was a much better match for me. That is something I think people should be aware of if they are considering starting counselling – which I highly recommend! – your relationship with your counsellor is very important, and it is okay to ‘shop around’ until you find someone you connect with.
I am now almost finished the degree that I originally set out to get several years ago, and although my path has not been an easy or expected one, I feel like I am coming out of it in a much better place than I was when I started. I have a lot of reasons for this, including having a much more supportive uni, being able to talk to friends and family about mental health more than I used to feel able to, leaving a relationship that was detrimental to my mental health, and thanks to counselling finding ways to manage my mental health so that I have been able to achieve my goals. My mental health can still feel debilitating some days, but in general it is so much better now that I am able to talk about it with people close to me.Back to stories