Queen’s faces of mental illness: Navigating new spaces

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Lifestyle is featuring personal stories from Queen’s students each day from Oct. 6-10. We’ll be continuing the initiative throughout the year with monthly stories. If you’re interested in submitting a story, please email journal_lifestyle@ams.queensu.ca.

Now that I’ve settled down into my fourth year of study here at Queen’s, I’m certain that I’ll look back with fondness about my experiences. But that wasn’t always the case.

I began my first year reeling from a diagnosis that made me question my self-confidence, abilities and sanity.

The summer before I started at Queen’s, I forced myself to see a psychologist — who ultimately diagnosed me with manic depression — weeks before I started school.

I made the decision to go to Queen’s because I wanted to leave my hometown. I wanted to have new experiences and meet people I’d never met before.

I’d always considered myself outgoing and excited about going to new places. Being a fish out of water seemed appealing to me — it was a new adventure.

That attitude all changed after I found myself in the throes of mental illness by the end of high school. I was constantly crying, angry and, at times, suicidal.

I found myself looking for opportunities to inflict self-harm, most often by drinking excessively or starving myself. Most people had no idea, and I knew that no one would expect it from me.

I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by revealing that I wasn’t the happy, confident person that everyone thought they knew.

When I was eventually prescribed medication and had regular appointments with a psychologist, I knew it was the best thing for me.

When I began at Queen’s, I tried to behave like the person I knew I truly was — the person I’d always been. Sometimes it worked, but a lot of the times it didn’t.

Friendships in first year are important — you need a solid group of friends to navigate the new space you’re in. The most important thing is a sense of togetherness, rather than feeling alone.

I found myself going home more often than I wanted to, simply because I couldn’t cope with trying to pretend that I wasn’t upset. I didn’t initially have a strong support system at Queen’s.

I couldn’t tell my friends at home that I was suffering, so how could I possibly tell my floormates, who I had just met?

I realize now that I should have reached out to those people, who are now some of my closest friends. They know I’ve dealt with depression on and off since first year. But they had no idea during that first semester here.

I would have had more support and I probably would have recovered faster than it eventually took.

I’ve felt comfortable here, with some lapses, since the end of my first year because I’ve created a solid system of support with the friends I’ve made.

But I wish I didn’t wait so long to reach out to others.

Transitioning to a new school or a new place is hard for most people. But it’s important to remember that many are in the same situation. Finding the courage to reach out to others is what can make all the difference when trying to simply find your footing or trying to recover.

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