“Mom, I need to come home.”
It has now been two weeks since I made the decision to come home for the semester. Although barely any time has passed, it feels like a lot has happened since I made that call to my parents.
Despite the short period of time, I learned a lot about myself, my friends and the pressure that we’re all under as university students. My hope is that in explaining my experience struggling with a mental illness, it will allow other students to feel comfortable taking the appropriate steps they need to get better.
This can mean either getting the help they need at school in the form of social supports and counselling, or making the decision to take a break. The important thing is to recognize that you’re struggling and to prioritize your mental health.
If I was still on campus, I would now be in my fourth week of classes as a second-year economics student. My first year was a little rocky and I struggled through lots of different challenges. There were moments where I felt alone, unsure of myself and hopeless about my future.
Looking back, what was I supposed to do? I was a first-year arts student who hated all of the courses I was in. The challenges I faced manifested themselves in different ways, but I ended up with a lack of confidence in myself as well as in my future.
I had doubts about all aspects of my life. I doubted my major and career path, my friendships, my decision to go to Queen’s and ultimately how well I actually knew myself. This led me into some dark times where I felt alone, unsure and scared that I would feel this way forever.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which proved to be a lot to deal with. While being away from home, I found it challenging to manage school work, a new social scene, finding time for myself and trying to take care of my mental illness. Nevertheless, I got through it, ended the year feeling happy about where I was at mentally and proud of what I had accomplished.
Unfortunately, the summer came with its own set of challenges. The lack of activity and not having people around me all the time was a large adjustment. Although I was happy to be home, I fell into a slump that I was determined to get out of. With time, I did just that.
At first, I started by running every morning. I meditated. I did cognitive behavioural therapy. I did everything I possibly could to get better, and I had the time to do it. Alongside all of this was a solid nine-to-five job which gave me something to focus on during the day.
In the end, the summer flew by. Looking back on it, I was hopeful about my future and I was excited by the numerous opportunities that laid ahead of me.
By the end of the summer, I was raring to go back to school. I couldn’t wait to live in my own house with my friends, participate in extra-curricular activities and learn as much as I could from my classes.
But it didn’t go as I had planned.
The first night back at Queen’s, everything I had dealt with in first year came right back. I ended the night in my room anxious, unsure about my ability to get through second year. I felt like I needed to go home, I couldn’t go through what I went through in first year again.
The confidence that I felt in the summer disappeared. I felt unsure about my ability to accomplish my goals.
I tried to establish a routine like I had in the summer. I started going to the gym and meditating, but it didn’t seem to help.
I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless. I was in crisis and I knew that something had to change.
Looking back on those couple of weeks at Queen’s, I can pinpoint that my anxiety was focused around my doubts about being able to do well in my classes, finish my degree and then eventually have a successful career.
When classes started, this anxiety would hit me out of the blue and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I would be sitting in class, not understanding something, when my mind would tell me, “you’re a failure who will never amount to anything.”
These feelings would make me nauseous and my heart would start to beat rapidly. It was overwhelming. It got to the point where it would happen every morning in class, even if there wasn’t a reason behind it.
In my mental state, I wasn’t okay with not understanding everything perfectly on my first try. I figured out that I wasn’t in the right mind-set to learn.
Eventually, I realized I really wasn’t in a good place to be at university.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Queen’s and the people there, so this decision was really hard for me. But I decided it would be better for me to take time off so I could go back feeling closer to 100 per cent and be able to enjoy it more. I know that at home I can prioritize my mental health just like I did in the summer and get back to my routine of running, meditating and challenging my anxious thoughts to feel like myself again.
When I told people at Queen’s about my decision, I was met with a lot of different reactions, but one message seemed to repeat itself.
The large majority of people I told said they had seriously considered taking a break on multiple occasions. They said there were multiple times where they felt stressed and overwhelmed.
Everyone had their own way of dealing with stress, but for some people who were overwhelmed, taking a break didn’t seem to be an option. That’s because people think it isn’t a “normal” thing to do. Well, I’m here to tell you it should be.
So please, if you’re overwhelmed, struggling with a mental illness or just need a break, I would seriously suggest taking some time off. It may feel like you’re the only one who has ever decided to take a break from university, but you’re not. At the end of the day, your health is the most important thing and taking an extra semester isn’t the end of the world.
Looking back, it wasn’t an easy decision to make but I know it was the right one. Unfortunately, the right decisions tend to be the hardest to make.
So do whatever you feel you have to do, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s your life, not anyone else’s.
Jake Bradshaw is a second-year Economics major.
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