I had struggled with episodes of clinical depression for much of my teens and into my early twenties, and my time at university was particularly turbulent. As much fun as I had during those three years, it was a time which I experienced some of my lowest of lows and my most manic periods, particularly during my final year and, in turn, my first year as a graduate.
University is a life-changing experience for everyone who goes. It’s a form of cultural shift; you start by living comfortably in your parents home, being fed well-balanced meals, and having your washing done for you. Your life is a steady routine of school and college, where see the same people everyday, hang out with your friends and long for those never-ending summer breaks. Then, before you know it, exams are over, the summer is dwindling down, and in a couple of weeks, you have to pack your bags to start a new adventure to a completely new place with all of these new strangers. It’s exciting – at least, for most people.
Bright-eyed, eighteen year old me didn’t expect that, later down the line, she would be spending every other week in the office of a counsellor, sitting on a worn out arm chair, with a box of fresh tissues ostensibly placed on the side table next to her.
Despite having a fairly tumultuous first year, I came out relatively unscathed and managed to enjoy the majority of my time at university: the new friends, the interesting courses, the different way of life. But towards the end of my second year, I started to become aware that something wasn’t quite right, that my behaviour wasn’t normal. I was having trouble sleeping, and I would spend days at a time locked up in my room, sad for no apparent reason. The few times I did go out, I drank recklessly, trying desperately to numb the parts of my brain that made me feel extra-terrestrial.
When I finally sought out help, I didn’t really know how to handle it. On my way to a session, my brain would be filled with things I wanted to talk about, but I soon as I plopped down on that chair, sitting opposite a human being that supposedly wanted to help, I froze. Suddenly, everything in my head sounded crazy, and I was convinced that if I let it come out of my mouth, I would be instantly committed. So, I diverted, spoke about other, lesser things that preoccupied me. I was recommended various stuffy self-help books that made no sense to me, which is only right, seeing as I wasn’t saying what I really wanted to say, so of course my counsellor couldn’t help me fully.
I started thinking, maybe I’m beyond help. I stopped the sessions and persevered, making it to the end of my degree with a decent grade and a decent job following on quickly after. However, the emptiness lingered under my skin and in the hollows of my mind. I kept drinking, and eventually, started self harming.
Things didn’t get much better in this post-uni life. Getting out of bed became a gargantuan task, my only real motivation being that I needed to go to work, so that I could carry on keeping a roof over my head and the comfort food plentiful. I had given up on counselling and instead tried antidepressants, hoping that they would somehow fix me. Depression stems from the brain’s lack of serotonin, so maybe science will be on my side, I thought. But, things were still pretty bleak, and I didn’t help myself as I sought out friendships and relationships as another alternative form of medication. I tried to find solace in people I thought could make me ‘happy’ again, but who ultimately didn’t have my best interests at heart.
As a sort of last resort, I started practicing yoga. I couldn’t afford a gym membership or to take a regular class, so searched YouTube for basic videos to practise in my box of a bedroom. This is when I stumbled into the world of mindfulness and meditation. It was actually something that had been brought up in the past, by doctors and therapists, but I never looked into because I didn’t really understand what it was.
But doing yoga, learning how to be still, to focus on the natural rhythms of the body, opened up a whole new door for me. In my ‘research’, I came across an app that offered a free ten-day course of guided meditation. I eagerly undertook the program, and towards the end, bought a monthly subscription so that I could fully explore their other programs. I found a multitude of courses that suited every mood, lifestyle and situation, including ones that showed you how to help you get the most out of your daily commute, help you sleep better, and ease anxiety.
After a few months, I already felt an improvement in my demeanour. I learnt to quiet those inner demons, take a more positive outlook in seemingly negative situations, and felt content in just being. I stopped taking medication, as I realised that it was only providing more fog to my already hazy brain (and don’t get me wrong, I know they work for many people, but they didn’t so happen for me). And I won’t lie, practicing mindfulness wasn’t the only fix out of that dark period; there were many other factors, such as distancing myself from toxic people who weren’t making my life any better. But I definitely feel that mindfulness meditation was the step in the right direction in being kinder to myself and lifting that horrible fog that debilitated me for so long.
Mindfulness meditation not only helped me healthily deal with my anxiety (which I still struggle with on a daily basis), but it helped me become more comfortable with myself, making it easier to get on with others, finding it easier to accept not only myself as I am, but others as they are. I’m by no means ‘fixed’, but practicing mindfulness definitely helped me deal with my brain in a different way, and in turn, helped me stop hurting myself, mentally and physically.
It helped me, but I acknowledged that isn’t for everyone. If you are reading this and relate to anything I’ve written, I have one thing to say: stay open-minded. Whether it’s mediation, counselling, or herbal remedies, you don’t know what’s ultimately going to help you down the road to recovery.