College life and it’s aftermath

Cultivate it.

My name is Ellen and I am a See Change Ambassador. Throughout the years I have suffered a mental health problem. It came to a head while at college, as it does for so many. What I can now see, coming out the other side of such dark moments, is how important it is for colleges to have facilities, or at the very least give their students the opportunity to seek help. My college course involved caring and working with children, where your whole persona is to be upbeat and enthusiastic and full of life. I found that this made it very difficult to ask for help.How could I approach someone and tell them how I really felt inside? How could I work with children? People would think I couldn’t be trusted. This was all a stigma I myself attached to my problem. And one now that I know should and can be broken. This is my story;

I am a past student of Mary Immaculate College, graduating with a Bachelor of Education Degree in 2008. I am lucky enough to have a permanent job in Cork where I have worked with a variety of classes for the previous six years. I am hugely involved with sport. I was co-ordinator for the first primary school to launch the Active School Flag and also for one of the first primary schools to achieve the GAA flag. I have a successful work life.

College for me was hard. Everyone enjoys college don’t they? The fun, the parties, the lectures, the new friends, new possibilities and opportunities, but that’s where so many young people suffer in silence. It can be a time of isolation, self-hatred, paranoia, fear and stigma. Stigma was an awful thing I endured in college. Stigma I attached to my problem, but one I also found others attached to it. I will never forget getting a taxi one day from the gates of Mary I after a lecture to a psychiatric hospital in Limerick. The taxi driver turned and asked were Mary I students doing work experience there now?.. I suppose why else would a healthy looking primary teaching student need to be going to a mental health problem facility.

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I would go to college and have the laugh with my friends, then go home and go straight into my bedroom, sit on the floor with my back against the door and cry and panic and worry anxiously. After an hour or two I would go downstairs full of forced smiles and watch Home and Away as if I had not a care in the world. The nights were the worst, I would stay up for as long as I could convince my housemates to and then reluctantly go to my dark room. The minute I closed the door it would start, paranoia, feeling of sickness, the unstoppable tears, and never could I understand why.

At weekends, Deborah, my rock, used cry with me, but out of worry for her best friend, out of frustration I wouldn’t seek help but I couldn’t figure out what help I would need. I had a great life. If one thing was for sure I had absolutely no reason to go throwing around a word like depression because, Jesus, my life was great.

For me, nights out in college were not how most students have it. After a certain point in the night when my friends got to their jolly stage I would slip off the bathroom cubicles and there I would sit for the night, crying silent tears, listening to girls outside have the chat and laughs as I felt like the loneliest person in the world.

On Easter Sunday of my second year of college, after months of self-harm, sleepless nights, panic attacks, paranoia, and never ending tears, I took an overdose. I could literally see no way out. I remember the morning clearly. Thankfully I was saved.
Jesus, that word, saved. I’ve never thought of it like that.

I am 27 now. Did I continue my denial of mental health problem? Yes, for many years I did. I would take my medication; decide I am perfect once I had any sort of balance and come off them only to spiral out of control shortly after again. People talk about seasonal depression. My down season is summer. Summer brings holidays, and free time, to think. To worry. To cry.

This year, after yet another awful summer of panic attacks, crying sessions, suicidal thoughts, I have realised, only now, that this is it. I have an illness. A life long one. An illness that will consume me if I let it. And I’m not going to. I have a great life and now I am going to fight for it.

I have got braver. I have told my close friends of my illness. Work colleagues I have taught long side for 6 years. My family. I have sat down with my family and told them of the illness that we brushed under the carpet for so many years, is here to stay. And I am going to control it. And you know what, I have only received support. Understanding , love and support. The stigma has been broken for me.

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This should not be a private illness. You cannot fight this on your own in your room with your back against the door. You need to seek help. Support. Understanding. Hope.

The little things. I have great big huge brilliant things in my life that I can see now. A brilliant family. Amazing friends. A fantastic boyfriend. My dream job. But a good friend has taught me that it’s the little things too. Take a moment. Remember what you are grateful for. If you can’t see the big things think of the little ones. I have food. Shelter. My sight. My voice. My hearing. My legs. My arms. Little things you take for granted but they lead to the big things. See Change.


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