Around 5 years ago in my first year of university I took a paracetamol overdose after a night out with my friends. I went to the toilets in the halls that I lived in and took around 40 paracetamols. I was already pretty drunk at this point. I didn't really feel anything, took myself to bed and woke up incredibly late the next day. I was vomiting violently and couldn't really move. My boyfriend at the time took me to A and E. Where I quickly realised how serious what I had done was.
My mind seemed to slip in and out of consciousness and I can remember hearing people but not seeing them. I remember thinking at one point that I was actually going to die and how much I didn't want that. My boyfriend at the time never left my side. We had only been together a matter of months. I had to stay in overnight and was connected to a drip. I hated this, the hospital seemed very scary and I felt so silly. I was eventually discharged and felt very lucky that it had turned out how it had. I still at this point didn't realise that I had an illness. Me and my boyfriend at the time kept this between us.
We carried on our relationship and never really spoke much of it. Until again later down the line I got very drunk again and threatened to throw myself from a bridge - where again the same boyfriend talked me down. He at this point didn't know what to do with me so he sent me to my parents address in a police van - where I lied my way out of it to my parents and again denied what I had done. Me and my then boyfriend still carried our relationship on for a considerable number of years after this.
The now ex-partner and I were together for almost 5 years in total. I believe that I had issues with anxiety and depression throughout the vast majority of this time and disguised them as problems within our relationship - anxiety might manifest as anger for example. There were fundamental differences between us and the break-up I now know was the best thing for both of us but at the time my own self doubting and self criticism allowed me to believe that the breakdown of our relationship, in July 2015, was solely because of all of my issues and insecurities.
After the break up I was left with no outlet for my anxiety and depression and also dealing with the absolute devastation of the end of this relationship that I had thought would be forever. I moved from our home back into shared living, also started a new job and made great efforts to move on and build my life again. I turned to alcohol and started to use this as a tool to avoid facing my problems.
Eventually in January 2016 I was lucky enough to meet some lovely friends on my new University course who recognised some of the things I might be going through. They recommended counselling. Still at this point I wasn't even really sure that this was something that was actually wrong with me - I thought how I worked was just what life was like. I attended counselling sessions with the university counsellor and we identified some great sadness in my life that probably explained my low mood and we also looked at strategies for overcoming this.
In March to June I began to face great difficulty prioritising tasks, this resulted in me getting incredibly frustrated with myself. I found it easier to stay in bed than to tackle the ongoing battle in my mind. I had lost interest in the things that I usually enjoy - running, shopping, being with my friends. I was resulting to the worst case scenario in every situation - and I would worry about things that at the time put great strain on my relationships. Friendships and relationships had themselves become increasingly difficult to maintain.
It was during this time a very good friend of mine supported me through going to my G.P and discussing medication and therapy. My G.P was brilliant around this - he was so open and non-judgemental. So my advice to anyone visiting a G.P regarding mental health is do not give up - there are very, very good ones out there. We discussed my reluctance to take medication due to my Mum's previous mental illness but explored my worries and eventually decided to start me on Sertraline. I was also referred to Insight Healthcare for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This was a rocky time for me - having started on the anti-depressants I did experience some nasty side effects for a week or so, but knowing I had a G.P I felt I could trust made this a lot easier for me.
Anti-depressants are not a quick fix - you have to work at them and with them. They picked me up for a little while and I felt a crash again a few weeks later. You HAVE to stick with it. We increased my dose again under discussion and guidance until eventually we got to a dose that worked for me. By this time I had my CBT appointment through and started this in July. Initially I hated CBT. My first session where we just discussed everything that had gone wrong in my life made me hate myself and feel really low. I wasn't sure what good this was going to do me to just keep dragging up the past. After my first session I came home and cried in my bed and slept for hours in the middle of the day.
But again with perseverance I went back to CBT near enough every other week for 3-4 months. I again built a trusting relationship with my therapist and I was starting to see the results in my day to day life. Small activities she recommended like keeping a thought diary, completing Jon Kabat-Zinn's body scan, adding mindfulness to my everyday life - all of these eventually allowed me to uncover myself criticism and just how harsh I was. In recognising this we began to work on cognitive restructuring that I thoroughly believe has changed my life forever.
I was taking care of myself again - I was eating well, running, going out with friends, I had even grown confident enough to date again - something which had come to a total standstill. Then my Dad got taken ill, admitted to intensive care and we very nearly lost him. This for me was the worst case scenario that I had always imagined, but this time it was actually coming true. And you know what - I didn't fall apart. It wasn't easy and it took all the strength I had but I kept it together. I supported my Dad, my Mum and all my siblings all while remembering to take care of myself. I visited the prayer room in the hospital to meditate and to write in my thought diary - something which if I hadn't engaged with mental health services I would never have thought to do.
I used to think that within Higher Education for me it seemed that people either get all of this or they don't want to know. I've been supported by a very close network of friends that I might never have come across without my university course - so for that I am very grateful. However I won't pretend that as a person with anxiety and depression it's been easy to take time off from placements while my Dad was poorly - worrying about what people think, worrying about making the time up etc. However I can say that with cognitive restructuring and my thought diary these worries became much easier to manage and conceptualise.
Throughout my undergraduate studies - bizarrely enough in psychology (the irony) I had no idea how to take care of myself. I was a people pleaser and never thought of myself. The treatment I have received allows me now to pursue my career and my higher education in way in which I can meet my needs and advance myself. My studies are a priority for me - but they also aren't the be all and end all - I know I'll get there in the end. I think this is where most students could benefit from a little CBT in their lives - anxiety or not!
I guess what I'm trying to say is there is no quick and easy fix to anxiety and depression, no pill or therapist that can cure you there and then but if you really work at it and fight against the beast you can learn the strategies to help you handle anything that life throws at you. I look at myself now and how I came through my Dad's illness and I know that my own self-care and the strategies I have learnt are what got me through this difficult time - and those strategies are something no amount of anxiety or depression can ever take away again.
I'm now back into my daily routine and I'm not going to lie I have had some down days since my Dad was poorly - but the main thing is I didn't stay there, or punish myself for being there (I can't emphasise that enough either, DO NOT PUNISH YOURSELF FOR YOUR DOWN DAYS OR YOUR SLEEPY DAYS). I picked myself back up, started eating well, running, reading, socialising, writing in my journal and reading self help books. I'm not saying that these things will work for everyone but I am saying that everyone can find their own ways to LOVE and CARE for themselves through the darkest of days.