So I thought that anyone who read my last personal update on my life posted here nearly ago might be wondering how I’m doing these days. A quick scan of the website shows that I haven’t really been posting frequently over the last year, except for one flurry for my Guide to Hacking in September, and then the recent postings of all my hackathon overviews.
So basically, this time last year I started my interruption of studies from my engineering degree at the University of Edinburgh due to a whole host of personal circumstances that I barely began to cover in my post around that time. I can now say that there were other things that I was unable to describe online as they involved sensitive information about people close to me but the TLDR of it is that I was very distressed, suffering from anxiety and depression, and a student in Edinburgh without courses until this January.
Initially I was optimistic about it all – I told myself that it was clearly the break I needed until all these things collapsing around me were finished and then I could go back to life ‘as normal’. I attended student counselling, and I tried to maintain as many things as before – from Edinsolar to reading my course notes – and even tried to treat it as an increased amount of spare time to do things even better than before. Except of course that wasn’t what it was. It was an increased amount of time to get better, and part of that was the really, really difficult challenge of accepting that I couldn’t just go on trying to fix all these problems and assuming that they would eventually finish, as it only left my reeling more when they steadily got worse and worse beyond my control.
As this began to happen approaching the summer time, when I was left isolating myself from as many of my student friends as possible while they completed coursework and exams, I felt my mental health slowly slipping downhill and completely powerless to halt its descent. I had begun a new job working as a tour guide at Edinburgh Bus Tours which proved to be something of a saving grace as I am completely sure that without the routine, the company of my new and wonderful colleagues from beyond the student community (Ann I owe you so much for all those coffee chats), and the freedom to travel around Edinburgh that came with the bus pass I got, I think I would have descended much quicker.
I tried to distract myself and reassure myself that I could do something by occupying my time with increasing numbers of projects whether rapidly ploughing through my post-it-note challenges, reading and reading and reading everything possible on the history of Edinburgh, or completely redecorating our flat. I threw everything into a chaos of woodchip stripping and piles of books with intervals of binge-watching Netflix in something of a stupor for whole days in between when it was too much to do anything else.
I had a boyfriend I had sort of acquired at the beginning of all this but if I’m honest I don’t know how or why he stuck around as long as he did as I was erratically there, and prone to frequent outbursts of tears, and became increasingly clingy just for the reassurance of knowing that I wasn’t alone. He wasn’t to be honest the best partner (for me) either, inclined to just shrugging his shoulders and looking uncomfortable every other conversation and telling me to ignore it all, to “just relax” or “stop overthinking it” which you know, I would have done if I knew how, I wasn’t exactly putting myself through hell just for the kicks.
Nonetheless, I became increasingly antisocial, cutting off all the people and things I cared about because the mountain of responsibility I had created for myself was all I saw when I thought about them. I ignored the cricket club and all my friends there for nearly all of the summer, I gradually tried to pretend that Edinsolar didn’t exist, and in short wasn’t coping. The alternative of giving up and going home wasn’t going to happen though. I still had enough in myself convinced that I was going to get through somehow and the firm belief that eventually the guilt I felt for the things I had abandoned would eventually overcome the void and I would return to them and going home would be nearly shutting the doors on that plan.
A crisis point was eventually reached in August when I broke in tears one morning and admitted aloud to the boyfriend that I wasn’t coping and didn’t know what I was doing at all – I had lost control of everything. Distressed, he quickly asked to break up arguing that it wasn’t me, it was just that my life was too awful for him to be involved in and maybe I could return when it got better?
That was enough for me, I had in one fell swoop killed off half the remaining support network I had left myself and needed to do something. Like actually anything at all. After spending that night hysterical at my best friend Rowan’s, I woke up the following morning and, as ever, decided to use the power of words to change things. I wrote the longest Facebook event description I have ever written in my life, invited all those I’m connected to on Facebook to it and told them I was gone and needed help but I wasn’t able to do anything myself. I asked them to just do something. To read it so I knew they knew where I was at – it was almost a huge messy request for forgiveness that I had cut them all off and gone adrift and let them down.
The response was overwhelming – I had people at my door almost immediately, postcards sent from around the world, links to the funniest, cheeriest and most inspiring corners of the internet sent to me, as well as being inundated with people dragging me from coffee shop to coffee shop before I could have a chance to think a single upsetting thought.
In amongst it all and half on the advice of someone from my first year halls, I booked to go to Battlehack Stockholm and visit Stockholm and Copenhagen briefly either side of the event. I went straight from the airport to the university freshers’ week events and didn’t get a chance to stop and breathe until that week was over. By which point I was feeling so uplifted it was beautiful. I wasn’t recovered overnight – I was still fairly down in the spare moments in between, and it was still overwhelming the amount of work I had left for myself to now deal with, even if that was greatly alleviated by everyone’s patience now they knew where I was.
My seasonal contract with the bus tours had finished by this point and this left me with the spare time of unemployment for a little while, during which I found myself starting to drift back down. This time though I could catch it and address it before it escalated. I asked friends to give me a routine of coffee and revision sessions. I joined a whole collection of new clubs and societies that semester like BeerSoc, Murder Mystery Society, Wakeboarding, Skydiving etc. This gave me a packed routine and a whole host of new friends, as well as becoming so much closer to my existing friends.
On the side of this though unfortunately my amazing friend and flatmate-of-the-previous-year was struggling on her year abroad, my wonderful still-flatmate was struggling with her university work, and the two new flatmates we had gained somewhere along the line were causing chaos, changing, and ultimately we ended up with a complete stranger with some kind of hoarding problem physically blockading our access to our kitchen for a few months, amongst other things. I suppose this was a result of being too busy focussing on recovery and not paying enough thought to who was living with us, but regardless it was something of an icing on the cake for my hellish 2015.
Yet, across all of this I was gradually, overall getting better. The circumstances that had started the year had got better or gone away in the end. The problems of having no real flat to live in almost paled in comparison to everything else that had already happened and I just went about dealing with it in something of an exhausted, dutiful manner, and eventually myself and the (awesome) flatmate moved out of the Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative to a safe, calm new flat this January. Both friends who were struggling are now on interruptions of studies themselves but it’s okay – I have plenty of lessons shared so they don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
When I started back at university I was pretty exhausted to say the least. Battle-scarred is probably the best description for it. Weary, yet good. Good because I got here in the end. I can tell you that I am no longer suffering from depression and nothing but very low background levels of anxiety. I got most of my course notes studied in the end. I have been able to apply all the new skills and knowledge I somehow acquired along the way without even really noticing, such as my coding, in my coursework.
Initially I cancelled loads of my social events and extra-curriculars in a hurried bid to do as much work as possible though because I was still running on something of a tense state and wanted to get it done before the next thing goes wrong. Yet, as the weeks have gone on I’ve slowed down, right down, and found myself realising that nothing is going wrong. Actually I have been able to do my work, go out with a whole load of incredible friends and, so far in 2016 it’s actually all going well. *touches wood* In fact, with all the support that my friends and family have received in response to all the crises this last year, they’re now generally better than ever before, and I’m left feeling the best I’ve ever been.
My incredible Personal Tutor (the amazing Martin Reekie) referred to it as waiting for the Monty Python foot -it’s now all going so well that it’s suspicious, and the giant cartoon foot will just appear out the sky any moment and squash me like a scene out of Flying Circus.
But you know, for now it hasn’t appeared. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to stop glancing over my shoulder every so often for it, but the frequency at which I do so is decreasing by the day and in between I am just enjoying life. It’s going well. Thank you everyone who has actually made all that possible – I don’t even have the words to describe how much that means – you have just got me through hell and back out again to become something incredible on the other side. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell all of you how every little thing you did got me here but I hope that this essay does something to attempt it.
Thank you. ~hugs~
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” – Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot