Life can be bloody hard sometimes. It really can feel like an uphill struggle just to get through day to day existence, let alone the added stress of exams, money or relationships.
Recently I started CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This differs from other types of therapy as its not just a chance for you to complain about a million reasons why life is getting you down, but forces you to take control and realise that you yourself are at the driving seat of how you feel and how you live.
Don’t shut down, I’m not trying to insult you. Considering depression and anxiety are such crap things to go through it’s kind of weird how much we defend them. Like someone telling us that we don’t have to hold on to these unhealthy feelings and thoughts somehow insults us and belittles the pain that we are suffering. Not at all, but anyone who tells you there is nothing you can do to feel better is lying to you.
The NHS waiting list for CBT was over 3 months long, and my student waiting list for counselling was over a term. Despite referral for immediate counselling, I’ve been waiting for a placement for a few months now and I don’t even have a start date.
Having had 2 months where I felt flat, tearful and lonely at the beginning of my final year of uni, despite taking medication for a few years which I wanted to ‘fix everything’, I realised it was time to step up. Private sessions can cost a lot of money. I pay £70 an hour, which is by no means ‘expensive’ but neither is the cheapest in this field. My parents are helping me pay for this.
The good news is that CBT is a short-term therapy which aims at building healthier ways to look at the world and people can get huge benefit from just 4-6 sessions. I eventually realised that if I can pay to go on nights out and holidays there is no excuse to avoid paying some money towards my mental health; surely feeling happy is the whole ‘point’ to being on this spinning hunk of rock anyway?
In CBT sessions you realise that it is not reality that make you upset 99% of the time. In the vast majority of cases it is how you react to them.
For example, it’s raining on the day of your graduation.
Person 1 would say ‘This is just my luck, I just wanted one day to go well for once in my life after all this stress and poverty at uni and now it’s all ruined.’ Possibly leading to a spiral of negative thoughts and ruining the day.
Person 2 on the other hand ‘uh oh, oh well.’ or ‘Good job I packed an umbrella!’
The fact it is raining didn’t upset the two people in the same way, the reaction is what caused pain. Of course, if it was this simple I’d not be forking out for more sessions but the basic premise if that if you take some ownership of your thinking patterns you can have a better life, even if you are incapable of changing the people and events around you. The only thing you can change is your attitude, and it can make your life better.
I highly recommend the book ‘Mind Power; Change your thinking, Change your life.’ By James Borg. I promise it’s not as corny as it sounds. Actually, its got some great tips for helping you out with taking control of your happiness if you can’t afford or aren’t ready to seek out CBT. If you’re having problems with emotional ups and downs, depression, anxiety, anger or stress, it’s a gem.
You can read more about my experience and advice for mental health medication here
Click here to read about supporting a loved one with depression.
Or why not try out the article I wrote about meditation as an alternative to therapy? You can read it here.
Sometimes things feel quite alright, and (rather unlike Theresa’s government) I really do feel strong and stable. Other times, things are hard. Depression and anxiety are hard to explain because they are hard to understand, even if you are experiencing these feelings.
I can feel terribly sad, worthless and lonely, even when I’m surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family. I can feel unsure of myself, questioning every word I say and even get waves of grief pass through me, even though I haven’t lost somebody at the time. I can also feel ace.
Peaks and troughs – story of my life!
After 7 years of taking medication (from such a tender wee age), I decided it’s time to try alternative methods. I’ve been trying yoga, exercise, healthy eating and I most recently adopted a bunny!
So, I popped a long to a Buddhist Meditation class at my university to see whether this might fill the role of reducing anxiety and processing my feelings in a healthy way.
The sessions are completely free and for 2 hours every Wednesday I can join a non-judgemental environment to relax, meditate and reflect on everything going on in my busy little head. People go for all kinds of reasons. Some are very spiritual, some are just slightly stressed out with deadlines and various people are dealing with personal issues through this method.
We sit quietly and breathe deeply, whilst someone ‘guides’ the meditation, speaking softly about what we can be thinking about and focussing on. You don’t have to Buddhist and you don’t have to know anything about meditation.
We wear comfy clothes, sit down on pillows and listen to soothing words. We drink tea in the middle and chat, and it’s a space where no one is interrupted or made to feel out of place.
On the first session we did a ‘prayer of love’ where you think about people you love and wish them the best. Then you think about someone whose hurt you and do the same for them. Oh my Christ, I was sobbing my eyes out. I didn’t realise I had stuff to process until my snot and dribble formed a single line of yuck, but no one so much as batted an eyelid.
All night I was subdued and felt strange, but to think I was holding all that sad inside without even knowing is quite a scary thought! We are constantly running around trying to push aside our feelings for a more convenient time so this is a healthy safe space to deal with shit without worrying you’re wasting valuable ‘doing’ time. I am feeling the same impacts that I have felt from formal counselling before, but this is free and there’s a real focus on working through your own issues and not having someone external ‘fix you.’
If you can’t afford, or are unsure about formal therapy, I 100% recommend trying out some meditation.
Hope you found this article helpful! If yes why not check out my other work:
It’s about time someone told you the REALITY about sti tests! People keep telling you that you should be getting regular checks? Well I’m here to reveal the TRUTH.
The truth is, they are painless.
They are free. They take no more than 20 minutes. Sometimes, you don’t even have to go into a clinic, you can pee is a pot and put it in the post. Nobody shames you or tuts their tongue, nobody is going to stick something huge and painful up your bum, and YES, they are totally worthwhile.
1 in 4 university students will have a sexually transmitted disease before graduating! (Nursing Journal) You don’t need to scream and panic, it will almost always be treatable and leave no lasting damage, but don’t take that risk! The most common sexual infection in young people is chlamydia. Often, it has no symptoms in men, so it can take a long while before people realize they have it. For women too, you could have absolutely no idea you have it for years, but if left untreated it can lead to infertility… WHY TAKE THE RISK?!
You can get STIs even if you use condoms in sex, for example they can be passed through oral sex. I would recommend you getting a check after every new sexual partner. It doesn’t mean you think they’re dirty, it doesn’t mean you’ve been shagging around, it means that the two of you are respectful enough to put each other’s health and wellbeing before 20 slightly embarrassing minutes in a free clinic.
If you sleep with one person, you are essentially sleeping with all of their past sexual partners in terms of infections. And all of the partners of the partners. And all the partners of those… you get it. By sleeping with one person (even with ‘little’ sexual experience) you are putting yourself into a potential ‘infection web’ that could include hundreds or even thousands of people.
Don’t panic, and for goodness sake don’t swear yourself off of sex, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting it. I’m just saying, use a condom for casual one off partners, because they can help protect you from potential infections.
No lying involved, they could be completely unaware that they have a life-changing infection like HIV (in the very worst of cases). Then, you could both get a quick check before deciding to stop using condoms if you would prefer not to use them.
To be honest, your sexual partner will probably be impressed that you’re mature and matter of fact about sex. If not, are they really mature enough to be going anywhere near your genitals?
I have had various problems finding the right contraception.
Condoms are the only type which can protect you from STIs, so you should be using them anyway if you aren’t in a regular sexual relationship with someone.
It really amazes me how some of my friends (particularly male friends) say that they don’t use condoms on a one-night stand.
‘erm WHAT?!’ I said, bewildered as my mate Tom said he had never once used a condom.
‘Well, I don’t sleep with the kind of girls who would have anything’
‘Come again?’ I wrinkled my nose in disbelief.
‘You know, I just wouldn’t sleep with a girl if she didn’t seem clean.’
Holy Christ, he wasn’t joking. He actually had the audacity to believe (and say outload) that he was somehow protected from sexually transmitted infections because he had some kind of internal chlamydia radar. It’s a view that a lot of young people share. We probably don’t really believe it, but we want to have sex with the interruption of a condom so a lot of people comfort themselves by thinking that STIs are for a ‘dirty’ part of society that they don’t belong to.
Well, tell that to the 13% of men and 12% of women under 25 that have chlamydia.( BBC )
Look around in a lecture and about 10 people (or more) have probably got an STI and have absolutely no idea. Please think about that next time you go back home with someone.
I personally have regular STI tests, before I ever have a new sexual partner without using a condom, and it means you can protect both yourself and your partner from potentially life changing complications. Chlamydia is common and symptomless, and can leave women unable to have children. For the sake of 15 mins in a clinic for a free test, there really isn’t an excuse.
Now I’ve got that rant out of my sweet little lungs let’s move on to the main event: the vaginal ring.
What is it?
Well, it’s a small piece of silicon that you place into your vagina once a month. After 3 weeks, you can take it out yourself and chuck it in a bin. You leave one week without it so that you have your period (just like a pill break) and then on day one you pop another one in.
It doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t interrupt sex. It’s good for people who have trouble remembering to take the pill and for people who find the pill/implant can affect their emotions.
I became up and down when I had the implant and this is because it releases hormones into your whole blood stream to prevent you becoming pregnant. With the ring, because you place it in the vagina it only releases a tiny amount and the hormones stay in that area, and don’t circulate your whole body. Because of that it has less physiological effects.
The Marina Coil works in the same way but the difference with the ring is you feel absolutely 0 pain and unlike having it administered for 5 years, you change it every month in a jiffy.
I LOVE the ring, but I only heard of it when I did my year abroad in Spain. Here it is the most widely used and women rave about it. It is extremely effective. So why haven’t any of my English friends even heard of it?
Weird no? I don’t know why but I highly recommend you get to your GP and request it because contraception is free for all women in the UK through the NHS.
Any down sides?
Nothing serious but if somebody is touching you in bed (I think that’s the most delicate way to express what I’m trying to say) they can feel the ring with their fingers. However, it doesn’t hurt them they can just tell it’s there. During sex it is barely noticeable, and isn’t in anyway unpleasant.
The second point is that because you can’t feel it at all I forget that it’s there. That’s fine normally but it’s important to make a note of when you need to take it out and put it back in.
Also, make sure you store it in the fridge because it reacts to your body heat and starts releasing hormones when it’s warm. Therefore, you want to keep it cool until you’re ready to put it in.
Freshers is an vital initiation to uni life that will leave you with blurred memories, an empty wallet and a cracker of a hangover.
Mixing with new people, drinking more than ever and eating greasy takeaways will leave your immune system battered and with the classic ‘freshers flu’ that is bloody miserable, especially when you don’t have your family to make a fuss of you.
You’ll hear the phrase ‘watch out for freshers’ 13’ thrown around a lot because over the first few months of uni most freshers gain about 13 pounds (almost a stone). It’s so much more important to get involved and enjoy than obsess about your weight but sudden weight gain can effect your self esteem, energy levels and mental health so it’s worth being aware of.
Here I have put together a few bits of realistic and down to earth advice to help you survive freshers in one, relatively healthy piece:
Might sound obvious, but its so important that you drink plenty of water, especially as alcohol dehydrates you (and so do the hungover cups of tea). Buy a water bottle and keep it with you all the time, in your bag or on your bedside table. I find that way I’m way more likely to drink the 2 litres you should be having a day.
Water helps with concentration, energy, alertness and prevent headaches as well as being helping your body get rid of toxins from alcohol. It makes your skin clearer and softer, and your hair and nails shinier. Really, water is key and it’s FREE.
Before going to bed after a night out try and drink a pint of water. Might seem boring but you will thank me in the morning when you practically don’t have a hangover! Also, if you are feeling a little too sloshed in the club ask for a glass of water and wait 30 mins before your next drink. It is so worth it instead of having to bail out early and miss the rest of the night out when you vomit on the dance floor.
You will probably be drunk for most of freshers. It’s part of uni, and I am certainly not one to judge after my first year! Some tips: for pre-drinks, when you are playing drinking games don’t make your drinks too strong. If you are drinking spirits and you play with a shot of alcohol and the rest mixer, you will still be drunk by the time you go out and enjoy. But trust me, me and many of my friends have got dressed up for pre-drinks, started playing games and then ended up tucked in to bed at 11 with a sick bucket. Take it easy and you will last the night.
Don’t mix!!! Lying on my bedroom floor in second year with only my house mates hamster for company I felt so sick that I genuinely cried (and missed the whole house party). I got so excited it was my birthday that I started with prosecco, had a couple g and ts, accepted some shots from well meaning friends, had a cheeky can of beer in the garden. If you mix alcohol I promise you will feel rubbish. It makes you nauseous and will hurt your tummy, so you can’t actually enjoy yourself. So, choose a drink and stick to it. (Maybe don’t start with prosecco cos you’ll be skint by the end of the night)
Takeaways are expensive and absolutely packed with grease, additives and chemicals that will make you feel bloated, tired and cranky. I promise it’s worth cooking a simple meal in 30 minutes, as you have to wait for just that long for it to arrive. You will save money and you will feel 10 times better.
To save time you can get boil in the bag rice. Boil it for a few minutes then chuck it into a frying pan with frozen peas and sweetcorn, maybe an egg (just crack it in a mix) and you’ve got egg fried rice (a splash of soy sauce will finish it off). Frozen vege won’t go off and you can keep it in the freezer for emergencies, cooking in a few minutes and a life saver for your tum.
I also think smoothies are a god send. You can get a smoothie maker for 20 quid. Then for breaky shove some almond milk (much healthier than cow milk as doesn’t have hormones and contains more nutrients) into the blender with 2 fruits of your choice and some spinach (you cant taste it and it gives you a huge health boost.) If you like you can add a tablespoon of coconut oil and chia seeds or flax seeds. You have breakfast in 5 minutes and you’ve already had 3 of your 5 a day. You can even cut up fruit ready for the smoothie and freeze in portions so it doesn’t go off and it’ll give you an extra refreshing cold drink. My fav fruits for smoothies are berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries).
NB: when you digest white pasta it essentially has the same chemical properties as white sugar. It really doesn’t do anything for you. So, have it a couple times a week if you like but pasta and pesto every day (the classic student diet) will leave you feeling drained and won’t provide any nutrients to help you avoid freshers flu.
I’m not going to tell you not to take drugs. That is your decision. But I just want to give you a couple of words of advice if you are set on taking them.
Firstly, never ever accept drugs from people on a night out that you don’t know, whether you are paying or they offer for free. In the lighter case they are selling you a paracetamol for 10 quid, don’t be a mug. More seriously, that lovely guy or gal could be offering you something more horrible and you could be robbed or worse.
If you are sure you want to take drugs ask a trusted friend if they know of a reliable source. Let a friend know that you are taking drugs that night so they can keep an eye on you and don’t go straight in taking a lot. If you really want to, take a very small amount to see how it affects you before proceeding.
Case study: my house mates in first year made hash brownies. They ate one. Didn’t really feel anything, so that had another. Still nothing! So, one chap ate a third.
When he finally felt the effects he was on the bus and started sweating profusely absolutely certain that there was a terrorist on the bus that wanted to blow them up, and he had to get escorted home and put into bed as he wailed, certain he was under attack. This is an unusual example and weed is usually a chill out drug that actually has various health benefits (it’s not perfect but I would say it’s less harmful than smoking a cigarette) But seriously, take it slow.
If you haven’t done much exercise before I know it can seem intimidating. But if you can push yourself to do a little exercise it is fantastic for your mental health, reducing anxiety and depression (really important if you are going through your first time away from friends and family).
It is also a really good way to meet new people and can be really fun. When I went to uni I wasn’t sporty at ALL. I joined the uni boxing society and ended up training various times a week. I had been so nervous to try it out, sure people would laugh at me but some of my closest friends ended up being boxers, we’d socialise together and I felt my body become stronger that I thought possible! Amazing for self-esteem.
Check out the different sports available with your uni. If not you could join a gym and work out a few times a week. If that’s really not your thing even choosing to walk 30 mins to uni instead of getting the bus could genuinely improve your quality of life so much (and you can save some money on the fare!)
I hope you found this article helpful, good luck with everything!
If you are interested you can check out my article that gives you advice if you are feeling unhappy when you start uni, and what you can do to change things. Check it out here.
What should I say? How should I say it? Should I say anything?!
Dealing with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety is bloody hard work. It’s physically and emotionally draining, and we often feel like we are alone in the world and no one understands us. It is also really tricky for our friends and family to know how best to support us when we are having a hard time. Quite often we have family and friends who love us and really want to help, but who feel powerless to do so (or accidentally say something that can make us feel even worse!)
I really struggled with managing depression as I grew up, and it was particularly hard on my mum. My parents are fabulous people who love my socks off, but I understand that it is so difficult for our loved ones to know how to support us too. My mum felt a real sense of guilt related to my depression. After all I was just a little girl, a child. She felt it was her responsibility to keep me happy and healthy so when I started to struggle with mental health the powerlessness was difficult for her to cope with. (She did a great job by the way, long live mum)
Obviously each individual is completely different and will express their feelings in different ways, but I just wanted to put together a few pieces of advice for anyone who is struggling to support a loved one with mental health. Off we go!
Don’t lose sight of yourself
Firstly, don’t let somebody else’s problems drag you down. I myself have struggled with mental health, but I have also found myself in the position where by trying to support somebody I have let myself get dragged down in the misery pit with them. Offer support, let them know that you’re on hand, but don’t promote a relationship of dependency where you feel you are trapped and overwhelmed what is being asked of you.
Signs to look out for: If somebody threatens to hurt themselves if you don’t see them/call them, GET OUT. This is an abusive relationship/friendship and as much as you care for someone you can never allow someone to manipulate or abuse you. It is important to be there for your loved ones but you can’t make yourself poorly or unhappy by trying too hard to help them. At the end of the day, a person with mental health issues needs to want to help themselves. You can drive them to appointments, make a cup of tea on a sad day… but you should not sacrifice your own well-being in a misguided attempt to FIX somebody. (Secret: you’ll never win that game) They can only ‘fix’ themselves, through medical support and their own internal journey.
Listen, don’t preach
More than anything, someone who is hurting just wants to know they aren’t alone. Questions you can ask that give a loved one the chance to express themselves include:
How are you feeling?
Is there anything I can do to help?
What do you need in order move forward?
These are helpful questions, and by explaining our feelings to you, we will begin to understand them better ourselves. What we don’t need to hear is.
‘Come on cheer up’
‘Try to think about something else’
At least for me, if someone tries to change the subject or avoid discussing how I feel, I feel silenced. It can be a very lonely feeling and more than anything when I’m sad I just want to know I have an ally.
‘I hear you and I’m sorry that you are sad’ is a perfect and valid response, you don’t have to offer an answer (in fact PLEASE DON’T) just let them know you love them, and you are sorry that it hurts.
As I mentioned before, depression is a really lonely feeling. We tend to feel very alone in the world and can’t see our own worth or believe that the people close to us really find value in us. Do not underestimate the power of some verbal reassurance.
‘I love you’
‘You mean so much to me.’
‘You are kind.’
Stating simple and reassuring facts is important. It might seem obvious and that we already know, but when we are feeling worthless it’s really hard to believe that we matter to someone, and hearing it is an important step to healing.
Know the warning signs
Finally, know the warning signs for suicide. Did you know that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK? (Guardian) It’s really important to look out for signs of mental health problems in friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This NHS article briefly talks you through the warning signs to look out for. It suggests that ‘if you notice any of these warning signs in a friend, relative or loved one, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.’ If you find that prospect overwhelming, you could offer to go with them to a GP appointment or direct them to a support group like The Samaritans.
Please advise anyone who really believes they are at risk of suicide to call 999 (UK), where the handlers are trained to respond appropriately.
When I was at university, I had a lovely boyfriend. He was kind and clever, and we had a blast. One day, I cheated on him.
During several weeks of moping around in my dressing gown, refusing to eat and sobbing, I thought I could never learn to like myself again. I had always been judgmental of infidelity, and had a ‘no excuses’ regard for people who’d cheat on their partners. I no longer regret what I did, because it taught me some of the most important things that I’ve learned on the roller-coaster that no-one told us growing up would be.
Appreciate the lessons learned
Like I explained above, being unfaithful to my boyfriend was the ‘worst’ thing I’ve ever done. I broke a social convention big time, and I hurt someone that I care about. But you know what? I will never do it again. The experience has shown me that it is never worth it, and I’m glad I learned it when I was 20 and not when I’m married and have kids. Clearly, I needed to learn that temptation isn’t worth the consequences, and better sooner, in a uni relationship, than later. Besides, the fact it happened clearly shows that I wasn’t happy in the relationship. Looking back, as kind my ex boyfriend is I don’t think we were very well suited. I had been unhappy for a while but in complete denial because I was scared of acknowledging it, and then in the end it all kind of exploded. I’m glad that it happened because it forced us to confront the problems in our relationship and sit down and talk about whether we really wanted to be together… it turned out that the answer was no and it meant we could stop wasting each other’s time and focus on ourselves.
Finally, it taught me not to judge other people. Previously I had been quite up on my high horse about some things… including infidelity. I really looked down on people who had cheated on others. But you know what? To hell with that. I have no right to judge others and being in the same position I’d previously looked down on just showed me that you never know the details of anyone’s situation or feelings, and that looking down on others is ugly and small.
Put it into perspective
My second piece of advice when you’re feeling regretful of something is to put it into perspective. Close your eyes, take a breath and ask yourself ‘Am I going to care about this in 10 years’ time?’ If the answer is no, let it go right now and save yourself unnecessary pain that won’t even be a concern to you later on in life.
Give yourself a break
Have a bit of self-understanding! It’s very unlikely you purposefully intended to harm anyone, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, things go wrong. Be glad you feel bad, it’s your body’s natural way of adapting and changing to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. The most anxious and regretful people that I know are in their teens and early twenties… sometimes you do just have to put things down to youth. Sadly, there is no ‘how to life’ manual that comes flying out with the placenta after you’re born. We are all just doing our best to navigate the world on the experiences that each of us have had. You don’t get to judge or look down on anyone, and that includes yourself.
Recently I was crying my eyes out to my parents. I was really struggling to come to terms with the fact I’d upset one of my friends by being a bit thoughtless and I couldn’t stop punishing myself. Mum and Dad gave me cracking advice as ever:
Mum: ‘Oh Rach, I was unbearable to be around until I was at least 25’ Dad: ‘I’m pretty sure I was an obnoxious twat until I was 30.’
You see?! We are just learning, and that’s ok.
Get it together
My final bit of advice is to take a nice deep breath, and get your shit together. If you don’t reign in your overreaction to something that probably wont matter in the grand scheme of things, you are going to spiral into a bad place.
Example. I’m a vegetarian. A few months ago I got absolutely sloshed on overpriced, sickly sweet cocktails. Where did I end up? With a 6 pack of chicken nuggets in McDonalds. I woke up the next day feeling RUBBISH. My tummy was cramping because I wasn’t used to meat, I had a ratty hangover and I felt like such an idiot for letting a greasy Mcdonalds get in between me and my lifestyle choices. But I had another choice to make. I could despair and say, ‘OH WOE IS ME I’M SO BAD, I SHOULD JUST GIVE UP AND EAT MEAT ALL THE TIME.’ Or I could say ‘oops, my bad, let’s get back on track.’
Life is so so short and you can’t waste your precious time beating yourself up or hurting for the mistakes you make. The past is over, and the future is uncertain. Cringe aside, you only have the present to live and enjoy. Please don’t ruin the most important thing you have by giving yourself a hard time.