On 25 April 2013, I had an argument with one of my housemates at university. She’d cut in front of me and gone in the bathroom as I was walking there and I jokingly said “you bitch.” She didn’t take this as a joke and got really mad at me, refusing to speak to me. No big deal, right? Small little thing, easily fixed? Wrong.
This small misunderstanding resulted in what I can really only describe as a total breakdown on my part. I literally locked myself away in my bedroom and didn’t leave for over 24 hours. I didn’t eat, drink, sleep or use the toilet. I just cried.
You see, I’d been feeling increasingly unwell over the months leading up to this event, although I kept pretending I was fine. Living with my friends had been hard, and we’d become more distant than I had expected due to the general stresses of living together. When we first moved in together, things had been great, we’d spent nights laughing, singing and talking about boys, but slowly things changed. We began spending less time together, instead being on campus smashing out assignments in the 24-hour library or in the city with friends. I found this hard, I’d made fewer friends than my housemates, as I’ve always been more comfortable with a much smaller group of close friends, and suddenly felt isolated.
As a result, I began avoiding going home too. I would go to the library late at night, pretending to be working on assignments, and head straight to bed when I got in. I began using the gym as a means to avoid going home too, getting up at 6.30am to go there before heading to campus, and going a second time to avoid heading home at the end of the day. I began isolating myself when I was at home, and spent most of my time alone in my room. I began avoiding the kitchen, our main communal area, as I hated having to make awkward chit chat, skipping meals altogether. I was struggling to sleep, spending nights awake, thoughts racing, unable to relax.
So by the time this incident took place, I was seriously unwell. I hardly spent time with anyone, instead spending most of my time sitting in my room with headphones in. I struggled to leave my room if I thought my housemates were in, as I felt crippling anxiety and paranoia that they hated me and wished I was dead.
It’s hardly surprising then that a friend being overtly upset with me caused me such distress. I spent the night panicked, unsure of how to continue living like this, how to get through my up-coming exams, and how to tell my mum how much I was struggling. I considered ending my life to have to avoid all of these things.
But then something else happened. The following morning, a friend from our original first-year house came over. I can’t remember exactly if I’d spoken to her, or if my housemates asked her to come, concerned about me. She came into my room, and I remember her handing me chocolate and asking when I last ate properly. I had no idea. Days had blurred so much over the past few months I really wasn’t sure. She asked me what had happened, and I explained, crying as if it was the end of the world. When I finished she looked at me, compassion in her eyes, and said: “you need to go home.” I was confused, why?! It was a fight, no big deal really. She told me she thought I wasn’t well, and needed to go home and get my head sorted. I laughed and said I had exams coming up and didn’t have time. She got firmer then. She reminded me that my health was more important, and even if I went through with my exams I could revise at home. She grabbed my suitcase off the wardrobe and began packing it.
And actually, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
I’d be hiding how much I was struggling for years, certainly most of that year, and I needed someone to call me out. She backed me into a corner where I had no choice but to accept how unwell I was and to finally seek help. As harsh at it seems, I am so bloody thankful she did that. She drove me to the station, helped me buy a ticket and I headed home. Less than a week later I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and finally felt that I might actually be able to recover from all this.
Without that conversation, without my friend having the guts to start that conversation, I honestly believe I may have attempted to take my own life at university. I desperately feared letting my family back home down, and them thinking badly of me for ‘failing’ at university. I was the first person in my family to go, and I wanted people to be proud of me. I couldn’t see a way out, and was too scared to ask for help. I pushed my feelings away and kept denying any issues, even to myself. But my friend’s words were a wake-up call. How I was feeling wasn’t normal stress, and wasn’t just going to go away on its own. I needed help.
It wasn’t easy for her. I don’t doubt that. In hindsight, I’m sure my housemates and friends had suspected things weren’t right for a while and didn’t know what to do. But it only took one to say something for my entire life to change. Because of her words, I was able to recover. So, Emily, I want to publicly thank you for what you did that day nearly 6 years ago. Because I genuinely believe, and always will, that you saved my life. And I will always be eternally grateful for that.
So this Time to Talk Day, and beyond, please keep talking about mental health. Because breaking down those barriers and having the courage to speak really does change lives.