I was struggling with where to start this. The start seems a tad too conventional for something that is anything but conventional, so we are Tarantino styling this and going from then jumping back and then forwards again.
For anyone who knows me the previous academic year was a weird one and not exactly the easiest but also probably my best yet and I would personally argue the most informative and important year of my life. Without being cliche I learned more about myself in the past year than I had in any of my time at school.
That’s for one simple fact, I started my year at my version of rock bottom (when on a phone assessment for CBT I said life didn’t seem to have any meaning for me anymore and I was referred to high-intensity one to one CBT). I’ll always be grateful for the position I am in that my rock bottom was still living comfortably with family but mentally I was in a really bad place. In September of 2018, I had been told I was being kicked out of university for failing my first-year exams. First-year of university had not been easy and I can safely say my anxiety had never been worse than before my set of exams and over the summer before the subsequent resits. Yet despite all of this I didn’t speak out, I got up every day, put effort into how I looked and tried to be as smiley and friendly and “lit” as possible all in a vain attempt to make other people think I was coping. I somehow thought that if others thought I was doing well or there appeared to be someone struggling more openly than I was that I would be ok and I had nothing to worry about. This is something I’ve done for most of my life, and not something I’m proud of, to find someone who’s doing “worse” than me and take solace in the fact that, at least at face value, I’m not the biggest fuck up out there. Of course, neither of those things are true, someone else’s problems don’t minimise your own and more importantly, I should be as open as other people about how difficult life is. It does, however, extend to avoiding busy places (something I have thankfully been forceful and stopped myself doing), regularly thinking everyone (including close mates) hate me and that my accent is grating on everyone’s ears.
If you’ve seen me around college or Oxford recently and stopped to ask me how I’m doing there’s a chance I’ve told you I’m not doing well. That’s not to say term is going badly or my mental health is deteriorating I’ve just taken to not putting up a facade anymore. If I am having a bad day I am going to tell you and have no shame about it.
I won’t bore you all with the details of how anxiety affects me in everyday life, partly because I am aware just how trivial most of it is when written down, just like many things in life a bullet point list will never get across the experience of what life is like with it.
I started suffering with anxiety around year 11 and my GCSE exams, I remember shaking with nerves (something I’d never done before) outside my English exam. I didn’t finish that exam but ignored what had happened as I still did ok. I now fully believe I have never had a really good experience with exams since that day, be it thoughts that I’ll fail to never fully achieving what I felt I could there has always been something off about exams since that day. It’s not just academically that anxiety affects me, I felt my mind cloud from anxious thoughts in my black belt karate grading (which I subsequently failed) and if you ask me to approach someone new on my own you’ll be met with a laugh and some choice words if you keep pushing.
Growing up both gay and with undiagnosed dyspraxia I was unfortunately prone to developing mental health problems trying to navigate a world that isn’t always the friendliest place. Not feeling like a proper man because I used to play with my sister’s barbie dolls and couldn’t kick or catch a ball if my life depended on it is still something that quietly affects me to this day. But as you get older you do realize that is a problem with how masculinity is defined and not a problem with one’s self.
It was this desire to be seen as a proper man that stopped me from speaking out earlier not wanting to be seen as weak and “attention-seeking” something I now realize was my own prejudices against mental health which rather ironically caused me a lot of harm. This past year I have realized it’s not bad to complain and vent and open up to lots of people, the more people who know you the more people you have to turn to.
I am by no means at the end of my journey being as I only truly started it 6 months back when I started receiving CBT on the NHS (now discharged which is a strange feeling) and I am certainly not, or probably ever, living anxiety free. But I certainly much happier now than during my first year at uni and that’s all that matters. I still put too much effort into how I look on my bad days and the rule about me not approaching people I don’t know at mixers most definitely still stands. This is by no means a full life recount and anything left out has been done so for a reason (I’m probably not comfortable talking about it here). There is to many people to thank for making the past year so good from what should have been nothing (shoutout to the big sis though who has done more than she probably realizes) and I’ll leave this with the small fact that opening up and standing up for myself got me back to uni and if that’s not reason enough to seek help for your own worries and stresses I don’t know what is.