Finishing University

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Again I must apologise for leaving such a long gap between updates. The past month or so has been one of the busiest of my academic life. I’ve had a robotics project to develop and demonstrate, software engineering assignment and my final project/dissertation to complete. I haven’t managed my time perfectly, but it has been a vast improvement on last year when I only managed to get one assignment done (and had to ask for an extension for it) before messing up completely which resulted in me having to repeat the year. I’ve managed to get everything in on time this year without any extensions, so that’s something to be pleased about.

My dissertation ended up being around 17,000 words, which isn’t as much as a lot of students but I had to develop and document a piece of software too which involves a lot of technical diagrams and I spent many hours each day over the past few weeks to make sure I got everything done. It wasn’t perfect and there was a lot more I would like to have added but I think it’s fairly good. My tentative goal is to get a 2:1 (the second highest grade) for my degree overall, although I wouldn’t be devastated if I didn’t get that. To be completely honest, it’s been other factors like my mental health and personal problems that have hampered my progress more than anything but I’ve tried really hard to stay on track this year. I’m sure those of you reading this who went to college/university know what a massive undertaking it is and I was completely mentally drained by the time I had to hand it in and demonstrate my software last week. One of my classmates actually got RSI while writing his, so maybe I got off lightly.

It seems very strange to be coming to the end of my university life. I just checked back on the post I wrote when I first started here and I can’t believe how quickly that time has gone. Despite the massive problems I’ve had, especially the obvious one, I’ve enjoyed being here and it’s been a great experience. I’ll be proud of myself for the first time in a long, long time if I manage to pass and get my degree (which, barring any catastrophes, I should do). It’s a weird time and I’m not sure how I feel about it but for once I’m not depressed or anxious about the near future.

The second part of this post is to thank everyone who voted for me in the About.com poll. I didn’t stand much of a chance against the excellent Social Anxiety UK site, which I used many times myself but I did get a Reader’s Choice finalist award, so thank you all for that. You can see the other winners here.

On a scale of 1 to 10

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Back again. I scheduled this one because the last post already went over 2000 words and I don’t want to bombard anyone who still reads this site with too much in one go.

Something that has seemed weird to me during the process of trying to deal with mental health issues is trying to apply any sort of scale to how depressed you are feeling. Whenever I had to go to the consultant psychiatrist he would always say without fail “On a scale of 1 to 10 if 1 is down in the dumps, how do you feel?” to which I would usually give my stock answer of 6 because honestly I find it impossible to do.

You might think that the lowest I have felt is in summer 2009 when I tried to kill myself but the truth is that I didn’t even feel that bad compared to times in the past or since then. I find it impossible to put a number on this, it doesn’t feel like a simple continuum. People have tried to find out from me what caused me to try and do that to myself, they seem to think there must have been some event that pushed me over the edge but there really wasn’t. I hadn’t planned it on that specific day, it had been months since I had made the preparations for it and I can’t even remember what was going through my head that evening.

To me it seems like a combination of things makes up how depressed I am. The usual stuff like a sense of hopelessness and lethargy, general sadness, feeling trapped and the big one for me: whether I can see a way out of it.

The time when I’ve been at my absolute lowest was when I was working at my first job. I have probably written about it before but there were several reasons why I hated it so much. First of all I had to work from 1.30pm til 10pm which meant I barely got to see my family, and since they are the only people I really talk to this meant that I would essentially go all week and hardly speak to anyone at all (although that’s not a lot different to my current situation..) because they’d gone to work in the morning and went to bed either before or not long after I got home from work. I hated the job itself, never realised how much I couldn’t stand phone calls especially with angry customers until then. The people I worked with, with the exception of a couple, would make fun of me every single day from the moment I got in the door because of how quiet I was and I couldn’t talk to them at all. I hated them.

Due to me not being able to drive, I used to have to leave the house at 12.00 to get there on time so it would be hours of each day spent in the place that I hated more than anywhere, counting down the minutes til I could at least escape for a while and sleep, which was the only respite I had. Because the only time I got to myself was late at night, I didn’t really have a chance to do anything that I wanted to do. Even if I had some kind of social life before, it would have gone out of the window when I started that job.

I can’t express how much I detested it even though I was only there for a few months. If I had to go back again, there’s absolutely no way I could cope. Towards the end, I would have to try my hardest to stop myself from crying or having a panic attack before I left the house to go to work and while I was there I had to hide in the toilets on numerous occasions to try and compose myself. It was an open plan office so there was no hiding from anyone during the day.

If you think that I felt worse then than I did when I tried to kill myself then you can get an idea of how bad it was.

The thing that worries me most is that I will feel like this wherever I go. The overriding feeling is that there is no escape from it. When I was there, I could see no end in sight, all I could think was that I had 40+ more years of that to contend with. I remember telling my sister at the time that I felt as though I had nothing to live for, nothing mattered to me. All I wanted to do was get out of there at the end of the day. Knowing what I know now, I have to ask myself is that kind of life really worth living?

Finally, an update.

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Wow I can’t believe it has been all this time since I wrote a post. Incidentally this will be the 200th update so I’d better try and make it a good one…

I’ve started writing posts a couple of times throughout the year but could never really think of anything substantial to say. A lot of the time I haven’t had the mental energy to write anything longer than a few sentences outside of academic work, and sometimes not even then (more on that later). For a while now I have sort of dissociated myself from the mental health “community” both online and in real life. After a few years of it being my entire life, not a day went by when I didn’t think about my depression and where life was leading, I began to get tired of it and perhaps give in to my avoidant tendencies and simply ignore it. Of course it’s impossible to totally ignore the effects it has on your life when you have allowed yourself to become the rather messed up and eccentric (to put it mildly) person I am. It’s not something you can throw out wholesale but I made a concerted effort not to involve myself in the things that reminded me of the bad stuff, even though this was potentially damaging. I stopped talking to the people I know with mental health problems, ceased going to the doctor and I haven’t seen any kind of care coordinator or therapist for well over a year now. I realise this may be counterproductive.

For the most part of the period between my last update and today my time has been involved with desperately trying to keep my head above water with regards to university. The sharper readers among you will have noticed that I should have graduated by now but unfortunately this is not the case. When I first started my 3rd year I should have been in an ideal situation to get down to work; I didn’t have my recent suicide attempt hanging over me like in 2nd year and I also wasn’t living in the house where I felt confined and like I had to avoid my housemate’s boyfriend who seemed to take a disliking to me. I had struggled through that and with a few extensions to assignments managed to pass the year although with a much lower grade than first year (though with the increased difficulty it was partly expected). I don’t want to repeat myself too much but I moved into a flat where I shared a kitchen with 4 new flatmates, who surprisingly I barely saw for the entire year I was there. I still had issues with going to make meals and things though and tried my best to stay out of their way. I’ve almost given up trying to figure out why I have such a powerful desire to do such things.

Despite the improved living conditions, I soon got back into old habits that have plagued me since college in 2004 and began to miss lectures and seminars, telling myself it’d be alright and that on the day in question I wouldn’t be missing anything important. It turns out I am very easily convinced by myself in such matters… Of course the problem with this is that if you miss early sessions, you miss out on important information you might need for later in the year.

For my course, 3rd year involves you doing a large project throughout the year, on which a large portion of your final grade is assessed. I got into the downward spiral of being late to choose a project and putting off meeting with my assigned supervisor, partly because it was a member of staff I have trouble talking to because of his poor English (I know that’s bad of me). The deadline for the project proposal was fast approaching and I hadn’t even spoken to my supervisor once to confirm that I had chosen a project from the pre-approved list. I just went ahead and submitted the proposal which somehow passed but I got in trouble for not clearing it with anyone and was told that another student had picked that one so I had to change. I panicked and had been missing ever more lectures and workshops, my rationale being that because I hadn’t attended some of them at all from the beginning of the year, it would be embarrassing to turn up and have people wonder where I had been all this time. Of course that problem only gets worse and worse the longer it goes on. This had been my downfall at college where I ended up only attending a single lecture for one unit and only just managing to scrape a pass for it but things are much harder at university…

For one of my modules there was going to be a kind of mock job interview, but I did not realise this until too late. I didn’t really speak to anyone in my year about coursework, another reason I was afraid to attend lectures was that I didn’t want to be asked about how my project was going because I had absolutely nothing prepared besides my invalid proposal. This all sounds so stupid when I write it down and I’m sure if I had gone to talk to someone about it at an earlier time I may have been able to work something out but again avoidance won out.

After a few months and being well behind in every module, I realised something had to be done and I managed to get the courage to email one of the staff I had spoken to about problems last year. After some difficult explanation I managed to convince him to try and arrange for me to redo the year. Normally this is impossible, if you fail the third year then that’s it, you are out of the door. Thankfully he helped me to submit and extenuating circumstances request and he personally asked the Dean of faculty if my tuition could be waived because there was no way I could afford the £3600 it costs. I was told that this was highly unusual but amazingly it worked out and my request was approved. I owe that lecturer a great deal for helping me with this and I won’t forget it. The fact that I have another chance does make me feel guilty, I’m sure there are others with much more compelling reasons for not being able to complete the year who did not get another chance.

I apologise for the long winded explanation above but that’s pretty much where I was around summer this year. Over July and August I returned to work at the place I had been the previous couple of years and had to make up some excuses about being ill as to why I hadn’t graduated but overall work went pretty well. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work there as there aren’t any people who made my life a misery unlike at my first job.

Starting back at university last month I promised myself that I would try my very best to attend all lectures and so far I’m doing pretty well. I have missed a couple of workshops that my erratic sleep pattern (although nowhere near as bad as last year) caused me to oversleep for, but it’s no more than the average student who has a hangover would miss. I’m in yet another new place of accommodation this year, every single year I’ve been in a different place! This is the best one by far though, it’s like a studio apartment so I have my own small kitchen area. Lucky for me, my mum helped me out with the rent.

That’s the situation right now. Mood wise, I have been rather stable compared to previous months. I stopped taking sertraline, mainly because my GP left and I don’t really like the new one and I don’t want him to refer me back to the care coordinator who makes me very uncomfortable but I don’t really miss it. The depressive episodes that plagued me before seem to have subsided somewhat. I still have a very bleak outlook on things and find it almost impossible to be excited or feel any passion about things but at least I’m not actively seeking out ways to die any more. I can make it from day to day without spending hours ruminating about suicide. The social anxiety is still there, though I have been avoiding people and situations a lot so it hasn’t had much chance to manifest itself.

This is a thing I have been curious about though; how unusual it is for a person to be so withdrawn as me. On an average week I basically don’t speak to anyone besides to say “thank you” to shop keepers and the like. I still go home at weekends and so talk to my mum, dad and sister when they are there but during the week I am practically mute. In every class I sit alone, even more so than in previous years because there are now only 2 people whose names I know and might possibly speak to me if they saw me, everyone else has graduated. I do feel like it’s extremely unhealthy and I worry intensely what will happen when I eventually have to fully move out on my own and will in all likelihood be permanently isolated.

I might write a bit more tomorrow, this post has rambled on a lot but there was a lot to say since the last post. I hope everyone who reads this (the number of hits I get is still surprisingly high) is ok and I apologise for not staying in touch with you.

It’s Overdue

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Hello there. First of all I’d like to apologise for being absent for so long, I’ve been a Bad Blogger. Around the time we last left off I was going through another period of bad depression and finding myself snowed under with work and feeling rather hopeless and suicidal again. A visit to the psychiatrist convinced me to try a different antidepressant to try and get things under control as I was really struggling. This time it was sertraline (also known as Zoloft) and things have picked up since then, at least I’m no longer plagued by constant thoughts and the need to plan suicide, even if it is still on my mind a lot. If I’m perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure that’s the way I’ll die but it doesn’t feel immediately inevitable like it did before. I was sceptical about SSRIs after my previous experiences but it seems like I might have found the one that at least takes the edge off.

Not a lot has happened in the last year to be honest. It’s been the same old thing over and over. Some plus points are that I managed to get through the group project and presentation that I had worried so much about. It was nerve wracking but I lucked out and only had to present to one lecturer, the other scary one who was meant to be there was ill. I passed the second year of my degree with a 2:2 which is considerably lower than the first year, but considering all the problems I was having it’s decent enough. Over the summer I worked at the place I was at last year and got on OK there, was quite sad to leave really. I get pretty much free reign to get on with things and it’s some experience to go on my C.V. so it’s all good.

Going into my final year, I decided to move out of the house I’d been sharing with two of my first year flatmates. It’s not that I didn’t get along with them, they are very nice, but I just felt kind of trapped in my room because some of their friends and one of their boyfriend made me feel really nervous. I didn’t like sharing a bathroom either, or sleeping in the downstairs room. This year I’m renting a flat in a block of student apartments off campus and sharing a kitchen with 4 others. I don’t really see much of them, we mostly keep to ourselves and I’ve only really had one proper conversation with one of them the whole time. The others I’ve barely spoken to at all.

Bad habits have crept back though. I have been buying takeaway food and going without meals rather than cooking because I have this fear of people thinking bad things about what I eat and I don’t like to be in the kitchen for too long. It sounds so stupid to write down but I just can’t help it.

The main problems I’ve been having lately is that I have missed so many lectures and workshops. The third year is really the most important one and I should be attending everything ideally, but anxiety has conspired to make me miss out on a lot. I had to ask for an extension on the first assignment and jump through hoops to get doctors letters and proof that it was a valid reason but I managed it. Thankfully I passed that one (although with a poor grade) but I’m afraid of what will happen with the next ones. Part of the reason I have missed so much is my utterly ridiculous sleeping pattern over the last few months of the semester. I was literally unable to sleep all night and would fall asleep mid morning or afternoon completely exhausted then wake up at night time. On one occasion I woke up at 10.30pm. I spoke my to my doctor about it but they don’t want to give me sleeping pills (for obvious reasons I suppose). Over the Christmas break I’ve managed to get back into some semblence of a routine at least. It is nice to actually see daylight for a change.

I never used to think the weather had any affect on my mood, but the last few times when my depression has been worse has been in winter. I’m not sure if the decreased amount of sun makes me feel worse but it seems possible. The point where I felt so bad that I finally managed to speak to someone about it, back in 2007, was in the winter too.

My main worries at the moment are that I am so far behind on uni work. I don’t know if I will fail some modules, it’s possible I might have to resit them in the summer in order to graduate which wouldn’t be the end of the world but I can’t repeat the year because this is the last one that the student loans company will fund for me and I don’t another £3600 I could pay out of my own pocket. I’ve been so stupid, letting my fears get the best of me and avoiding lectures because of stupid anxiety. My avoidant tendancies have stopped me from even looking at the other assignment deadlines coming up because I know I have so much to catch up on.

I’m going to try and talk to my old tutor who helped me out last time and is somewhat aware of my situation but I don’t want to seem like I’m making excuses for being lazy or something. I know they can’t make special circumstances just for me but I don’t really know what else to do.

I think I’ve probably written enough for one update but I’ll include this quiz about the last year since I wasn’t around to blog about it much. Thanks to everyone who has messaged me and wished me well. Sorry I kept to have kept you waiting, those of you who asked me to write an update.

1. Was 2010 a good year for you?

No not really.

2. What were your New Year’s Resolutions and did you keep them?

No.

3. Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions for 2010?

No.

4. Where will you be when 2010 ends?

I was in London watching Sonic Youth.

5. Who will you be with when 2010 ends?

My friend Vicky and some of her friends who I don’t know.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

To feel like there are things to look forward to, not to be overwhelmed by work.

7. Where did most of your money go?

Mostly on rent. My biggest personal purchase was a new guitar.

8. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I don’t really get excited about anything, though I was looking forward to New Year even though it was tempered by anxiety and depression once it was over.

9. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? about the same.

ii. thinner or fatter? My doctor said she thought I’d lost weight but I feel fatter.

iii. richer or poorer? Still poor.

10. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Uni work, going to lectures, staying in touch with people, getting up earlier.

11. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastination, succumbing to anxiety, avoiding things.

12. How will you be spending Christmas?

I went home to be with my mum and occasionally dad and sister when they weren’t working. It was fairly pleasant.

13. How many one-night stands?

None.

14. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No I don’t think so.

15. What was the best book you read?

Nineteen Eighty Four

16. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I usually listen to older music that I missed out on, so some Pavement albums I guess.

17. What did you want and get?

To not be constantly suicidal. A nice guitar. To see one of my favourite people.

18. What did you want and not get?

The ability to be excited about things and not see only disappointment in the future. Happiness, hah.

19. Favourite film of this year?

I don’t think it was a fantastic year for films. Shutter Island was good I guess.

20. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I can’t even remember, I think I might have gone out for lunch with my sister. I was 25

21. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Can’t think of one thing in particular.

22. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

“Inoffensive”.

23. What kept you sane?

Sertraline.

24. Who do you miss?

Vicky. My old flatmates, even though I could see them I don’t really have an excuse to be around any more. I think they didn’t mind me being there when I lived with them but can’t see why they’d want me around now.

25. Did you make any new friends?

No.

26. Quote a song that sums up your year:

“I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.”

27. Where were you when 2010 began?

At home.

28. Who were you with?

My mum and her boyfriend,

29. Did you fall in love in 2010?

No.

.

30. If yes, with who?

n/a

31. Are you still in love with them?

n/a

32. Did you break up with anyone in 2010?

No.

33. What was your favourite month of 2010?

August.

34. What was your favourite record from 2010?

Interpol’s self titled album.

35. How many concerts did you see in 2010?

Two.

36. Did you have a favourite concert in 2010?

Sonic Youth.

37. Did you drink a lot of alcohol in 2010?

No, I hardly ever drink. I have enough vices as it is.

40. What was your most embarrassing moment of 2010?

Can’t pick a single moment.

41. If you could go back in time to any moment of 2010 and change something, what would it be?

Work harder and attend more at uni.

42. What are your plans for 2011?

Try to get back on track and pass my degree. Keep practicing playing the guitar. Hopefully travel somewhere interesting.

Retrospective

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2009 wasn’t a good year for me, in fact I’d say it was probably the worst of my life since I was in the institutional torture centre known as school. Obviously the spiralling depression and series of events that led to me finally trying and failing to kill myself in the summer was a particularly low point. I did some things that I should probably be ashamed of if I could feel anything other than hopelessness. I lost most of the few connections I had with other people because I, foolishly in hindsight, wrote to them to let them know what had happened to me. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be coming back. For months i researched methods and bought hundreds of pills which sat ominously in my drawer while at times I desperately tried to overcome the feelings that death at my own hands was inevitable and that it was the only way to stop the agonising dull pain of living a failed life, wracked with guilt because my own cushy life would be welcomed with open arms by 99% of the worlds population.

10 years ago, I was almost 15 and probably at the height of my psychological bullying and trying to deal with the uniquely fucked up family situation I found myself in and blamed myself for. There was a lot of talk about the future, what with us entering a new millenium (although not strictly true, you pedants) and I somewhat foolishly hoped that the next ten years might bring some changes to the unhappy awkwardness that was my teenage life. It is a thoroughly disheartening thought to realise that not only am I more unhappy than ever, my social skills and any semblance of a “life” are even worse.

I saw the end of a TV programme the other day, some talking head was going on about how teenage girls spend inordinate amounts of time talking and thinking about their first kiss with a boy. It deeply saddens me in many ways because it is a constant reminder of how far I’ve been left behind socially.

This kind of observation usually prompts comments like “life isn’t a race” and so on. This is no consolation because it is usually said by people who have no comprehension of what it’s like to be so isolated and the mental desolation of being consantly alone with no connection to other humans. I recently struggled to explain to some mental health types that I simply cannot fathom the idea that I could ever be in a relationship, it’s unthinkable that I could even have friends. Every single day I am forced to spend around normal people just reinforces further the massive deficiencies in my own personality and I just cannot ever imagine being capable of the basic social skills that are required to get on in the world.

This post has kind of gone off the rails, I apologise. It’s 2.30am and I am sitting here wondering how I am going to be able to carry on the facade, pretending that I don’t wish I had suceeded in killing myself. Not only this but I have to struggle with the increasingly hard university work. I started looking at pills again and got to the checkout stage. I know how I could make it work now, I just can’t let anyone know until the time when I could be “saved” has passed.

Letter to my therapist

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I can never answer honestly when he asks “How are you?” and I assume this is one of the rare occasions where an honest answer would actually be appreciated so I finally decided to write something down. I am tired and can’t really think of everything I want to say but I think this captures the essence of it. It should be a fun hour tomorrow 😦

I feel very depressed every day. I don’t look forward to anything, it seems like there is always something to dread about the future, I’m always worrying about something that’s coming up. Life seems pointless, I can’t even do the most basic things like be in the same room as people. I’m scared of being around most people but I don’t know why. I haven’t made a proper meal at my house for the last two weeks, I’m too afraid that I will be trapped in the kitchen when there are people there and I don’t know what to say or how to act and I’m scared of them thinking I’m weird and saying things about me. It makes me feel even more worthless.

I can’t stop thinking about how I want to die. There is no other reason I can think of other than guilt about causing my family pain why I want to live. It occupies my mind for hours each day, I feel terribly guilty that I feel this way but I wish that I had died when I tried to kill myself.