After a few weeks of feeling down and miserable, I decided to make an appointment with the advice centre in my university. I broke down in their office detailing everything I had experienced – from the first ever panic attack 3 years ago to the suicidal thoughts 3 days ago. They were so kind and understanding and completely non-judgemental.
They were so kind and understanding and completely non-judgemental and for once I didn’t feel like the huge mess I told myself I was – but like a normal person who was having a tough time.
They provided me with lots of information. Contact details for external counsellors and CBT therapy, advice to contact my university’s disability service to allow for any delayed assignments/missed days, and the reassurance that there were so many other people they’d spoken to that were in the same place.
Then they suggested I take a year out from university, which I immediately dismissed.
I’d never heard of anyone taking a break from university, only dropping out. All through school I was told that dropping out was the end of the world and the worse decision you could ever make – how could anyone suggest that to me? Dropping out always has this huge stigma around it, and I was always led to believe you were a quitter or a failure if you left. I was shocked someone would advise me to leave as if it wasn’t a huge, life-changing deal.
I left their office, determined to try to push myself more. I started to register myself with the disability service and tried to push all the thoughts of leaving to the very back of my mind.
But it’s all I could think about for weeks.
I started researching other people’s stories. I spent hours scouring through student forums and help-lines asking for advice and reading the advice given to others. I didn’t find any conclusive answers, just a sea of ‘do what’s best for you’ and I became frustrated because I didn’t know what was best for me anymore. My whole life I’d been desperate to go to university because that’s what makes you successful, but here I was, the most miserable I’d ever been. I didn’t enjoy a single day, but 6 months from the end of my degree I felt it was too late to drop out or give up. I’d come so far, how could I leave before the final hurdle?
I went back to the advice hub and asked for some more information about taking a year out. They helped me understand it wasn’t me ‘giving up’ but putting myself first. Clearly, university wasn’t helping my mental health and I needed to take some positive steps to try to make my situation better. I was still unsure about what to do, but all the fear was gone.
Immediately, I phoned my boyfriend and explained what they had said to him and immediately he supported the idea. He had seen the changes in me more than anyone else, and he could see I was at breaking point. I was glad for his support but still so conflicted to take such a huge step. I’m indecisive at the best of times, but when it comes to huge decisions I’m stuck. It seemed like I was at a huge turning point in my life and I couldn’t work out what was best at all. The more I thought about it, the more a break seemed to appeal to me but I was so worried. I was scared of what people would think of me, what I would tell my parents, my coworkers. I felt like I would help myself to leave, but let everyone I cared about down. It was an impossible decision.
It was an impossible decision.
I arranged a meeting with my head of year to discuss what would happen, it hypothetically, I did leave. By now I had pretty much swayed myself into believing this was the best choice for me but I needed the reassurance that it wasn’t a huge mistake on my part.
I was so nervous to meet with her, but she was so understanding and helpful it made me cry. I explained it all again to her, right from the first ever panic attack to where I was now, and she confirmed I had to do what was best for me. She told me that university ‘isn’t supposed to be this hard’ and reassured me that all of my classes and lecturers would still be there for me when I returned the next year. It was the most helpful conversation I’d ever had. She told me that I had to make sure I was looking after myself first, especially after I told her about the lack of motivation and falling behind. It was true, staying there in the state I was in would never let me reach my full potential. I’ve always been academic and loved to learn, but that had all disappeared and I lost all confidence in my abilities.
When I left her office, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I discussed the meeting with my boyfriend who, as always, was amazingly supportive. I even spoke to my closest coworkers and managers at work to gain their insight.
I had already made up my mind but I just needed the reassurance that I was making the right decision by others’ standards.
The hardest people to tell were my parents. I spent weeks in my room planning out how the conversation would go, but I was never sure of their reaction. I was the first person in my family to go to university and I felt that taking time out would convince them all I was a failure. I was so nervous when I sat down and asked them if we could talk, and shakily I explained the situation to them. I’d always been so honest about my mental health, and they knew when I was having panic attacks and they knew I had started antidepressants which I think helped their understanding. They saw that I hadn’t been myself recently and, of course, were determined to help. Like me, the works ‘taking a break’ caused them to panic because they jumped to the same conclusions as me and thought it meant giving up. It took an hour of explaining it to them, everything the advice centre and my head of year had told me, but eventually, they were able to take a step back and see it wasn’t the end of the world. They told me that they would support me either way and that I had to make the best decision for me either way. This was the same thing I’d heard from everyone, but it was different coming from my parents.
With their support, I was able to make my decision and on the 11th November 2016, I had my last day at university.
The whole process was done in half the time it took me to make up my mind. I had to fill in a form describing my reasons for wanting a break and that was it. Two weeks later I received my letter in the post telling me that my application was successful, I was due to complete my course starting September 2017 and that was it.
That was about 5 months ago and I haven’t regretted my decision once. Taking a break obviously isn’t the best choice for everyone, but it definitely was for me. It’s given me time to look after myself and pursue a range of hobbies that are helping to improve my life every single day! I’m still hoping to go back to finish my last year in September this year, but taking this time for myself has been the best decision I ever made and I am so happy I decided to put my own needs first.
*This post is part of a series*
http://www.samaritans.org // 116 123
http://www.mind.org.uk // 0300 123 3393
http://www.sane.org.uk // 0300 304 7000
http://www.supportline.org.uk // 01708 765200