November 15, 2018, by Ryan Neal
Dealing with mental health at uni
Guest post by second year medical student, Issy.
When I came to uni I was really nervous about a lot of things, like everyone else starting first year. What will my hallmates be like? (Lovely) Will I like the course? (Absolutely) How will I fit in? (Not so bad at all). However, I had another thing worrying me – How was I going to cope with the party culture?
I suffer from a bit of a collection of mental health conditions, some more prevalent than others but all affecting the way I function. I can be pretty unpredictable in terms of mood – even I often can’t work out how I’m going to feel later. So, committing to parties and the inevitable drinking that comes with that is not exactly my strong point.
I have an absolute phobia of myself vomiting. It’s called emetophobia and is actually one of the more common phobias people suffer with. This is the first thing that steers me away from socials – what if I’m sick? If I am, I have uncontrollable panic attacks (often making me sick again). It’s not just that it’s unpleasant – it actually genuinely terrifies me so much. For instance, I can’t work at 100% whilst rowing for a long period of time – the minute I start to feel queasy from the exercise I have to slow down for fear of being sick. It’s not something I can control, but seriously limits my performance in a sport I love and know I have potential in, and also does the same for socialising at uni.
Also, lots of people in one small space with lots of lights and loud noises where you can’t hear yourself think at the best of times, let alone talk, doesn’t lend itself well to anxiety symptoms. Some of the techniques I have been taught over the years such as grounding myself or forcing myself to think rationally just don’t work in these situations because I can’t do just that – think. It’s hard, really hard. I see my friends all enjoying themselves and think – why can’t I be like that?
And sometimes, I’m just not in the mood. I want to be alone, I want my own space, or I just want to relax. I might have said yes, I would come earlier in the week but that day I just don’t feel like it. I feel awful for changing my mind but I know would feel even more uncomfortable being there.
I also take medications to control some of the symptoms of the conditions I have. These do not mix with alcohol very well at all – for instance alcohol is a depressant, and if you take anti depressants they won’t be as effective on alcohol. They can also alter your alcohol tolerance, and the way you react – I for one know that I can get very impulsive when I drink at the same time as taking medication.
Sometimes it feels like I have to rifle through a drawer of possible excuses to justify myself – when really it’s okay to just say ‘I don’t like to drink’.
I’ve learnt now, in my second year, this is actually more than just okay – It’s normal. I’m not the only one who feels like this.
People often say that you’re ‘chickening out’ or ‘bailing’ and this can feel pretty awful, but you have to remember that actually you’re being pretty brave in making a choice that’s best for yourself. If they think badly of you for it, that’s on them, not you. At all. If you are nervous to admit that you are different to the ‘social norm’, seeing it from the other perspective can help. Ask yourself, if your friend told you they didn’t want to drink as they were not comfortable with it, would you force them? No.
Societies at uni now also are beginning to notice that some members don’t like the drinking and partying side of things and put on a wide range of different socials so there’s something for everyone and no one is made to feel left out or secluded. For instance, a society I’m on the committee for has trips to events such as the Goose fair, Bonfire night fireworks or a Christmas meal – none of which require drinking to have a good time.
And people expect it of me now. Don’t get me wrong – occasionally I decide that I’m feeling well enough to join them and hit up Ocean or go to pre-drinks with them, and I usually have a great time – but I know from experience that when I’ve forced myself to go out if I’m not feeling mentally prepared, it’s just not going to be a good night and I will feel worse for it. It’s a case of doing what is best for you.
If you feel like this sometimes, I have some advice. Remember that you are you, and you shouldn’t force yourself to change for anybody or anything. People may imply that you are ‘boring’ because you don’t like to drink – but this is never the case. The people who are your true friends will see you for yourself and your personality. It’s completely okay to not want to drink – don’t let anyone force you to.
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