This Editorial was originally published in Palatinate 825, as part of an ongoing mental health campaign.
By Jack Taylor
This term Palatinate has launched a mental health campaign. The aim is to tell mental health stories and highlight issues that people face on a daily basis. Part of that requires people being open about how they fell with us and the rest of the University. I don’t think we should do this unless we do it ourselves.
Before coming to University I was under the impression that issues with my mental health could be avoided. As long as you ignored your problems, stayed positive and always replied with “I’m okay”, you’d be fine. I laugh now at how wrong I was.
After two years I thought I’d been set straight. I’ve spent multiple Novembers with an awful moustache, repeated the line “it’s okay not to be okay” and always checked in on my friends. All whilst ignoring my own mental health.
During Easter Term last year I came close to dropping out, I still actually have the email in my drafts. I’m sure most people can relate that there are times that you really question if the late nights and stress are worth it. That is what I was going through but at the same time I had a family slowly dying back home in Somerset.
I was under the impression that issues with my mental health could be avoided
My grandmother’s health had slowly deteriorated from around January last year. She’d had an operation to remove gallstones but her health still declined.
I went home for the Easter holiday to see her. She’d lost a huge amount of weight but also some of her mind. In later months doctors would suggest it was dementia and at one stage they also thought there was a tumour or cancer involved, she ended up being too weak to be able to take to the hospital for tests.
My most vivid memory of her last year was going to her house for dinner that week. I’d always spent school holidays with my grandparents so that my parents could work, my nan had continued having us for dinner ever since we could survive at home alone.
But this time was different. I was met on the doorstep with her crying, confused with the to do list my parents had left and panicking over cooked chicken. I sat her down, cooked and then had to make sure she’d eaten something. It was like caring for a child rather than the woman that has played an influential part in my upbringing.
The short drive home took two hours, the shock meant I just had to keep stopping.
I then basically ran back to Durham. My coping mechanism was to bottle up how I felt and attempted to get my work finished.
This didn’t really work well. I’d planned on spending the five week Easter holiday writing up my research project, a 5,000 word dissertation all politics second years do. With my thoughts continuously turning back home I just couldn’t concentrate. I ended up writing the whole thing during the only legitimate all nighter I’ve done. It was a 63, not too bad for a Red Bull and Paddy’s fuelled evening.
I’ve developed insomnia since exams and it has continued since
I spent the rest of term on autopilot, just attempting to get through it all. I still had some good times with my friends and became Editor-in-Chief of Palatinate, but also had some of the lowest points in my life. After a Philosophy exam that contained a question along the lines of “should dying people be killed”, I remember just walking laps for the city until it went dark.
My grandmother died in early August. The day she passed away she couldn’t really breath or speak. I knew seeing her that it was the end.
The rest of the holiday was a bit of a blur. I emotionally turned off to deal with everything around me and just continued as if nothing was going on.
I’d developed insomnia since exams and this continued. I’ve honestly tried everything to stop it, only sleeping pills really work but there isn’t much point taking something to sleep that makes you feel more tired.
I didn’t really think I was grieving until earlier this term. I’ve walked to seminars, looked at the door and just walked back home. A lot of time when I’m alone I get upset and my mind drifts back to summer.
Part of my issue was that I didn’t want to worry those people what was wrong with me, I’ve told so many people that I’m always there if they need to chat but never really approached someone myself.
It took an email from the Politics department asking if I was okay (I’d missed six seminars) for me to finally open up and tell people how I felt. Someone’s inbox in the department currently holds a rather detailed account of my mental health over the past 12 months.
Since then I’ve been referred to counselling with the University. It’s hoped that the Insomnia will go when the grief settles. They also hold a bereavement support group on Wednesdays, starting from 12 February 4.15-5.45pm in PCL058.
Multiple people told me to get help sooner without me even opening up. I think I ignored this advice as talking about how I felt initially made me feel worse. I should have taken their advice, if you are struggling please learn from that mistake.
I’ve always said it but now I honestly know “Its okay not to be okay.”