Years of therapy have helped me realise that my mental health problems go at least as far back as college, if not school. Over the course of a conversation with my Mam recently, she asked me a really simple question - why did I never say anything? There's an equally simple answer, and I've touched on it before. I had no clue anything was wrong.
I had no frame of reference, nothing to compare to. I thought I was just a shy, awkward person who didn't know how to fit in. I went to college in UCD, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest university in Ireland. College years are the best years of your life, right? Wrong. I hated it. I wanted to be an archaeologist, so that meant arts. My subjects were interesting alright, but my classes were huge - upwards of 200 in each, and a different 200 in each at that. Considering I generally baulk at any more than 3 people at any given time, even now, this was pretty much a nightmare for me. I didn't know where to start. I'd talk to someone one day, then not see them again for weeks. I spent a lot of time hiding in the toilets (yes, really - if I got to campus with much time to spare before a lecture, rather than stand alone outside the lecture theatre I'd hide in the toilets until the last minute). I hated being seen alone. I hated being alone, but I didn't know how to change it.
Somehow, I muddled through. Twice I seriously considered dropping out, twice a friend talked me out of it. Things settled somewhat in second year as I was seeing someone for most of the year, so I fell in with his friends. But that ended soon after a failed attempt at erasmus in Cyprus (that's a whole other post or ten right there). Third year improved a little more - I found a couple of good friends, people I'm still in touch with today, and that was definitely the year I got the most out of.
But, I still never really felt like I belonged. I felt like an outsider, an imposter, someone who was tolerated, but not really accepted. Awkward. I always felt so unbelievably awkward, like I was taking up too much space. I was afraid to join in. I didn't do societies - walking into a room full of people without actually being required to be there was beyond me, never mind walking in and actually striking up a conversation. I'm not sporty, so there were no sports clubs either. I spent a lot of time commuting, and a lot of time hiding. But mostly I was afraid. There may well have been support services available for students, but I had no clue about them. Even if I had known, I don't think I'd have considered using them - I was struggling, but I didn't know why, so I never thought to ask for help. I wish I'd known. I wish I'd had the strength to speak up, things could have been so different.
It's just occurred to me as I've been writing this how much time has been lost to struggling with my mental health. There's so much more I could say, and maybe I'll get to it, but right now, I'm looking back and feeling cheated. Depression, social anxiety, bpd - they robbed me of my college years. They followed me to Galway. They almost broke me, and my family, time and time again since then. Almost. But not quite. I think somewhere inside me a really lost, frightened teenager is still hiding, still blaming herself. I think I need to go back and rescue her, and let her know that it wasn't her fault after all.