Life as a mature student: A second chance
University can be a very difficult time. For some, it is an exciting new adventure - a chance to reinvent. For others, it can be overwhelming. Meeting lots of new people, living in a new place and being given big projects to work on can be exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting. For University Mental Health Day, we spoke to ambassadors on our Step Up: University project to find out what it is like living with mental illness whilst studying. Here’s Emma's story…
I think people are getting better at being more open about mental health and that there is less of a stigma but there is still more work to be done. I’ve suffered with depression on and off since I was a teenager.
I think it started with the sudden death of my father in 1989 when I was 12. I remember it was the year the Berlin wall came down. Inside I felt I was crumbling but, on the outside, I was determined to be strong for everyone else. I wasn’t offered any counselling at the time; it just wasn’t something I thought I could have. Only today do I feel I’m starting to let go of his ghost. His death pushed me into a spiral of bad behaviour and substance miss-use in my late teens, he always wanted me to be good so when he abandoned me I decided to be bad. Despite all of that I manged to be fairly successful, find a partner and settle down. On the outside I was strong, but on the inside I was still crumbling.
My depression came back with full force when I was pregnant and I had prenatal depression, this was perhaps hormonal, but also linked to the fear of becoming a parent. I was suicidal. I dealt with it without medication as the doctor couldn’t confirm the baby wouldn’t be harmed. I have not taken anything for depression since I was in my twenties due to a terrifying experience coming off meds. I went for one emergency counselling session when I was seven months pregnant, but they told me I needed Relate rather than their own services. I think they were over stretched, luckily my partner and best friend kept an eye on me. I’m terrified to think what would have happened if I didn’t have support.
I’ve been grieving for most of my adult life and going back to university as a mature student is the start of the next phase of a more optimistic future. A second chance.
Two years ago, I sought out psychotherapy for 6 months to look at dealing with my childhood trauma. This coincided with the start of my MA in Writing. It was tough as my writing brought up trauma at the same time as my therapy. I paused it in order to focus on my MA, as I was spiralling, but I will return after my degree as it has helped me a lot. I also feel like I’m rewriting my inner voice. In this sense my studies have helped. I’ve been grieving for most of my adult life and going back to university as a mature student is the start of the next phase of a more optimistic future. A second chance.
I’m learning to cope with my depression, I notice my triggers and identify when I need self-care. Like today, I’m struggling to write this, I want to say no, crawl into my bed and hide, but I’m going to push myself to take part and show up, I know it will be better.
I often suffer from imposter syndrome, not feeling good enough, this can be accentuated with me being a mature student. I, in moments of paranoia, believe that everyone thinks I should have achieved more by now, know what I want to do, that I’m past it. I get crushed if my grades go down. I can often isolate myself and have to push myself to integrate and see the good in people. Then on good days I feel confident that I’m inspiring my children with a life of learning. That I’m brave to change my career at this stage in my life. I really hope to live with no regrets!
I, in moments of paranoia, believe that everyone thinks I should have achieved more by now, know what I want to do, that I’m past it. Then on good days I feel confident that I’m inspiring my children with a life of learning. That I’m brave to change my career at this stage in my life.
I think being a mature student is often an unexplored area of student life. For years I’ve hidden my depression through fear of being judged and seen as someone who can’t be a mother or a teacher. Therefore, through fear of being stigmatised, I haven’t disclosed it to the university. I’m not brave enough. It’s funny I even feel like an imposter in my own mental health, that others have it much worse than me so I should just get on. I suppose this blog post is my first step into letting go of the fear of being stigmatised. By sharing our stories, I hope we can find comfort and support in the knowledge that we are not alone.