Illustration by Dula Inula
“We’re living through a time where we are being encouraged to choose isolation and to remain distanced and this is a necessary act. However, the act of physically isolating yourself should not extend to your mental health too.”
I pulled a sicky today since I just couldn’t muster up the energy to go to my seminar. My brains been feeling quite weird lately. It's like nothing exists if you get me/ nothing’s important but everythings important”
I wrote that diary entry during what may have been my 10th breakdown of the year; news of the pandemic had just gotten out and I was feeling rather lost to say the least. Journaling your thoughts was supposed to be somewhat helpful I reckoned, or at least that’s what I'd been telling myself for the past 5 years of my life. To be frank, I felt trapped in my course, trapped in my housing and trapped in my negative thinking. Difference was however, I was able to pack my bags and book a ticket (albeit an extortionately priced one) from Durham to London with no problem. Something that is now not an option for those students trapped in the current lockdown.
At uni I acted out and felt as though I was spiralling out of control, but at home in London I felt safe and secure, I had people who would make sure I was eating and getting out of bed: at home I could be the girl that I was supposed to be. Simply put, it made sense for me to remove myself from the environment that was making me feel overwhelmed.
The feelings of loneliness and of feeling isolated in a whole new environment are exacerbated by the lockdown and the inability to remove yourself from situations that make you feel overwhelmed. The common argument of “Just go home and get a change of scenery,” can no longer suffice when this is not an option, when instead you have to remain stuck or even fenced in your accommodation.
When I excessively drank to the point of black out, it was just a funny story that would be recounted from my duvet cocoon with a bag of crisps in my hand. When I consistently chose to spend all day in bed rather than eat it was easy, it was what the typical uni student would do, right? The lines between poor mental health and this so-called trope of being a student were so blurred that it becomes easy to excuse your behaviour. I felt weak for struggling with uni when everyone around me was settling into a new environment with ease.
During times like these, it’s easier to convince yourself that your feelings are invalid or that to reach out for help would be some kind of burden or that your mental health shouldn’t be a priority when individuals physical health is under strain. If these are thoughts that you have had, then your uni services can be really helpful and free, as most universities offer counselling services that can offer you help and advice.
For those who feel that they have no-one to talk to services such as Samaritans or Nightline can provide support devoid of any judgement or pressure. The option to speak to friends or family may not be a viable one for you, but expressing your thoughts and feelings to an anonymous and impartial person can allow you to avoid suffering in silence.
We’re living through a time where we are being encouraged to choose isolation and to remain distanced and this is a necessary act. However, the act of physically isolating yourself should not extend to your mental health too. If you need to go for a walk or a run to clear your head then this is something you shouldn’t feel afraid to do. If you need to go on a socially distanced walk with a friend in order to not feel so alone then this is something that you should do.
If you fear that you are at risk of harming yourself or of harming others then you should always reach out to 999 or a&e regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not. You shouldn’t compromise your physical wellbeing as a result of a fear of burdening services.
There are options available to you that don’t involve stewing in your negative thoughts and isolating yourself from help and support and reaching out to these options can be essential in looking after yourself.
Written by Rachella Lartey