Coping with my Mental Health Condition and University

Don’t say you can’t do something because of a mental health condition, you can!

Everyone gets nervous, it’s a natural human emotion. If we didn’t have it then we wouldn’t have the alertness and the sense of uncertainty that we need in life to survive; it’s the brains way of grabbing your attention. For example, having the quick reaction of avoiding a car coming or dodging a wasp that’s coming for you. But sometimes anxiety can affect others more than others and in different intensities.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with a General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and suffered from extreme panic attacks. The main thing to realise with anxiety is that it doesn’t just pop out of thin air and bite you on the butt. It comes from deep down, from something that happened that at the time didn’t appear to be of great significance.

However, you can overcome this. I’m still in that process but I am far from the person I was and Writtle University College plays a great part in the person I am today.

The comfort zone is a great thing to be in, I know what’s going on and I know that I am safe. However, the comfort zone also allows no availability for growth as a person.

I stayed in my comfort zone and did something I loved but wasn’t passionate for. I went to college and achieved a diploma in Childcare, I could have stopped there and stayed living at home working with my mum at a Pre-school, but I was truly passionate about animals. There was only one way to achieve a degree in my passion – go to university!

My family home was only 30 minutes away from Writtle and I was convinced that I was going to travel in, I couldn’t leave my comfort zone too much could I? My dog was at home, my best friend. My parents were at home and my bed!

Anyone who has a pet knows how good they are for company, but Winnie wasn’t just company for me. Without Winnie I wouldn’t be writing this. She gave me the confidence to know that I can do more than just sit and teach children, she helped me realise I could put my passion for animals and working with children together – to show children that animals have a great influence on mental health. Winnie knows when I’m anxious before I do, she’ll come up to me with a toy to try and distract me. Sometimes my anxiety is too much, and I can’t be distracted as easy, so she knows just to sit and be cuddled. Everything about her calms me down. Her smell, the sound she makes, her look and her touch. I couldn’t leave her, could I?

So, this in mind I was adamant that I was going to live at home until I thought hard, very hard. Would living at home stop me from making friends by not joining in the social nights? Would I want to travel on the A12 every morning? What would be easier? So, I made the decision, on the basis that I could come home whenever I wanted, that I would live in halls of residence.

I left my comfort zone and I did struggle, but with support from the university I did it. I still struggle with my anxiety, but I will never go back to where I was, I’ve grown too much.

I have made some amazing friends who helped me cope with university and ensure that I was always comfortable with most situations that I was given. The lecturers are also amazing. The first meeting we had with our personal tutors I told them about my anxiety and what I would need to ensure that I was comfortable. Unlike secondary school they were so understanding and honestly wanted to do anything they could to help me in my university challenge. One of the places they pointed out to me was the learning support team. I have to be honest at first I was a dubious as to go or not, but I did, and I am so glad I did. They made sure that I was given all that I required in an exam situation while also pointing me in the direction of the Welfare Team. The Welfare Team are made up of 5/6 members including a qualified counselor. They were so lovely, making sure that I got the support I needed while I was at university and making sure that I always knew that I could see them whenever.

Not only did the university provide amazing staff to help me but they have animals that you can visit. I really enjoyed Canine Tuesdays, where a member of staff would bring in their dogs and we would be able to go and pet them. They weren’t my dog, but they did restore me to being myself within minutes. With the access I had at university, between lecturers and the support team I truly believe I achieved the best out of university that I could.

I used to say, and still do, I survived bombs, I can survive bullets. University has allowed me to grow in so many ways, with the help of lecturers, friends, and support staff.

I’m still growing and learning but my anxiety isn’t going to stop me, it might slow me down, but it will not stop me.

Grace Burgin

2nd year Animal Science student

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