“I might be crazy”: Mental health over uni burnout

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Trigger/content warning: Topics surrounding mental illness and suicide are discussed throughout this anecdote. See below for mental health and wellbeing services available for WSU students.

You know that song that goes:

“I remember when,

I remember, I remember,

when I lost my mind?

There was something,

So special about that place”

(Song: Crazy, Gnarls Barkley)

Because I have been thinking a lot about it of late. Because I can tell you it has taken on a whole new meaning within my head since the end of the last year. 2020 was one hell of a new decade to enter and with the re-introduction of the masks this May. Needless to say – last year is still a bleeding wound that we are still trying to heal.

It is honestly something that I have struggled with, while the world caught the virus and we all wanted to jump off Zoom and get on the beers. For the last year, I learned about how terrible I was at recovering, and truly how sick I had been making myself over the first few years of my degree. I, unfortunately, had to learn this the hard way and from the bed of an extra fun hospital ward, which takes your shoelaces upon entry.

Illustration: Hayley Elford. I drew this image while in hospital, reflecting the challenges that stood in the way of my goals. Blue = mental health, green = Tourette Syndrome and red = university.

Towards June of last year, my mental health took an unexpected turn as it spiralled. The social isolation, mixed with the wrong medication for my body had combined with the overarching backlash I had been facing with the university over my existence as a neurodivergent noisemaker. With my Tourette’s Syndrome, my tics have created an extra challenge of proving my capabilities as a teacher, and worthiness of the same education and placement as my peers. Over the years, I have advocated for myself, pushing at personal limitation by trying to educate others about Tourette Syndrome and tics. I participated in social events, student clubs, studied full time as well as volunteered outside of the university, running a support group and community for others with Tourette’s. In the process, I created a version of myself that was ill and unable to see a light out.

For many students, I have been told when faced with a similar situation, a person would stop, take a break and take the much-needed time to recover. For me, I took a 10-day stay in a psych ward and choose to keep working towards my path of teaching. I would call student wellbeing services to inform them that I would not be able to complete my assignments, due to the limited access to devices in psych wards. At the same time, I would be working on my assignments using the random bit of paper I could annoy the nurses for, and some random crayons I had found left by other patients. This was my first admission to the psych ward – but it would not be my last.

After getting out of the hospital, the first thing I would do is jump straight away back into uni, pushing myself until I reached a second breaking point. This time around, I tried to take a hold of my life and emailed the university, explaining that my absence was due to the stress of university life, and facing continuous discrimination for my tics.

Once again, I had found myself in the mental health crisis that I had never expected …except this time around – I found myself in a new psych ward and stayed there for a month. Like the time before, I would exit the ward to jump both feet back into my university work with a passion and anger to follow my dreams of becoming a teacher. History repeated itself, as I followed the same spiralling pathway that leads back to the psych ward, again, and again, believing that the next time would be different… that I would not burnout again.

I have managed to stay out now for 4 months. I will not lie and tell you that walking the mental health journey has been easy or that I will not go back again – but I do want to share my experience. I want students in all bodies and minds to know they are not alone. I want students to understand that they should not have to work until they are burnt out to feel worthy of being able to study, and that they need to be just as understanding about their mental health as they would be of the physical health. I want to share this so I can prevent others from experiencing the unnecessary expectations that I put on myself and urge my peers, family, and friends yet to be made …please remember that you matter too. Your university career can wait, units can be re-taken but you are irreplaceable!

I may be crazy, but remember – you are still valid, and it is okay to admit that you are not okay.

 

If you have experienced distress from the content in this piece, or you are struggling with mental illness, suicide ideation or any other factors negatively impacting your ability to cope, consider getting in touch with the following service:

Counselling @ Western Sydney Uni 1300 668 370 (option 4 then option 1)

Disability Services @ Western Sydney Uni 1300 668 370 (option 4 then option 1) or disability@westernsydney.edu.au

Lifeline 13 11 14

Headspace 1800 650 890

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511

 

 

 

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