Sunday, 21 May 2017

Life Update: Mental Health and Exams

These last few months have been horrendous. 
I don't want to go into much detail about some of the things I have been experiencing lately. Mainly because everything is a bit of a mess in my head and I'm also not the best at talking about my health. So, writing this blog post is a very new and difficult thing for me. I decided to bite the bullet and write it anyway. If you are reading this, then I must have somehow found the courage to click 'publish'? I sort of have two main reasons for wanting to write this blog post. Firstly, I wanted to talk about this shitty time partly as a way of getting things off my chest, because things have been really hard. Second, I hope that sharing my recent experiences with others who may read this post can find comfort in knowing they are not the only ones who struggle.

So what has been going on? Well, in a nut shell - I feel like utter crap. There were multiple signs that my mental health was deteriorating quite rapidly a few months ago. I didn't think too much about it at the time, as I didn't want to make things worse by focusing on the negativity. But then exams reared their ugly head. Now, for people that do not have mental health issues, exams are still considered to be a major stressor and often provoke short term feelings of anxiety. If exams negatively affect people with relatively 'stable' to 'normal' mental health, you can imagine the detrimental impact exams can have on someone who already experiences, generalised anxiety, panic attacks, mild PTSD and crippling depression on a daily basis. It must be nice to feel 'back to normal' when exams are done, no more stress or panic or that horrible feeling constantly gnawing at the pit of your stomach. For me personally, all of those horrible symptoms stay, they are potentially just slightly less extreme?

I wanted to share some of the symptoms I've experienced this year as a consequence of added exam pressure (final year university exams to be exact). Exams have always made me quite ill, but I have never experienced the overwhelming pressure this badly before. Let me make this clear: I don't want sympathy for what I am about to say, I just genuinely would like to know if anyone else has experienced this and if they have any tips on how to manage mental health better around exams so that your health doesn't get into the state mine was in (and currently still is).

I couldn't sleep or eat properly. That wasn't so bad, as I deal with that quite frequently anyway, it was just slightly worse than normal. I would often have to pace around my room to get rid of the excess adrenaline - again, not so bad, something I do often, but not ideal when your thoughts are racing at 101 miles an hour in your head, making you feel like you are losing control of everything. My stomach was horrendous, I couldn't lie down because the stomach acids would burn the lining of my tummy and also travel up to the back of my throat, which didn't help with sleep and was embarrassing in exams when it would make the loudest, most gross noises imaginable. I also had on and off fever for 2 whole weeks, at least 4 times a day, and these spells would last for 20 minutes at a time. These moments were so bad I had to lie down because the room would start spinning and I'd feel like I was going to pass out. There was one exam my tutor had to drive me home from because I was too weak to walk properly. With this next symptom, I'm going to be very literal and kinda gross here, but this is the 'non-romanticised' and ugly truth of what some of us with anxiety go through, which gets even worse when there is a large stressor i.e. exams. I had to be near a toilet at all times because I was literally shitting myself. Anything I ate wouldn't stay in my stomach for very long at all, perhaps 15 minutes max? I had no control over my bowels at all, which if you've never experienced it, is completely disgusting and mortifying. If I wasn't in the bathroom because of that, it was also due to the many waves of nausea I experienced throughout the day. There was a lot more that I was also dealing with, however I think you get the gist. I was very poorly. I didn't want to share these things for sympathy or attention - so please don't feel the need to accuse me of doing so. It's just been an extremely difficult time for me and this is my outlet. If any of you have experienced similar 'side effects' of exams mixed with mental health, I'd like to know your experience and if you've found anything that makes things even the slightest bit easier to cope with during this very overwhelming time. It would be helpful to know some of these things for when I pursue my Masters degree next year.

Doom and gloom aside, what I have learned from this experience, is despite how unwell I have been and how unbearable these past few months have been - I've somehow managed to get through it. I have no helpful 'advice' or 'tips' on how to cope with having significant mental health issues alongside important exams, purely because I just don't know how I managed to get through these 6 final year uni exams. It seemed impossible to keep going at times and I felt throughly despondent and apathetic. However, having persisted, I am quite proud of myself (well, I'm at least trying to be). I just kept making those small tiny steps towards the end goal: finishing my undergraduate degree. I think having a subject I'm extremely passionate about and truly care for helped immensely, as well as the support and encouragement from a few significant others around me.

All I can say is, whatever you are going through at the moment, please do not give up. Take those small tiny steps each day and they will get you to where you wish to be. There will be setbacks and obstacles in your way, which don't make the little step journey as straightforward and easy as you'd like. Nonetheless, you are flexible and can adapt that journey. You can take small steps around, over or under those obstacles that will still lead you to that end goal. How do I know that works? Because that's what I've done and will continue to keep doing. Like I said, if any of you have any tips or would like to talk to me about exams and mental health, then you can either leave a comment on this post or tweet me @veramyfarmiga on Twitter!

Good luck to any of you who still have exams, you can do it. But do please remember that your health comes before anything else.
Take care,
Emma x

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