When people see someone, usually a friend or family member, who’s coming across as despondent, dejected and detached, they inevitably ask: “What’s wrong?” Usually, the response is “Oh, nothing” in an attempt to detract attention they don’t want. However, what if the genuine, honest answer really is “nothing”? Nothing, at all, is wrong: but yes, I’m sad.
Over the last 18 months, this is an issue that student Steven has tried to understand more and more. This is Steven’s story:
This past Monday, I was prescribed sertraline for, in my circumstances, depression and anxiety. There are two main reasons why it took me so long to seek help for the way I’ve been feeling, and why others shouldn’t wait if they feel the same way as me.
I mentioned the question many of us are asked if we dare not smile for more than a second in-front of another person: “What’s wrong?” I personally don’t have many friends so the question of “What’s wrong?” hasn’t been posed to me in quite some time, but I often know if someone were to ask me I’d have nothing to offer up to either them or myself. This kicked off a long path to my very recent acceptance.
As far as my life goes, there’s not one better anyone could hope for. I have two very loving parents, who, although divorced a while ago, have both remained in my life with more acceptance, understandability and warmth than they did when they were together—my relationship with each parent’s extended family is just fine. My time at school, although my behavior was spotty and shaky in the early years, went rather well. I wasn’t bullied (which I probably should have been with my stutter), I got on well with my fellow classmates and friends, and my grades were good having left sixth form with an ABBCC which got me into university. There is nothing here for me to circle as a cause for my recent diagnosis. So, what happened?
It took a good five years to finally find myself during my school years only to be pulled away from those people—most of whom I haven’t spoken to since—and found myself in a new city, surrounded by new people and living by myself. The city is Leicester, which I became quite fond of very quickly. What I haven’t yet become fond of, however, is other people. This is where anxiety comes into play. My not-quite-so masterful way with people combined with my severe lack of self esteem and confidence (helped in no part by my stutter) led me to be fearful of new people; not just becoming friends with them, but simply talking to them. The only reason for being semi-comfortable in school was because I grew up with those people and saw them every day for years before even having to talk them, eroding the anxiety.
In my second year, I moved into a studio apartment which has allowed me to live in total isolation. This affected my making friends even more. I’m now at the start of my third year and feel I have made zero friends. I see myself as only really having three friends; all remnants from secondary school. Over the last 18 months, I’ve seen these three friends a total of four-to-five times. The desolate nature of my friendships can be extended into my romantic life; I’ve never had a real girlfriend, been on a date or had sex and the last girl I kissed was in 2008. The funny, or perhaps troubling, thing is that I couldn’t have cared less.
This isolation seemed to trigger a sadness inside of me that I became ever more aware of. I would make sure to seclude myself away from everyone else in lectures, seminars and workshops. When it was over, I’d walk as quickly back to my apartment as possible, lock the door behind me and crawl into bed where I’d often sleep until early evening. A pattern I have kept for two years.
Throughout this time, my moods would make a complete loop. I’d either wake up feeling like the most terrible and useless human being, just passing the time until I could crawl back into bed and fall asleep so I could forget who I was for a few hours. Or, I’d wake up feeling like I could conquer the world and write a novel before noon—staying up all day and night, swimming in creativity. The consistent aspect of these differing moods was isolation: I’d still be alone whether I’d die a sad-sack, or live as a king. It didn’t matter.
These conflicting moods have cycled these past 18 months, where the most notable episodes of sadness have rendered me curled up in my bed at one in the afternoon, without even trying to sleep, wanting to be me but feeling like my arms and legs have been removed and my heart nailed to the back of my ribs. On rare occasions crying, and screaming into my fist. The moments where I would jump out of bed brimming with wonder would end up with me designing and coding complicated websites, writing about American politics for my blog, researching and reading up on a subject, creating elaborate scenarios in my head of things I wanted to do and say to people I know and feeling like I could speak to a crowd of a million people.
Then bam: oh, I’m still just me. Small, tiny Steven Knight.
After my second year of university, I could dwell in my lovely studio apartment during the warmer months. It was during this time I realised how I was living my life would most likely be catastrophic in the real world once I’d finished university. The problem for me was living alone in a city where your family doesn’t reside, you don’t have any friends and university is finished. I had no incentive to leave my apartment. I would go shopping when I needed food, and would stay locked up on the 18th floor of The Summit until I needed food again. It could sometimes be 6-10 days before I left my apartment.
There are of course other things that don’t involve interactive effort on my part, that I enjoy day-to-day and make me laugh, smile, cry and gasp. I watch an awful lot of television, particularly a lot of American dramas and sitcoms—the fall season just started so there’s a lot to keep up with. I listen to “The Opie & Anthony Show” every week day; it’s an uncensored American satellite radio show which really has been the bed rock of keeping me together this last year or so. But what when my mind has to be focused on me?
The aforementioned isolation meant my return to university was an incredible shock to me. I felt exhausted, deadly sick and frail for the first two weeks. Luckily, my moments of sadness do not extend so far as to physically prevent me from attending lectures, seminars or workshops. This return to university triggered an attack of anxiety, which developed into a sad emotional state as it broadly signaled to me that my comfort zone of being in education would be gone in 10 months and I’ll be forced out into the big, wide world.
Towards the end of my second year at University, I started to think increasingly about what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life. This inevitably lead me to picture a depressing visual of where my life could end up: old and alone, with no friends or family, being employed in a terrible job where everyone I know or ever will know has passed me by in every single way imaginable. This same thought occupied my mind over the recent summer as well, circling my mind as if it were every slide in a Kodak Carousel.
Let me be clear, I am not me saying I wish to cohabitate with other people, or that I wish I had a hundred friends, or that I want to be with someone romantically; it’s simply an admittance that beyond my free time, isolation and loneliness is not a viable framework for my life. By this I mean, working in the real world where I’ll have to interact with new, unchartered people and feel crowded when there’s nothing more I want than to be alone.
In other words, this isn’t a cry for help: it’s a weep of surrender.
A few months ago Stephen Fry wrote a blog post entitled “Only The Lonely” after revealing he had tried to kill himself again in 2012, he discussed the idea of “loneliness” and how it applies to him. Although quite obviously not as extreme as Mr. Fry’s case, I still found parallels to my own life in what he wrote.
We don’t choose to have these feelings, and the feelings we do have may very well be in contradiction to every other iota of our lives. If that’s true, it’s no wonder that coming to terms with my own feelings, and for those who have similar feelings, has been a difficult journey. My quibbles may seem relatively minor next to the extreme mental illness that inhibits Mr. Fry, a manic depressive bipolar disorder which has pushed him towards suicide on more than one occasion. Still, I don’t choose to feel the way I do.
I read that blog post a few months ago and I still didn’t seeking help over the summer, it stuck with me enough to be one of the big reasons why I finally did.
It was World Mental Health Day on October 10th and on his Twitter feed, Mr. Fry tweeted a link to this crudely cute comic saying: “If you’ve ever wondered what it’s really like to be depressed, read on.” I did read on, and it could have easily been a cartoon of me. This, coupled with the stationary nature of summer being over, led me to finally book an appointment with my GP this past Monday.
I was prescribed sertraline (under the brand name Lustral) for a month to see if my situation improves and we’ll take it from there she said; although it takes 2-3 weeks to take effect. I truly hope my situation improves, where in my last year of university I’ll be forced into many social situations, where anxiety may take over and many sad moods I’ll have to push through to complete an avalanche of work.
I sincerely hope everything turns out better than the scenarios inside my head.
If you have ever felt the way Steven has felt, please do not feel alone. There are many ways in which you can get help. As he mentions, you can see a GP, or you can get in touch with the university student support centre.
If you would like to read more about Steven’s story, please click the link below:
If you would like more information about mental health and ways to deal with your feelings, please visit the student support page: