Why starting a degree with depression was the best thing I ever did

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Nursing student Victoria Cox shares her story and explains how new friends and the BCU support services are helping her to overcome depression.

Looking back now I don’t think I realised how bad I had actually got. For years I’d been an unpredictable roller coaster of emotion – most of the time I was melancholy, isolated, inactive and there would be the odd rare day I would actually be happy. It had been so long I had convinced myself that this was my personality, I was just a quiet, shy, anxious, sad girl. I was fairly good at pretending to be happy for work and for family. But I do remember a particular day I was at work, it was around half 8 in the morning, I had a 12 hour shift ahead of me. Standing in the bathroom of a resident’s room, I looked at the floor and would have given anything to just lie down and close my eyes. The urge was incredibly overwhelming, words cannot describe it. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the day or if I could cope all day with this feeling. I felt like I could stop living right there and then.

I remember days that I would just sit at home and cry all day on my own, and sometimes all hours of the night, for no particular reason. But life went on and my only saving grace was that I was more scared of disappointing people than I was of dying. I had applied for a Nursing Degree, because despite my sadness I was still moving through life, and it was just the next thing to do. I was accepted! So I prepared as much as I could, but could never have imagined what was ahead.

Starting University

When I first started here at BCU, I felt like my life turned upside down. I was back in education for the first time since I left school (15 years ago), no longer working full time, with the people I knew well, in a place I was comfortable in. I was thrown into this big city of Birmingham, a place I had only been once when I was younger and found myself getting lost on my first few days. I was unfamiliar and felt alone; everything was new and different, I had no safe zone. Although I tried to be bubbly and approachable on the first day, that faded and I anxiously sat amongst my half of the cohort feeling invisible and lonely. Everything seemed grey and cold and I was very low. I talked to a few people eventually and despite their kindness I didn’t feel a connection with anyone. My depression gradually became worse.

A friendly face

One day, sat at a computer, someone approached me. He knelt by me and we talked about the work I was doing. He said I should be more confident, and asked why I wasn’t. He was so kind and genuine that I felt I could be honest, so I said “I’ve tried to get help and I deal with it best I can”. At which point he held up a packet of tissues. I said “You’re going to have to try harder than that to make me cry”. Turns out he didn’t, and in private, in a classroom, I opened up and tearfully told him everything.

I trusted this man. He had an aura about him of just pure kindness and patience and understanding. He was not judgmental, he didn’t question me, and he didn’t argue with anything, he just listened to me. I felt safe, I felt for the first time this wasn’t my fault and I didn’t deserve to feel like this. He always encouraged me to get help, he made it clear he couldn’t and shouldn’t help me on his own, but I became attached to this feeling of safety and relief.

Getting support

After a few months, when I felt ready, I filled in the form for the University’s health and wellbeing support which can be found on iCity. It asked me what I wanted to talk about, and I didn’t know how to answer that question for ages! How do I put all that in one little box? As soon as I had sent of the form I felt nervous, wondering if this was the right thing to do and if it would help, but that was the hardest part. After that they contacted me quickly and arranged my first session. I had also seen my GP, so my previous support backed away for the professionals to do their job. It hurt like mad, I was paranoid, anxious and desperate but he saw that for my own good I needed to get on without his support.

Another hurdle

However when I failed my first placement, I took another downturn. Trying to beat depression, failing my course and at the same time losing the biggest support I had. I couldn’t think straight, I was insanely angry at the world and so scared at the same time – I was the lowest I’d ever been. It really threatened my whole recovery. I thought my friend had abandoned me because no one could stand to be around me for long before they’d had enough. I thought maybe he had judged me, maybe I really was an awful person. I questioned him and all the advice he had previously given and thought; every nice thing he had said about me was a lie. I questioned myself and my abilities, I could never pass a degree in adult nursing, I was a bad person, I didn’t deserve to succeed in anything and I was surrounded in a blanket of doubt. The negative thoughts continued to creep in and down the spiral I went until I was sat on the kitchen floor counting how many pills I had and wondering if it would “do the job”. I managed to get through that night, despite drinking and self harm, and the next day I put the pills away and continued my journey to life.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Over time I got to know some girls who took me under their wing, I wasn’t so alone after all. Their kind words and patience kept me going, even when I was crying so much I had to leave a lecture. I sat outside the University sobbing so hard it was like the worst grief I’d ever felt, but kept getting messages of concern from all of them. They are always there for me and have been brilliant.

I have now had a few counselling sessions with a University counsellor and she is really insightful. Within the first hour she made me realise things I hadn’t and just knowing these things made my emotions easier to bear.

I’ve begun to unpick my thoughts and feelings, its going to be a long journey but just starting on this road has made me feel so much more positive. I cannot describe the difference I feel from my first months here to now. I want to talk to people, and I want to engage with the world again. I’m looking forward to being well and now I remember what I was like before the depression.

You never know what the future holds

I’m excited about my future at University and beyond. I’m applying to be a Student Academic Lead, and a Student Information Officer with The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) because my confidence is growing all the time. It’s a huge turn around and if I hadn’t started University I wouldn’t have found the person that put me on the path to freedom. He told me I had to get help, he showed me where to go. If not for him, my friends, the counsellor and the GP, I would still be sat at home wrapped in blankets, in a dark head space.

My advice to anyone feeling low is to make a change. Nothing will get better if nothing changes. Make use of the University’s support services – they are there to use and have really helped me to overcome my depression. Or even if it’s a gentle walk, one hour yoga class a week, a new job, taking on a new course, or a new life in a new country! You don’t know who is waiting round the corner to help you. They could be the one to save you….

Thank you for taking the time to read my story and if you think you might be going through something similar or have any questions, you can contact me at: victoria.cox@mail.bcu.ac.uk

At BCU we offer advice and support whether you are thinking about applying to university, are in the process of applying or currently studying here. Please visit our web page for more details.

If you are already a BCU student, then you also have access to 24/7 support via Big White Wall. Please login to iCity to read more about this.

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