(Trigger warning: mention of self-harm)
I started university three years ago with mental health problems and various psychological issues that made life difficult. I had extremely low self-esteem and I was convinced that every piece of work I produced was terrible. I was frightened of authority figures, including the tutors, and being on the campus made me anxious. I decided that given my social difficulties in the past it was best to avoid the other students as much as possible.
But things gradually got easier. I got so many high marks and positive comments that I began to think I was capable of doing good work. I realised that some of the tutors are nice and that something awful wasn’t going to happen just because I was on the campus. I went to the Autistic students’ social group and being around people like me gave me confidence I’d never had before. People commented on how well I was doing.
Then six weeks ago it took two minutes to undo it all. A tutor showed an article I’d written on the screen and read the headline and laughed. The students laughed. The headline wasn’t intended to be funny. I could tell this wasn’t laughing with me but nasty laughing, like I used to hear at school. That night I cut myself again after stopping for several years.
For the next two weeks my depression was so severe I couldn’t study. And now things that had become easier are hard again. These days depression makes my brain foggy and motivating myself to work is a struggle. Fear of making a mistake stops me getting things done. I don’t talk so much in the Autism group. University doesn’t feel safe and accepting any more.
My diagnosis of depression came after my mind shattered. I’d managed to build something again but I know now how fragile it was. The tutor said he didn’t mean to offend me but for me the impact went far beyond offense. I’m left worrying I won’t be able to claw back what I used to have.