"The truth is we all need a time out, time out to re-evaluate, find balance, heal, detox, and time to breathe!"
Now, as I sit down to write this post titled, 'why there is no shame in needing time out', I'm aware that there is going to be a huge degree of hypocrisy to this piece. Because I didn't follow the very advise I'm about to give you. I couldn't accept that I needed time out to focus on me. And then I didn't have a choice. Indeed, it was my body that showed that it needed time out, and the decision wasn't mine anymore.
I've been hesitant to write this post for a little while, because it's going to get real personal up in here, and I'm really not one to do that. I'd always figured that my blog would be focused solely on fashion and beauty related content, the frivolous, superficial stuff, but now I've realised that I both enjoy and feel compelled to write more heartfelt, thoughtful stuff - It's funny how the content evolves, as your needs change.
So sit back with a cuppa and a biscuit for a rather emotional, personal post that I felt needed writing and proved rather therapeutic in the end.
So I guess we should start with a little bit of background. I've suffered with depression for over three years now, but was only officially diagnosed with clinical depression in May 2016. I can't say I was completely blindsided by this. There's a faint history of depression in my family and looking back, I can see that I've probably suffered from mild bouts of it throughout my teen years, but I could never have anticipated just how big an impact it was to have on my life, that it wouldn't just stay a nuisance that I learnt to live with, as in January 2017, I found it so debilitating that it forced me to leave university.
Now, this isn't really supposed to be a post about my battles with depression, I'm still debating whether that post is something I'm going to write about in the future, but more about the many emotions and struggles that I had surrounding the prospect of needing to take time away.
See, I knew around May last year that I wasn't really coping. I put it down to uni stress, but deep down I knew this wasn't the case. I've never really been one to let academic work stress me out to such an extent, and anyway, these issues were persistent even when I was at home in the holidays. Well, not issues, but symptoms, I guess: the constant tiredness, the low mood, the teariness, the over-thinking, the erratic sleeping and routines, the smallest aspects of life just felt unbelievably difficult, and my persistent symptoms made me feel as though this state would be never ending.
I knew then that I needed a break. A chance to regroup. To give myself a real shot at getting better, and prioritising my health. But not only that, my struggles with my health meant that I had neglected all other aspects of my life. Me, who was usually so organised and driven, always with a plan, was suddenly without a single goal. I was severely behind on uni work when I'd always been one to enjoy studying. Everyone around me was organising internships and further study or gap years, but whenever I was asked what my plans after uni were, I could only meet the question with the answer of "I'm not sure yet, I'm just trying to get through finals, haha!" Haha. Hahahahaha. A whole lot of nervous laughter. Because that question always reinforced the fact that I had no plan. I just couldn't see a future. It was so difficult to just get through a single day, let alone think about a future. And I won't lie to you, quite frankly, it shit me up. It was like, all of a sudden, I had all these goals, then nothing. I wanted a break to figure this out, to not only tackle my mental health but make up for all the time I'd lost because of it to figure out what I wanted to do, to "find myself" (I'm sorry, I know it sounds cringe, but it's true). But I didn't want to be left behind. I had uni to do, a degree to complete. I had MA applications to fill in, internships to apply for.
And then January 2017 hit with a particularly bad depressive episode. I got back to uni and was completely overwhelmed with what I had to do. The fact it was my last proper term of work before exam season. The fact that a depressive episode at the start of my first 3rd year term had meant I was critically behind on work and had that to catch up on on top of all of the new terms work. The fact that over christmas my dear Grandad had become gravely ill. The fact that I just felt exhausted and knew I was starting to downward spiral. It all came to a head when at the start of term, I left my room at uni only once in 2 weeks, completely ignored all my emails and essay commitments and literally just lay in bed for all those days, hardly even watching tv, constantly crying. I couldn't concentrate on anything, small daily tasks such as showering or making a bowl of cereal seemed so incredibly difficult, everything seemed difficult. This hadn't been my worst bout of depression, but I knew that I couldn't possibly predict when it was going to end, and could get to a position where I was at least able to concentrate on tasks. Every day I was getting further behind with my degree, and sinking further into this hole of shit. I wasn't functioning and I needed time out. And so that's what happened.
As I sit here writing this, I am now into my fifth week of intermission. Intermission is the official, fancy term for when a student at my university takes a break from study, usually on medical grounds. I didn't have to drop out and leave uni completely, I go back in October to do my final year and so in that sense I'm lucky that this really is just a few months out, a blip, almost, before I go back to pick up where I left off.
But I felt so pissed off for ages about the way things have turned out, and there I times I still do. So frustrated. So ashamed. A big part of this was the fear of what others would think. How was I going to explain to my friends that I needed to take time out? Do I divulge the whole story, and explain that it was health? I didn't want to say I just needed time out because it sounded like I couldn't do uni, but revealing you suffer from mental health problems is also rather daunting. It was the potential little conversations that would play on my mind. Like, how do I explain why I'm not at uni when I see people I know down the shops? When my old next door neighbour asks me "what I'm doing home" in the biscuit isle in Tesco. It all sounds stupid when I read this back, but I know these were and still are worries that I have. That people will somehow think less of me because... well, I don't know why.
But it was more than that, it was the pressure I'd put on myself. I was ashamed that I, someone who always had it so together, couldn't do it. I couldn't complete uni alongside everyone else, I feel as though I've been left behind. One thing I've realised is just how much I'd shaped my identity around my academic ability and achievements. For so long this was the only thing I've seen as 'good' about myself - I guess I was always one of the geeks. I've always had low self-esteem concerning my appearance, I was never one of the popular kids at school and, being plagued by social anxiety I find I consistently worry that I'm just one of those bland people that everyone forgets or finds odd or boring. So I struggled with the fact that it was me that was the weak one who 'needed a break to recover from mental health'. I just saw this as code for 'she's struggling and she couldn't do it, she wasn't good enough to do it, she wasn't smart enough'. These feelings were made more acute by the fact that, without wanting to sound braggy, I go to a very academic, prestigious uni and have always had a touch of imposter syndrome; that it was a mistake that I had gotten in in the first place, that I didn't deserve my place. For this reason, I've always felt that I had to prove myself, prove that I was good enough. And to a large extent, I did. When I got to uni, I realised I was on par, I was smart enough. My grades were as good as everyone else's, I excelled in my first year exams, and then suddenly, all this, and I'm back to square one. It's safe to say my confidence has taken a knock and once again I feel like the one who wasn't good enough, who didn't deserve her place, even though I know it was my health, and not my ability that hindered me. Incidentally, that's another point I'd like to raise; I guess that just shows how deep the stigma of mental health runs. I often feel like this time out from uni is because I couldn't cope with work and needed a break, that I'm a fraud, hiding behind this supposed illness to get some time off because really, I just wasn't good enough, I couldn't cope. I know that feelings of guilt and worthlessness are symptomatic of depression, but I wonder whether it's an element of stigma too, that if I could physically see this health issue, I wouldn't be feeling like a failure for taking a break to get better.
I've titled this post "why there is no shame in taking time out" and so far, all I've talked about is how upset I am at having to do such. But I guess things are beginning to change, because I'm beginning to accept both my mental health struggles, and that it's ok to need time out to tackle them. I'm trying to no longer be ashamed of all this, because I know it's what was best for me. As my parents came to pick me up from uni, putting all my packed boxes in the car, ready for the drive home and the beginning of my intermission, I remember the wave of relief that washed over me. I knew that I would miss uni, because, truth be told, I love uni. I know it'll absolutely kill me to see all my friends graduate, knowing that I should have been there in cap and gown, in those photos too. But I also knew that trying to push through my final year so I could graduate with everyone else and for the sake of my pride, was never going to end well. At best, I'd graduate with a decent grade, having absolutely hated the last few months as I absolutely pushed my health to the limit. At worst, I would have had a breakdown, crashed out in my exams, and have wasted my opportunity to reach my full potential at one of the best universities in the world.
These next few months are dedicated to recovery. It's going to be anti-depressants, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy - I know that it's not going to be fun. It'll be tough, and in a sense, it doesn't feel like time out - but it's time I can spend focussing primarily and wholly on me, without having the pressure of deadlines, future plans and everything else. Hopefully when I begin to see improvements in my health, I can start to think about what is beyond uni, I can start to be re-inspired by life and not see it as such a chore anymore.
My experience is quite an extreme case of needing time out. As I said, in the end, I didn't even get a choice in the matter, I wasn't functioning and therefore I wasn't fit to study. But I think this is relatable on some level for a lot of people, whether you suffer from mental health problems or not.
So many of us get stuck in the monotony of everyday 21st century life. Wake up, work, eat, sleep, repeat. And so many feel stifled, that we're somewhat stuck in this cycle that we're unable to break out of. And that's where the importance of taking a break comes in. I was fortunate that I was at a time in my life where it wasn't too difficult, nor was it too damaging or consequential for me to take significant time out for recovery. Though ultimately, even if I'd been mid-30s and had had a similar experience with my health, and need to get a sabbatical from work, that's what I'd have had to do! But I think it's important to realise that, for some, quenching that need for space and something different can be as simple as a weekend away from it all; you come back feeling refreshed, and in a better headspace. Maybe it's a case of using your annual leave to travel somewhere you've always wanted, to experience a new culture or lifestyle to gain some perspective. I'm guessing a lot of you reading this will be a similar age to me, uni students and young adults. I feel so many of us who are on the road to finishing uni and having to leave the comfy bubble of education for the big bad 'real world' feel pressure to have to go straight into the work world, into your chosen career because we all put so much pressure on ourselves to 'get ahead'. You know what I say? I say bugger that. Of course it's important to have goals you're working towards, and by all means do whatever you can to get there, but don't do so at the expense of time and experiences that you may not be able to have again. If you're nearing the end of your educational career and you're feeling a reluctance to charge straight ahead into a career or are unsure where you want to go next full stop, don't be afraid to take some time to figure it out. Travel. See new things, meet new people, get an interim job, like in part time retail or temping, from which you can earn some money but still have some time to explore different career paths, have some breathing space to think and plan your next move. I know I run the risk of sounding naive here, but I say we make excuses, we say, 'I can't simply get up and leave', because sometimes, we're secretly quite scared by what we'd love to do. It pushes us out of our comfort zones so we put it beyond the realm of possibility. Because quite simply, why can't you? Why can't you take that trip, or move to that city? The world really is yours for the taking.
Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things. We see one set path and think that we have to stick to it, otherwise we've failed. We don't take the time we need to truly think about what it is that we want to do, or what we want out of life. And I'm beginning to realise that's a big mistake. Even after my intermission, I will hopefully graduate, and then I don't know what! Hopefully I'll fall back in love with studying, and I'll still do the Masters I've always dreamed of doing. Maybe I'll travel. Right now, I kinda think I want to do both! One thing that I'm sure on is that I certainly won't be rushing into a career, and more importantly, a career I don't want. An ex-teacher of mine once told me that when we're in school and uni, it's consistently instilled in us that we don't really have time, we should know what we want to do, that we need to make decisions, and make them quick. But in reality, all we have is time. For ages, I silently scoffed at this. I had a plan and I was going to stick to it. I knew I wanted to have graduated by 21. Masters by 22. Law conversion course, legal training contract - every single element of my life was planned. And now I've thrown it all out, and I haven't gone back to the drawing board. I've thrown that out too. I'm slowly discovering that that teacher was right, we have our whole adult life to work, so you don't need it all figured out by the time you're 21. Your 20s are the years where you learn to adult and can make mistakes, so make them - that's how we grow, after all.
So I guess the take away point is this: It's ok to take a little time out of your hectic, overly routined 21st century life to just focus on you. For whatever reason it may be. To focus on you health and wellbeing, to figure out what you want to do, purely to indulge a sense of adventure. And don't be afraid or ashamed to do so! Don't doubt yourself because of the fear of judgement, the accusations of 'drifting' or being 'work shy'. Follow your gut, you know what's best.
I don't know how the next few months of my intermission will go, but I know that by taking time out, I've given myself, and my mental health particularly, the best possible chance. All I can hope now is that somehow, everything falls into place, I'm told that they always do.
Until next time,
Jumper: H&M (sold out, grey version here)
Jeans: H&M (sold out, very similar here)
Twilly Scarf: Dior
Sunglasses: Ray Ban
p.s. I hope this post didn't come across too much like an ''Eva pity party', because that definitely wasn't the intention. I guess I wanted somewhere to let out everything I've been holding in, but also, I hope, provide comfort to anyone going through the same thing. Let me know what you think in the comments below, I always love reading them! Have you ever taken time out to 'focus on you'?