Last year was a pretty bad one for me. Mental breakdown, drop out of uni kind of bad. But hitting rock bottom was a blessing in disguise; it gave me the motivation I needed to start taking care of myself again.
With all of the stress and pressures of university, it’s not uncommon for students to push their health to one side. From the get go my well being became less of a priority as I started to focus on my studies and developing a career. At first it was fine, I was getting good grades and enjoying my time at uni. But putting your health on the back burner will always catch up with you and in my second year it finally did.
My breakdown started slowly. The occasional headaches, panic attacks and sleepless nights. But by the end of the year I couldn’t leave my flat, I had daily migraines and I’d all but stopped going to lectures. Luckily I had understanding tutors, but it was clear that I couldn’t go on like that. So, on the advice of student services and my course leaders I decided to take a break.
Going on medical leave was a difficult decision, I felt defeated by my mental health and exhausted from the stress. It took a while, but eventually I accepted that it was for the best. I decided then to use the next year to address my health so that it would never get as bad as it did again.
Depression and anxiety have always been a part of my life. There isn’t a time I can remember without them. I’d never really addressed any of my issues with my mental health; instead I just accepted that it would be with me for the rest of my life. But neglecting it had finally taken its toll and I couldn’t just push it under the rug like I’d always done. It was time to face it head on and get proactive.
Traditional medicine had never worked for me in the past, I tried a cacophony of drugs and treatments but nothing seemed to get through. During my last appointment, my doctor suggested I look into other types of treatment as they simply had no other ideas. It was disheartening to hear at first, but my inner hippy was happy to find a more natural solution.
For the first few months of my leave I scoured the internet for alternative treatments. I was surprised and taken aback by just how many were out there. Choosing one would be hard, but I was desperate to find something that would work. After weeks of searching I began noticing the same thing popping up, acupuncture. So I read everything I could find and soon it became my number one choice.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and is based on traditional Chinese medicine. The treatment involves placing needles on certain pressure points on the body which is said to move energy or “qi” to help restore balance to the individual. In modern medicine, acupuncture is said to be neurophysiological, the insertion of the needle effecting nerves which “can release muscles, over-ride brain signals, and so on.” These two approaches to acupuncture are very different, but both intrigued me to try it for myself.
Now, being poked and prodded with needles wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but reading about some of the positive effects I was eager to at least give it a go. Finding a local acupuncturist wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated and before I knew it I was booking my first appointment.
That first session was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I’d spoken to Emma, the acupuncturist, briefly a few weeks prior but now I was here and it all felt very real. Walking to the door was the hardest part but as soon as I entered I felt a wave of calm. Emma works partly from home, a beautiful cottage set in Yorkshire countryside, and there was something about the warmth of the surroundings that put me at ease.
We talked for a while about what issues i’d been having and what results i’d like to see. After half an hour I couldn’t stall any longer and it was time for the needles.
Everyone asks about the pain. And to be honest it was one of my biggest fears on that first day. But I soon learned that as with a lot of things, the thought is often worse that the thing itself. I’d be lying if I said it was pain free. Of course there is an initial sting as the needle first breaks the skin but aside from a second or two of pain I don’t feel much else.
Applying the needles themselves takes about 10-15 minutes, but a lot of that is spent deciding on which pressure points to treat that day. Once the needles are in its all about letting them do their thing. Occasionally Emma will use heated charcoal to intensify the treatment and while that sounds painful it’s actually quite relaxing.
Walking out of the door after a session I always feel weightless. It’s a euphoric sensation to not feel bogged down by the weeks stress and anxiety. Call it placebo effect if you like, but up until having acupuncture I’d never felt a greater sense of relief or calm.
I’ve been having regular sessions now for about 4 months and it’s made a tremendous difference to my life. My migraine attacks have gone from every day to once or twice a month, daily panic attacks have gone almost completely and my anxiety on a whole has seen a vast improvement. Life without mental health issues has finally become an option for me.
Last month I decided to keep the ball rolling and introduced meditation and yoga into my regular routine. This along with the acupuncture seems to really be working for me and I couldn’t be happier. Of course, like everyone, I have those off days but I’m working hard to learn coping strategies and techniques to get me through them.
University is looming, I go back in just a few months and while admittedly that scares me I feel less anxious knowing that I’m going back calmer, healthier and happier. Managing my mental health has always been difficult for me and that’s why I chose to ignore it. Finding the time to work on myself has been so rewarding and while I know I still have ways to go, I’m excited knowing it’s only up from here.
Deciding to share this with the world was a hard decision, made easier by the thought that maybe my story could help someone. Someone who feels like they’re out of options or have nowhere to turn. I felt like that just a few months ago. Looking back now i’m so happy that i made a change when i did. Taking your time and investing in yourself will be the best thing you’ll ever do, nothing is more important than your own health and well-being.
*Disclaimer – this is an account of my own personal experiences, I am not in any way a medical professional and you should always consult a doctor before any treatment.