By: Sami Nicholls

I thought this would be a good question to try and answer today. Last week I was on what seems to now be annual holiday to Nerja, Spain with my boyfriend. It was a wonderful holiday and I am proud to say that I coped with the flights without the assistance of medication and did not panic. I nearly cried during take-off but I think that was due to not experiencing bad weather on a plane before. 

Fear of flying isn’t really what I wanted to talk about today but I do want to in the very near future so keep an eye out for that. What I want to talk about today is how your condition, whether that be addiction, mood or anxiety disorder, makes dealing with certain life challenges just that much harder.

As an undergraduate, I have exams twice a year. I have never coped well with exams. My brain just can’t manage it. I can be in a quieter room and have rest breaks and all that good supportive stuff, but I still get an avalanche of information from my brain for every question and it’s exhausting and confusing knowing what is right or not. My end-of-year exams were going to be released the day I was due to fly back home from Spain to England. I honestly thought I’d done enough to pass the year so I saw no issue in looking while at the airport while we waited to board.

I did not anticipate what would happen next.

I failed every exam. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. I don’t know and when I don’t know I feel triggered. I was in a Spanish airport preparing to fly home and I had just discovered that my entire year at university and the previous two years of preparation prior had all been for nothing. I have never failed anything academic in my life, besides maths but I just don’t operate in numbers and am numerically dyslexic. It makes no sense to me and it never had. I’m at peace with my inability in mathematics but science was my life, my heart and soul.

As hard as I tried, I could not fight back the tears. Crying in public is not something I feel ok about and while I’m sure an airport is one of the few places I could get away with it, I felt so vulnerable and couldn’t help but notice the people around me looking and saying things I didn’t understand. I don’t speak Spanish, just so we’re clear on that. The next thing I noticed was the abundance of cheap alcohol around me. I’m very recently two years sober so to be so drawn to alcohol feels very scary. Then I felt like I could hear people talking about me and laughing. Then I was thrown into some sort of dissociation where I could see myself back at home, alone, drunk and self-harming.

At this point I was trapped. I couldn’t talk anymore. I wanted to but I couldn’t. I was sat there, in a trance while these methods of self-destruction played out in front of me. They felt like commands and I had absolutely no choice in the matter. I’ve often felt like there is something living inside of me that only exists to try and destroy me when I’m at my weakest.

I’ve been on my own since I got back from Spain as the boyfriend had to leave to go to Prague within an hour of us getting home. I was hysterical and most of the night is a blur to me, but I know I haven’t left the house so I’m definitely still clean and sober. Chronic fatigue syndrome has it’s upsides in situations like this. I’m in too much pain from travelling to move. The trouble is, it feels like I blink and another hour has passed so I think I’m dissociating.

Today I feel more ‘present’ and I have to leave the house because Lily needs more food. I’m putting it off because I’m really scared and do not feel safe at all.

I put so much into this year and being at university and getting a degree is what sets me apart from the rest of my family. That is the main factor here. If I can’t cope with university, either through my mental illness or just not being intelligent enough, I am no different from they are and condemned to the same life. That is not something I am prepared to accept or live with. I just can’t. I need to be very different from them or I can’t live with myself. My life needs to matter.

To put this into some sort of context; my boyfriend has had re-takes his entire degree and he was not anywhere near as distressed as I am right now. To him, and probably other students who are on the more logical side of the fence, it’s a fact of life that bad exams happen and re-takes are there for this reason. He cannot understand why I am reacting this way and why my thought patterns are the way they are. He left me a hysterical mess and truth be told, that is probably what he will return to.

So. My question to you is how do you feel your condition impacts on you when you get bad news? Do you feel like it amplifies things? Does your experience and therapy make it easier for you to cope?

At this point in time I have no idea what will happen but it’s safe to say I am humiliated and terrified.

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