Depression, OCD and A First Class Degree? Watch

shreyaa02
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Hello TSR Community,

I'm an undergraduate fresher this year going into Hertford College, Oxford to begin studying English Language and Literature. To add a little more about my background: I'm an international student from India, a third culture young person/globetrotter. I joined GYG last year for my A-Levels - although I couldn't find the resolve to continue my posts for the entire year, the mission to get 4 A*s, in spite of suffering from depression and OCD/severe anxiety, was SUCCESSFUL (beyond my wildest imagination...) If there's anything that taught me, it's that you can push through and doing your best no matter how hopeless your case might seem will be its own reward. It takes strategy, resilience and work to do well, but it's possible.

While now I'm off to university with the best wishes of family, friends and teachers, there's a whole new level of challenges awaiting me there. The fear of failure is the one I'm struggling with most now, and it takes a lot of repeating to myself that it literally does not matter what grade I achieve, so long as I just rock up to the university and do what best I can. Plus, there's always support from the DAS (Disability Advisory Service) at Oxford and the Counselling Service, as well as Mentoring - will keep this blog updated with my reviews of these as and when I require them throughout the year.

Thank you for reading. Best wishes everyone! :five:
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laurawatt
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All the best of luck :hugs:
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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Posting to subscribe! I studied at Oxford (many moons ago :moon: :shakecane: :teehee: ) and look forward to following your progress! Feel free to PM me if things become difficult mental health-wise, though I sincerely hope they won't!

4A*s, OMG :adore:
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shreyaa02
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(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
Posting to subscribe! I studied at Oxford (many moons ago :moon: :shakecane: :teehee: ) and look forward to following your progress! Feel free to PM me if things become difficult mental health-wise, though I sincerely hope they won't!

4A*s, OMG :adore:
Thank you - nice to meet a fellow Oxbridge graduate! I'm sure there will be a lot to write about, with Fresher's week and everything that comes with studying somewhere new. I'm grateful for your support on mental health too: having a support network is one of the things that got me through A-levels, and it will probably get me through uni too, once I make friends and so on. Funnily enough, my A-Level History teachers informed all my other teachers halfway through the year that my grades were a 'cause of concern', without actually doing much to help me. Glad I proved them wrong!

(Original post by laurawatt)
All the best of luck :hugs:
Thanks laurawatt!

I promise to post weekly
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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(Original post by shreyaa02)
Thank you - nice to meet a fellow Oxbridge graduate! I'm sure there will be a lot to write about, with Fresher's week and everything that comes with studying somewhere new. I'm grateful for your support on mental health too: having a support network is one of the things that got me through A-levels, and it will probably get me through uni too, once I make friends and so on. Funnily enough, my A-Level History teachers informed all my other teachers halfway through the year that my grades were a 'cause of concern', without actually doing much to help me. Glad I proved them wrong!


Thanks laurawatt!

I promise to post weekly
Well done on proving your A Level History teachers wrong! It's a good feeling isn't it, having the last laugh? I remember my school's Oxbridge application coordinator thought I def wouldn't get in - and then I was the only one from my school in 4 years to get an Oxbridge offer and get in

Support networks are def key. My own mental health issues started during my third year at Oxford and friends played a huge role in getting me through to the end of the course :yep:

Wishing you the very best of luck! What an exciting time I look forward to reading your updates whenever you post them
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shreyaa02
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Update 1 (September 24th, 2019)

Fresher’s Week is around the corner and of course, preparations for it are in full swing. I spent the last weekend packing my life into two suitcases, ready to be hauled from India all the way to the UK. Yes, international students, if you’re reading this – it is a nightmare getting all of it to fit into 40 kg. What I have found useful though is having a number of portable storage boxes to organize away things that belong to a category – accessories, toiletries and so on. There’s seven days left!

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So, here’s what my mornings look like atm: I get up at 6.30 am (effectively 7.00 by the time I drag myself out of various half-asleep states) and do my therapy homework – which involves daily gratitude journaling and a reading exercise to help me accept any or all negative memories that I’ve gathered over the course of my life.

Then I spend the mornings working through my set pre-university reading. I just finished reading Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, a novel of 55 chapters about a girl who has way too many potential husbands to choose from. That’s a very superficial summary, but I’ve boiled it down to that in my own defense - I was extremely sleepy when I was reading this book, and considering I get 7 hours of sleep already, it is overwhelmingly probable that my drowsiness is just a symptom of my anxiety and depression. So here I am reading a very long-winded book, and nearly falling into a nap every half an hour – not the best preparation for my first term at Oxford! Anyway, the way I keep myself awake – or try to - is by stretching, moving about or colouring and listening to an audiobook. At my best, I skim read through chapters – indispensable, it seems, if I am to have any chance of getting through university level reading – and use pomodoro timing to keep myself focused. Also, the link between mind and body is real; one day while I was reading, I felt a stabbing feeling in my stomach that tormented me for an hour with no reasonable explanation. I've also caught a bad cold twice in two months (my immune system is out of whack). The most likely source of both problems? Yours truly, anxiety.

The underlying cause, I think, is that I’m stressed about going to university – I have to guess, because in the mornings I’m too foggy to even tell whether I am anxious or not until it brings on physical symptoms. The way to counteract quite effectively though is conscious breathing exercises: I’ve now gone back to doing a 5-minute breathing exercise every hour to keep anxiety in check. This technique is quite honestly the core of how I got through A-levels with anxiety. I left off for a while because I thought I wasn’t feeling as anxious but with all this excessive fatigue threatening to take over my life, I feel I have to be proactive about keeping myself as calm as possible in the first place. On top of that, I have to make the most of studying when I’m feeling better – so much time is wasted when my brain intermittently decides that my university offer is actually a tiger, and I need to cry/run/roll on the floor in terror – i.e. fight or flight rather than study.

In other news, I’m also learning some basic cooking even though I will be catered for the majority of my time at Oxford. I should technically study both in the mornings and evenings but having finished this massive novel I feel entitled to an evening off writing GYG (the irony). Oh well, I believe it’s better to focus on taking my time off rather than spending the evening regretting that I don’t feel capable of studying.

Hope y'all are GYGing away or doing well with whatever you've set your mind to!
shreyaa02
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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Sounds like you're very mature for your age, in that you've got a regular routine and you've already figured out what kinda things help you when the depression and/or anxiety kick in :yes: Daily gratitude journal sounds like a really positive thing to be doing! Also, skim-reading is absolutely what you need to be doing, dw! Oxford English students have so much reading, it's hard to read everything as thoroughly as one might usually :ninja:

Are you shipping any stuff across to the UK or are you literally trying to get it all into 40kg!?!? :headfire: Do you know if you'll have access to a kitchen once you get there? I demanded kitchen access pre-arrival and they clearly thought I was either Hindu or Muslim from my name, and that I might have religious-based dietary requirements - so they gave me one :ahee: I took a rice cooker with me and kept it in the kitchen with a sign being like TOUCH THIS AND YOU DIE on it :bhangra:
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shreyaa02
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(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
Sounds like you're very mature for your age, in that you've got a regular routine and you've already figured out what kinda things help you when the depression and/or anxiety kick in :yes: Daily gratitude journal sounds like a really positive thing to be doing! Also, skim-reading is absolutely what you need to be doing, dw! Oxford English students have so much reading, it's hard to read everything as thoroughly as one might usually :ninja:

Are you shipping any stuff across to the UK or are you literally trying to get it all into 40kg!?!? :headfire: Do you know if you'll have access to a kitchen once you get there? I demanded kitchen access pre-arrival and they clearly thought I was either Hindu or Muslim from my name, and that I might have religious-based dietary requirements - so they gave me one :ahee: I took a rice cooker with me and kept it in the kitchen with a sign being like TOUCH THIS AND YOU DIE on it :bhangra:
Thanks; frankly I think that "maturity" comes from having burnt my fingers more than a few times when I didn't look after my mental health as well as I should have. And yes, skim-reading all the way if I have any chance of ploughing through those loooong reading lists.

I'm literally trying to get it into 40kg - not successfully, though, it's come closer to 50. Plus, I should have access to a shared kitchen. I can imagine the rice cooker would be a treasured possession - being Asian myself! Though I haven't decided to be so adventurous in my choice of electrical appliances. Imagine having to lug a fat rice cooker along with practically every other worldly possession I own...
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shreyaa02
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Update #2: Oct 1, 2019
Hulloo GYG Community,

A few evenings ago, if you asked me to rate my anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d be at an 8. What’s happened to make me anxious? Pretty much nothing if you look at it from the outside. That’s the funny thing with anxiety disorders – they usually have so little to do with external reality, but they’re the more than real in our minds and bodies reactions.

So yeah, I’ve had a rough couple of days mental health wise. As the beginning of Fresher’s Week approaches, the anxiety has been spiking higher than usual – the uncertainty can verge on becoming too much to handle. Will I make friends? Will I cope with all the information thrown at me? And it goes on. :no:

More anxiety means my mind is making more effort to release the stress, in the only way it knows how : OCD and the classic obsession-compulsion-reassurance cycle. It attaches itself onto the strangest objects: on one day I became obsessed with chopping off all my thick curly hair to give myself an (unflattering) pixie cut, for no good reason except releasing my anger. I’ve randomly declared that I’m going to cook something elaborate or taken to putting on nail polish at unusual times of the day. Not to mention one evening my attempts to study just went kaput because I decided to spend the whole evening chatting to people who would be starting uni with me. While that could still qualify as a productive use of time, I obviously had to turn it into a OCD ritual where I lashed out at myself with disproportionate guilt and anger for “wasting valuable study time” and becoming a “careless person”. Irrational, but real enough when you go through it at sky high levels of anxiety. The depression goes hand in hand with this sort of self-punishment; there was another evening where I came back feeling quite low and I kept trying to distract myself from the feeling, by watching a movie or going on my phone. Unsurprisingly, it ended with a flood of tears and emptiness. Learn from me, do not avoid feelings!

I’ve also had a recurrent attack of the Downy Drowsies (aka an intense bout of drowsiness brought on by anxiety). For reasons beyond my conscious knowledge, every day closer to the date that I start university sends my brain into anxiety overdrive. This means it depletes its energy so fast that I feel like hibernating constantly. Not exactly useful when you have events lined up from 9 in the morning in Freshers Week. Anyway, I’m going to research a little about the options I have when these sleep attacks hit. From my experience, taking a cold shower, doing some calm breathing exercises and forcing myself to start studying is the only way out.

Sep 28 was one of my worst nights this month. I've cried my eyes out just thinking of how low I feel. I've expressed my sheer desperation in any way I possibly could. And it's no longer worth it - it's no longer worth putting myself, my family and my loved ones through the trauma of prolonged suffering. I accept myself as a person with mental illness, but I also will do everything in my power to bring back my emotional stability. It's not that I haven't tried to come out of my depression all this time, of course, but my tendency is to start with a strong commitment which gradually weakens and with time as I become less consistent. This time, I'm not taking that bull from myself. I'm going to try like I've never tried before.

To translate that into action, I have specific changes which I'm going to make from morning to night. These mostly consist of


  1. Meditation
  2. Breathing exercises
  3. Reminders to be aware of my state of mental health / show grit

In more optimistic news, I’m flying to the UK tonight. Here begins my journey to university!


Good luck everyone for the start of the academic year…

Best wishes, shreyaa02
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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Sorry to hear things have been a struggle :console: Hope you're having a safe flight And yes, probs best to not bring a rice cooker when you're trying to pack your entire life into 40kg :teehee: I'm glad you think you'll have kitchen access, that's great!

:rave:
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byakuya kuchki
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shreyaa02 Good luck with your studies! Welcome to the wonderful and weird world of Oxbridge
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gw07mcgheerachel
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Best of luck!
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shreyaa02
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(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
Sorry to hear things have been a struggle :console: Hope you're having a safe flight And yes, probs best to not bring a rice cooker when you're trying to pack your entire life into 40kg :teehee: I'm glad you think you'll have kitchen access, that's great!

:rave:
Hey The_Lonely_Goatherd, thanks for your support! I have had a safe flight (seeing as I've made it safe and sound into Oxford.)

(Original post by byakuya kuchki)
shreyaa02 Good luck with your studies! Welcome to the wonderful and weird world of Oxbridge
Thank you. Can't wait to see more of the "weird and wonderful world of Oxbridge"...

(Original post by gw07mcgheerachel)
Best of luck!
Thanks!
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byakuya kuchki
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(Original post by shreyaa02)
Thanks!
you will absolutely love it! can't speak for oxford but I am starting at Cambridge tomorrow but my father went to oxford and loved his time there. If you have any questions on anything britain related or sort of Indian things (I am also indian but british born and raised) don't hesitate to ask! I guess u won't be help with Oxford stuff but cambridge is quite similar so I will try my best with that. But I am sure there are other who have more experience with oxford then me haha.
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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Yay, glad you made it over safely!

:hugs:
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shreyaa02
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(Original post by byakuya kuchki)
you will absolutely love it! can't speak for oxford but I am starting at Cambridge tomorrow but my father went to oxford and loved his time there. If you have any questions on anything britain related or sort of Indian things (I am also indian but british born and raised) don't hesitate to ask! I guess u won't be help with Oxford stuff but cambridge is quite similar so I will try my best with that. But I am sure there are other who have more experience with oxford then me haha.
How are you now? Oxford is truly a beautiful place to study. It's also nice to know some Indians / British Indians in Oxbridge - diversity being the issue that it is in these institutions! Happy to get to know you...

(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
Yay, glad you made it over safely!

:hugs:
I know - a twelve hours flight but I did finally make it across!
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byakuya kuchki
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(Original post by shreyaa02)
I know - a twelve hours flight but I did finally make it across!
Oh yea, diversity is horrible really! it really depends on the college. I am st Trinity College so it's okay cause we have a diverse and international community. I am good, it feels like I have been here a few seconds and I am already drowning in information 😂. Hey, if you ever want to celebrate diwali or anything or feel homesick during the hols than you are more than welcome to come and celebrate it with us really! I understand how moving to another country can be really difficult! Best of luck with your studies! The prelims will be here sooner than you realise.
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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(Original post by shreyaa02)

I know - a twelve hours flight but I did finally make it across!
:eek2: That is a LONG flight. Was it direct? I once took a flight that long to Sri Lanka (my country of origin) but it was an overnight flight from London, so I slept most of it
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shreyaa02
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Update 3: Thurs 10 Oct
So freshers week is in full swing. And boy has it been a busy one. On the one hand, it means my depression and anxiety barely has time to make itself felt. On the other, its extra busy and that makes it difficult to ensure self-care and mental peace. So here's my attempt to give you guys a rundown of what has been a wild dragon back ride of a week.

The best parts of freshers week were getting to know new people and meeting the tutors. The whole fanfare of the welcome into being an Oxford student really gave me a wonderful sense of purpose about being here to study. Its such an opportunity and Oxford has the kind of ambiance that makes the realisation almost surreal.

I did though have a couple of difficult days during the week. One annoying thing (of course) was my depression induced drowsiness. There was one morning where I just sort of slept through all my commitments until my family just gave up trying to get me to leave my room, and just showed up to mine. The solution is just the same as usual - breathing exercises and possibly a shower, then to go straight into a routine task with set objectives. I do allow myself a nap in the afternoon but not longer than 20 minutes. This kind of thing can snowball and become a total waste of time.

I've met my tutors and they've given us a short spiel on the course, our upcoming classes and tutorials, plus a brief reading list. That's when a bit of trouble started: I spent an hour last night running around to different welfare people in the college wanting help with sorting it out. Naturally this is not the best way to go about your first reading list. I got really frustrated because half the people weren't available because they were out of office while others were simply not picking up the phone, even if it was their job to attend to student welfare out of hours. It so happened that my family called me at just the right time (i.e. as I was having a anxiety attack and pretty much crying publicly) and somehow talking over the phone about what's troubling you can help you calm down - at least when it's with someone who truly cares about you and who won't worsen your situation by making unhelpful comments.

Effectively, the lesson learnt was this - I have got to be self-reliant. I can't run around pleading for help, that too out of office hours, forever. It ultimately comes down to me and what I'm willing to do to help myself.

Speaking of which, I am really struggling with self-hatred for what I know to be rather trivial issues. I think that's just classic OCD - knowing that something's not worth getting worked up about and getting worked up anyway. Recent examples: a staff member at a museum 'telling me off' for making a request at closing time; getting distracted in the middle of studying by a male friend (whom I was messaging *cough* flirting with) - both of these sent me into a short but profound sense of guilt and depression. I really want to do well academically + be a good person. So of course OCD loves those topics with me - even the smallest deviance from my standards gives me an intense pang of shame and the feeling that I'm somehow the worst thing that could have ever come to exist on the Earth.

It's a difficult journey, but I'm glad that I have the opportunities that I do, and that my family never put pressure on me to "stop being sad" even though I 'feel bad about feeling bad' around them - who likes to have a perpetual Debbie Downer for a daughter? Anyhow, I think the way to recovery lies in pushing myself to do what is possibly the most difficult task for me, day in day out, but also the most remedial: to keep studying, because that's how I'll empower myself and therefore others.

GYG Love to y'all,
shreyaa02 x
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shreyaa02
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(Original post by byakuya kuchki)
Oh yea, diversity is horrible really! it really depends on the college. I am st Trinity College so it's okay cause we have a diverse and international community. I am good, it feels like I have been here a few seconds and I am already drowning in information 😂. Hey, if you ever want to celebrate diwali or anything or feel homesick during the hols than you are more than welcome to come and celebrate it with us really! I understand how moving to another country can be really difficult! Best of luck with your studies! The prelims will be here sooner than you realise.
Goodness, don't get me started on information. We had Fresher's Fair today and when I came back to my room I didn't know why I had picked up half the leaflets and freebies, I simply had them sort of thrust at me by various overenthusiastic stall owners! There's a Diwali Ball coming up here so that should be some check on the homesickness

(Original post by The_Lonely_Goatherd)
:eek2: That is a LONG flight. Was it direct? I once took a flight that long to Sri Lanka (my country of origin) but it was an overnight flight from London, so I slept most of it
Nope, I stopped over at DXB (Dubai). Wow, Sri Lanka? You must've been pretty jet-lagged !
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