Why I grow a mo: Stories from the University of Leeds Men’s Cricket Club
Throughout November, the University of Leeds Men’s Cricket Club undertook the challenge of growing facial hair and to share their personal experiences of mental health to raise awareness and funds in support of the charity Movember, a cause which aims to tackle issues surrounding men’s mental health, suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
Trigger warning: this article discusses suicide and suicidal feelings.
After my A-Levels, I had one of the best summers of my life, I spent time with family and a great group of friends. I came to university with confidence that I would meet people similar to me and settle into the much anticipated university life. As can often be the case, the reality of university did not match my expectations and there was a sharp decline in both my well-being and self-esteem
Every task during my day took a huge effort and my head would be spinning around with feelings of self-doubt. This spiralled out of control as I became less and less productive with work which led to more worry.
I understood that making friends could take time, but I was so exhausted with getting through each day that I would find it impossible to be myself around others. One night in particular stands out in my memory when Iw as at the pub with some fellow freshers and left unannounced. Seeing others being so socially capable whilst I was struggling became too much and I was desperate to not be seen or heard.
More recently, mental health has had impact on me through a family member who took their own life in April 2020. It caused me and my family huge pain, particularly with the funeral restrictions that were in place at that time due to COVID-19.
During 1st year, I had suicidal thoughts for the first time which was confusing and terrifying. I felt overwhelmed by guilt when having suicidal thoughts and would feel my stomach physically turn upside down. These more recent events have left me feeling disappointed that I was not able to reach out for help myself, as I have seen the impact suicide has on family and friends.
It is true that university can be filled with many happy moments, I have enjoyed my experience immensely after finding a group of mates and having learnt about what I need to do to look after myself. Of course, we will continue to learn about ourselves and there will inevitably be peaks and troughs in life but here are some practical things I now do and wish I practiced more when I was at my lowest.
- Talk – this doesn’t have to be a magic conversation. It is ok to offload to someone providing they are willing to listen.
- Be kind to yourself and your body – treat yourself to a coffee, a haircut, some exercise etc. These won’t fix the problem but will make it more manageable.
- Focus on one thing at a time – I struggled to focus on anything for a length of time. It is easier said than done but try to relax if you are relaxing and work if you are working.
Before starting university, I would have considered myself someone who was pretty happy with their lot. If I’m totally honest, I didn’t give any mental health too much thought. I would even say that I was dismissive of the importance of mental wellbeing. How wrong I was.
During the summer between finishing school and starting at Leeds, I was in for a rude awakening. For reasons that still remain a little unclear, I plummeted into a pit of misery which I couldn’t find a way out of. During this period, I lost interest in everything I had previously enjoyed, including playing cricket which should have been the first warning sign.
Upon arriving in Leeds, I was keen for a fresh start but this period of what I now understand to be depression continued unabated. This made by first year very difficult and I had pretty much decided I was going to drop out, even giving up my room in the house I had signed for with my first-year flatmates. I found it difficult to socialise and was overthinking everything which was exhausting.
I reached a point where I genuinely did not want to be a burden on anyone and thoughts about how I could end this crippling mental struggle began to linger in the background. This wouldn’t be the last time these thoughts cropped up. I believed this would eventually go away and was almost a rite of passage. I’ll make it clear; you do not need to struggle like I did, I would not wish this on anyone.
Another period of particular difficulty came during my year abroad in Germany. I couldn’t wait for this experience but at the back of my head I was aware that due to COVID-19 restrictions it would not be business as usual. However, I could have never have anticipated the mental decline that I would have to endure in the ensuing months. This ultimately led to me returning home early as I became increasingly concerned for my own wellbeing. Again, I found myself having more worrying thoughts and whilst this is obviously deeply saddening, at the time it felt so clear, obviously I was not thinking clearly. During this period, I lost a worrying amount of weight, this is when I began taking real notice of my mental wellbeing as the effects of it began to harm my physical state.
Writing this piece sometime after these events, I have to say I no longer identify with how I used to feel, and I am most definitely out the other side. The key takeaway from this is that things can and do improve. I am so grateful I get to enjoy time with my friends and the role of the Cricket Club in this cannot be understated.
I have found, like with most things in life, the solution for me has been incredibly simple. I now make sure that the trifecta of regular exercise, clean eating and spending time with good friends is an integral part of my daily routine. Prevention is most certainly better than a cure. Remember, you are never a burden on someone who cares for you.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons