Katie has suffered from anxiety for a long time; it’s something she still manages today.
This is her story. In her own words.
I started to feel ‘not right’ in year 7, so when I was about 12. I felt anxious but didn’t know it was anxiety. When you’re a kid, you can hide behind your parents a bit more, so no-one really noticed. Bullying throughout secondary school damaged my self-esteem and started to make me really doubt myself.
In year 11 I started to feel more anxious and my mood was low. I had GCSEs and was revising all the time. I got banned from revision sessions because I was revising too much. I thought I was going to fail my exams, so I studied up to twelve hours a day. I was getting upset at school over things that were trivial. Small things would make me cry. People knew I was stressed but I think they thought it would pass once exams were over.
However, by sixth form, it was much worse. I didn’t get help or ask for it. I didn’t know how to either. All my friends were together; they had their ‘in jokes’ from free periods I wasn’t a part of, and I felt lonely, on the outskirts. My psychology teacher noticed. She wanted me to speak to the head of sixth form, but I was anxious and wasn’t going to do that. She went off sick for a while and I was left on my own again.
In year 13 others noticed it was becoming a problem. I was exhausted. It was only two weeks in and my teacher said I shouldn’t be this tired. She said she would tell my parents that I was working too hard. I started walking out of lessons.
I was then told I was behind on my lessons, that I wasn’t putting in enough effort. I didn’t know what else I could do. I wasn’t concentrating. I would zone out and the teacher would get frustrated. I would turn up late to lessons as I was panicked and crying and had to calm down before I got in. By then I was self-harming.
My friendship group had started to break down and I was stuck in the middle. As I refused to choose sides, I ended up with no-one. At lunch and breaks when I used to be with them, I started to revise instead. I wasn’t eating much at that time. I had lost a lot of weight. My dad was getting upset with me for not eating. My mum started putting food in my bag. I would come home before her and put it back in the cupboard.
I was panicky, feeling down, not eating properly and the thing was that I didn’t talk about how I felt to people. I thought it’s just going to make others stressed. People probably thought it was just exam worries, but I realised it was more than that.
Eventually I was given a mentor. We chatted about what was going on, what was worrying me. She focused more on the academic side of things, tried to help me manage my time and encouraged me to give myself breaks. She said it was too late to refer me to the school’s counsellor because of the long waiting list, but it was good to have someone to talk to.
She did refer me to Kooth though. I wish I had known about Kooth in year 9 when I was struggling, mostly with bullying. I didn’t know I could reach out for support that early on so I let things get as bad as they did.
With Kooth, I was like: is this really anonymous? I got a message from one of the Kooth team saying hello. I looked at articles and logged off. I started chatting with a counsellor after a few weeks. After a while, I had a named worker who I talked to for a couple of months. When I left the country for a time I stopped talking to my counsellor. I carried on using the forums though. When I returned, I didn’t have a job or anything so returned to Kooth and talked to a different counsellor. She was helpful and she helped me through a lot.
She took me through starting a new job. At this job though I was sexually harassed. I couldn’t speak about it but I told my counsellor. She took me through the process and supported me throughout.
Then, before University, I went to my GP to ask for help for my mental health. Going to the GP – the act of getting help – is a big thing for young people. I didn’t tell my mum. The first time I went they said what I was going through was a normal part of growing up. It was a year before I felt brave enough to go back. The next doctor I spoke to was in a rush to prescribe me some medication and get me out the door. Every time I go back I have to retell my story and change my medication again. Some antidepressants have given me bad side effects that make me feel worse.
I’m at university now. I don’t really know anyone so it’s tough, but I’m enjoying it. I still experience anxiety and low mood; my lecturer found me crying in one of the lectures and tried to talk to me, tried to be supportive. I’d already started speaking to student support because my Kooth counsellor had encouraged me to do so.
Student Support has given me software so I can record the lectures because I find it difficult to concentrate. I also have a programme to help me with keep track of my reading and mind mapping software, which helps me plan essays. I also have mentoring support to help keep on track with my work.
I’ve got a lot of support in place now.
If I could give my younger self some advice, I’d say: there are people there to support you even if you don’t feel like there is, or can’t speak to anyone. Even an email can start the process. You don’t have to tell everyone, just one person that you trust. Do it before it gets too much.
I would tell my teachers to try and support their students. Even if it’s emailing them. Let them know what support there is for them. Tell them about Kooth. Do a class briefing to tell pupils about the support there is available. Also, if one of your students is very upset, don’t push it. Just tell them what support is there.
Not knowing where the support is and not wanting to talk about it is a really difficult place to be.