In secondary, I had a friend who had anxiety. Awful as it was for her, she often used it as a loophole to get out of deadlines. I remember one time when she’d just outright forgotten to submit a piece of coursework; she was quick to exclaim that she’d just tell the teacher that she’d ‘had a panic attack or something.’ And whilst this doesn’t mean that her mental health should be immediately discredited, her exploitation of it infuriated me.
Up until June last year, I lacked a proper diagnosis for my mental health, meaning it was harder for me to seek any support whatsoever. I didn’t realise that despite my high grades and my general carefree attitude towards my final year, I could acknowledge the struggles I was facing and the impact it was having on me. I skipped class on a daily basis; I started my assignments the morning of and still managed to do better than everyone else – but, at the end of the day, my mental health was still in absolute peril.
The school I went to was obsessed with grades – with competition, with gossip, and with comparison. The environment was toxic. And in such an environment, I figured it was only natural to downplay my mental health, especially since I was excelling with minimal effort. But of course this couldn’t always be the case and when things got out of hand, I was clueless as to how to access support. I’d never in my life thought about requesting an extension – a mechanism that was frequently abused – and the first time I did, I felt an immense sense of guilt and worry. Because even though life was dragging me down, I was so preoccupied with how others would perceive me. I’d built up a reputation which was reliant on a paradoxical relation between carelessness and academic excellence. I felt like a failure.
Nowadays I’ve realised that, ultimately, and in every facet of your life, it’s okay to let it be about you. Surely enough, people will abuse the system and that will obviously taint your perception of it along with everyone else’s. But now I’ve come to a point where I just can’t be bothered to care any longer – and I think that’s for the best. Other people’s opinions and gossip surrounding your need to reach out may be damaging, hurtful, and inconvenient – but they can’t physically stop you from getting the support you need. Once you realise that, the rest is easy.
For the first time in my life at Queen Mary, I’ve requested extensions for summative coursework without feeling immediately guilty of self-conscious, I’ve accessed support through the Disability and Dyslexia Service, and I’ve made use of special exam arrangements. And I cannot stress how thankful I am that I go to a university with such an excellent support system in place. It’s not because I’m selfish; it’s because I can and it’s what’s best for me. Letting yourself down for the sake of a few others just isn’t worth it. Simple and cliché as it may sound, you truly can’t care for others without looking after yourself. Do whatever you can to support yourself because, ultimately, you’re worth so much more than a few shallow opinions.