World Mental Health Day 2020: My story

On this day two years ago, I shared an Instagram post revealing that I’ve encountered various kinds of mental health issues in the past, but I intentionally did not delve any deeper. Why? Because, even though I’ve been in a much better place than I ever was for the past two-to-three years, I still felt uncomfortable in sharing my story as the underlying stigma remains strong. And there lies the issue. So, today, I’m breaking that stigma; having been much more open about past experiences since creating my blog back in May, I now feel comfortable enough to share my story in the hope that it can encourage others to take the plunge and share theirs, too. Here goes…

When I say I’ve encountered “various kinds” of issues, I am predominantly referring to depression, anxiety and OCD, but they have occurred in an array of forms. Take my first ever encounter of depression: high school. As I touch upon in one of my latest blogs, I was depressed throughout the entirety of my high school career due to feeling like a misfit, entangling myself in toxic friendships and thus isolating myself from others. On top of this, I suffered with acne all over my back, chest and some areas of my face; the culmination of the factors that caused my depression induced the development of my excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, a condition related to OCD involving the relentless picking at one’s skin. As a result, I also suffered with body-related anxiety issues; every time I undressed in the changing rooms for PE or Dance, I was forever afraid of being judged for the scars all over my skin.

Cut to sixth form and, honestly, Years 12 and 13 were two of the best years of my life. How did my life alternate so drastically? I’ll tell you how: those who enkindled the toxicity were no longer present in my everyday life. I could relate to those more in my A level classes because A level was a more serious matter; nobody felt “obliged” to study English and nobody selected Dance just to “fill a gap” in their timetable. My acne finally began to cure after years of trialling treatment after treatment; I eventually found something that worked. I loved every moment of my sixth form life, so much so I didn’t want it to end. Towards the end of my sixth form studies is when Daniel and I also started dating – what a way to consummate a wonderful two years!

After sixth form came university. I mention briefly in my blog about living home for university that I was so sure that moving away for university was the right path for me; I was confident that I was ready for a fresh start in an exciting location with an abundance of new faces. What’s more, the prospect of moving to Brighton for university sounded like the ideal; it’s a cute place for a day out and a fun spot for a night out. Nonetheless, from the onset of my first year at the University of Sussex, I was again depressed and, this time, also severely anxious. Depressed because, although I made some friends on my course of study and in my halls, I didn’t make ~great~ friends. Anxious because I was gripping onto the hope that I would eventually build better friendships, but the year only became worse and worse; it felt as though I was reliving high school all over again. I began to suffer from panic attacks nightly and resorted to utilising the university’s counselling services. My fourth session in, even my counsellor muttered: “I don’t see you coming back here”. At first, I thought: “what an incredibly harsh thing to say”, as though she had no faith in that I could return and things would improve or change for me. The summer between my first and second year when I moved back home, however, it dawned on me: she was right. I couldn’t face returning to a place where I was so unhappy; the notion was sickening. After long and hard consideration, then, I decided that it was best to move back home and transfer to a London-based university.

September 2016. I successfully transferred to the University of Roehampton London, commencing from second year as the first-year content of my course of study, English Language and Linguistics, aligned with one another at both Sussex and Roehampton. I was happy again; returning to my beloved home in Surrey and commuting into my favourite city every day for university was the dream. If only I’d realised this back in sixth form, eh? Anyway, I made wonderful friends immediately at Roehampton – people I could resonate with, people with whom I shared commonalities, people who cared – and the professors were brilliant which only enhanced my experience. Nevertheless, October 2016 – as I draw on in much more detail in my blog about Daniel’s Crohn’s story – saw a daunting event for Daniel; after months of experiencing painful symptoms in his stomach and chest, his bowel perforated and required immediate medical attention. Hence, my anxiety heightened once again due to the worry of Daniel’s overall health; I was just glad I’d moved back home to cater to his needs as much as I could post-operation whilst simultaneously focusing as hard as I could on my university work.

After an 11-month rollercoaster of emotions, appointments and assignments, Daniel’s stoma was thankfully reversed, meaning the two of us could return to some form of normality again. That same month, I had began my final year of university which would just so happen to be the best year of my university life; I developed even stronger friendships, made the most of my experience outside lectures and seminars and enjoyed every aspect of my course’s content, even if it was more demanding. Of course, the worry about Daniel continued – and it always will – but his condition was under control and, in retrospect, the encounter only made us stronger as a couple.

Fast forward two years and, now, I have two first-class degrees, Daniel and I are engaged to get married, and I have an incredible group of friends. Of course, life still happens in between – I’ve lost several loved ones these past few years, confronted numerous job rejections before finally securing a managerial position I fought long and hard for, and had shitty days aplenty; but, most importantly, I never gave up.

If you’re reading this and feel as though you can relate to anything in my story, just know that it gets better. It’s okay to seek help. You will make friends. Hard work really does pay off.

I concluded my post two years ago with a particular quote that I have lived by for many years, and I feel it is appropriate to finish on the same today: “everything will be okay in the end; if it’s not okay, it’s not the end”.

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

How I learned that it’s O.K. to change your mind about your career prospects

From the ages of thirteen to nineteen, I was so sure I wanted to be a high school teacher. Certain, in fact. I was so sure, I was doing everything I could to gain as much teaching experience as possible alongside my GCSE, A level and university studies to add to my CV. Six years is a really long time to be certain about the career path you intend to pursue – so long, the plan inevitably became like a comfort blanket for me. The notion of “knowing” what I wanted to do in the future made the journey there seem a hell of a lot easier. When it came to choosing my A levels, I didn’t need to think twice; I knew I loved English, Spanish and Dance, so those subjects I chose. I developed such a passion for English Language during my A level studies, I confirmed that’s what I wanted to study at university. In order to be a high school teacher, I knew I had to complete a postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE) upon completion of my bachelor’s. Basically, I had my life all figured out. Sweet. Done. Easy. Or, so I thought.

During my second year of university, I started to have my doubts and change my mind as to whether I still wanted to pursue teaching and, honestly, I didn’t know how to handle or respond to my thoughts. “I was so sure teaching was the career for me – why am I changing my mind now?” “Is it normal to start changing my mind so suddenly?” “Is it too late?” Because. Yes. No. They are the short answers to those three questions in consecutive order. The long answers? One: I was changing my mind then because I had been studying for my degree for almost two years up to that point, and I had learnt so much not only about my course of study, but also about life as a student, essential life skills and friendships to name a few; I continuously found myself inspired by my surroundings and was therefore growing as an individual. Two: it was normal to change my mind so suddenly as the plan to become a teacher remained subconsciously in my mind whilst I was letting my surroundings sink in; when the doubts found an opportunity, they hit like a ton of bricks. And three: it definitely wasn’t too late to start changing my mind because I still had a whole year to complete my degree, arrange meetings with my academic advisor and conduct some research into my growing interests; and, most shockingly of all, I was only nineteen. Of course, I hadn’t realised all this at the time; I was extremely confused and most certainly couldn’t find a solution alone. But, before I go on to explain how I approached my thoughts and accepted that I no longer wanted to be a teacher, let’s backtrack a little. You’re probably wondering why I was so certain that high school teaching was the career for me from such a young age. Here’s the story.

Before thirteen, I wasn’t entirely sure as to what I wanted to do in life, but I had an idea; “something in English or performing arts” was my thinking. As I’ve said a few times on my blog now, writing has always been a passion of mine. Likewise, when I was younger, I was extremely passionate about performing arts; I attended drama classes at Sylvia Young Theatre School in Central London every Saturday from the ages of about nine to fifteen and, as I’ve also mentioned before, I have always enjoyed writing songs. Then, when I started high school, I began to develop an ever-growing passion for contemporary dance. I found not only dancing myself, but also the professional choreographers and works that we studied exciting, intriguing and thrilling. When it came to choosing my GCSEs then, along with the core English, Maths and Science and mandatory foreign language (as my school specialised in languages), I went for the triple threat: Drama, Music and Dance. During our first year of working towards our GCSEs in these three subjects, we also completed work towards a smaller award called the Bronze Arts Award (which, for some reason, they stretched across one whole academic year when it could have easily been completed in one half-term). The requirements to complete this award for each subject were similar: for all of them, I remember that we had to give a presentation based on a person who inspires us in that area. For Dance, however, I specifically remember that we had to lead our own lesson, either individually or in pairs, which would be recorded to send to the examination board.

The lesson had to include the following: a pulse-raiser, a mobiliser for the knees and a physical game. We were required to create a lesson plan and write a script to provide to the examiners, too. I remember rehearsing my butt off for this lesson like my life depended on it. I had just begun my GCSEs; life was gettin’ serious, K? The night before, I read over my script again and again and again until I was somewhat satisfied. The day of, I was shitting myself. I walked into the dance studio feeling sick to my stomach. I was “number four” of thirty-odd in the class to approach the task, and the first to do it alone. I remember my teacher pointing the tiny camcorder (yep, that’s what was used back in 2011) toward me as I stood facing my classmates in front of the mirror-covered wall. I was holding my script shakily. “Ready?”, my teacher smiled. “Yep”, I responded hesitantly. Beep! The recording, and thus my lesson, begun.

To cut an already long story short: my lesson went really well. As soon as I heard the ‘beep’, I instinctively dropped my script to the floor beside me. It felt like it had just removed itself from my hands. I didn’t need it; I’d rehearsed enough, I guess. Beep! As the recording stopped, my teacher slowly brought the hand in which she was holding up the camera back down to her hip and blurted “how good was that?” to the rest of the class. Commotion. Everybody in the class was crying “Sophie, that was so good!”, “wow, have you taught before?”. Even those in my class who bullied me outside of class were saying nice things – I mean, what is that about? “You’ve got a career in teaching”, my teacher continued; “that was incredible”. At the age of thirteen, hearing that “you’ve got a career” in something feels pretty amazing; it provides a sense of confidence, achievement and direction. And so, from that day, it was decided: “I’m going to be a teacher!”. From that day, as I said in the beginning, I did everything I could to build my teaching portfolio: I ran my school’s Contemporary Dance Club when I was in Year 10, I was nominated to be a tutor for a Year 11 English student when I was in Year 12 and I opted to complete the Volunteering In School’s Award (VISA) by helping my Dance teacher in her Year 9 lessons also whilst I was in Year 12.

Further, just before I started my degree in English Language and Linguistics, we were given the opportunity to elect one subject module per semester in our first year; the others were compulsory. Or, in place of a different elective module per semester, we also had the option to study Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) – another qualification which enables you to do as the title says upon completion – which would continue into our second year and thus take over a couple of elective module blocks in that year, too. “A teaching module? Tick.” When the teaching of that module – or qualification – began, I really enjoyed the first few lessons, predominantly because they focused on the recapping of English grammar, syntax, morphology, etymology, phonology; the nitty-gritty of the English language, which I’m an utter nerd for. However, when we began to learn how to teach this nitty-gritty content to a second-language learner, I didn’t enjoy it so much. “That rules out teaching English as a second language, then”, I thought. That was the extent of my thoughts. Notwithstanding, the unfulfillment of this module directed me to contact someone at the university about the possibility of discontinuing the qualification (and therefore merely gaining the amount of credits equivalent to that of one module) and choosing a different module to study in the spring semester, which was fine. Instead of the second part to TESOL, then, I elected a module called Language, Mind and Brain. “Now, this is what I’m talking about; this is what I came to study.” It was basically psycholinguistics, a branch of linguistics which is just SO cool, and it’s true; I came to university to study English Language and Linguistics, and this module was one awesome aspect of that. The other compulsory modules across the year covered semantics, phonology, grammar and discourse, which all contribute to what linguistics is about, too.

So, teaching English as a foreign language was a no-go. “Fine. No worries, I’ll just stick to teaching curriculum English.” Following this discovery, I decided to continue as I finally figured in my first year through to my second year; to choose modules that concentrated on the elements of linguistics that I was genuinely interested in, rather than bothering so much about choosing modules that partly aligned with my teaching plans. I intended to study for a PGCE upon completing my bachelor’s which would qualify me to teach anyway, so I decided to enjoy my course’s content while I could. Then, during one of my Forensic Linguistics lectures in the spring semester of second year, two third-year girls were invited into our lecture to discuss the opportunities my university offered to gain work experience over the summer through their internship scheme. “It’s so easy to sign up”, one said, “you just have to go to the website, create a profile, and when you see an internship post that sounds interesting to you, you just upload your CV and wait for a member of the internship scheme team to contact you!”. That does sound easy, right? So, when I got home, I entered the URL in my laptop, signed up, and on the home screen of the website popped up a plethora of internship roles in London which, once you clicked on them, had a job description and a “send my CV” button appear. It really was easy. Although I couldn’t find one teaching-related internship, I thought I’d try my luck and send my CV to any role which sounding interesting to me; incidentally, they were all related to social media marketing. Whilst I was studying, I was also working as a part-time Crew Trainer at McDonald’s, so it inadvertently became an opportunity for to develop my professional portfolio as opposed to my teaching one.

The next day, and I mean not even twenty-four hours after I’d sent my CV to various places, I received a call from a recruiter who worked for the internship scheme at my university. “Four of the employers would like to meet you tomorrow!” he cried. I was in a state of shock. What was it about my CV that made me appear an ideal candidate for marketing? The fact that I have a good command of the English language? That’s all I could think of. Anyway, the recruiter and I agreed that meeting all four employers in various places in London in one day was a bit absurd, so we’d arranged a date for two and would get back in touch to arrange the other two. The first interview I’d attended was for a twelve-week internship as a PR & Marketing Assistant for a luxury baby-and-children’s furniture brand. Again, long story short: the interview went really well, and the day after that, the recruiter told me the job was mine if I wanted it. “That’s great!”, I said excitedly, “but what about the other interviews?” It turned out that all the other internships were only intended to last between two-to-four weeks, so I cancelled the pending interviews, accepted the role as PR & Marketing Assistant in Central London and consequently, after almost three-and-a-half years, quit my part-time job at McDonald’s to focus on the internship (I wasn’t too worried about not finding another job during my final year; I was quite confident that, after this internship, I’d have ample experience).

Throughout my twelve weeks in this role, I’d gained experience and skills aplenty. I’d learned everything I needed to know about social media marketing for a small business; I learned how to use specific marketing tools such as WordPress (hence why I’m here!), Buffer and MailChimp, I created three-to-four social media posts daily for their social media and wrote blogs and newsletters weekly for their website. However, when I was offered an extension of the internship (namely, the opportunity to continue to work for them remotely or in store on the weekends alongside my final-year studies), I safely declined. My bachelor’s degree was very research-and-written heavy and, truthfully, I didn’t want to commit myself to having to write blogs when I had an abundance of assignments to complete. Nevertheless, when I’d started my final year, I’d arranged a meeting with my academic advisor and positively told her all about my internship experience. “Now I’m really confused as to what I want to do in life”, I said. “Do marketing”, she replied abruptly. “Marketing. You enjoyed that internship, right? That’s just a taster.” She was right; everything I did during that internship was just a microcosm of what a career in marketing holds. “I could do marketing, I guess.” And so, after a long, well-needed chat with my academic advisor, I’d decided that instead of studying for a PGCE upon completing my bachelor’s degree, I’d study for a master’s in Global Marketing Management.

I realise now that the reason I didn’t know how to handle my thoughts as to why I was changing my mind about what I wanted to do in life was because, as I said near the start, I was comfortable. I knew what I wanted, where I was going and pursuing my goals seemed pretty easy. Then, when I started to consider other avenues, I didn’t enjoy the feeling of escaping of my comfort zone and exploring something new. It’s like I almost believed that teaching was destined for me and that I shouldn’t even allow any other career prospect to enter my mind. Well, I was wrong. Studying for a marketing-based master’s degree was the best decision I’ve ever made; not only did it open my eyes to the business world and enable me to recognise the impact of brands on our everyday lives, but it also taught me an array of life skills that are essential in every workplace, something that teaching might have lacked. If you’re changing your mind about what you want to do in life, just know that it’s O.K.; I did, and it worked out wonderfully.