In 2012, straight after high school, I started a physiotherapy degree at a university about two hours away from my house, and moved on to res to save commuting. I didn’t even make it through res O-week before I had to move back home, as I was having severe panic attacks, and episodes where I just couldn’t stop crying. I then thought I’d be ok attending a uni close to home, as I tried to convince myself that my anxiety was only due to being away from home, and Deakin were kind enough to give me late entry into their new optometry course. However, the symptoms continued, and I was forced to withdraw from a second course within a month and take a gap year.
Having never experienced symptoms so severe before, I felt like a huge failure, especially when people made comments like “I swear you’re doing a new course every time I see you!”. It was uncertain whether I’d ever be able to attend university, and as a very academic person, this completely tore my self-worth to shreds. I hold myself to extremely high standards (traits of maladaptive perfectionism), and I couldn’t understand why my brain was letting me down. I went from being extremely outgoing to incredibly reserved, and I felt like I was defined by the new label that had been stuck on me – severe anxiety disorder.
To say the next 12 months was a challenge would be an understatement. Over that year, I spent a lot of time with psychologists, my closest relationship broke down (he told me that I was too much of a burden for him to handle anymore), and I spent about 72 hours (of a three-week trip) overseas, before my anxiety forced my Mum and I to return home.
However, the gap year highlighted the incredible support network surrounding me (especially my parents), helped me establish the tools I needed to be able to manage my mental health, and gave my insight into my anxiety. Upon reflection, we were able to identify some signs that I’d had anxiety for a significant period of time, some even stemming back to the death of my Dad when I was four years-old. Taking the year off also led to me starting a new uni course in 2013, where I met some amazing friends who supported me with transitioning into tertiary study, including my ‘uni mum’, Caroline, who challenged me to do the absolute best that I could.
I still struggle with anxiety, and it’s something that I am continually learning to manage, but I am fortunate to be surrounded by the most wonderful friends and family, who are the best supports I could ask for.
The journey to get here was tough, but I wish I could tell 18-year-old me that it is all going to be ok.
Jordan Walter, Deakin University, BMBS, Year 2 (2017)