Our brains are a big blob of soft tissue, made of a combination of grey and white matter and are by far the most complex part of the human body. Within this, the mind resides, where every thought, idea, imagination and dream, every worry, fear and concern, every memory and emotion, every ideology and concept is established. It has the potential to be both our best friend and worst enemy. It’s hard to believe that every single one of us has one of them; our own little computer protected by our skulls that control our every move, it’s mind-blowing to think about. (Sorry I had to, I literally had to).
Psychologists and neurologists say that there are still important developments that take place in the brain well into the twenties. So, how fitting is it that this would be when we’re shipped off to an institution miles away from home to do high-level academic work, be expected to find a partner, a job, a house and maybe even have our own children. I guess it makes sense why being a student is often seen as the most challenging period of life.
Well, that is exactly the stage that I currently find myself in now, a uni student at Lancaster, some 300 miles away from my home in the South East (i.e. the complete other side of the country in simple terms – it’s a long story). But, it means I have first-hand experience of how our minds can be our BFFs and also our nemeses. I was someone that suffered with chronic overthinking, I was trapped in the perpetual cycle of negative self-talk, holding onto every mistake and bad decision and allowing those things to define me. I took this habit into university and became used to being alone with my thoughts in my room, gradually locking myself into a prison of insecurities and low self-esteem and as a result isolating myself from family and friends. I was later hit with academic stress, exams, a family death, the long-distance nature of a new relationship and the overwhelming feeling of guilt, failure and disconnectedness and that caused me to collapse.
As somebody raised by parents that are first-generation immigrants from West Africa, mental health was something that I always struggled to fully grasp. Being a young, black man from the South East probably didn’t help either, I was constantly surrounded by the “toughen up” and “man up” mentality. It took me until a mental breakdown to realise that mental health was something that applied to everyone, not just people with disorders. It is not this taboo, scary, negative thing that it can sometimes be painted out to be, it’s a fact of life. If you have a mind, you have mental health.
I vividly remember myself spiralling, going from one thought to another and feeling as though I couldn’t handle the pressures of life anymore. I remember this overwhelming desire to disappear and this paralysing feeling of breathlessness that I’d never felt before. I left my room that afternoon without my phone, wallet or keys knowing I had an exam the following day. I was so swept up by my thoughts that day that I had become irrational with even basic things like looking left and right before crossing the road. I was inches away from being hit by a passing vehicle, but only the driver and I know how close I was to being involved in a major accident. That brief second could have changed the complexion of this story completely.
That same duality still stands out to me now. The knowledge that a story can be completely different in a matter of moments. The mind that helped me pass my A-Levels, attend a top 10 UK university and write these blogs would’ve been as equally as involved in disaster for me. My story was shaped by the repetition of a script that belittled and humiliated me, one that made me feel unworthy and invaluable. I’m sharing it now, for maybe only the third time publicly, because I don’t want that story to be the same for you.
In a world of extreme pressures, projections and unrealistic expectations, mental health crises are at an all-time high, especially for students. I strongly believe that aside from COVID-19, mental health disorders are their very own pandemic, something that everyone has been or will be affected by at some point. Just a few weeks ago, I was speaking to a teenager that was contemplating suicide, about to jump from a bridge and quite literally on the edge. I was lucky enough to be able to speak to him and I’m super grateful he allowed me to. At the time, I didn’t realise how much that experience would affect me, all I wanted at the time was for him to make the right choice (which he did thankfully). Looking back, I would hope that he knows how cherished and incredible he is, that his life has meaning and that he is bigger and stronger than whatever he’s going through. I think about him every day now, all because I want his story to be one that shapes him into a fine young man with a future.
That applies to you too, rewrite that negative story. Let your story empower and uplift you. Get rid of the story that’s dishonestly telling you that you are incapable, unworthy and unwanted. Don’t let your mind be your prison, instead break out from behind those doors claiming full ownership of your life. I know the stresses of home and family, finances and academics can force us into dark and depressing spells, but student to student, you got this. You are an amazing protagonist of an inspirational story, a beautifully free individual rather than one imprisoned by the state of your mind. An individual that lives in the moment and is not held back by your negative emotions, experiences and mistakes. You are an individual with immeasurable value, worth and talent, whether you’re just starting uni or about to graduate. You make the world a better place to live every day and are destined to be a positive influence to someone, all with the help of your big blob of soft tissue protected by your skull.
Hi, I’m Dayon, I mentioned before that I’m a student at Lancaster, I’m actually from Gravesend, Kent and originally from Sierra Leone (I know right). I’m just happy to be here, happy to be given the opportunity to write about my experiences and the things I have learnt from other people freely. Oh yeah and I have a personal blog, this is the link: https://dmiller808.wixsite.com/zenith-blog and you can follow me on Instagram too at @_dayon.m.