I am a fourth-year student at Hanken, and for the past few years I have devoted myself to volunteer work at our student association. There, I have seen the reality of how the young people thrive today. Seeing how both I and others had to fight in relation to mental health has made me want to speak openly about my own experiences, and thus work for a better understanding of mental illness.
From parties to the rock bottom
At the end of my high school years, a roller-coaster ride started with my mental health. In some periods I flew on a cloud, was efficient, social and charming. That was the well-known party version of myself, when my life became an endless search after a party. Later, I have had difficulties remembering most of what happened during these periods, but I do recall that from having felt that I owned the entire world, there came a day when something pulled the rug from under me, and I fell into a dark hole. Then I cancelled all of my calendar, went for days without leaving my flat, and the sofa and bed became my best friends.
For years, I lived in these ups and downs and thought that was what life was. That meant a lot of pressure on me, my family and my friends. I did not really know who I was, and those closest to me did not know how I would be from one day to another. My health deteriorated, and I started feeling despair; it became more difficult to live. I started losing hope for the future, a normal life with for example a family and a career did not feel totally unrealistic
In the spring of 2021, I would again lie in bed and could not even bother to leave the flat. I had recently started my first year on SHS’ board and lived in a great flat and had friends: on paper everything looked good.
Even so, I felt worse than ever before. A small part of me realised that if I did not seek and get help, I could not cope any longer. From the bottom of my bed, I got my first appointment with a nurse at the student health service.
A period over several months was started, and I had to answer to what felt like a never-ending range of questions, and each and every detail of my answers would be analysed. I was thrown between the student health services, the various health bodies of the municipality, and I always had to wait for weeks for the next appointment. Finally, I was diagnosed and the result was the worst depression of my life after I was diagnosed with a lifelong mental illness.
I suffer from bipolar II disorder, which implies big challenges for the rest of my life and a need for continuous care. It implies many sacrifices, constant striving for stability in everyday life, medication and follow-up of my health. Why do I tell you all this? If, as a younger person, I had heard more about mental illness and that a diagnosis is not a failure, I would not have had to fight for so long time without seeking help at an earlier stage.
Do not be afraid to get help and live with your diagnosis
The fear of becoming judged by others and that my diagnosis would aggravate my possibilities in working life made me be frightened for a long time to seek treatment. You should not let the fear of the reactions of others prevent you from having the support and help that you can get in order to feel good.
Society has changed, and will change even more. At least, I am never going to work in a place that judges me because of my diagnosis. I am worth more, and so are you.
I got rid of my depression at the end of 2021 when we found the right medication and started finding tools for me to work with my health on a daily basis. It has been difficult to reach a balance, and over the past years I have had difficulties learning how to live with the disorder. That has entailed a challenge also to those close to me. To begin with, I was scared of the future. Today I feel hope, a future with a career and a family seems once more to be an option.
For the past year I have, on my own initiative, with my healthcare team and in group therapy had to work to handle my well-being in different ways. It has been a challenge to come to terms with the idea that I will always have to work to keep up good mental health. There are many things that I have learned and I am willing to share them.
- Leave out alcohol sometimes. Previously, when I felt bad, I have used alcohol as a solution to the problems. My anxiety when I used alcohol became too big, and I stopped using it for a long period for years. I learned quite a lot from that. Leaving out alcohol now and then is a good choice, and the best thing will be Sunday mornings when I wake up fresh and ready for the day.
- Value your sleep. When sleeping patterns change, changes to your health are on their way. Routines are the most important to stick with for a good basis for your health.
- Risk being vulnerable. Speak openly about your difficulties, ask for and receive help. It took me far too long time to dare ask for help and really receive it. When I have done it now, life is no longer so scary and challenging.
If I could go back in time, I would and tell the younger version of myself that everything will be OK. Even if you are different, you will be able to get what you dream of in your life. Mental illness does not define your value as a human being, and does not prevent you from succeeding in life.
We have to talk about mental illness. It is not only a matter of statistics and figures. It is about real human beings. I am part of the statistics and know how hard it can feel. We must all work for mental health and talk openly about it to jointly create a better tomorrow.
The writer Emilia Winqvist studies economics at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. She holds several positions of trust, including as President of Hanken’s Student Union for 2022, and chairman of the network of the association of economics students.