Hi. This is me. The "real" me.

I wasn’t sure where the best place to start was, so here goes.

It’s my first year at Warwick University. I’m sat in my bath at Lakeside accommodation. I started to cut myself with a bic razor as a “test” for slitting my wrists and committing suicide.

Rewind to when I’m about 13. I’m sat in my Dad’s car on my way to school. I turn to my Dad and say “I don’t think I want to die today”. He says probably the only thing you could say in his position: “you’ve got your whole life ahead of you mate; you shouldn’t feel that way”.

I came to Warwick a bit messed up. BUT, I didn’t want to admit it. I thought I was fine. Depression was not on my radar. Thinking about suicide was just normal, right? It was probably a result of listening to My Chemical Romance too much, right?

Sadly no. I had real problems.

Something that had helped me for a few years before coming to University was my ex-girlfriend. She was a fantastic foil, and a brilliant emotional crutch. For example, I never went clubbing back home in London because I had terrible social anxiety and couldn’t deal with clubs as spaces. So, I’d just blather on to my girlfriend at the time about how counter-culture I was and how immoral and immature night clubs were and eventually after a long argument she’d say nothing and keep me company whilst all our friends headed out. We’d argue and, because she loved me and because I manipulated her and complained, I’d get my way.

Another example of how I used her to hide was when I would have bad days. She could be doing anything – work, important projects, spending time with her family. But she had to drop it all to spend time with me. I would emotionally blackmail her in to dropping everything and spending time with me, making me feel better, no matter what the cost was to any of her work or social life or family life. At my extreme worst I’d make vague threats about suicide if the argument headed the way of “John this is ridiculous, I can’t do this.”

If it sounds unhealthy and a bit abusive, that’s because it was. To hide from my depression I used a beautiful human being to medicate myself. And I’ll always have to live with that. It’s my single biggest regret, because nobody should ever be used as an antidepressant.

Needless to say, my ex and I didn’t work out when we got to university. She was free of all of my bullshit and eventually I got what was coming to me with one very painful sentence: “I can’t be the only thing that makes you happy anymore.”

You’d think that this would be a good indication to someone that they needed help, right? Nope. I spent months in denial about why she’d left. It took friends and family begging me, often in tears, for many months before I finally gave in and sought help. In fact the moment I finally gave in involved my mum crying across a table from me, asking me to get help because I wasn’t “okay”. I couldn’t take the idea that I was hurting the people I loved any more.

Fast forward to January 23rd of last year and I receive this (I’ll give you the condensed version):

“Dear Mr Servante

I have been informed by your department that they have serious concerns about your level of absence so far this academic year from elements of your course in which attendance is monitored.

If you have any health problems or other difficulties which may have prevented you from fulfilling these expectations I urge you to inform your department.

Should attendance continue to be unsatisfactory, your department will make a recommendation to the University that your case be considered by a Continuation of Registration Committee, as set out in Regulation 36, which has the authority to terminate your registration.

Yours sincerely,

Roberta Wooldridge Smith
Deputy Academic Registrar”

Let’s just distill what was so disturbing about this.

Firstly, I had handed in a medical certificate to the English office approximately 3 months prior to this letter. This certificate stated that my mental health condition was “severe” and that my work would be significantly affected. I was thus assured by the department and my personal tutor that all my tutors would be told and that I would not be penalized for bad attendance, so long as I still completed my work.

My personal tutor apologizes to me profusely after this first letter and assures me that he’ll make sure everyone knows why my attendance has been bad and he’ll send a message to the registrar etc.

Fast forward to May 9th and I receive the same message. This time, I’m incredulous. By May 9th I’ve also had one female member of staff, who shall remain nameless, stop a lecture to complain that I specifically can never be bothered to turn up.

Somewhere between these two threats to kick me out of Warwick, I get angry. And as a result of that anger, I start blogging.

When I received the first letter, I was in a very fragile state. But luckily for Warwick, my main emotion was absolute panic – I frantically called people and couldn’t stay still. Because I was severely depressed when I received this letter, I could have reacted very differently. It’s not farfetched at all to imagine myself or any other depressive or mentally ill student receiving this letter and, out of shame and distress, self harming or even committing suicide. Why isn’t that farfetched? Getting a bad essay mark can cause a voice in my head to say “what’s the point, just kill yourself”, let alone a threat of de-registration.

To this day, I have never received an official apology for these incidents, by the way.

In fury and disgust at the idea of “what could have been”, I decided to talk to my then housemate, Michael Allen. Mike was a top reporter for the Warwick Student paper The Boar, and sometimes did stuff for The Student Journals. Mike agreed to break the story, and that’s when A Diary of A Depressed Student and Charlie Brown really took off.

I very quickly realized that if I had an audience, I better have something to say. So I studied up on mental health and destroyed many of my own ideas about mental illnesses. I uncovered scary facts like 1 in 4 people suffering with mental health in their lifetime, and the World Health Organization projecting that depression and other mental illnesses would become the leading cause of disability, the world over, in my lifetime. I discovered Robert Sapolsky and his work on depression as a neurobiological disease. And I watched a ton of TED talks.

But being clued up for a public persona didn’t, I would come to learn, actually help me.

The rest of the story is largely a public history, held in the posts on Openly Depressed and A Diary of a Depressed Student. The only thing people perhaps don’t or didn’t know or maybe just didn’t fully appreciate because Charlie was an anonymous entity is that depression has ruined university for me, an actual real person.

Shame has lead to panic attacks – resulting in me avoiding seminars, hiding in and from lectures. I’ve spent far, far too many days in bed, in a sort of self-enforced solitary confinement. I’ve struggled to keep friends because of my hiding – I haven’t answered phones, or gone to socials, and I have a knack for disappearing when I do go out. I walk around campus with an overwhelming feeling of panic or hopelessness on my bad days – convinced that I either shouldn't be there or that no one wants me there.

 And what upsets me about this is that ultimately it doesn’t matter. And why should it? Most people (the 3 out of 4) go around without understanding what mental illness is like. And they can’t hope to understand unless they want to... and who am I to ask them to invest their time in trying to? It’s no fun, being around a depressive, and I know that.

But, I’ve still been robbed of the past three years of my life. I never woke up and decided I wanted to “try” depression. I didn’t think “let’s shake things up by being fucking miserable”. And it’s effected every aspect of my life: family, love, social, creative, academic… all of it. And all of it has been adversely, as this blog well documents. 

All told, I’m now better than I have been for a long time. I’m still not “right” or “normal”, per say. But I’m not bothered daily by wanting to kill myself.

This said many people both on and off campus, myself included, have suffered at the hands of stigmatization. And we shouldn’t have. OpenlyDepressed, as a physical campaign, was met with such hostility that I abandoned the whole idea. I’m not being melodramatic when I say that I’m still disgusted by some of the responses my volunteers faced. I’m ashamed of my age group, and saddened by people in general.

Historically, many illnesses are met with disdain and prejudice. I witnessed this from a young age – I have a profoundly disabled cousin who, crying out in distress in a post office, was looked at in disgust by a crowd, one of whom looked at my Grandmother and said “that thing should be locked in a cage”. And evolutionarily maybe this once made sense – don’t let the tribe be weighed down by cripples, keep away from lepers etc. But that’s not an excuse in modern society. And it's absolutely abhorrent when applied to mental illnesses. 

Illnesses and disabilities deserve to be met with one thing – LOVE. And until that changes in society and until Universities and work spaces treat mental illness seriously and altruistically, until the mentally ill are treated with respect, stories like mine and stories much worse than mine are simply going to continue to happen.

– John Servante, English Literature Undergraduate, University of Warwick


Comments

  1. Thank you for your blog and your campaigning. Keep going with it as eventually people will get the message. It must have taken great courage to reveal who you are in real life, but it's determined people like you who can change things. Thank you.

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  2. Thank you for this and for all your blogging. You make me feel like I'm not alone.

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  3. Thank you for this brave post and your other blogs. You make me feel like I'm not alone. Keep fighting, we're all here together.

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  4. Thanks for making your blog :) i can relate to some of the things you've said. How or what did you do to get yourself in a better place? ive had depression since I was 15, I think that's when I lost the real me.
    Don't give up and please keep writing :)

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  5. I think it's brave that you've faced up to how you treated your ex-girlfriend. I think that I do a similar thing to my boyfriend, and it's pushing him away. I don't know how to stop or face what I'm doing though. I need him as my emotional crutch, as you said.

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  6. so glad you've shared your story. The stigma that surrounds mental health and the processes at Warwick stopped me from getting help for almost two years. I know the biggest barrier was me but being asked about poor grades and ignored the rest of the time did not help me with bereavement. I don't know if it's too late but I've always hoped my story could help Warwick improve their non-existent pastoral care. I now work for a charity that works in mental health so that is something positive!

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  7. You are a breath of fresh air! your bravery and openess to tell your story is something to be admired. Unfortunately ignorance will always remain and as long as people have mouths there will always be people chatting rubbish.

    You expect to receive support from people who are in the position to do so, but sadly this isn't always true.

    I had an incident around 4 years ago when I was suffering from depression due to the death of a close family member and I had to go to my doctor as I was going to be chucked off my course if I didn't get a sick note. I went to my doctor and explained my situation and how I was stuggling to get out of bed, crying all the time, stopped seeing my friends, etc. He then went on to blame it on my weight. Even after I explained that I was always working almost full time hours whilst also attending a full time course before the depression hit. He signed my sick note as reason for absence 'obesity under investigation'.

    With support and love I got through my depression, I never went back to that doctor and have since found out I have a medical condition that causes me to have an underactive thyriod. If not for the ignorance of my doctor I coud of been given the proper help.

    So thank you for sharing your story.

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  8. You are not alone. Thank you, you bring me hope and make me feel like I am not crazy, but am one of the many students at Warwick that suffer in silence. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  9. Thank you for this post! I can relate to the majority of this and (this might sound weird, but I'm sure you know what I'm getting at) it feels so good to hear these things from a male student. I am one myself and at Warwick too. I struggled with depression and anxiety for years and just like you have recently decided to be open about it. I am also blogging about it: http://claypotcracks.wordpress.com/.

    Thank you for sharing and kudos and well done to you being open about it. I know how difficult it is being open about it (and that shouldn't be like that, but unfortunately it is). :)

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