According to the front page of the British newspapers, yesterday marks ten years since the Royal Wedding. Instead of fond thoughts for the happy couple, the gleaming pictures of Wills and Kate catapulted me back to one of the most stressful moments of my life.
I vividly remember watching the Royal Wedding in my then-new-boyfriend-now-husband’s University Common Room. I was bleary-eyed, having pulled an all-nighter the day before.
So far, so normal.
But this particular all-nighter was the culmination of a near mental collapse. At approximately 8 pm the day before my undergraduate thesis was due, I finally acknowledged I hadn’t written a thing.
Not one word.
I needed to produce a thesis in 15 hours or say goodbye to my degree – at that point, the single most important thing in my life.
This night will forever be seared in my brain (including the specific brand of energy drink and angel cake I used as fuel). But how I feel about it has changed a lot over the past few years, so I wanted to use this trigger to share three reflections.
1.Talking openly about mental health matters
Looking back, I now understand I was experiencing a fairly significant breakdown. I had spent eight weeks pretending to work, avoiding my thesis supervisor, and rather successfully falling through the cracks.
These eight weeks followed a fairly brutal year, where I had poured my heart and soul into student and national politics and ran a gruelling campaign to become President of the Student Union.
Exhausted, and consumed by pressure and guilt, I collapsed mentally.
But I was so wracked by guilt and shame I felt unable to tell a soul. So I spent eight weeks pretending everything was fine; convinced my inaction was entirely my fault. It never dawned on me to seek help for the chaos in my head.
I know that things are far from perfect, but recent efforts to force a conversation about mental health have helped me understand what happened then, and removed a lot of the shame I felt.
We must keep pushing the door open on mental health – both in discourse and in resource (incidentally, something the Royal Couple has pushed for consistently over the past decade).
My breakdown was minor but like so many others, could have been avoided without stigma and with proper support.
2.The power and importance of asking for help
To this day, I am still pretty bad at asking for help. This is rooted in a deep fear of weakness and failure, which was undoubtedly a key reason I kept this breakdown so private
But when my 8pm terror hit, I was finally forced to pick up the phone. I called my Mum and Dad and my sister and her boyfriend, who together talked me back from the brink and helped me form a plan. They pulled the all-nighter with me, checking in regularly to ensure I was on track.
Without this love and support, I would have failed to submit my thesis and failed my degree.
So while I’m not sure I’ll ever conquer my fear of failure, I often remind myself that failing to admit weakness or failing to ask for help is one sure-fire way not to succeed.
3.We are capable of so much more than we know
I have a friend who spent eight days without food or sleep as part of an army drill. This exercise is to help you understand just how much your body and mind can withstand.
While I’m not comparing a fifteen-hour thesis marathon to eight days of starvation, I did learn that night that I am much stronger than I think.
I stopped writing at 11.35 am, printed my thesis in the college computer room, and ran down the high street to slam it onto the submission desk at precisely one minute before the deadline.
My thesis mark was not good, but I got my degree.
While I never intend to repeat this episode, my ability to withstand it – crucially, with the help of others – has left me with an inner strength I often draw on. It has given me a little extra in reserve to secure impact, deliver change, and leap into the unknown.
A decade is definitely too long to carry the stress of this event, so now when I see Wills and Kate instead of recoiling to a dark place I will stand tall and remember to talk honestly about mental health, ask for help when I need it, and stop underestimating what I’m capable of.