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I can still remember the worst night of my life. It was the fourth night of hardly any sleep. The days in between had been OK. I’d somehow got through them, feeling tired but not tired enough to close my eyes.
There was a thought I kept trying to bury at the back of my head, but the more I tried to ignore it, the louder it got.
You’re going to fail. You can’t do this. Everything is ruined.
Feeling under pressure
I was in the middle of my final year exams at university. Two weeks of high expectations, relentless pressure and no sleep.
As a mature student new to the city, I’d made a few friends since starting my course, but no one I could really open up to. I’d once come close to sharing how much I was struggling with a tutor, but she seemed to believe me when I said, “it’s just exam stress. I’m OK”. I wanted her to ask me how I was feeling again, but she never did. I was probably doing an excellent job of pretending everything was fine.
In reality, I was far from OK. I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and could hardly look at my revision notes without trembling.
Instead of revising, I spent my days walking around the city, watching people go about their lives, trying to distract myself. The nights were spent lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, hugging a pillow or listening to music, waiting for morning. Finally, I’d see daylight under my bedroom curtains and relax enough to snooze for an hour or so.
I wasn’t alone, but at the time, it really felt like it. I spoke to family and friends but never let on how bad things were. My housemates had jobs, so they were gone for most of the day and returned late. Interactions with other people were exhausting. I started avoiding anyone who might want a normal conversation as I didn’t think I could find the words. It felt like everyone else was getting on with their lives while mine was falling apart.
A friendly voice
The worst night of my life became the first time I ever called Samaritans. Panic from the lack of sleep and exam stress I’d been feeling for days was overwhelming. I didn’t want to be alone with those feelings a second more. I needed them to stop.
Thinking straight was hard, but I remembered someone once telling me how Samaritans were always there if you needed them. I only knew I needed to feel less alone that night.
Calling the helpline was incredibly difficult, but when I heard someone pick up the phone and say “Hello”, there was an immediate sense of relief. I often think about the person who stayed on the phone with me for over an hour, calmly listening while I cried, saying how scared I felt. I eventually got to sleep just before the sun came up.
When I think about that time now, it seems so far away – I’ve never felt that desperate since. But I also think of how nobody in my life knew what was really going on.
Some people are very good at putting on a brave face or hiding their painful feelings. I don’t know exactly why we do this, maybe out of embarrassment or because we’re worried no one will help. But I know that having someone to listen and talk with me got me through that night.
What to do if you’re not feeling okay
If you’re finding everyday life hard or struggling to cope, talking to someone can help. You don’t have to be in a crisis to reach out and it’s never too late in the night to call.
There is no shame in needing support – that’s why helplines, text lines and online support exist.
- You can call Samaritans free on 116 123 at any time of day or night, 365 days a year. Or visit the Samaritans website for more ways to get in touch.
- MindWell’s Need urgent help? page also lists other ways of finding emotional support in Leeds.
- MindMate’s Urgent help page lists sources of emotional support for children and young people in Leeds.
- Students can find help on the Student Space website or by texting student to 85258, available 24/7.
- Students aged over 16 in Leeds can contact Leeds Nightline during term time on 0113 380 1285 between 8pm and 8am, any night of the week.
- Students may also find helpful information about managing common mental health problems in our pages on student life.
- Anyone can text the word ‘shout’ to 85258 for free confidential, anonymous support, available 24/7.
MindWell team member, Gemma, shares her experience of calling Samaritans while feeling under pressure at university.