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Why I Left Cambridge University

June 2, 2019

Hey loves!

 

Making the above video had a somewhat therapeutic effect on me, but posting it and scheduling it as a premiere for today was scary. I am proud of the video and I honestly believe it is the most important video I have ever uploaded. But sharing this part of my life scared me. If you have not yet watched the video, please consider this a spoiler alert for anything said in the video!

 

Back in my first term at Cambridge, I already felt unhappy often times and I noticed that I started to withdraw from as many social commitments as I could. To this day, I have no good answer to the question why this happened. I do not think that there is one single thing to which I can attribute responsibility for this. There were probably several causes of this unhappiness and looking back, I can connect some of the dots. I did not give myself a break after moving away from Hong Kong and saying goodbye to all my friends - instead, I took on two internships over the summer and started doing YouTube. I was also pressured from different people when it came to choosing a university and looking back, I wish I would not have given other people any say in this decision. Looking back, there were a lot of little things that added up to something bigger. Add changing the country I live in three times within a few months and it is not that surprising that I ended up being diagnosed as depressed. 

 

Getting this diagnosis taught me that receiving a diagnosis and accepting it are separate events. At first, I thought that this problem would go away if I sticked to what I knew best - making schedules, compartmentalising everything, and writing down how to solve any problems I had. And since I didn’t have a solution for this problem, I chose to ignore it. But hearing someone tell me that I was clinically depressed changed my approach to the issue since I could no longer pretend that this was just some sadness coming for me every once in a while. I thought if I simply did everything my doctor told me to do - go to therapy, take my pills, and discuss my progress with my tutor - this problem would go away. Unfortunately, healing is not a straight upward line. Sometimes, you struggle along the way. And I did.

 

I did everything I was told to do to get better but I was not getting better. I was not used to not seeing results for doing the right things. And I was not willing to accept it. I tried to keep going on and just compartmentalising this problem - I guess the video tells you pretty clearly that this approach did not work out well. I was not ready to see my mental health problem as serious enough to intermit from Cambridge and I do not think that I would have seen it as serious enough without the supportive reactions of my friends, family, and teachers. 

 

When I talked to my tutor about this issue, I thought that she would tell me that I would get over it. I was sure that she would confirm what I had been telling myself for weeks: That I was making a big fuss over a minor issue. I was sure that she had seen hundreds of students with similar issues and that this was not serious enough to get anyone’s attention. But this was not the reaction I got - my entire academic staff was incredibly supportive and took my mental health issue very serious. They gave this issue the attention it deserved before I did. The same is true for my amazing friends and family. I am so grateful to all of you for your support. It means so much. Thank you. 

 

Cambridge University has a stigma of not addressing mental health issues properly and of having a large percentage of its student population affected by mental health issues. While I cannot speak to the latter, I can say that Cambridge was absolutely fantastic in helping me get through this. I am incredibly grateful to St. John’s College for their support. They never stopped caring about me and supporting me - even when I was not yet ready to accept how ill I was and when I was unable to continue my studies. One of my biggest fears was losing my bursary and the college was very kind in dealing with it and I am very happy to write that they have confirmed that I will continue to be a recipient of the Nathoo Bursary. I am incredibly grateful to the college as well as the donors of the bursary for this decision - it means so much! 

 

And although this reads itself like things worked themselves out easily, it did not feel like it at the time. If you have watched my video or read this post and you found a little bit of yourself in withdrawing from friends, not enjoying life as you used to, and hiding sadness behind fake smiles and made-up excuses, then please tell someone. Just one person. Whoever you trust the most. It can be a friend, family member, teacher, or complete stranger. If you do not feel like you have someone to talk to, here are some lines you can call to talk: 

 

Samaritans (24/7): 116 123

Nightline (during term time from 7pm to 7am): 01223 744444

 

My experience taught me how important it is to share your struggles. The only person who believed my struggles were not real was me. And if you are someone who recognised a friend in the descriptions of my depression, please call them. Let them know you’re here. Ask them to meet for tea and ask them how they’re doing. And when they say “fine”, ask “how are you really doing?” Because “fine” is the answer we have been taught to give since kindergarten, but it is not the answer that matters. The truth matters and you have no idea how much just listening and telling someone you’re here for them can mean. Let me tell you from my experience, it means a lot. 

 

Thank you to everyone who was there for me when I wasn’t really there for myself. I love you guys so much. 

 

Lots of love,

 

Elena 

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