“By the time it got to third year, I wasn’t talking to my family any more, and I was just basically doing nothing but studying or thinking about studying or getting worried about not studying.”
After moving away for university, studying started to take over Damian’s life. He was able to reconnect with friends and whānau after feeling isolated with support from his university supervisor and student health.
Wellbeing now, I think, trumps everything. I think that comes from focusing on things other than study.
I think most of my issues started when I started university. Going into second year, I started to kind of focus more on my academic marks. So that became … I started to study more. I stopped hanging out with mates. I gave up rugby. And then that kind of progressed to the point where I was probably studying maybe 12 to 14 hours a day, not really sleeping.
By the time it got to third year, I wasn’t talking to my family any more, and I was just basically doing nothing but studying or thinking about studying or getting worried about not studying. I was also bulimic in third year, so my anxiety was extending. So I wasn’t just focusing on academic, I was focusing on my physical appearance.
I was admitted to hospital during my exams in third year. After I was admitted to hospital, I didn’t get help. I was still trying to figure out a way that I could keep on doing what I was doing and not have to change anything. It got worse to the point where I was probably waking up at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not sleeping, and then just chronic depression and anxiety.
And then at the end of fourth year, it just kind of fell apart where I … it just got to the point where I couldn’t function, so I was no longer able to really do anything.
So initially, I went to Student Health, and so from there, I got referred to a clinical psychologist. So I was seeing them weekly. Because I couldn’t work, I ended up hanging out with my family more. Just as a by-product of that, that I was kind of seeing my parents more and my nephews and nieces more, and so it just kind of, luckily, kind of fell into place from that.
I think when you talk to family and friends, it's important but it's also a little bit difficult to kind of give them like a full account of how you are feeling, so if you feel suicidal or things like that, I think that’s a difficult discussion to have with people that care about you.
At that point, telling my supervisor at uni what was happening, and I think that made it easier because their expectations of me kind of changed so they could see that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to do things or that I wasn’t trying to do things, it was kind of that I couldn’t at that point.
But just going to the gym and just exercising – so whether it's taking the dog for a walk – it just gives me another space for my head. So if I go to the gym or I’m going for a run or I’m walking, I find that I focus less on the things that are kind of making me anxious. And at the same time, I also feel like I am doing something that’s beneficial.
And then just spending time with friends and spending time with family. You just have to keep on maintaining those things, because when you’re down, that’s when you’ll need them. So when you feel good, you feel like you don’t need them, but as soon as you're down, you’re gonna be searching for them.
The wellbeing difference – it’s night and day. So I spent kind of 2 or 3 years in that hole, and now I realise how good it is not to be there. So although things are not always easy and sometimes they’re difficult, I’m definitely not in that kind of depth that I was in.
When I got my Fulbright Scholarship, again you have those people around who are supportive, I mean, who are encouraging and who see maybe you in a different light to how you see yourself. So I think that’s important to have those people around you where, when you achieve something, anxiety or depression can kind of try and take that away or diminish it or say it’s not a big deal or say don’t celebrate it – just move on to the next thing. So I have people around me now – they’ll tell me that I should enjoy it so I think that’s kind of critical.
Whether the successes are big or whether they’re really small, even if you don’t really want to, I think you have to kind of spend a little bit of time and try and give yourself some kind of credit for it.