I Never Felt More Alone

Recently we had the opportunity to speak with an engineering student about their experience of feeling alone even when surrounded by people.

Q: So to start things off, why don’t you tell me about your experience with mental health?

In a way, my experience with mental health started very early in life. So much so that I often forget about just how much it must have shaped my life. In grade four my family had just moved to Canada, and I was having trouble fitting in at my new school. This school had a reputation for being boisterous and spirited, and that was entirely not me. Anyways, I had trouble talking to the people in my class and making friends.

To be honest I don’t totally remember how it happened, but at some point my parents became concerned. They took me to see a child psychology specialist to work on things, particularly how I expressed myself and interacted with the other students. That was really my first experience with counselling. Unfortunately it didn’t go so well. I never really liked her and didn’t enjoy talking to her. While it was a good attempt by my parents, I only lasted a handful of sessions before we called it off.

At some point after that I did begin to find my place in school. Nobody would call me outgoing, but I had friends and fit in well enough to school life. That was essentially my experience all through middle and high school; I had a small group of close friends and that was enough for me.

When I was in grade twelve, I chose Waterloo engineering. I’m in a fairly competitive program, but I was confident that I could succeed academically here. The piece I was more nervous about was the social or living transition I would have to undergo. I had seen the same people in class every day and eaten lunch with the same people for almost all of middle and high school. But I was suddenly leaving that all behind to come here. It was a scary choice for me.

I’m not a person that deals well with change. I avoid taking risks and trying new things at almost all costs. University was going to be a change though, regardless of what program and school I chose, but that didn’t make me more confident in my choice. In the weeks before moving in, there were a lot of tears shed over whether or not I would be okay moving away from the friends I knew and support network I had built throughout high school. In the end I came here and am doing fine, but it was a challenging time.

Q: After the inner turmoil surrounding your decision, how did your first term here go?

It had its ups and its downs as any slice of life does. I started out with orientation, which surprisingly did a lot to reassure me that I would fit in okay here. I didn’t make many close friends, but there were plenty of kind people keen to tell me that everything would work out okay.

I was also fortunate enough to meet one person who has made my whole university experience better. I met them the day I moved into residence when we were playing introduction games. Our don had us go around in a circle and give an introduction, something along the lines of name, program, and a fun fact. They were the only other person in my building in my program, so we ‘decided’ to be friends. In hindsight that was a very excellent decision.

After orientation classes began, and I was doing okay. There were a handful of people I liked in my class, but few who I was close to. Academically the term wasn’t too hard for me, but there were definitely occasions where I felt the lack of my high school friends and supports.

Q: It’s pretty common to have to build a new support network once you get to university, have you had any experience with that?

Where I am now, I have a small support network of close friends. The person I’m dating has been invaluable as has my first friend from residence. Outside of those two there are few people I trust enough to really talk to.

In my experience, it takes me a long time to trust. I know for a fact that there are people who consider me a close friend and who would be happy to have me listen to what they’re going through. But it’s pretty one sided in my opinion. While they trust me, I wouldn’t tell them anything deeper than the superficial about me.

It’s a weird feeling and surprisingly lonely. There aren’t many people that understand it because from the outside it looks like I have lots of friends. It shouldn’t be possible for me to be lonely, but it is, and I often am. I don’t feel like I can have deep conversations even with these people that consider me friends. That’s been the hardest thing for me to handle here in university.

Q: One of the places you could look for someone to talk to is counselling or even MATES, have you explored either of these services?

Yeah, I started counselling early on this term. It’s going a lot better than when I tried it when I was younger, but it definitely hasn’t solved everything. I lucked out this time, in finding a counsellor I was comfortable talking to, but definitely don’t be afraid to try a few if you don’t make a connection. Anyways, I really like my counsellor and it’s been good to talk to someone, but I still struggle sometimes with putting words to what I’m feeling. That’s just something for me to work on still, everyone’s a work in progress.

I’ve looked into MATES a little, but haven’t used their services before. Peer to peer support seems like it might be a good fit for something like this, I’ve just been really busy and haven’t had time to check it out yet.

Q: How do you look after yourself on the days you feel low?

To be honest, not very well.

I tend to cry, a lot. There were more days than I’d like to admit in first term when I would come home from class, make it into my room and just start crying because I felt so alone. It was weird, I was in a residence where you literally couldn’t get away from people however hard you tried, and I had just spent all day in a packed classroom with other people, but I still felt terribly alone. Crying did tend to help, but it’s not really a long term strategy I can recommend.

I also get a lot of sleep. In particular after crying. I like to assume that things will look better in the morning, and sleeping makes the morning come faster. Whether or not this is a real strategy, I’m not sure, but it worked okay for me.

Q: Do you have any advice for people in a similar situation?

Just last night I struck up a conversation with a not quite so close friend. We both go to counselling, but neither of us really talk about it. As much as it was a step outside our comfort zone to start talking, I know I felt better for it. Being able to talk about what’s troubling you in a honest and real manner can make such a connection with people. And it’s these real connections that make me feel less lonely. Regardless of how many friends I appear to have these deeper connections make a huge difference.

Q: To finish on a lighter note, what’s a song you’re loving right now?

I’d have to recommend How The Day Sounds by Greg Laswell. This song has been my alarm for a while now, and it never fails to get me out of bed and on my way to a new day.

If you have a story to share or are interested in being featured on the blog, reach out to one of the Mental Health Awareness Directors, or email us at engsocmha@gmail.com