Walking up the stairs at uni, I was looking at my feet. Though not really – I was looking at the ground. I watched my blue trainers on the black slab-like steps. Bar a few coffee stains and drips, each step was the same.
I thought about how you shouldn’t look down when you walk; you might walk into a door, a wall, a person. If you look up, I suppose you might trip up or miss a step, and I guess there’s a lesson in that. I started thinking about it more and more as I was subconsciously walking from slab to carpet to concrete, and into the medical centre to book a doctor’s appointment. I realised that you should be looking up – particularly at university – as there’s 20,000-odd people all walking around in different outfits and different faces. If the choice is black, coffee-drip-stained stairs or faces, I’d choose the latter.
A few days prior, I was looking quite similarly at the concrete pavement at the bottom of the hill by campus. I was on the phone, desperately trying to find the room, or even the building I was supposed to be in for my counselling appointment. Wet, dirty, puddle-splattered concrete. I gave up. I told them not to bother booking me in again and not to worry about me, promptly hanging up the phone before holding back my arm from lobbing my phone over the wall. I just managed to keep my arms by my side and not throw them up, threatening the cold air in front of me.
I didn’t want to move, but I did. I watched my old Converse squelch through the dirty bus water on the road and walked up the hill. I looked up to see a gate; an entrance to a park. As cheesy as it sounds, I walked into the most beautiful, autumnal park. The ground was scattered with crushed up leaves and empty conker shells.
I walked up the path a little, taking photos of the trees and sky as I went. I eventually found a bench to sit on. Still cross and wildly upset, I sat down and took some deep breaths, trying to calm myself before I walked home. I still didn’t want to move. By this point, I had picked up a conker and was turning it in my hand. I felt the lowest I had in a while.
For the first time on this absolutely ludicrous and crappy journey, I felt like it really wasn’t going to get better. I couldn’t see the light. I couldn’t see the way out. When I had felt this way before, I had talked myself out of it, but for the first time I couldn’t, and it sucked.
It wasn’t a light, and it wasn’t a better place, per se, but the park I had found was a different place. When I bothered to look up from where I was sitting and to acknowledge something other than myself and my feelings, I found myself somewhere so beautiful and bright – a haven of nature, if you will. I was allowed to forget, and it was this park that allowed me to forget.
So I gave up on counselling. I spent too long on the end of phones, sitting on fences and looking at my feet and hiding how I felt. It works for a lot of people, but I couldn’t do it. I thought I wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen – but I couldn’t do it. I feel I should tell you now; this is not a story with an end. My appointment isn’t for two weeks, but it’s ‘a step in the right direction’, as everyone is so keen to tell you.
When I was turning the conker in my hand and looking at the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves, I forgot. I still had the problems and I still had to solve them, but at least the view was better.
When I walked the three flights of stairs to the reception desk in the medical centre, I was in a queue behind three other girls. I was tapping my fingers and hands on my legs. I even played with a height gauge, even though I probably shouldn’t have. But I wasn’t looking at my feet. I’d done enough of that. I was looking at how tall a person could be, at the clothes worn in the room, at the smiling face of the nurse and at the phone violently ringing next to the receptionist.
I couldn’t tell you what the floor was made of, but I don’t care. I guess it was some overly clean, white material. I’ve stopped in my tracks by the centre at least 8 times in the past 3 or 4 weeks. I’ve nearly emailed, I’ve almost called. I may have lost my courage a little, and my voice may have been small – but I made an appointment.
The ground was not made to be appreciated. The sky was, and the cloud shapes and formations. The gorgeous stars at night and the sun at dawn. The trees with their changing colours and their squirrels and birds. The spires of buildings and churches, or the grand, painted ceilings of opera houses and cathedrals. These were all meant to be admired and looked at by all of us. I never realised until recently just how limiting it is to watch your feet all the time.
Today is World Mental Health Day (October 10th). Awareness of mental health is key to progress – a reduction in the stigma surrounding mental health means that more people will seek help.
This is the website for Mind, a registered charity invested in mental wellbeing. The site is great for support and has a lot of useful information.
Samaritans is another established charity that can be reached on the phone 24/7 on 116 123
For students in particular, Nightline has separate branches for each university and you can find the right contact number via the website. They won’t give advice, but will always listen.
Words and images: Briony Brake