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BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE 

Student life is often considered the best time of your life. A period in which you finally have the freedom to do what you want and discover who you are. But behind the apparent carelessness of student life sometimes lies a harsh reality that many students struggle with every day. Sleep problems, stress, anxiety, (mild) depression and headaches are just a few examples of mental problems they face.

 

As a photographer and teacher, Bos sees up close the daily struggle that students sometimes have with mental problems. She found seven students who were brave enough to talk about it and wanted to have their portraits taken to show their experience and resilience around mental health.

 

Bos interviewed and portrayed the students in the period from January 2023 to July 2023.

 

The photos with testimonials of the students were exhibited on a public space, a central square between the buildings of the NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, in  Leeuwarden from 13th of November until 27th of November 2023.

The collection of pictures and testimonials will travel to different departments of University and schools during 2024.

ELYSIA

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“I’d rather have everyone stare at me for sharing my story openly, than that people are not talking about it. I'm not ashamed of it, but I also think I don't have to be ashamed of it.”

When I kicked off my journey in the Leisure & Event Management program, I also started living on my own in Leeuwarden. It was an exhilarating experience, but it brought its own set of intense moments. Back at home, life was always hectic, and there was always tension. My younger brother and sister demanded a lot of attention, and there was little room for discussions about feelings or acknowledging things going wrong. Everything just seemed to be swept under the rug, avoiding confrontation.

During the StudyStartWeek, I met my boyfriend, and we're engaged now. Funny thing is, the pandemic hit right around the same time. Due to the lockdowns, we spent it together, getting to know each other at an intense pace. No parties, just the two of us. But eventually, I began to notice that my mental health was getting worse.

So, I decided to talk to the dean's office during my second year of studies. We quickly figured out that I'm highly sensitive. Combined with my giftedness, it's quite an intense combination. The dean's office offered me advice and recommended some books, but this was too limited. That's when I realized it was time to start therapy. After a short period with the basic GGZ (Mental Health Care), it was clear that I needed more intense help. I was referred to a specialist mental health psychologist, but I had to wait. It took 13 long weeks before I finally had access to the help I needed. When my new psychologist finally arrived, it took her quite some time to understand me. It was challenging, especially because my first psychologist and I had clicked immediately. However, several months down the line, she also left, and I found myself in the dark once again, waiting for someone new to take over my process.

 

Surprisingly, things seemed to take a turn for the better during the holidays. I had exciting plans to look forward to, which felt odd, given that just two weeks before Christmas, I'd experienced my first suicidal thoughts. It was overwhelming, and I couldn't see a way out. It remained just a thought, mainly because I couldn't bear to leave the ones around me.

 

I'm currently on antidepressants, and they make things a little more bearable, although it's not the same for everyone. These days, I'm quite open about my situation at work and school, even discussing my medication use. But that wasn't the case for a long time. There were moments when I would fabricate excuses for my panic attacks, saying I just didn't feel well.

In my view, the workload at school is incredibly high. There's very little flexibility, and it's difficult to make adjustments within the deadlines. Just one extra week could bring a lot of relief, although I acknowledge that it's easier said than done. There's also a significant amount of miscommunication among coaches and between coaches and students. This leaves many of us unsure of what's expected, which contributes to growing stress.

I’m hoping that talking about emotional health becomes more commonplace. It's the first step towards healing as a society, and I believe it's a crucial one. There are more resources available at school and in your surroundings than you might think. Even though it sometimes does not feel that way, trust me: there are people who want and will listen to you.

“I'm someone who doesn't like to show that I'm struggling. Because I think other people will perceive me as weak.”

My teenage years were full of ups and downs. Especially about insecurities. I kept worrying about whether people liked me. And it took a toll on me, especially when I was in high school. I did VWO for 2 years, but then I changed to HAVO, and I improved. But I kept being very insecure, although my results were fine.

 

During the pandemic I started to do volunteer work in a hospital. I was working in a restaurant, but everything closed down, while they continued paying me. That didn’t sit right with me, so I wanted to give something back. I started working at the hospital in Sneek as a host and I really liked the atmosphere. I realised, after several years working in restaurants, that working in healthcare is something that I am really passionate about. I want to give something back to society, help it progress. Besides, I always love to explain things to people, so teaching and healthcare were logical choices.

 

By the time I was 18 and finished HAVO, I moved to Leeuwarden to study HBO ‘Verpleegkunde’. I am from a little village in Friesland, so living in a city was new. I met new people and noticed a lot of cultural differences. I felt like I had grown up in a different world. That lingering sense of not fitting in really hit home. Also, my insecurity amplified. I didn’t feel of any value. I did not have anything here, what could I contribute? I felt so insecure it almost paralysed me. So, I realised I needed help.

 

I went to the GGZ and had to wait for two months. That was quite long. But I discovered that people of my age in Amsterdam, Randstad, had to wait even longer, so I persevered. Now I have meetings on a weekly basis, and it helps. I talk about my issues, ways to keep myself motivated and I receive tools how to deal with it. Knowing these “tools” helps me with my issues.

 

I feel better now. I'm a big fan of the educational programme that I am following at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. I even help the department with innovation projects in healthcare and give presentations. I feel more secure now. Because of my personal process I started volunteering at @Ease. @Ease is a nonprofit organisation in Leewarden and is guided by youngsters, for youngsters to talk about personal their problems, give them a ear to listen to. I realised that it helped me so much to talk about my problems, that I wanted to help others too.

 

I’m enjoying the fact that I can be of help to others and spread my message. It's fantastic to know that I can make a difference and support those who need it.

TOM

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KYRA

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“The greatest freedom comes when I learn to say 'no' to things that do not contribute to my growth.”

I'm not really a typical student. I live on my own in Leeuwarden, but that is purely because I have to. I would have preferred to continue living in Twente, where all my friends and family live. But there I did not find the study that I wanted to do, and traveling back and forth was not an option. I am in the second year of Leisure & Event Management. Organizing events is my passion.

 

I like to spend most of my time at home in Twente. I do a lot of volunteer work in our village. I organize a summer camp for children, I am part of several committees of our Carneval and I work at a regular event.  This all, gives me a lot of energy, but it also has a downside, especially if you don't dare to say no.

 

Last summer it took its toll. I was on holiday in Mallorca with friends and I felt so tired. I was completely exhausted and could only sleep, while my friends wanted to go out. It felt like having a burn out,  which I actually also experienced during the pandemic. Then the pause button was forced to be pressed, but I didn't appreciate it at the time and didn't benefit or learn from it.

 

The days in Leeuwarden felt like a kind of juggling. I had lectures, assignments, exams, a very busy social life to manage, and it felt like everything was about to collapse. One evening I had an important meeting that I did want to miss. The fear of missing out was so great that I thought, this is not normal. I had to change, find healthier ways to deal with stress. So I shared this with my friend, that I was suffering so much, experiencing so much stress and pressure, and that helped. That was the first step in dealing with it.

 

Finding a therapist was not easy. It took months to find one. In those therapy sessions I learned to be open about my fears and insecurities. My journey to create a better balance, then began. And sometimes it felt like it wasn't going anywhere, yet I persevered. In those therapy sessions, I began to learn about the importance of setting boundaries and taking care of myself.

 

I also started wondering if schools could do more to help students with their mental health. It's easy to put on a happy face, but it's also tiring. It's hard to show people the battle you're fighting in your head.

 

By sharing my story, I wanted to let others know that they are not alone. There are so many students who experience this. I have learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. It's about letting others help you and knowing that it's okay to give and take.

“It's not just about making more friends, but making deeper connections.” 

A few years ago I made the bold move to move from Italy to the Netherlands to study. I wanted to meet new people from all over the world. I was the only one from my high school who went abroad. Studying internationally gives me more options. And the Netherlands has such an ‘open mind’, that seemed like a good choice to me.

But there was also a twist: it wasn't all fun. During my first period of study, there was a lot to deal with. I also started sleeping poorly. I had a lot of trouble falling asleep. As an international student, it was difficult to make friends than take that final exam. I often felt lonely, and believe me, I tried to get out of my comfort zone. I tried to become committee member of the STURA (Student Council), but unfortunately that did not work. There were more applications and I was not chosen. I had good contact with my study coach, but it was actually more about my results at school and how things were going, than really about me.

I quickly concluded that for me it is not about the number of friends you have, but about the depth of those friendships. The basic “Hey, how are you?” chatting just didn't cut it for me. In addition, social media did not have a pleasant influence. I couldn't help but compare my "meh" life to the epic adventures people share. It's like FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

But my story does not necessarily have a bad ending. I've found some ways to deal with the loneliness and sleeping issues. First off, I've got hobbies - like hitting the gym and strumming my guitar. There's something about music that can express what words can't, especially when I'm feeling down and out. Also, shoutout to my friends back in Italy. They might not know it, but their friendship has been a lifeline. Knowing that I have friends who've got my back no matter the distance is like a safety net for those lonely times. In addition, by now I have also made friends here. It took time, making friends, and I needed courage. I didn't have that in the beginning, I felt inadequate, not worthy enough.

So even though it has been a bumpy ride, this time has taught me that I was my own obstacle. I didn't feel as worthy as my peers. I talked badly about myself, and that wasn't necessary at all. I first had to learn to deal with that and I did, by being patient with myself and ultimately persevering.

The bottom line is that I've realized that I'm not the only one going through this. I have also seen these struggles during studies and loneliness with fellow students. The game changer is breaking the silence and having real, honest conversations.

DAVIDE

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JULIA

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“I’ve come to embrace the idea that life's challenges are an intrinsic part of our journey, shaping us into who we are meant to be.”

My journey through university has been a profound mental experience, a story of self-discovery, growth, and healing. In my first year, I was confronted with a whirlwind of emotions - doubt, anxiety, and an overwhelming desire to please everyone around me. I struggled to establish personal boundaries, understand my own needs, and found myself feeling utterly lost. It was at that point that I realized I couldn't continue down this path. Something had to change.

 

And change it did, when I found the courage to seek help through online therapy with BetterHelp. This platform provided me with a safe space to connect with a professional, setting me on the path to self-discovery and healing. Over the course of three months, my therapist played a vital role in helping me confront my codependency – the habit of neglecting my own needs to accommodate others. This deeply ingrained pattern of behavior had held me back for years, and I was finally ready to face it head-on.

 

The journey to healing extended beyond therapy sessions. Journaling became a lifeline, a way to make sense of my emotions and thoughts. Expressing my thoughts freely, I could finally give a voice to what had been silently gnawing at me for so long. In addition to journaling, practicing gratitude became a cornerstone of my self-care routine. Each day, I would put down three things I was grateful for. These could be as simple as the sun shining brightly or someone sending me a kind message. This practice offered comfort and solace, especially when I felt unproductive or emotionally turbulent.I also discovered the power of solitude and nature. Going on walks, sometimes even for just ten minutes, allowed me to release pent-up energy and be more present in the moment. I began to cherish the world around me, listening to the sounds of nature instead of drowning them out with music.

 

Listening to podcasts that touched on topics I was passionate about, such as personal development, became another essential part of my journey. Hearing like-minded individuals  gave me a sense of community and belonging. Equally important to me was cultivating friendships and deepening connections with people from various cultural backgrounds. My friends brought unique perspectives on life and showed me different ways to approach relationships and social interactions. I learned that cultural differences could be a source of enrichment, rather than a barrier to connection.

 

My story is far from over, and I anticipate that new challenges will continue to emerge. Yet, I feel better prepared to face them, with newfound tools, self-awareness, and a robust support network.

 

The most crucial aspect of my story, however, is the importance of open conversations about how you really feel. By sharing my experiences and insights, I hope to eliminate the stigma around mental health issues. I want everyone to know they're not alone, and that healing and growth are always within reach.

 

Sharing my story has been both touching actually and enlightening. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to convey myjourney. It serves as a reminder that even in the face of adversity, we can harness the remarkable power of self-discovery and healing.

“I think a lot of young people these days are in a way looking for... Okay, who am I? What do I want? How do I keep all the balls in the air and manage everything I do in my life? And I think somewhere, a large part is also how you look at it. Whether you think I'm lost,  or you think;  I'm on an adventure.”

I got into a long-term relationship when I was so young, and looking back, it feels like I never really had the chance to develop myself as an individual. I was so caught up in what everyone else was doing that I lost sight of what I truly wanted. It was like I was playing this game where I had to meet all these expectations. Everyone around me seemed to be racing towards life's milestones - getting engaged, buying a house, getting those fancy jobs. It was like they were all ticking off boxes, and I felt like I had to do the same. But deep down, I was unhappy. I found myself stuck in this routine – husband fiance, house, and all - even though it wasn't what I really wanted. 

 

When I finished my MBO Social Work I started working. I combined my first contract as social worker with different jobs in hospitality.  I was working around the clock because I didn't want to think too much about how I was feeling.  Everyone saw my life as perfect, but actually I was not very happy.

 

If I had been more honest with myself and others back then, it might have painted a more realistic picture for everyone. When I finally opened up about my relationship struggles and ended things, people were genuinely surprised. They had thought I was living the dream. It's funny how we all put up these facades, especially on social media. It can inspire others, but it can also make people feel inadequate and unhappy. 

 

Depression and I, we've had a long-standing relationship. It's something that seems to remain, tied to my ADHD. I've always struggled with time management, and no matter how hard I try to stay on top of things, I often feel like I end up disappointing people, which can be incredibly frustrating. That disappointment and feeling like I'm letting people down is hard to deal with. 

 

I've been on this journey of self-discovery, realizing that my student life isn't a one-size-fits-all adventure. It's about discovering who I am and what I want. This is the period when I decide if I want a 9 to 5 job, become a freelancer, work for a boss, or start my own business. But sometimes, I feel like my studies box me in, setting certain expectations. Of course, there's room for flexibility, but it's still within predefined boundaries. 

 

I think it's essential to embrace the moments when we're not at our best. I've learned that it's okay not to be okay. We don't have to pretend to have it all together all the time. 

DO

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ELMAR

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“I always want to do everything perfect. You want to do it well, but you don't have the time anymore.”

My journey through my second year of Social Work at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences has been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. Stress, like an unwanted guest, has often found a way to settle in my life, and I've come to realize that I'm not the only one in this boat.

 

It all started with the idea of doing everything perfectly. In a bid for perfection, I'd meticulously plan out my tasks, always trying to meet impossibly high standards. It was an illusion that I could achieve the perfect plan, and it only served to increase my stress levels as I tried to maintain that illusion. The stress and anxiety grew as I rushed to complete my tasks, leading to moments of chaos and a feeling of losing control.

 

Stress isn't merely a mental game; it affects my body as well. I often felt nauseous, especially when faced with mounting stress. Balancing my social life and part-time work in healthcare, where I frequently had to say no to extra shifts, only added to my stress. There were times when I felt that I was unable to live a normal private life.

 

In my earlier days, during a medical care program at a nursing home, I had encountered stress around exams. But it was Social Work that really brought out the full force of stress in my life. The pressure of assignments and the struggle to maintain a 'perfect' plan weighed heavily on my shoulders. It wasn't merely about working systematically; I was often paralyzed by the need to get everything right from the very start.

 

It's essential to address the issue and make it discussable. Though I haven't opened up about it fully yet, I'm taking small steps in that direction. I also want to seek some form of guidance or support at school, just a safe space to talk about my struggles.

During our conversation, I learned about mindfulness, meditation, and free yoga classes available at my institution, which I'm considering exploring. This could help me develop better coping mechanisms.

 

If I could share a message with fellow students, it would be simple: talk about it. Stress might seem invisible to others, but it can be a heavy burden. We should create a culture where it's okay to discuss our struggles openly, without the fear of judgment. And by doing so, we'll realize that we're not alone in this journey.

 

My journey is one of self-discovery and growth. I want to excel in the field of social work, and I believe that by opening up about my stress and seeking the right tools and support, I can continue on this path with more balance, better mental health, and the ability to achieve my dreams.

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