Imogen Voysey, UoY student and York Ballroom and Latin Society (YBLS) member, spoke to us about her transition from school to university, how dance has helped her to manage her mental health problems and the way she’s using these experiences in her activism.
‘I was always terrible at sports at school,’ she says, giggling. ‘No hand-eye coordination at all!’
Imogen tells us of how she had danced a bit before coming to university, but never ballroom or latin.
‘I struggled a lot whilst I was at school. At around age 14 I was diagnosed with serious anxiety and depression. Eventually, I was admitted to hospital.’
What was that like?
It sucked. I was there for a year in total, and ended up sitting my AS level exams under the supervision of a nurse. I had always pushed myself to be ‘perfect’, and then here I was only able to work for a couple of hours a week.
After Year 12, I was determined to go back to school to finish my A-Levels but everyone told me it was a stupid idea - I did it anyway!
What about coming to university? What was that process like?
I actually applied to York without seeing it but went on a Post Offer day. I spoke to Disability Services, who were (and are!) phenomenal. One key bit of advice for new students looking at universities is talk to these services before you apply! If you think you’ll struggle during your time here, it’s so important to check out what support they can offer you.
What was it like when you arrived here?
Not good. I found Freshers’ Week particularly difficult and overwhelming, I hated it. I leaned on my housemates a lot and in the end I had to move out. I was in a really bad place.
What complicated that week slightly more was the fact that, due to my medication, I can’t drink alcohol and that’s what most new students do to get to know each other.
Most of the time people understood when I told them my reason for not drinking but sometimes I would get probing questions like ‘what do you take it for?’ Usually, I don’t mind answering them but sometimes I don’t want to.
Tell us about why you joined YBLS!
I joined it on a whim at the beginning of second year. I live on campus and sometimes that can become quite lonely, but dance forces you to talk to people! The committee in the society were so supportive and welcoming in my first few sessions and never left me without a partner.
To begin with, I only felt comfortable dancing with girls. Due to my PTSD, I struggle with being touched - especially by men. However, as I got to know everyone more and began to feel more comfortable being so physically close to them, I was able to open up and allow myself to dance with a male partner.
My dance partner, Francis, is extremely supportive. Getting used to being close to him in this way has helped me deal with my PTSD outside of the ballroom, too. Being involved in YBLS has genuinely helped me with my mental health, especially my PTSD and social anxiety - its forced me to experience new and nerve-wracking things that, actually, are really fun!
Are there any misconceptions or stereotypes that you’d like to get straight about those with mental health illnesses?
One thing that I think people assume about those with mental health illnesses is that we are really fine (or ‘up’) for a while, then suddenly really low and down. For me, that’s not true. My moods fluctuate regularly, sometimes just within one day.
One thing that I think people assume about those with mental illnesses is that if we’re doing well in general, we won’t have bad days. For me, that’s not true. While I’ve come a long way, there are still days I struggle.
I think there’s also a misconception that those with lingering mental health problems ‘can’t do things’, such as take on a lot of responsibility such as be a signatory of a society, which is what I did!
Despite my mental illness, I compete in dance, travel for work multiple times a term, am doing my degree and am about to become the President of YBLS!
What sort of activism do you do?
I do all sorts, really. I inspect inpatient units for the Royal College of Psychiatrists which involves visiting services and giving a perspective of someone who isn’t a doctor. I represent patients on NHS committees, and I speak at conferences about my experiences. This means I have to travel a lot. In my first term of first year I took 11 trips to London!
It is tiring but it’s nice to be known as a mental health campaigner, not an ex-inpatient.
If you’ve been affected by any of the content in this article, please get in contact with YUSU’s Advice and Support service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Student Minds website for more information and guidance.