Saturday 18 June
As one by one my friendship group start to return home from their university town, I’ve been taking the time to reflect on my first year at University.
I have written about my time at Uni a couple times over the last school year. Now I’m collating all my thoughts together.
Firstly, the concept of being a “Fresher”. I was prepared for this segregation, I guess you could call it. Especially as I joined a sport society. To my surprise the whole “Fresher” concept, the label you are given (or rather stamped on your forehead) at the start of your year in September, wasn’t all too bad. Even at sport socials, us Freshers weren’t singled out too much, and when we were, it was more laughs than anything too serious. I know a lot of people get nervous around the idea of possible scrutiny and I guess discrimination for being First-years. I assure you, it’s all shits and giggles really. Sport societies are fun and welcoming – of course it is daunting to begin with but isn’t everything outside your comfort zone? So, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t at all that bad, and even “initiations” for my sport weren’t too humiliation, as it could first seem!
Around campus the first few weeks it was odd. Most people on campus were Freshers. Nobody really knew each other, and that was exciting. I was one of the first to move into my flat of thirteen, so I didn’t experience the potential intimidating experience of walking into the flat’s kitchen with everyone else already getting acquainted. A piece of advice for your first day meeting everyone in your flat: nobody knows each other, and EVERYONE is nervous! A good way to meet everyone and get everyone included is to bring a box of food (I baked cookies) and a box of beer. What more could you want? Meeting people is socially challenging, I understand that as I have always been pretty introverted. However, as I was among the first to move into the flat, I found myself adopting this more confident and people-person character. It was fascinating to see myself adopt this new persona and to become this completely different person compared to someone who used to hate change and hide behind my sister at any events. I guess suffering over the isolation in COVID and other issues for the last year made me re-evaluate who I wanted to be and look like to other people, so I threw myself out there.
Freshers’ Week was fun. It was a weird vibe, though, as it was like the universe had thrown together a whole cohort of 18-year-olds in a club together after being isolated at home during the pandemic for the last two years. For a lot of people, it was their first experience of clubbing. I was hungover for the whole week. I guess that’s normal, be prepared for that! With probably, on average, only 4 hours of sleep a night in order to wake early and get into a ’routine’ (whatever that looked like). The clubbing and drinking continued into the whole first term, with Monday and Tuesday becoming the weekend. With lessons online (a few of mine were in person, seeing as though language classes are low in number) the going out all the time was bearable.
For me, this is where it started to go down hill. I guess I thought I had to keep up with everyone else, so I began to force myself to go out when everyone else did, even with red eyes from crying about it just before getting ready. This was definitely shown in sports socials. I hated the hangxiety the next morning after a heavy session, and the feeling like I needed to “fit in” with the sports crew. Because I’m a Fresher and that’s what I thought we had to do. It wasn’t like the society was putting pressure on us either, it was chill and they understood if people didn’t want to go to the socials etc. At the time I didn’t realise this. I didn’t know why I was getting more and more low and sad as the first term went on. Then, at the very end of the term after daily phone calls with my parents, I left Uni a week early before the holidays and didn’t go back.
I didn’t think I was going to continue with my course. The words “I am dropping out” were repeating round my head daily, and I was even telling my parents that. And still, I didn’t actually sit myself down and ask what was truly wrong. It wasn’t my ED playing up, I knew that much. It was purely my mental health. I hadn’t been focusing on myself and I just wanted to keep up with everyone. That persona I had created in the first few weeks was only a facade, it turned out. That was sad to understand because I loved that person. I still am more extroverted now than I was this time last year, university has definitely taught me that. I have grown into a stronger, more people-person person. At the time though, I didn’t do that check-in with myself and just succumbed to the shitty feelings, to put it simply.
I ended up going back after Christmas, after figuring out that I really hated nights out. And so I told myself that for this term (the second term), I’d focus entirely on myself. That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t really go out, and when I did, I still felt that horrible hangxiety the next day, which only reinforced what I then started to learn: clubbing wasn’t for me. At the start of the term it was hard to say no to all the fun and nights out. However, I soon learnt that it didn’t matter. Trying to “fit in” and “keep up with everyone else” is pointless. It only made me fall into a pit of darkness and despair. That’s a lesson we can al learn.
University, as I learnt in the second term, is something that you should truly enjoy, especially in your first year. There should be no pressure on you to drink or go out or be social all the time. I am disappointed that it took me until now, June and the end of my first year, that I have realised all this. That’s all down to having focused on myself over the last six months. It’s been a long process, but it has worked. I am now looking forward to my second year. It will be totally different but that’s what I’m loving at the moment: change. It’s quite sad that I couldn’t experience my first uni year to its greatest extent, but you can’t predict challenges and dips in mental health. I believe that I was meant to have a shit year, as it has taught me so many lessons that I can share with you and also take with me into my second year. The last term at university I have really enjoyed – I got the balance right with socialising and alone time, something which I have talked about on this blog page before. Despite my saying no to most events with the rest of my flat, I am still really good friends with them and I’m looking forward to living with them next year.
I’ve learnt so many things but if I could tell you only one thing about your first year at UNiveristy it would be this. Look out for yourself. You are on your own possibly for the first time in your whole life. You’ve moved out technically. It’s scary and overwhelming. You get used to, or you don’t, but you still learn either way. Nobody else is there to check in on you like you would get at school or with your parents or friends at home. Sure, you make new friends, but they don’t know you that much at all, especially about your past struggles etc. Immerse yourself with everything for sure but please check in with yourself – you owe that much to yourself (your present self, not past nor future self because you owe nothing to those versions of you – just work on the present you to work towards a better you today). University is fun and a big part of it is the socialising and drinking – but if you don’t drink or smoke or what not, don’t feel pressured to do so. If you find yourself in the situation where people are pressuring you to do those things, remove yourself from that friendship group. I’d like to think that most people respect someone saying no to a drink, or anything in fact.
This is just my experience. I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and thankful that I have finished the year after the fear of dropping out and now I have a massive smile on my face and am looking forward for the rest of my time at University. If I had told this to myself back in December, she would have been in shock. I did it! There’s no other feeling quite like that one 🙂