I’ve debated if there was a need for me to write this post, but then I realised that maybe if I had an article like this when I went to uni my story could have been totally different. I have a couple of other university-themed posts which I have debated about writing, and I’ve decided that I’ll probably share them over the course of the summer.
I confessed in my Welcome Back post that I wasn’t entirely happy at university. The most honest truth is that a lot of the time I was downright miserable. Now I always had my doubts about going to university (sure I wrote about that in my college days!), I know I’m a bit of a home bird and a country kid, I’m an emotional human and just everything about the university experience – especially at 24 – seemed like my worst nightmare. Why did I have to go to a new place and meet new people and make new friends? I had good people in my life, why did I need more?
Here is the reality of my first wee while at university: after moving into halls, I cried almost non-stop for the first few days, and I made the point of only sneaking out to the kitchen for food if I was 99% sure that I wasn’t going to bump into one of my new flatmates. I could hear people going about their freshers activities having the times of their lives outside and I wanted nothing more than to be in my own bed 150 miles away.
On the Monday, I had to pull myself together because I had different meetings, classes and workshops during all five days of freshers weeks – nevertheless the whole time I was on a knife’s edge of being ‘fine’ and having a complete breakdown. I just wanted to go home. It was made all the worse when it became apparent that 90% of the people in my class had gone to the same college, AKA not the college I went to – something which I had been reassured during the application process would not happen.
In short, I felt horrendously lonely – but at the same time I didn’t want new friends.
I think the reality is that a lot of the time feeling bad made me feel worse – let me explain. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I felt like there must be something wrong with me. I was sure that I was taking up the place of somebody who deserved it more than I did. I felt guilty for not being happy. Everyone else seemed happy, so why wasn’t I?
While a lot of students take a while to settle into their new city, I never truly settled down in my (almost) two years in Edinburgh – I could never shake the feelings of not being good enough, not fitting in, not being welcome, being a nuisance and above all being utterly overwhelmed.
So now that I’ve killed everybody’s spirit by waffling on about how miserable I was (I can make light of it now that it is all over but my mental health was in absolute tatters at various points and staying where I was was probably not the safest or most sensible option, but I did it anyway because thinking straight is impossible) I’m going to share some of the things that I did – often by accident – that made life at university a little bit more bearable, in the hope that it might be able to help somebody else.
- Take it ten seconds at a time.
I kept telling myself that I just had to get through that class, that I just had to get through that day, that I just had to get through that month, that semester, that academic year. I guess that kinda helped, because a couple of hours is not nearly as daunting as a year.
- If you can’t, don’t.
I was living in Edinburgh for two full weeks before I physically felt able to dial home and speak to somebody and tell them that I was doing “fine” (I had sent texts and e-mails, I wasn’t totally MIA!). It was six weeks before I felt that I could come home and trust myself to return (even though I didn’t want to), and I know of people who have told their families that they won’t come home to visit during the first semester because they knew if they did that they probably wouldn’t want to go back. Do what you need to do to get you through.
- Join at least one club or society.
I know you see this in every freshers’ document ever, but it really is probably the best thing I ever did. This was where I made the friends who really mattered, who I felt I could count on and who I spoke to and spent time with. This is where I met the people who made my uni life bearable (with the exception of my flatmate but that was sheer luck and we ended up joining a society together, so it fits). While you would assume that you have shared interests with the people on your course (you are studying the same things after all) that is a competitive environment. Your flatmates (if you move into halls) are randomly assigned – you might all click and be BFFs or you might just really not get along, and that’s the unfortunate reality of it all (chances are that you will click with at least one person in both your class and you residence, don’t panic too much!). A club or society is a much more relaxed environment for finding people with a shared interest – even if you have never done that thing before, there will be other people there in the same boat and you can all learn together!
- Don’t forget to eat. Or sleep.
If you want your mind to flourish you have to take care of your body. I learned this by not having time to sleep and forgetting to eat and leading myself down a dark, dark road as a result. Also don’t try and force a routine upon yourself if your body doesn’t want it. When I first moved I decided that I would get up at 7am everyday and that was how I was going to have my life together, but it doesn’t really work when you’re not getting to sleep until 4am. I gave up after 4 days. Have a long lie when you need one, just make sure that you make it to class.
- Keep in touch.
Even if you choose to lock yourself a way and not physically meet anybody, it’s still a good idea to keep in touch with people. Send a text or an email. Log onto social media and ‘have a catch up’ with somebody. It’s up to you whether you tell them you’re struggling or not, but I think that sometimes the best thing you can do when you want to be alone is force yourself to not be alone – at least from the solace of your duvet.
What helped you to settle in when you moved to somewhere new? Let me know in the comments below!