I’m in my final year of my Modern Liberal Arts Undergraduate degree at the University of Winchester and there’s something really bittersweet about this point in my life.
In the one sense, there’s an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread, not only about the final assignments and my dissertation but there’s the added pressure to find and hold down a job once I leave. Another part of me is incredibly excited about moving on in my life, taking that first step into a career that I’ve been working so hard towards and having something great to show for the past few years of dedication. There is however also a small part of me that doesn’t want to leave uni, not just because I’m so used to being there or doing the work but because it has been a really great experience that I don’t want to end.
Despite having a tough start, I’ve met some great friends, heard from inspirational people and expanded my learning beyond where I ever thought I could. I’ve been encouraged and criticised… I’ve felt enthusiastic and completely uninterested… I’ve felt empowered and lost.
It’s been quite a journey.
But this post isn’t about my mental health in particular, this is where I’m going to share some of the things I’ve picked up on throughout my time at uni and useful advice about wellbeing I’ve picked up along the way.
Noone knows what they want to do
Back in 2011, I did a first year of a course that just wasn’t me. It was a course that I was steered towards in sixth form when I didn’t get the grades to study medicine and I realised once I was on a placement that I wasn’t able to do that kind of work. I’m okay with admitting that now but I don’t regret that year because I wouldn’t have known had I not given it a go.
If you find yourself in a course or even a line of work where you feel its best to leave, listen to your heart and don’t let anyone else coerce you into staying. Don’t beat yourself up or think that you ‘wasted your time’ because it was an experience even if its over now. See it as an opportunity to start something new!
I read a fantastic piece by Holly Palmer over on Zusterschap the other day about this very thing, which I encourage you to go and read next.
It’s okay to ‘fail’
Before I got to uni, I was a complete nerd and spent a lot of time doing extra work and revising and things. I wasn’t a straight-A student but I got pretty good grades and even in college, I never really felt like I’d failed. That might seem like a good thing but it wasn’t. I wasn’t at all prepared when I got my first ‘fail’ or when a result was a lot lower than I had been previously accustomed to. Failing once prepares you for when it inevitably happens again and usually then you won’t be quite so hard on yourself the second time around.
It’s important to remember that uni is a much higher level of study than where you were before. It’s supposed to be challenging! If you get a result that you’re not happy with, stop and think why you aren’t and book a meeting with the lecturer or your personal tutor to discuss where you went wrong if possible.
You can turn ‘failing’ into a positive thing.
Some people are arseholes
It sounds like a stupid thing to put in a mental health post but I’ve received a lot of stick at uni in the form of sex-shaming, ableism and even threatening behaviour. Not everyone will experience these things and I sincerely hope that you don’t but if you do, I want to tell you that it’s not your fault.
Because there are so many people from different backgrounds with different personalities and beliefs in a university environment, some people will inevitably clash. This can result in some pretty hefty debates and eyerolling a plenty – you can’t get on with everyone! This however isn’t an excuse for anyone to treat you unfairly or put you in any kind of danger and there are people responsible for helping if that does happen. You will have pastoral care (including counselling) available through your Student Services and you should have a representative for student welfare too.
Take care of yourself above all
Self care is always a worthwhile practice and you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad for it. Self care is anything that makes you feel good and I wrote more about that in detail here. Whilst your workload is piling up and you’ve probably got more responsibilities than before, you need to take some time for yourself and pay attention to your thoughts and your body.
Physically, plenty of sleep and good food are good and putting crap into your body (including booze or drugs of any kind) is of course bad. Mentally, you need to make your task lists manageable and you need time away from your work. If you need help or support, you should be able to find it even if its just a chat over a cuppa with a kind housemate!
Living with other people is tough
I was really lucky in that I got on with my housemates in halls however I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about others who didn’t. Sharing your living environment is always going to be difficult if the other person doesn’t quite do things the way that you do. Some common sources of conflict in shared accommodation are: the washing up, ‘borrowing’ bits of food, bathroom hygiene and unwanted noise.
My main advice when these situations do arise is to keep your cool. If you’ve got an early lecture and your housemates are being going out that night, have a word beforehand and kindly ask that they try and keep the noise down when they stumble in. If someone’s left their dirty pans in the way and you want to prepare food, send them a quick text and see when they’re back and if they wouldn’t mind clearing up. Obviously this is all easier said than done and if its the umpteenth time you’ve had to mention it, you’re probably close to screaming and stamping your feet just to get your message across but you don’t want that kind of tension when you’ve got to live with this person.
I will reiterate that if someone is making your living space dangerous or is acting in an improper manner towards you, you have every right to get the housing services and/or student representatives involved.
Those things require more than a quick chat.
Asking for help is vital
University might be challenging but that doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone. While your family and friends might have spouted on about you being ‘grown up’ and ‘independent’ now, they should still very much be there if you need to say that you’re having a tough time. Skype/Facetime/Facebook Calls are great ways to schedule much needed chats with loved ones or to ping a quick message and get some advice.
As I’ve said there are also people on campus and in halls who can be a listening ear or offer some guidance for problems you might be having. You might think that you’ve got to be stoic and suffer alone but there’s people out there so that you don’t have to!
University above all should be a fun and enriching experience that sets you on the road to something new in your life.
You will meet and hear from so many different people and thinkers that you’re never quite the same once you leave, regardless of if you stay in a course or go on to do something else.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that when things are difficult, you’re not alone.
Did you go to university/college?
Do you have any mental health advice for those thinking about going?
Let me know and leave me links in the comments below.
If you liked this post, you should check out:
you just keep doing other people – guest post by Camilla Hennessy Jackson – sex and feminist silliness
why selfies are inherently feminist – Self love in the form of selfies?
guest post by Ashleigh of Not A Typical Teenager – Ashleigh shared her tips for being good to yourself at school
self care (and why no one should make you feel bad about it) – I talk about the importance of self care…