When I first applied for university, I was in a really bad place with my mental health. I was 18 with an eating disorder and severe anxiety. This created an understandable sense of fear at the idea of going to university and leaving everything that I knew. With my eating disorder, I had my patterns that made my feel comfortable and in control. For my anxiety, I always had my mum to reassure me and to accompany me wherever I wanted to go. But I’d always viewed university as the natural step after school and sixth form, and there was no way I was going to let my mental health stop me from moving on to the next chapter of my life.
I chose to see it as a way to re-invent myself. Of course, this is not something that just happens over night, or because you’ve moved to a different part of the country. It did, however, give me a bit of a push. I was now living in Leeds, which was a 4 hour journey away from home, and this made it difficult (and very expensive) to travel home very often. This could have gone one way or the other – I could have felt trapped, unhappy and hating the decision to move away from home. Or I could have become independent and learn how to cope with my mental health without restricting myself from taking part in university experiences. I followed the path of the latter.
Looking back on it now, in my last month of university, my anxiety definitely did hold me back in some ways, and I didn’t have the ‘typical’ student experience – but that is okay. I’m not going to regret any of it, because I know that I tried my best and I still managed to have really great experiences with some wonderful people. I pushed myself to my limits and did things I never would have done before university – I went to loads of taster events for societies, and even did a semester of Archery. I view this as a massive achievement – university gave me the chance to find my independence and fight my anxiety, and I’m grateful for that. There is so much pressure around the idea of students always partying and drinking, and this is fine if this is what you want and if you feel comfortable with these activities. But you should never force yourself to drink and party all the time just to ‘fit in’, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t or don’t want to do these things. Just do what you enjoy, and push against that mental health so that it doesn’t hold you back too much. If you can’t do as much as you want to, don’t resent your mental health or be angry at yourself. It is a part of you, and slow progress is still progress. It may not seem like a lot now, but even the smallest little things, such as going to sit in the library for half an hour or going to a society taster session, are HUGE achievements. Be proud of yourself for every little thing that you accomplish, and you can build it all up slowly.
Third year has broken me slightly, and my anxiety rose to it’s highest levels ever in the last few months, but I am finally starting to get back on track. I missed nearly all of my lectures and seminars in semester two, as I have developed a still undiagnosed physical illness. This is what caused my anxiety to spike, and of course being stressed about university work made me even more anxious. I was incredibly behind with all of my work, including my dissertation, and my confidence was at an all time low. But two weeks ago, something clicked. I was previously only on 4,000 words for my dissertation and, writing this now two weeks later, I have written all 12,000 words. I have a little more work to do on it, but I am incredibly proud of my work. This just shows that you can be going through a really bad time and feel that it’s not going to get better, when all of a sudden a little bit of brightness appears. I also actually really enjoyed writing those 8,000 words – I didn’t feel pressured, and it was fun learning about the topic that I was writing about.
University really hasn’t been a breeze for me, and I’m sure the next month is really going to test my strength, but I have overcome all obstacles so far and I’m motivated by the fact that in one months time, the stress of deadlines will be over. I’ve had some huge ups and downs throughout my three years here, but I am still so grateful for this opportunity. I am in a really good recovery place with my eating disorder – it’s still always there in the back of my mind, but I am able to eat freely without too much worry, and I am also rather happy with the way I look…which is something I never thought I’d say! I also know that no matter how bad my anxiety gets, I am always able to overcome it.
For anyone reading this who is thinking about applying to university or is at university, and is worrying about their mental health – just know that you can do it, you are strong, and you are capable. There may be tough times where you struggle, but there will always be good times to match this. Create a support system for yourself – whether this is with family or friends, or with a member of support staff at university. Do research into DSA and see if this is available at your university, as this can be very helpful and beneficial – they can provide you with support such as a mentor, who can help you plan your time and your work. Also, don’t be afraid to communicate with your GP about your mental health, as they can provide medical notes about your situation if you need to apply for mitigating circumstances.
These are my experiences, and I really hope they can ease some worries of anyone considering university. Please leave any comments you have, or feel free to contact me with anything you’d like to talk about. Just remember – you are strong and you are not alone, you can do this!