Friday, 21 February 2014

University life

I concluded a few days ago that I have officially four assignments and two exams left until I finish the first year of my BA Honours English Literature degree, my last assignment deadline being the 2nd of April and my exams finishing by the 16th of May (terrifying, right?)

I realise that I haven't spoken much about my degree on my blog, and I suppose that's mainly because I don't want to jinx it. This is my third attempt at a degree and once more, there was every possibility that it could backfire.

Considering the tribulations of first year, I should applaud myself somewhat. I've achieved all solid 2:1's throughout my assignments, with one first (which as you can imagine, I was so excited about!), I speak when I can in seminars and try my hardest to contribute to classes and I make utmost effort to contact with my lecturers and tutors as possible to get the most out of my degree.

I remember getting to the end of first term and proudly exclaiming to my tutor that I'd done it - this was the furthest I'd ever come in my academic career and I never could ever have predicted I would have gotten that far. I've mentioned this before but it was my private therapist, Heather that encouraged me to start looking at universities, and as with most aspects of my life it was impulse that prompted me to apply again and two days later I received my first offer from the University of Greenwich, and here I am, very close to finishing first year.

I'll never be sure if I made the right decision by returning to education. I stand by my notion that university isn't for everyone, and that university shouldn't be forced onto people - my Sixth Form spent three years drumming this idea into its students and I don't think that students who didn't feel like university was an option (like my boyfriend, for example), had enough support as to where to direct themselves after leaving school. My parents were concerned that I'd spent so many years of my life succumbing to intense stress and anxiety over school, exams, and education that another three years of even more intense pressure would send me straight over the edge.

University is so different to A-levels, and I'm saying this even as somebody who doesn't live in halls (which I have tried before, I must add). It's going from being watched over and analysed 24/7 to being left to be a free independent spirit, which is difficult when you have a mental health problem. There's no-one to watch over you, to check that things are okay. I've confided in two incredibly supportive lecturers since beginning this University journey regarding my mental health, and it has made heaps of difference knowing that there are two people that understand that I won't be perfect all the time and that I will struggle. It's far more difficult to have the courage to approach those at University then when at school, my illness was fairly known amongst teachers at school whereas now it is in my power to make people aware that I have reasons why I act the way that I do. It's difficult to have no-one watch over your attendance as it just seems so easy to turn back to the comfort of your bed and the four walls of your home when you're struggling with anxiety or negative thoughts, knowing that nobody would really care about you if you wasn't there. But I so far have only missed a couple of classes due to the depression and try my hardest to attend most classes (which also stems from the perfectionist aspect of my personality where I don't want my lecturers to think I'm a failure!).

University, without meaning to, adds hugely to my negative thoughts of being a failure. I often feel compared so much more to others regarding grades and it feels that I am looked down on by lecturers because I'm young and because I don't know things or never will have the academic success that they will. It makes me wonder why I'm there and why I don't just give up. How could I possibly complete a degree when I'm nowhere near fixed yet? But surely I've come too far now to just give up again, right?

I am struggling with the degree but I can only hope it will get easier. Despite the fact that I should be proud of my academic success this year, the only grade I've been proud of was my first. I'm so behind on my reading because I struggle to concentrate for long periods at a time due to heightened anxiety (this is when reading on public transport or in bed) and everything I do, never feels good enough. I feel like I need to work harder. Be stronger. Be better. Please the lecturers who are secretly doubting me. Not show them how ill I am.

Another thing weighing on my mind is life after University. If I ever reach the end of University, then what happens? I used to think I knew what I wanted to do, and now I don't think I do anymore, I think my illness has prevented that career path entirely, I think I'm not good enough for it. I'm tired of people asking me where my degree will take me and having no answers to their questions. It seems like everyone around me has what they want efficiently planned out and for once, I have nothing planned because it seems impossible that life will ever run smoothly for me. It's an ever increasing anxiety and one which runs through my mind every day.

I guess one thing I must remember is that I'm not the only person who feels this way, and I won't be the only person to ever feel this way again. I'm grateful that I've been given a third chance to make things right. I'm grateful that I get to study in one of the most beautiful and admirable buildings in the country, the Royal Naval College. I'm grateful to be able to study wonderful novels taught by great lecturers. Life isn't great right now but there are always things to smile about.

I don't have the energy to fight right now but I have to hold hope that I can and I will one day and that in two years time I'll be saying that I'm a few months away from finishing my degree and finding what I want out of life again.

I am always happy to take questions about university, mental illness and university and about the experience in general, so if you have any questions, do tweet me @a_louisem, or email my blog address at


1 comment:

  1. The thing about full time study is that there is never an end like there is in most jobs. You work 9-5pm, then come home and largely have the evenings and weekends free to do as you please. But at university those boundaries are blurred and study can easily bleed into your "free" time. Lecturers always give more work than you are capable of doing - lists of recommended articles etc then you are told to go out and find more on top of that. You can always be doing more and for us perfectionist types, it makes it all too easy to feel a failure. In reality though, it is physically impossible to do everything and study is not the only important thing in your life. It took me 2 years to realise this, but lecturers don't actually expect you to cover absolutely everything. I have also found them to be more supportive than I expect - when I have felt really behind and overwhelmed, speaking to tutors has really helped me to realise that the situation is not as drastic as I think. They have been where we are too! This year I have learned to do what I can, but not overwork myself, know that I need and can take breaks and be okay with that. It has actually had a really positive impact on my work too, as I then don't spiral into depression, which affects my work. So somehow, although final year is the busiest, I have been much less stressed than in previous years.