Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Freshers Fear: Part 2

University is one of the biggest steps in life, which makes it hard for everyone, but perhaps even more so for those with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Here are a few tips to help make the transition into university as easy and beneficial as possible!

1) Register with your university's mental health services. This can be a serious help. I registered with mine when I registered as a student in the summer before university, and it made me feel so much more comfortable to know that I already had people who knew my problems and could help me. Together we worked out a system for exams - in Year 13 exams were a real problem for me, and I didn't want to take that chance again, as it really affected my academic ability. I was allowed to do exams in a room by myself with extra time and rest breaks should I need them. This massively improved my confidence for my exams, as I knew that I would be in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

2) Tell someone about your problems. If you have at least one friend who knows that you are struggling, this can take the weight off your shoulders. I made sure to tell my flatmates when I moved in, as I suspected that my anxiety would be at its worst in the proceeding days. They then knew the signs of when something was wrong, and when I might need support. As well as this, from talking about it, I have met other people with similar problems who understand how hard it can be, and we have worked through the hard times together.

3)  Don't hide away. You might feel safest holed up in your bedroom, but resist the temptation to do this all of the time, otherwise it will become a habit that is very hard to break. Even if it is just a quiet night in with a friend or two, it's great to socialise, and you will feel so much better for it! It's horrible to feel like you're missing out on things because your anxiety or depression is holding you back. Perhaps start in situations that are in your comfort zone, and then work on pushing yourself beyond this.

4) Don't push yourself too hard. Don't feel like you have to experience everything, just take it one step at a time. Small victories are the key. Accomplishing a goal can feel so good, but then can sometimes give you the confidence to agree to something that you are actually not comfortable with. You don't have to push yourself all the time - it's still ok to have a night on your own, watching your favourite film.

5) Don't give up. Setbacks can ruin your confidence and get you down. But give yourself a few days to recover, then pick yourself up and try again. You will not regret it. There may be times when you want to go home and never come back to university. Yet, with patience and determination, you will get through it. If you want it enough, you can do it.

Be strong. I believe in you!

Freshers Fear: Part 1

For many, the time for university is fast approaching. I remember exactly how I felt at this time last year as I was preparing to make the big move 150 miles across the country; excited but also terrified. So for those who are wondering what to expect, I have some words of wisdom for you, from an old second year, to a fresh-faced first year.

1) Everyone is nervous. Honestly. Why wouldn't you be, moving away from everything you've ever known to a new life of uncertainties. You're essentially thrown in the deep end. But you are not alone  - this shared fear will allow you to bond with your new flatmates and friends. Besides, you'll get lost in the excitement before you know it.

2) Set down the rules right from the beginning. You have probably heard a lot of students moaning about how their flatmates steal their milk, but it is a real problem. Of course, if someone takes a bit of your milk on a one-off occasion, it's not really an issue. But when you have your flatmates taking food that you have spent your money on, it does get very tiresome. If you have any alcohol or food that you don't want to be eaten, hide it in your room. (This is obviously within reason - unfortunately I could not hide my ice cream in my room, and could therefore not save it from the hands of my greedy flatmate - twice). Also, this doesn't just apply to food. Living with other students means sharing, so make sure that you let people know if you have issues with them using your cooking stuff. In a perfect world, they would ask you first and then wash it up afterwards. Yet, we are not in a perfect world. There is nothing more annoying than coming home from lectures to make dinner, only to find the pan you wanted is in the sink covered in mould.

3) Even if you don't like drinking or clubbing, go to pre-drinks if it is convenient. When I first moved to university, I struggled with anxiety and avoided alcohol until I was settled. Yet, a flat in my block held a pre-drinks party during the first or second night in freshers week, where I was able to meet my neighbours and become great friends with them. Having had conversations with other blocks, I have found that none were as close as we were, often going out together in groups from the block, or even just popping downstairs for a chat. By going to pre-drinks over the year, I have met some of my best friends, whom otherwise I would not have had the fortune to meet. If you prefer the sober life, the chances are not everyone at pre-drinks will be drinking alcohol.

4) Don't go overboard in freshers week. I know there is the eagerness to go out and meet new people, but this doesn't mean you have to go out clubbing every night. Besides, there are plenty of other ways to meet people, for example societies, lectures, seminars etc. So much happens in a year at university, that you might not even remain friends with those people you met on those initial drunken nights out in bars.

5) Try new things. This is what university is all about. You have a new home and a new lifestyle - why not have some new interests or hobbies to go with it? Push yourself beyond your limits, and you might discover something that you love.

6) Go beyond the university. Explore the city. Quite often, campus universities are out of the city. Personally, I only went into the city a couple of times in first year, leaving all of the exploring until after exams. I honestly wish I had done this sooner, and taken advantage of the places that were nearby - remember, that you will be likely to move into a house in a different area for second year.

7) Remember that you are at university to study. Too many people get caught up in the student stereotype of clubbing and drinking all the time, because first year doesn't count towards the final grade, and only 40% or thereabouts is needed to pass. However, first year is the perfect chance to perfect your work and writing style, and get used to the referencing guides before you get proper marks - make all the mistakes in first year so that by the time second year starts, you already have a pretty good idea how to write a stonking great essay.

8) Make the most of the university services. I made sure that I was known to the mental health services before I arrived in September, just so I had that comfort blanket there should I need the support. You'd be surprised what services your university will offer - make sure to have a look before you go. Don't be ashamed of using academic writing services or asking for help from lecturers - it will allow you to get the most out of your university experience. Don't let that mountain of student debt be for nothing.

9) Don't forget those people back at home. Make sure to check in with your parents every now and then, and keep in touch with your friends from school. University can be a good test to show who your real friends are - it is perfectly normal to not have much contact with friends from home during term time, but once you're back home for the holidays, the friends who really care about you will stand out, eager to your next meet up.

And finally, a slightly sillier one...

10) Invest in slippers - trust me, you never know what is on the floor. (Also just as a side note, NEVER go barefoot into the bathroom, especially if you are sharing a bathroom, and there are boys involved).

Happy moving! Good luck!

P.S. Freshers Flu is NOT a myth.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Me, Myself and My Anxiety

Imagine your biggest fear. The feeling of your heart racing, hot flushes as you start to sweat. You try to think clearly but the panic takes over. You don't know what to do. Your body tells you to get as far away as possible, yet somehow you find it hard to move.

So what is your biggest fear? Heights? Spiders? Clowns? Of course, you would only feel scared when confronted with this terrifying situation. But what if you have multiple fears? What if your biggest fear is leaving the house? Typically, leaving the house is a very ordinary occurrence, with minimal risk or danger involved. All you have to do is get up and walk out of the door.

Try telling your body that. The thought of going outside has you rooted to the spot, wanting to hide away in a dark corner and never come out. Your mind goes one step further. 'Why stop at being scared of the outside world?' it says. 'Why not also be scared of seeing your friends? Why not also be scared of eating?'

Anyone suffering from this kind of anxiety must not have any kind of life, right?


I'm sure everyone's heard all about the mental torture that comes with mental illness, or perhaps you've even experienced it. Yet, does anyone stop to look at the positives that can come from such a unpredictable disorder?

There is no way that I would be the person I am today without my anxiety. Many feel that they have lost themselves to their illness, wishing for the return of that younger version without a care in the world. Personally, I disagree. I would never trade my current self for that shy girl who hid her nose in books.

There's nothing like a great view to make you smile
My anxiety has given me understanding and compassion. Not only can I relate to those who suffer from similar problems, but I can help them through it, and always be a supporting shoulder to lean on if they need it. It has made me appreciate the finer things in life, like a quiet evening in with friends, or something as simple as sitting peacefully on the grass by the lake. Once you remember how beautiful life can be, you will want to do everything to keep it that way, for yourself and others around you too.

My anxiety has made me cross personal boundaries that I probably never would have crossed when having good mental health. Despite having never been one for going out in the evenings, there was no chance that I was going to miss out on the uni experience - it may have taken me a month or two, but I practically dragged myself out to club. And guess what? I loved every minute of it! (I have definitely been clubbing a lot more than I ever thought I would).

My anxiety has taught me how to get by on my own. Although it is my body that lets me down, I know that I will always bounce back. Personally, I find it hard to rely on people, so I have worked out my own coping mechanisms, that are sure to get me back on my feet ASAP. It has helped me understand my own mind, so that I can put these measures in place as soon as I feel the anxiety coming on. As much as I want to fight my anxiety and live without any worries, some times are harder than others, and self-care needs to come first.

My second home
My anxiety has made me realise that I can have anything that I want if I try hard enough. That barrier holding me back just makes me all the more determined to break through, making every success feel a thousand times better. After a morning of anxiety, managing a walk to the shops feels like I've won a medal. This was nothing compared to the accomplishment of leaving home to go to university. The next step is to graduate, and get a career that I love (once I've worked out what that is!).

My anxiety has made me want to push myself to continue doing what I enjoy. After a summer of being dependent on my mother, needing her to walk me to school to make it in for my exams, to move away to university seemed like the extreme opposite. In reality, it was the first major step to surviving on my own, and rediscovering all of the things that my anxiety stopped me from doing, like eating out and socialising.

My anxiety has taught me to make things happen for myself. Without the determination that I have developed from this disorder, I would never have applied for volunteering in my local theatre, or have been so persistent in my summer job search. I wouldn't have gone out and met the best friends I could hope for, and made great memories together.

My anxiety has taught me to hold onto the good things. I finally had the fortune to meet a guy who cared about me as much as I cared about him, and there was no way I was going to let him go. There were so many points where I could have given up, and let him walk out of my life, but the idea of our future together encourages me to fight back my demons and try my best for him.

My anxiety has made me who I am. And I wouldn't change myself for the world.