When I first started my university course, it wasn’t what I expected – there were very few contact hours and it quickly dawned on me that my course wasn’t going to be an easy place to make friends. Seminars weren’t very regular and the groups were changed frequently, which meant there wasn’t much time to get to know people.
By the time my first semester was over, I was seriously considering dropping out. However, I received good grades and promising feedback on my assignments which I took as a sign I should stick it out. However, over the course of my first and second year, the same patterns repeated; I would speak to people in my modules but the relationships never developed past acquaintances, my attendance was declining and I was becoming increasingly lonely.
I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t having the ‘typical’ university experience. I therefore found myself increasingly isolated as I tried to hide my discontent from those closest to me. My sleeping and eating habits were becoming increasingly poor and my mental health was deteriorating due to a combination of these factors.
I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t having the ‘typical’ university experience.
Soon before I began my final year, a family member voiced concern that I seemed low. This proved to be a turning point as I acknowledged I was unhappy and looked towards ways of feeling better. I began to adopt healthier habits and steadily overturned the negative ones I had picked up over the previous couple of years. A balanced diet, exercise, establishing a sleeping pattern and journaling proved vital in me working towards feeling like myself again. Acknowledging and discussing my university struggles felt like a weight had been lifted.
Despite dissertation pressures, my final year of university was my most enjoyable. My willingness to be more open allowed me to bond with another student I met on my course. Through opening up, we discovered that we had experienced very similar struggles as students. We began meeting regularly for coffees and library sessions, becoming good friends. Throughout my third year, I ensured I stayed committed to self-care and self-compassion as well as working towards my degree.
Acknowledging and discussing my university struggles felt like a weight had been lifted.
Mental health is a sliding scale
As a recent graduate, I face the new challenges of change and uncertainty. However, I now feel equipped with useful tools to protect my mental wellbeing. I have maintained my new lifestyle habits as well as my commitment to journaling and being more open with those around me. The main thing I learned from this experience was the importance of actively looking after your mental health – it shouldn’t take a low point for you to start looking after yourself.
My main advice to others would be that communication is key – a strong support system is one of the best tools for maintaining good mental health. Also, admitting to yourself that you are struggling does not mean you are weak; it is a huge step in the right direction.