Life at Uni with AnxietyBy Charlotte Downes -
Starting uni has its difficulties for everyone: feeding yourself, handling money, meeting new people… And learning this while still dealing with your usual daily challenges can seem impossible. It isn’t. You just have to find ways to make it manageable (and remember that you are by no means the only person who would rather curl up in a ball listening to a few episodes of your favourite TV series than going to another Freshers Event). The key to surviving university – no matter who you are – is working out what it is that you need. Over the past year, I have learnt that I have to do my degree my way, and I have to ask for help whenever and however I need it.
There are three of us living in my flat; one girl needs to be asleep by 10, the other by 12, and I won’t get anything done unless I stay up until 2AM. I have a glass of wine with dinner in the week, one of my flatmates has a glass or two at the weekends and the other has a drink every six weeks or so. And that’s ok! The friends worth making are the ones who don’t necessarily like all the same things as you, but who compliment what you do. The beauty of student life is that, aside from those assessment things they make us do a few times a year, there are no expectations. You can live life as you want to.
I have been lucky in tailoring my course to suit me too. I have spread my second year over two years, which really takes the pressure off – I now only have to go in for 75% of the week. The extra day off I get is important for me because it is when I rest: just because I spend less time in lectures, it does not mean I should spend more time in the library. I learnt last year that if I am struggling with my workload, it’s a good idea to pick the most interesting weeks of the course and go to those lectures, or do those readings; not everything you learn is essential to the course. And if watching a lecture online (in bed) or asking a classmate to record it is an option, it can be a great way of making life easier for yourself which is always my main aim.
I get a lot of help to do this now. I have a tutor, a senior tutor, three seminar leaders, a mentor, a disability advisor and a study skills tutor who, between them, will have most things covered. There is no need to struggle along on your own because it is these people’s job to help students and a secret my senior tutor let me into last year was that they genuinely enjoy helping you! Any type of help I can think of that I might possibly need can be arranged somehow. Not only that, but I have been given a grant (not means tested) which has paid for software and equipment that I never knew existed, which I now couldn’t live without. So even if you don’t know what you need, ask anyway and someone can help you work it out.
You never get used to being told you’re lucky to have extra time in exams or that other people wish they could repeat a year. Nor is it easy to hear people complain about “only” getting a 2:1 when you only got to the last 15 minutes of your seminar because there were too many stairs between home and the classroom. But accepting that you are having a very different university experience to everyone around you is hugely empowering. Your classmates’ dedication to the library is admirable and to be respected, in the same way it is a huge achievement when you get all the way from the train platform to the lecture theatre. If your aim is to submit an essay and get a pass mark, and you achieve that, then you are nailing it. If, along the way, you need two extensions on your extension, that’s perfectly fine.
Of course universities can’t offer such flexibility to everyone, but if you can give a valid reason, they should be very willing to help. If not, perhaps there is a different institution that would better suit your needs. There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to universities. “Student Life” can be hard when day-to -day life is a challenge. It stops being about drinking your loan and doing whatever it takes to get a First (although there is no reason those things can’t be accommodated within your schedule!) It’s about being sure of yourself and what you need, and how you go about getting everything out of life that you want.