While I imagine that every student feels that way about university at some point, the above is especially true if you suffer from the additional stresses that are part and parcel of anxiety and depression. Last term was by far the worst I’ve had so far in terms of stress levels, university having a very negative impact on my mental (as well as physical) health, social isolation, and wanting to drop out. I really struggled with anxiety from the very start of the term, during fieldwork and in tutorials, and being unable to connect with anyone in my classes left me feeling very lonely, isolated, and increasingly depressed as the term went on. I ended up needing extensions for all but one assignment last term. Even with these extensions (one of which was two weeks after the assignment was supposed to be in), I still struggled immensely, and felt utterly useless because of this. Everyone else struggles but they still manage to get assignments in on time. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I try my best, organise things as far in advance as I can, work as hard as I can, but I still can’t manage it. I didn’t do any coursework for a couple of days after our old dog died because I felt too upset to focus on it properly, which is probably what caused me to fall behind to begin with, but it definitely wasn’t the only reason I fell behind. I feel incompetent and inferior to everyone else on the course. I feel like the biggest waste of space in the known universe. From October to December, I don’t think even a single day went by without me feeling so stressed about the coursework that I cried. I lost count of the number of all-nighters I had to do just to get an assignment handed in 2 weeks after the original deadline. The assignments just seemed to go on and on forever. I kept thinking: “It’ll only take me one more day”, “It’ll only take me one more all-nighter”, so worked on it all day and all through the night, only to find that I still wasn’t finished and had to beg the module leader for another extension. I would end up crying for hours, due to the mix of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and long-term sleep deprivation. It’s at times like that that I think university and mental health are not compatible.
I had to give up so much last term to focus on my coursework, including things that helped my mental health – exercise, CBT, going along to social groups, spending time with my family, sleep, volunteering, time to relax, and all hobbies and free time. I would do nothing but work on my assignments from the moment I got up in the morning to the moment I finally went to sleep, with no breaks, non-stop for 3 months. In what kind of world is that healthy? Working at the mail centre was almost a welcome relief from assignments but I had to get straight back to doing assignments as soon as I got home. Working also meant that I had barely any time to revise for the exam for the third year module (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unprepared for an exam in my life but I still passed).
One of the main reasons that I struggled so much with the fourth year module is that my social anxiety of course made it impossible to discuss things with others. This module was heavily centred around having discussions with peers to ensure that every possible aspect of the environmental impact assessment was taken into consideration. Every one else on the course was able to talk to their classmates and they were all able to help each other out with what to include, data collection, wildlife protection laws, and so on. This obviously put me at a huge disadvantage. I emailed the module leader for the fourth year module multiple times, but I was lucky to even get a reply most of the time, and when she did actually email me back, it was often not a very helpful response (despite student support getting in touch with her, and the fact that my learning profile clearly states that I find it difficult to approach tutors in class and prefer to do so through email). This is not the first time that I have been ignored by a tutor when I desperately needed help, and from what I’ve heard, this lack of communication is very common at my university. Someone who was in my year group until last term has already had his Honours project delayed by two months because no one bothered to tell him that the person who was supposed to be his supervisor has actually left the university.
I was reluctant to tell student support how much I was struggling because I was afraid of stigma, not being understood, and the real possibility that there would be nothing more that they could do for me. I only finally got in touch with them once I was in a crisis (more on this later in the post) and felt like I had no other option but to drop out. Even though both the disability contact (who has continuously helped me since I was in first year) and my personal development tutor were both very understanding, I still feel very ashamed about telling them about my anxiety and depression and how much I was struggling (I didn’t tell them that I was suicidal). I felt like such a burden to them and like some pathetic little child. Despite being so open about my mental health on this blog, it’s extremely difficult for me to open up about these things face-to-face with people who aren’t mental health professionals. There wasn’t all that much that they could do but they did their best to try and make things a bit easier for me. I doubt that I will be able to get through the final year. They did say that it might be possible for me to get an extension for my honours project and also said that they could find out about the recommended reading on each module and that I could get a head-start on it over the summer. Even if both of those things are possible, I still think my final year at uni will be horrendous. I did end up getting good marks for both of last term’s modules (including a first class mark, and some of the highest marks in the class for the fourth year module) but I still feel useless, inferior, and unable to cope. I also wonder if getting good marks is even worth the incredible strain that last term put on my mental health.
During last term, round about the time I posted about having the interview at university the next morning, a guy in my class seemed to be taking an interest in me. My Swedish online friend said that it sounded, from the way that this guy was behaving, that he probably liked me. And probably if this guy had acted that way around any other woman on my course, I’d have thought to myself: “He clearly likes her”. But I just cannot possibly fathom anyone ever liking me or being at all attracted to me. I am not attractive and I don’t see what anyone could possibly see in me. He seemed to have been going out of his way to try to talk to me since the term before last term (the term when we went to the Algarve). One morning after computer tutorials, I met him at the stairs. It seemed almost as if he’d been waiting there. He called me over as soon as he saw me and once again tried to talk to me. I’m so bloody awkward that I barely managed to say anything other than “I’m good” (which was a MASSIVE lie) and ask him how he was in return. He started talking about the course and asked how I was finding it. He obviously thought that I was going to the same lecture as he was, but as I’m part-time, I had no more classes that day. Being my usual awkward self, I ended up suddenly walking out of the front door of the uni in the middle of the conversation. I can’t even remember if I managed a “bye”. I was just so anxious and uncomfortable that I wanted to get out of that situation but my anxiety prevented me from doing it in a polite way. I must have seemed so rude and weird to him. I don’t know why I’m such a bloody coward. I can’t even have a basic conversation with someone when they appear interested in me. Even if he wasn’t interested in me and was just being friendly, I can’t even make basic, friendly conversation for a couple of minutes.
I don’t know why this guy even bothered with me, to be honest. I don’t know why he didn’t just give up and talk to someone who is actually worth talking to, and can actually function like a normal human being. Someone who doesn’t have so many issues. I have nothing to offer anyone. I wanted to tell him to go and find someone he might actually enjoy conversing with and who isn’t such a socially inept freak. I don’t know why anyone would waste their time on me. I’m sure that the minute they get to know me, they’ll just realise how messed up I am and never want to speak to me or be around me again anyway.
At one point during the term, we had an employability workshop. The seats were arranged into groups so I sat next to the mature student, thinking that he was about the only person in the room who might actually tolerate my presence. The guy who seemed to be interested in me came over and sat next to us. The workshop was horrendous. I was unbelievably anxious that day. We had to read over a couple of papers and then tell everyone else in the group how we thought they could be improved, with each person having to speak for a minute. I was so anxious that my mind went completely blank after the first 10 seconds and I just sat there in silence, looking like a complete idiot, for the next 50. I imagine that would have killed off any interest that guy had in me. I’m glad because it means that he can take an interest in someone who is actually worth taking an interest in now.
We had to swap groups shortly after I’d made an idiot of myself. The woman running the workshop kept talking about how important developing our employability skills was, and how we should be making steps towards getting the job that we want. Usually when someone at university talks about employment, I end up feeling suicidal because I don’t see how I’m ever going to get a job after I graduate. I don’t feel that I have any skills that employers look for and I’m incredibly socially inept. That part of the workshop just made me feel even more overwhelmed and incapable of going on with life.
The second part of the workshop was more coursework based and involved us having to appraise the technical summaries that each group member had written. There was no point in me even being there and I wanted to leave. No one in my group read my work, but the 3 of them read each others’ work. None of them said anything to me and I wasn’t able to contribute anything myself. This only made me feel even more worthless, unwanted and isolated from everyone else. As for the people in my group…sometimes I feel that I’m very immature (in terms of social skills and life experience) compared to most people my age but the people in my group were acting like a bunch of 13 year olds. They were trying to pen each other’s faces, write rude things on each others’ foreheads, and drew genitalia on each other’s hands. This was while we were supposed to be working. If this is the attitude that these people have to coursework then how on earth do they get things handed in on time and I don’t?
I can’t bear the thought of losing,
I dread the attention winning brings
And ever since the day I came here,
I can stand without your strings
I’m so sick of all these people,
But I’m scared to be alone
And if this life has taught me anything,
I forgot it long ago
– ‘Voices Off Camera’ by Rise Against
I felt so overwhelmed and suicidal on the walk back to my grandparents’ house from that workshop that I wanted to step out in front of a car. My grandparents’ weren’t home when I got in so I decided to try phoning the Samaritans. The guy on the phone sounded bored out of his mind and like he’d much rather be doing something more enjoyable than listening to me anxiously try to speak, so I ended up hanging up on him in anger and despair. I hate that on a helpline which is supposed to help those who are suicidal, you sometimes end up talking to people like that. What if that had been someone who was about to attempt suicide? I think that a lot of the volunteers there definitely need more training. Anyway, I cried and cried, and even shouted a couple of expletives, but I didn’t try to hurt myself.
A few weeks ago, I overheard three women talking in university canteen. They were talking about how keen they were to get their own flat and not stay with their parents because ‘You don’t want to look back on university and say “That was rubbish. I didn’t live near my friends and didn’t go out enough.’, do you?” They seemed to want the stereotypical student lifestyle, full of drinking and partying. My time at university has been the exact opposite of that. It’s been an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. I’m not really even able to speak to others on my course, never mind befriend them and go out drinking and partying with them. And I think I’m okay with the fact that my student years haven’t been about drinking or partying or any of the other typical student stuff (my liver will probably thank me later in life, and I’ve never had to endure a hangover). But I’m not okay with the incessant loneliness and isolation, and the fact that I haven’t gotten to know anyone. I’m not okay with the fact that (although I do usually enjoy my course) university has been an endurance test rather than an enjoyable experience. I hope that putting myself through all that anxiety and misery will somehow be worth it in the end.
I apologise that this was such a depressing post. I just needed to get all of that out of my system.