Wednesday 6 April 2016

Tackling anxiety: My student experience

Claire Eastham (@ClaireyLove) writes the award winning blog and shares her personal experiences while at university.

- Claire Eastham 

I have Social Anxiety Disorder and for me University was one of the biggest culture shocks I’ve ever experienced. I went from being overly controlled and regimented at school to suddenly being handed the reins of power. Living away from home, expected to organise my own time table and no formal introductions to classmates was hard. I went from all rules to no rules, talk about whiplash! I had to start from scratch.

Naively, I thought it would be like one of those teen movies where everyone is nice and hangs out in coffee shops. My teachers told me it would be “the time of my life”, so naturally my expectations were high. Unfortunately they failed to tell me the following:
1. Student halls looked like a prison- what’s with the long grey corridors and brown carpets?
2. I’d be poor and living off pasta
3. I’d be so homesick that I’d cry constantly for the first three days

Going from the comfort and security of home to THAT was a shock. I felt like something had been stolen from my life and I didn’t know how to get it back. I was miserable and thought there was something wrong with me. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time! I’m naturally quite introverted, so I found it hard to make friends. Huge packs of people went out together; how could I possibly break into that? 

University life triggered my anxiety on a mass scale. I hated walking past people in corridors, and lectures were strange too, with 100 people in a theatre! I was used to having some kind of a relationship with my teachers, but now they barely knew I existed.

By the end of the second month I was at a breaking point. I couldn’t go home (because that would be failure in my eyes,) but I was so lonely and unhappy. One night I plucked up the courage to sit in the ‘common room’ and watch a film with the others in my hall. I also discovered how alcohol is a major part of university life. Although everything seemed great at the time, I noticed that after a big night out my mood would plummet and I’d be on edge for days. Alcohol and its after-effects made my anxiety A LOT worse.

Eventually I knew that I needed to make a change and I told my best friend how I was feeling. To my astonishment, she cried and told me she felt exactly the same! After our heart to heart we started to speak every day, encouraging each other to be more true to ourselves rather than caving in to peer pressure. I was also honest with my parents and went home when I needed. The relief that came with telling the truth was enormous. In time, I made friends in different classes and even started writing for the campus newspaper. It became more of an organic experience and felt more comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy cocktails! But now, I don’t rely on them to have fun. 

It’s important to remember that so many students pretend to be OK because they can’t bear the idea of being left out. University is a huge change and it’s OK to not be OK during those first months. You’ll get through it. Remember these feelings won’t last forever. In the meantime, be kind to yourself.

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