Tuesday 18 October 2016

Freshers’ Week, for the anxious introvert

Caitlin shares her experience as a fresher at university, and offers some advice to anyone feeling the same way.

-Caitlin Bracken

If I’m honest, with the struggle I was having at the end of my A-levels, for me to get to uni – my first-choice, and with flying colours too – was nothing short of a miracle. I’m now studying for the course I’ve always wanted to do, among people who are like me (although not exactly like me, for reasons you’ll soon be reading) for the first time. We’re all heading in the same direction, and it’s great. Things are going so well, now that my course has started, and the hell of Freshers’ is over (sorry, to those of you who found it exhilarating; a sacred time to forge new relationships!).

Before I moved in, I thought (perhaps naively) that during Freshers’ week it would be easy to find my fellow non-partygoers. Evidently, I didn’t think this through, because I conveniently forgot to factor in some pretty important factors:
  • All the non-partygoers are probably a little like me, in that they’d rather go to bed early (by uni standards at least) than spend all hours of the night and early morning in a club. Meaning that when the party crowd went out, we were never going to find each other!
  • Having anxiety made me 102% unwilling to go out of my room when things were getting extremely rowdy and alcohol-fuelled, out on the corridor. And even less willing to try and find any new friends once things had finally quietened down. 

I also didn’t bank on not-drinking being the cardinal sin of starting university. I didn’t expect there to be so much social expectation to drink. I suppose I was being naïve when I imagined it would be a simple task to find the people who weren’t drinking. It was nigh on impossible – in fact I didn’t find another person like me in this sense until my course started, a full nine days after I moved into Halls.  Student drinking culture wasn’t something that I thought I would find so intimidating! 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the first night but the second that I found the hardest. I felt like the only person on campus, which I know was only the musing of an anxious mind, but that didn’t make the thought any less real at the time. It was the first time I’d felt truly lonely. I remember pacing the length of my long corridor from one end to the other, feeling like my chest was on fire. I’d have done anything to keep on walking til I was home. But as usual, the rational part of my brain took over and led me back to my room behind the safety of a locked door, with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle. 

I made it through Freshers’ quite independently, as is too often the case with mattes of mental health, my own especially. I did a lot of reading, I continued making sock monkeys (because it’s what I do best and is my favourite therapeutic activity), and I enjoyed the peace of early morning, when my flatmates were mostly still asleep.

I don’t want it to be a negative post, a moan about how much I’ve struggled at university to juggle my mental health with transitioning to a new life. Nor do I want to condemn the people who live Freshers’ Week to the fullest and take every event as a new socialising experience. If I was a drinker, I probably wouldn’t say no to £1 shots either. I don’t know if I did Freshers’ wrong, or just differently to the vast, vast majority. But there have been some excellent perks too, such as assembling an Ikea flat pack at half past ten in the evening, with a new friend and very limited instructions (possibly the best “icebreaker” I did all week), meeting my course tutors who reminded me of some of my most supportive sixth form teachers and were even more inspiring, if that’s possible, and discovering the education stack in the campus library.

Coming to uni was without doubt the best thing I’ve ever done – my confidence has skyrocketed and my anxiety, for the most part, has been under strict control. I just wish that my Freshers’ experience hadn’t been so… introverted. Am I wishing I was different? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d like to swap places with people who partied until dawn and got on the wrong side of their tutors from day one for missing important induction lectures! Maybe what I’m wishing for is that I hadn’t been so afraid to open up and come clean about myself, and perhaps find like-minded people across the campus much sooner. 

The rational part of my brain is back, the one which reminded me to go back to bed on that difficult, anxious night when I needed to cope by myself; and I did cope, so that’s okay. It wasn’t the total disaster of a night I first saw it as. 

In a piece like this, I feel like I should be giving some kind of advice. I’m not built for this, forgive me if I’m too wordy or too boring. I think for first years like me, the best advice I could give would be to step out of your comfort zone earlier. Despite how intimidating it may feel, open up and find the people who don’t want to drink and dance until morning. Perhaps find the #BestNightIn posts a little earlier than I did, and reassure yourself that even in your little room, in an apparently empty Hall of Residence when it seems like the world is partying without you, you are not alone. 

(And definitely complain if the heating isn’t on and your building is cold!). 


  1. well done Caitlin for sticking at it, through what sound like some difficult moments.
    if you managed to assemble an Ikea item and it vaguely resembles what you bought I think you can count the first week a roaring success for that alone.
    You are braver than you know keep going we are all cheering for you

    Sandra P

  2. I'm like you: I have GAD an Panic Disorder. I'm equally excited to start next year as I am terrified. Reading this helped me to realise that I can do it! Thank you Caitlin

    1. I've found this comment so late! I guess I didn't expect anyone to reply to me, so to read this has made my day. Obviously it's not made my day to hear that you struggle with anxiety and panic too, but we can get through this, right? Best of luck with your journey, and you're so welcome. I'm genuinely pleased that my writing has connected to your experience and helped you somehow x

  3. Thank you for your post. It was open and inspiring! I study in Finland and the studying culture here is a bit different. Except for the drinking part unfortunately. I have come to the end of my first year in university of applied sciences and in many ways, it has been fruitful but strange and lonely as well. I am not the oldest one in my class but close enough, I am a single mother of two and I don't drink. So you can see that there is plenty in me that's different from the rest of our class. From the week one, it seemed everyone got to know each other really fast. Except me. I went to the classes and after that straight to the daycare to pick up my daughter. When others in my class went partying after school. The whole year has gone by and my classmates bonded, talked about their parties and drinking in school and planned for the next ones. With me they talked about group works and that's about it. I am an adult and cope with this situation without feeling too much anxiety just because of my age. But it still feels weird that almost half of my current life, I am just an outsider, a visitor or even an intruder in someone else's life. Understanding that you are not the only one feeling like that, helps. It means there is probably nothing wrong with you just because you are you.

  4. hello, as i read this blog about college mental health issue, it's kinda relate to me when you say about social expectation and culture shocking when you're in college, except to the drinking part, but this blog show how important of stepping out of your comfort zone really early. thank u for this blog and advice!!