My reflections on starting university

So you’ve just got a place at university, well done! Everyone you know is telling you that you are about to start ‘the best time of your life’, but all you feel is fear and apprehension, the change is all a bit too much. You feel you should be excited, you feel you should be acting a certain way, is this normal? Yes of course your bound to be nervous, going to university is exciting but it is something new which I understand can be pretty overwhelming. So in short terms, the answer is there is no set way or “normal” way to feel…

I remember how I felt going to university all too well, at first I was extremely excited, buying everything I possibly could; things for my kitchen, decoration for my bedroom, photos to make me feel at home, essentially everything but the kitchen sink! However, once all this was sorted and the initial crazy period of getting everything prepared was over, I was like WAIT, I am actually leaving and going to an unknown town, where I wont know anyone. This excitement then led to fear, I wouldn’t be surrounded by my family and friends, I would have a new home, with new people, whom I didn’t even know yet.

For me personally the hardest thing transiting to university was the fear of the people I would leave behind and the thought of having to make new friends (would they like me? would they think I was weird? would we have things in common?!). I knew my family would always be there but the people I had been to school with for the past 7 years, the people I saw every single day at school, wouldn’t be in my life regularly any more. This scared me, I felt that they would forget about me and our friendships would be over, I didn’t want to change and I didn’t want them to change. However, after an evening at our local, including lots of tears, reminiscing and dancing, it was time to say goodbye, as each person was dropped of in the taxi hugs were given, fears exchanged. It was a beautiful night which made me feel like I was ready, not only was I scared, they were also scared, I was not alone in this transition and it was something that we all had to get used to.

The next day I started on my journey to Plymouth, university here I come! Being crammed in the car, with barely enough space left for me to sit and a nervous mum and dad the journey began. Arriving into Plymouth I was greeted by a nice student who directed me to my halls, showed me the ropes and then left. After climbing the many stairs, 100s of times to move my stuff in, why did I think I needed so much stuff?! It was time to say goodbye, waving my mum and dad off, the door shut, WOW this was it I was on my own and I needed to go and socialise and try and meet people. With all my nerves I actually threw myself into this, talking to everyone, putting on a brave face. Seeing one of my flat mates crying once her family left made me realise that she is in exactly the same position and no one should be embarrassed to be upset about saying goodbye to their loved ones, this is normal, EVERYONE IS IN THE SAME BOAT. Holding up a bottle of vodka (oops!) and a box of chocolates and telling her that everything was going to be ok was the start of our friendship.

As someone who enjoys going out, I through myself into this, maybe a bit too much and I would advise being careful in freshers week because it is only too easy to burn yourself out, please make sure you eat properly, are careful with your drinking intake and please try and get enough sleep. An unhealthy diet and sleep deprivation is enough to make anyone crazy and emotional, that on top of mental health difficulties can lead to a very hard time. So please be aware of when things are too much, its ok to say to your flat mates that you want to slow down, yes go out and have fun but maybe organise a film night or how about a night chilling and drinking copius amounts of tea (my favourite kind of night!). You’ll be surprised to find out that they too quite fancy a night in and are very happy with this idea.

If you don’t drink or going out isn’t your scene then this is ok, do not be scared about going into freshers week and thinking you will be the only one, because you wont. There will be many other people in the same situation, trust me. You don’t need to go out to meet people, you will meet people who you are sharing your accommodation with, and go out and explore the city your university is in, the university will put on loads of events during the day to meet new people. Also, don’t forget to join sports and societies because it gives you a chance to meet like minded people. Even if you haven’t tried a certain thing before, why not join, you may be surprised how much you enjoy it.

Therefore, university does seem scary and it is a big change but think about all the thousands of students who are moving to university this year, all feeling the same as you, all scared about meeting people and leaving people behind. After a few weeks of being at university the apprehension will die down you will meet some amazing people, yes you will not get on with everyone and everything isn’t rosy and great, but I’ve met some of best people I know and I don’t know what I would do without them, this fair outweighs the people that I do not get on with. As I have said before everyone is in the same boat at university and you will all support each other through the ups and downs of your degree. Even though I am going into my fourth year, I still make friends all the time, the process of university is amazing, everyone is so friendly and you will meet people from all waves of life, which I have really enjoyed.

Also, I am still in touch with my friends from home, yes we have changed, but I would like to think that we have all changed for the better and are developing into the adults we are about to become. I could not be prouder of all of their achievements and even though sometimes it feels like we are growing apart, this is also bringing us together. As one of my friends sent to my home group chat yesterday – “shout out to my low maintenance friends, the ones you don’t talk to for months, because you are both living your lives, but when you meet up, there’s nothing but love”, this is so true and no one will be able to take away the friendship you have had and despite the time and distance apart, they will still always be there.

As a student myself, you really are about to start ‘the best time of your life’, I would do anything to redo my first year and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. But no matter how amazing it is, I am not going to lie you will have difficult times, everything wont always be fun, but that’s part of life. The good times you are about to have will far outweigh the difficult times. I wish you luck in the beginning of a very fun journey!!

#StudentMindsFest

Booking to attend the Student Minds Festival, I didn’t know what I was getting myself in for, I honestly did not know what to expect and was really worried about staying somewhere for 3 days on my own without knowing anybody else attending. However, after being asked to assist in one of the talks, I bit the bullet and thought why not, what have I got to loose. Thus, finding myself carrying the biggest bag in the world (nearly falling over and knocking out people several times!!) containing all my camping gear on a train to Oxford. Then at Oxford station cramming myself and three other girls I had never met into the back of a taxi with barely any space to breathe, let alone for all our luggage. However, upon arriving I realised that I was going to be okay, and was actually going to have a super fun few days; everyone from Student Minds was really friendly, greeting us, making us tea and helping us assemble our tents (don’t even ask how I managed to get mine up ha!).

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Despite spending a very long time in the pouring rain attempting to put our tents up successfully, we still had a laugh, blowing up air beds with no pump, trying to take a successful group picture, but we didn’t care that we were soaked, in the middle of a field or had the prospect of camping to look forward to…. Luckily it didn’t take long for it to brighten up (obviously only rained when we were putting out tents up, sods law!), the sun glasses game out and we sat outside chatting and introducing ourselves to each other, whilst hopefully getting a bit of a tan (one can only hope!).

Once we were settled in, we attended a large array of sessions over the duration of the Festival including; a talk from The Loss Foundation on being more compassionate to oneself and others in the context of grief. In this ses2015-09-03 12.36.20sion, Kirsten discussed what to do and what not to do when speaking about bereavement. Grief “is not personal, its universal”, thus is an issue that we will all come across at times in our lives. We also attended a talk from Action for Happiness in which we
explored our own happiness by looking at what we have seen that is wonderful, what we are thankful for, what we are looking forward to, who or what do we really love and what positive changes we are going to make. This was all filled out on flashcards and really made us think how lucky we all actually are, with many of us keeping the cards as reminders for when we need them most and Sórcha Haverty the VP Welfare from the University of Derby, putting hers up on the wall in her office (something that will stay with us after the student minds festival is over).

The Student M2015-09-03 15.15.20inds team also put on some very informative sessions consisting of; effective campaigning, how to measure impact, building resilience, using social media for social good, a fundraising masterclass, safeguarding and a super fun session on creating your own wellbeing tool box (consisting of lots of stickers, glitter and
colouring in!!!). We also got the chance to attend sessions on our graduate options and employment advice including sessions on building a career in the third sector (Worthwhile), top tips on completing applications and assessment centres from Think Ahead and an informative session on the journey to become a clinical psychologist from Dr Felicity Cowdrey.

My favourite session was a talk Emma from It Gets Brighter delivered. We learnt about the campaign which is a video based web platform and watched some of their collection of inspirational videos, in which people spoke openly about their experiences and reassured us that it can and will get brighter. Following this, I was lucky enough to speak in The Power of Sharing Stories session. Seb, Vicky and Student Mind Bloggers, myself and Rose held a question and answer session on our experiences sharing our own stories; the good and the bad and what worked for us and what we would suggest to other people thinking of doing the same. This was a very powerful talk that really highlighted why I do share my story through blogging for Student Minds and we received such a heartfelt response from all the students there. This was all reinforced again when I shockingly was awarded student minds blogger of the year (2015).

To continue, we were also lucky to find out about interesting campaigns such as Ripple – Student Minds new campaign against depression which seeks to promote the idea that small acts can have a ripple effect in creating wider positive change, therefore encouraing students to create positive ripples in their lives. #BestNightEver is another campaign that from Tuesday the 6th of October Student Minds are inviting you to post a picture on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook of your night in which the hastag: #BestNightEver this is because all to often on social media we only post photos of our ‘exciting times’ such as parties and nights out but fail to share photos of our evenings in such as a night watching films with friends (which may I add can be just as fun!). Therefore, showing that going out is not everything and having a night in does not mean that you are missing out and can sometimes be just what you need.

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Right on to the fun part ha (kidding I loved all the sessions), however despite the sessions and talks being informative and inspitational and something I will take away with me, I will have to say my favourite part about the trip was meeting all the other students that attended. Enjoying sitting around the camp fire roasting marhsmallows, cramming like 12 of us into the same tipi to sleep, playing games, going on a walk in the pitch black to find a shop around oxford, watching a film with hot chocolate and snacks, having meal times all together and just geneally having a laugh and speaking to like minded people. Funniest part being Soti (another student at the festival) and I being asked millions of times if we were from the same unibersity and if we already knew each other, when infact we didn’t and no we weren’t ‘best friends’ as many people asked, we had only just met! Just goes to show that it dosent matter attending this event on your own and please don’t feel fearful of doing so because you will be lucky enough to meet some amazing people. Right time to be honest, I will say if you choose to attend next year please wrap up warm hahah, bring any blankets you can find as the tents do get really really really cold at night, the first night I could actually see my breath, but I guess it made the whole trip an experience to say the least.2015-09-03 17.14.26Therefore, leaving the trip with not only having met some really amazing people, whom I hope ill stay in touch with, but knowing I have built my knowledge around mental health further and learnt the things I can do to promote positive change and have been equipped with the skills to have the biggest impact when doing so. Most importantly the ability to promote my own wellbeing and having the confidence to succeed this year.

Final statement on my time at the StudentMindsFest; it was ‘intents’, please say I am not the only one who found this joke a little bit too funny. I hope to return to the festival next year and see lots of new faces and of course those of the hilarious people I met this year.

Those Special People in Our Lives

Friendship: there are many necessary things in life, but I believe friendship to be one of the most valuable. They are the people who complete us – someone to talk to, spend time with, comfort us and most importantly laugh with. However, in life we all meet thousands of people and experience many friendships, some which last for a short amount of time, some that end badly, some in which you just gradually drift apart and some that last. The question I often ask myself is – how do I know when I have made a lifelong friend? And how can I distinguish between a friend and a really good friend?

After 21 years I still don’t feel any closer to answering these questions. Life is a funny thing and friendships are even more complex but essential to living a happy life. I am becoming aware that having a small close knit group of friends is a lot more meaningful than having lots of friends. Safe to say I have experienced my fair share of friendships, some good, some not so good, but you aren’t going to get on with everyone and sometimes I have had to learn the hard way: from playground fallouts, to bitchy girls and to people who simply don’t care enough!

I like to see the good in everyone and often make excuses for my ‘friends’ who often don’t live up to this label. I am fully aware that no one is perfect, people fall out, people make up, this is a normal part of friendship but when is enough enough? And how do you know when someone is truly your friend?

One thing I have learnt as a university student is people walk in and out of your life constantly, you meet new people everyday but often these people I would class as circumstantial friends. These are the people who you spend time with due to being on the same course, or who you live with in first year, those who you know through a friend, and people who join the same societies as you do. Arguably, you spend time with them because you have to, they are around when you are and vica versa. But outside of university you may not make an effort to keep in touch, not because either of you are bad people but because this is how life works.

As the end of third year approaches there have been far too many goodbyes with many questions floating around in my head: will we keep in touch? Who was a circumstantial friend? And who will be a true lifelong friend? 

However, I reassure you that it’s normal to lose some friends after university, and throughout life you will lose even more circumstantial friends. Don’t let this get you down or make you feel like it’s your fault – it’s a normal part of life. I often underestimate the extent to which we will all easily end up with different sets of people throughout life and it’s normal to find and lose friends regularly.

Meanwhile, there is nothing better than having a few true friends that you will stay with throughout life, who will stay with you no matter what, despite the distance, despite life experiences. You will grow apart, whilst growing together. Staying in contact with people over a long distance is hard but it is possible and you can make it work.

I know this because I do know a couple of amazing people who I am blessed to have in my life and I hope they know who they are. Despite not being able to distinguish between who is and isn’t a lifelong friend, what I do know is who makes me feel happy, loved and wanted. There are very few people in my life that I know can make me laugh no matter what, or who I can talk to about anything with no fear of judgement. Those who no matter how rubbish I can be at times they still understand and are still there.
 
This is dedicated to you, and you know who you are. I just wanted to write this public thank you and share how blessed I feel to have you special people in my life. And for those of you who are worrying about losing and maintaining friendships, this is a big part of life and you’re not the only one who is often unsure where you stand. Just never forget that you are not alone and this is a normal part of life. To have friendship is to have comfort. In times of trouble and depression, a friend is  there to calm us and make us feel a little more ourselves. Lasting friendship is a blessing which I feel lucky to have.

Write from the heart project

I wrote this piece regarding my experience with mental health for the write from the heart project which was made for SHINE at Plymouth University. It’s a bit rusty around the edges and I apologise as I have never done anything like this before, please don’t laugh ha!

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Have you ever had the overwhelming,

Feeling of sadness,

You look at yourself in the mirror,

And think is this really me or is it just madness?

Isolating myself all on my own,

I just need the courage to pick up my phone,

Get some help from someone I trust,

But do I really need to make all this fuss?

All these rules in my head I need to bend,

I need to tell someone,

– be it doctor or friend,

Please help me get out of this mess,

Pretend the pain isn’t there,

Will anyone understand?

Will anyone care?

If you utter the words, “I have a mental illness”,

Shocked, you see they don’t like you any less,

They don’t call it madness,

It’s just simply you,

Please don’t be upset,

We don’t want you to feel blue,

All of this time you’ve been worried to say,

To embarrassed, they won’t understand,

But on this very day,

They say ok and hold out their hand,

You feel enlightened,

They really do care,

Finally you actually believe,

I may be able to get out this despair.

Please check out the SHINE project to promote inspiring e-resources for student’s:

https://www.facebook.com/SHINEwithPlym

https://twitter.com/SHINEwithPlym 

#SHINEwithPlym

SHINE Signature

Finding Someone who Shares the Same Pain

Do you get those times when you are struggling and feeling completely hopeless? Getting better seems like it’s getting further and further away? Do you just want someone to tell you that everything is going to be okay? That they have experienced what you are going through and have survived it?

I am very lucky to have been supported during my experiences with mental health difficulties; there has always been someone to pick me up when I can’t find the strength to keep going. Having those around you means you don’t only want to recover for yourself, but for those amazing people who love and care about you.

However, I am aware that not everyone is lucky enough to have the support of friends and family. On the other hand, regardless of your support network, 9 out of 10 people with mental health difficulties have experienced stigma and discrimination (Time To Change). Not everyone will understand what you’re going through and some people might even be hurtful.

Despite this don’t let those people get to you – they might not understand what you’re going through and the only way they can deal with this is by blocking you out, removing themselves from being friends and even being rude and nasty. Not everyone can be as understanding as you are, and this is no reflection on you. In life some people will understand your complexities whereas others won’t. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person; it may just be a lack of understanding of what you’re going through.

Nevertheless, don’t let these people make you turn your illness into a secret either. Why? Because this won’t help in the long run. Burying your head in the sand might work for a while, but facing your mental health problems face on and learning to live is the best way to cope. In life, there are some people who will just never understand you, no matter how much you tell them, and there are others who understand everything without you even speaking a word. You just have to find that person or people, who understand you with all your complexities, quirks, problems and personality.

However, despite this support and understanding, helping someone with a mental illness can be hard; it can be draining and your needs may become challenging for them. This doesn’t mean that they like you any less. Sometimes they may just have to take a step back when it gets overwhelming. Not only do you struggle, they will feel your struggles and like you find it hard to cope. My solution to this would be to find someone who feels your pain and suffers from the same mental health difficulties that you yourself suffer from. Why? They can understand that chaos in your mind, as they have also experienced it. You may argue that finding this person would be a hard task, but it’s not. Mental illness isn’t something that just happens to the minority – it affects 1 in 4 people. It’s easier than you think to find someone.

I have personal experience of this. My best friend, who also suffers from mental health difficulties, gave me the strength when I didn’t think I could go on. She told me that yes, there would be bad days, but things do get better and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Unlike the other people who have supported me – friends, family and doctors – she actually had the experience to give me the confidence to believe her that this in fact was true, and I could get out of this dark place. Comedian, writer and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax advises those suffering to “go and locate a ‘f****d up buddy’; someone you can call day or night, when you can’t take it anymore”. Finding someone who shares your pain is invaluable.

Seriously, nothing can compare with the encouragement you get from someone who has already walked in your shoes. As well as being encouraging, it gives you that safety net that you often need at your worst. Any friend, family member or doctor can tell you what helps, but unless you can see for yourself that it works, it can be hard to trust their opinions. Personal experience brings wisdom that is one of a kind, and if this can be shared with others it can be extremely powerful.

You can endlessly discuss things that may be deemed taboo with other people, your bad experiences, drugs you’ve taken, therapies you’ve received: the list is endless. Sharing yourself with someone who understands and has had similar experiences will mean you will never get bored of listening to each other’s never ending stories.

Also, not only do you have the support from that person, they also have the support from you. It’s a two way process in which you can speak and listen, give and take, be the encourager and be encouraged. Take it in turns to pick each other up when you’re struggling or celebrate when things are going well. It means you will both have someone to hold your hand when it’s needed and guide you in the right direction.

Simply talking can change your life and help you get on the road to recovery. The feeling of isolation and being alone could go away if you just utter those few words “I have a mental illness”. Everyone is different and complicated in their own way: embrace this, share your life experiences with others and you too could make a difference to someone’s life.

Ultimately, remember that you are not alone, there is someone out there who is just like you, with the same struggles, similar experiences and who understands what you are going through.

This is dedicated to my best friend who knows me a little more than I know myself and fellow student minds blogger Becky McCerery.

How Volunteering Can Help YOU

Graduating from university fills many students with dread. The prospect of being outside the university bubble and having to “grow up” and get a “real job” in the “real world” is a daunting experience for many. This is why getting the experience before you leave could help you out in the long run.

Yes, I understand you may have a lot of work on at university, but this could reduce your future stress! Personally, I know that you can get a degree whilst volunteering at the same time, providing you don’t put too much on yourself. Trust me – it’s possible (but please remember how many hours there are in a day!).

Going out and doing something outside of university may be just what you need, giving you the chance to forget about all your academic worries and focus instead on something else. Do you want to put a spring in your step? This can happen through volunteering. Simply by giving up a few hours of your time, you can help others and make a difference, and you’ll feel happier as a result.

Research conducted by Citizens Advice Bureau indicated that volunteering boosts self-esteem, employability and health, especially mental health. So not only does volunteering benefit the people you help, but it can, most importantly, help you! It can provide you with the ability to cope and come to terms with your own illness, take your mind off your own problems, meet new people, and develop a sense of purpose.

I can guarantee (even if you don’t personally believe it) that you have a skillset that you can provide to services and causes near your university. It might be excellent communication, team work, or having a passion for working with children or people with special needs. You could be an asset to a company or organisation, and all you have to do is offer your services to them. Not only do they gain your help but you also grow and develop as a person and learn more skills to better equip you for life after university.

Do something today and make a difference not only to your personal health but to your community – and your future.

Student Volunteering Week is an annual campaign with the aim to raise awareness of the value of student volunteering, celebrate the impact of existing work in the community and inspire more students to get involved and make a difference in society.