This post is for someone experiencing one of the anxiety disorders or related illnesses while at university, because as you’ll know they really like to make life difficult for us. If you’re already in university or you’re just starting, hopefully my experience so far can help you cope. I can’t speak for colleges, but I imagine a lot of this could apply there too.
- Try to schedule seminars with people you know. Both my flatmates and two of my friends were doing the same modules as me, so I had at least one person I knew in each seminar. It really helped me a lot, especially with motivation to go and also having someone to catch up on notes from. My flatmates and I all sat around our kitchen in freshers week with our timetables trying to find a compromise. It was a good bonding exercise if nothing else.
- If you’re really anxious about the fire alarm, like I am, you might be able to ask accommodation services, citing your mental illness, to notify you when you there’s going to be a fire drill (you do have to promise not to tell anyone else) or when they test the alarm. It doesn’t help if someone sets it off, but at least you know when it’ll be going off every week for the test and take steps to avoid it. I suggest you don’t pick a two hour seminar from 9-11, which is what I did. So much regret. So little sleep.
- Even if you’re freaking out in a shop, take the time to read the labels and make sure you’re buying the right thing. You don’t want to come home with two bottles of sugar free Irn Bru (aka bouking) that you’ll have to make yourself drink . That’s not the worst case scenario but hey, at least you’ll have the right drink.
- Remember you have as much right as anyone to be there!
- Tell your flatmates if you want to and if you’re comfortable doing so. I told mine in the first two days because I wanted them to be aware of why I would be “weird” and what might happen if I had an anxiety attack. I was lucky and they were both supportive and had friends in high school with the same issues. If you’re not comfortable telling them, try to tell at least one other person at uni, so they can help support you and can understand what you need.
- Check out all the support available to you. Counselling a bust? Try the GP. The DSA can provide Mental Health Support Workers (mentors/advisors) as well. Have a chat with your disability services department. You might be eligible for coursework extensions, separate accommodation for exams, alternatives to presentations and more.
- Don’t feel bad for missing a lecture or not being able to go to a seminar. It’s okay.
- If you have trouble walking in public, especially on your own, try the Murder Walk™. (Video | Gif | Video ) Alternatively, try imagining you’re really angry and let that propel you as you walk. I like blasting upbeat, fast paced rock music and walking in time with that.
- I know everyone suggests this, but honestly, look at joining a society. I ended up in one of the nicest, most accepting and wonderful societies last year, and now I’m on the committee! That’s something I wouldn’t have thought possible. And it gets me out of the flat.
- Don’t sign up for any society/club emails until you’re absolutely sure you’re going to join. Otherwise you’ll be stuck getting unnecessary emails for a year that you’re too afraid to ask to be taken off.
- If you don’t get on with your flatmates, don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet other people, and honestly, me getting on really well with my flatmates seemed to be quite unusual among the people I spoke to.
- You should get out of the flat once a day or more! Keeping yourself shut in is definitely not good for you or your mental health (I speak from experience). Go shopping, on a nice walk, for coffee with someone from one of your lectures, even on a mad 11:45pm rush to the shop for pancake mix.* I know it’s hard, but fresh air and sunshine is really good for you and your mood.
- See if you can arrange working on essays with other people on your module. It could be someone in your seminar, one of your friend’s friends, or even someone you saw begging for help on Yik Yak. Not only can you share sources and ideas, you can cheer each other on. You might just gain a new friend as well.
- You don’t owe anybody an explanation. If you have to sit out of a group project or you leave a lecture to have a panic attack or even run out of your graded presentation and throw up in the corridor (yep. That was a low point for me.) you don’t have to justify yourself. It’s a good idea to inform your seminar tutor that there are some things you have difficulty with but you do not have to explicitly go in to detail about your illness. You certainly don’t have to explain yourself to other students.
- Remember to take a break. Even if you have essays piling up and lots of missed seminars to catch up on and a birthday card to make and you haven’t even fed yourself or taken your pills, breathe. Take a break. It will be okay. It’s perfectly alright to relax for a bit – just don’t end up leaving everything else to the last minute.
- If you’re not doing so well with your workload or you think you might fail, remember that ultimately first and second year (and in some universities, third year) don’t count towards your overall degree (that’s what fourth year is for). That’s not an excuse to be complacent, just a reminder that failing a module or a year is not the end of the world. It might feel like it, but honestly it will be okay. You can get resits, or summer courses, or even half credit modules to take the next semester to make up the work.
- If there are help days such as library inductions or a drop in to explain the university online module system (Succeed, Blackboard, Moodle etc.) then definitely go to them! It will certainly help you, save you a lot of time and worry, and stop you holding up a group of frustrated fourth years at the printers (now there’s an embarrassing story).
- Disclose your illness when you enrol/apply if there’s an option to do so. The university will likely put you in touch with relevant people/departments who can help you.
- When you apply for accommodation, make sure to fill out your preferences (e.g. “prefer single gender”) or write in the Additional Notes any more requirements (e.g. being in a flat with no more than four other people). Don’t forget to apply for ensuite if you need to. Depending on when your offer becomes unconditional or you apply, you might be looking at your third or fourth choice, so don’t be too panicky if you don’t get one you were hoping for. My first three choices were ensuite and I ended up in my fourth choice shared bathroom building. It wasn’t all bad though, I was in a three bedroom, one of which was ensuite so I only shared the bathroom with one other girl. And if you are really struggling, you can always find a way to swap or change accommodation.
- Seize every opportunity that comes your way. I spend way too much time kicking myself for missing out on great things. Don’t let that be you too.
Good luck!! ♥
*Nope Mum, I definitely did not do this. At all.