Choosing whether or not to go to university was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I always told myself that I didn’t want to go: the idea of moving out, living in halls and attending lectures, as well as the level of study required for a degree, was terrifying to me.
I’m sure most people are daunted by the idea of having to do something new; in fact, my friends and teachers all assured me that I was in the same boat as everyone else facing the same choice. However, knowing that didn’t comfort me at all, because I wasn’t just nervous, I was absolutely terrified.
I have mild general anxiety. New people and new places are really scary for me. Another element of my anxiety is that I am also a huge perfectionist, so I was feeling weighed down by whispering doubts and negativity. It made me just want to shut down and avoid the whole situation altogether.
So, I did what most teenagers who feel lost do: I decided to put it off. As time crept closer to the university application deadline, I just felt sick about having to make this choice.
It wasn’t until I spoke to my mum that I realised I had to be more realistic, instead of just believing that ’I couldn't do it’. Over coffee, we had a long chat about my anxieties and worries, as well as what I would do if I didn't go to university. It was nice to get everything off my chest, but it also made me realise that the only reason I ‘didn't want to go’ to university was because I was scared.
I don’t want to let my anxiety hold me back from amazing opportunities that may come my way. I couldn’t let it make this choice for me, especially when it was a choice that would affect the rest of my life.
After that conversation, I began to properly research different universities and courses and was immediately sold with two. I remember choosing three others just to fill the spaces on my UCAS form, but I had no intention of going to any of them.
My first interview/audition was for ARU. I had asked my drama teacher at the time to help me, and we nitpicked, and I rehearsed over and over again. I had bought my train tickets and planned my journey until I knew the details inside out. My mum had agreed to come with me, and I was set to go.
On the day of my interview, my mum was unwell and I had to go on my own. It really threw me off; I had a panic attack on my way to my interview and I almost considered going home. Once I had calmed down, and messaged my mum, I decided that I owed it to myself to see this through.
From the moment I stepped into the university, I kind of already knew that it was where I wanted to go. I stopped feeling nervous; there was just such a bright, welcoming vibe and I had a gut feeling that it was where I was supposed to be, as cheesy as it sounds.
The universe probably agreed with me because my audition and interview went down really well, and my interviewers were actually impressed that I had come on my own! I couldn’t stop smiling afterwards. A few weeks later, I had received an unconditional offer to ARU.
Deciding to accept that offer was only half of the battle, though. My first year was filled with anxious moments, and even now, halfway through my degree, I still often have moments of major anxiety or days when I feel like my mental health is fragile. There have been (and still are sometimes) days where I can’t stomach the thought of leaving my room or seeing other people. Clubbing and parties are a huge ‘no’, unless I have enough time to mentally prepare. Panic attacks, while less frequent, are still severe and can leave me feeling affected for days afterwards.
However, I’ve grown and come to learn that there are always people around me both at university and home who are here to support me. Whenever I’m lonely, or in the midst of an anxious break, I have university staff, friends and family, who are beyond understanding and patient, that I can turn to for support.
I’ve also learned how to channel my emotions into my writing, where I can make myself feel better, and hopefully help others who may be in a similar position to realise that they aren’t alone in this struggle. Having an orderly clean space and a daily routine has also helped me to self-manage my anxiety a lot better.
Being a student at university and battling with mental health is possible. And it’s okay.
The mind is a very powerful thing, which is why you must look after it. If you are struggling in any way, please reach out. If you have friends or family members who have gone quiet, or you haven’t spoken to in a while, reach out to them. Sometimes it’s a weight lifted from the heart to know that someone is thinking about you.