It’s Freshers’ Week. For most students-to-be, this means a week/fortnight/three years of getting drunk on whatever is cheapest from the shop which sells only cut-price watermelons and a version of Malibu called Caribbean Breeze.
Let me tell you a story. I first started university in 2010. I didn’t know how to choose a university because I’d never had to do it before, so I just chose the first one which wasn’t asking for ridiculously high grades, because I already had waning self-confidence. Unfortunately, the place I chose was also three hours away from home, and I had an eighteen year history of not liking to be away from home, including a patch when I started Secondary school of crying – as part of what I now believe to be panic attacks – almost non-stop for a term. So, really, not much thought had gone into any of it.
So I had a complete meltdown on Mum the week before I was due to leave home. The sort where you cry so hard that the world is fuzzy and nothing makes sense anymore. This was the first warning sign. I didn’t really want to go on the Saturday because I didn’t have a clue what I would do on the Sunday. That was the second clue. The third was putting a conker from the tree in the back garden in my washbag as we left the house, but the least said about that, the better.
I cried in Wagamama and then I felt so wretched that I couldn’t cry when my family left me, sitting on my bed. I spent Saturday night on Skype to Mum and Dad. I remember feeling bereft when I noticed Dad had changed his clothes since the day before. On the Monday morning, the hot-at-the-back-of-my-head feeling that I already knew was a really terrible sign was a permanent fixture.
I started the term and I couldn’t find the motivation to do any work. I counted down the days until I was visiting home for the weekend (13 days after I moved away from home) and then I lost my appetite – or, more precisely, developed a constant sick feeling; literal homesickness. I remember making a list of ‘easy to eat foods’ with my Mum over Skype. I didn’t want to take part in Freshers’ Week because I had never drunk alcohol, so I didn’t leave the flat after 6pm. A lot of the time, I curled up on my bed and waited for my boyfriend, parents or sister to Skype me.
That’s not to say I wasn’t trying: I bought a rose (called Margot), in an attempt to brighten up my room; made sure I was doing something every day and tried really hard to talk to people and make friends. I joined the gym and walked back to my room telling myself – out loud – all the parts of my life that were good.
And then I went home for the weekend.
To say things were better when I got back to uni would be a lie. My body stopped accepting all food apart from jelly and Rich Tea biscuits, and I started eating a biscuit before I got out of bed to stop myself from being violently sick when I got up. I started to shake uncontrollably and my whole body ached. I begged my Mum to come home but we’d agreed that I’d try it until Christmas. She suggested that I went to the doctors, who thought that I might have meningitis.
I didn’t. I went home and cried all the tears that I’d not allowed myself to cry for four weeks. I chose not to go back. For months afterwards, I slept on my front, holding onto my bed, as though I were afraid that I would have to go away again.
Why am I telling you all this? I promised that I wouldn’t make this blog about me. But I could have been anybody. I can’t have been the only student who started at Uni and couldn’t cope, but I felt completely alone. Because it didn’t have to be this way. I ended up living at home whilst I did a degree. It worked. I loved it. Honestly, writing this has made me sob, even though I thought I was OK with it, mainly because I wish so much that I’d included myself in the decision.
But I wanted to share it to say that everybody has a choice. People might believe that you’re making a ‘weak’ choice, but if that is the right choice for you, then take it. I was scared that people would think I were giving up and copping out of leaving home, even though I desperately didn’t want to. Looking back, I should have listened to the warning signs and chosen what would make me happy. It wouldn’t have affected anything or anybody else.
And that applies to everything: get the job that will make you happy; spend time with the people who make you happy; wear the clothes that make you happy; listen to the music that makes you happy; do the things that make you happy.
Your happiness is more important that what anybody in the world thinks of you. And, if they love you, they will be happy that you have chosen the thing to make you happy.
You are infinitely important.