Sophie Ward looks back at some of the misconceptions she had about University before coming to Bristol, and how these affected her mental health while studying.
When I clicked ‘submit’ on my UCAS application, I felt I had just opened the doorway to the promised land. My personal statement was full of the most idealistic, hyperbolic nonsense, including the lines:
‘I have never contemplated why I want to study English at university. Literature has never been a question for me - it has always been an answer.’
As if that wasn’t enough –
‘For me, reading and writing are natural instincts like breathing: I have always done it, and I always will.’
Unfortunately for me and my dignity, those quotes are 100% real and not fabricated. Three years since writing that iconic statement, and as an evidently very PASSIONATE student of English Literature, I will go on to analyse those very lines.
I’m not going to bore you talking about my amazing flow and knack for repetition, but at a very basic level, I think these lines represent real innocence, excitement, and drive. They really show how much I was gagging to get into Bristol University, like it was some kind of Divine Right. It was just meant to be: I embodied English Literature, English Literature embodied me; I was a poet, and I didn’t even know it (I did)!!! I was on a holy pilgrimage and Woodland Road would surely be my Mecca.
As the offers came rolling in, I began to envisage myself at Uni... Student of English Literature: writing poetry in my stripy t-shirt and brogues by day, tearing up the dancefloor by night. Of course, right by my side, my artistic rock star boyfriend would be writing me love letters in the stream of consciousness, and then popping off to play in his indie rock band.
In my defence, I did not have these thoughts because I am completely deluded. ‘Get ready for the best three years of your life’, they said. ‘God, I wish I was back there, sleeping all day, out all night, shagging everyone in sight, being cool and young and free!’ My actual family didn’t say those exact words to me (thankfully), but you get the gist.
In fact, the only thing anyone ever told me about Uni was how much of an AMAZING time I was going to have. Unfortunately, though, moving away from home and being a crazy wild party animal isn’t always as glamorous as it seems, and surprisingly not all of us can be Effy from Skins.
Unfortunately, I was in a dreamland and, after a few weeks at Bristol, it hit me slap bang in the face that my Alexa Chung/Alex Turner fantasy was not going to be my reality. Instead, I found myself sitting silently in seminars about Frankenstein and other texts that I hated so much I couldn’t even endure more than two pages of.
I suddenly felt invisible and unworthy (having been very vocal and confident at school), befuddled at how the people around me could read and understand two complex novels a week and talk about them so eloquently. I had never felt so thick in my life and even Sparknotes couldn’t save me.
I soon began to realise studying English Literature definitely was not an ‘answer’ for me… and it certainly didn’t come as naturally as ‘breathing’. In fact, I have spent my whole Uni career confused how anyone can find what I consider to be boring, dry texts (Milton and Wordsworth can do one) so interesting and insightful.
Whilst other students would rather spend their days in the library reading books, all I could manage in first year was binge-watching Breaking Bad alone in my dingy dorm room while binge-eating Domino’s cookies. The passion I thought I had was no longer there and the studious, intelligent person I thought I was had gone too.
I had a big fat void in my life and I tried to fill it with other things – namely food and alcohol – which really did nothing for me. What’s more, social media made everyone look like they were having the time of their lives (my mum was always surprised when I called her crying as she said I always looked like I was having a ball on Facebook?!). My mental health just spiralled down, down, down.
There were many times throughout first and second year that I was on the brink of dropping out and just fucking off travelling to escape my identity crisis/self-hatred/depression. I never imagined any of these things would affect me in my fantastical illusion of what Uni was going to be.
Nobody had ever prepared me for the difficulties I would inevitably face coming from my sheltered existence in Mill Hill (having gone to school on the same road with the same people from the age of 4-18), to suddenly being in this whirlwind of partying, new people, and unstructured days. However, I am very glad that I didn’t just up sticks.
It was out of my lowest points of disordered eating, mental health issues, and encountering idiotic ‘men’ that I have founded a society, made amazing bonds, and reignited my love for creative writing. I decided I wanted to turn my time at Bristol into the most positive experience I could and so, unashamedly, I sought help for my mental health, surrounded myself with incredible friends, and found like-minded people through the society I set up (Bristol Body Positivity Society). All of these things have really helped me to push through and find my self-worth again, and I can now genuinely say, halfway through Third Year, that I cannot remember being as happy as I am now.
Photo by Facebook/ Isabella Colclough
To completely dispute that Uni has been the best three years of my life would be unfair. I have met some of the kindest, most intelligent, inspiring, hilarious people and shared some of the best times of my life with them (even when not off my tits, funnily enough).
I have also ‘found myself’ more than I ever would have in the hills of Thailand, stroking tranquilised tigers and drinking 80% vodka out of buckets on a gap yaaah. I just wish I had been more prepared for the cold hard realities of Uni life and known that sometimes the best things don’t come easy.
I think it’s time someone gave some home truths about the loneliness, the hangovers, the heartbreak, and the fact that whilst you may indeed have some of the best times of your life, you may also have the worst. Just remember though, that no matter how much of a hard time you are having, you are completely normal and definitely not alone. Most people are struggling the same as you behind closed doors, and you should never be afraid to voice how you feel. Grades don’t define you, image doesn’t define you, and feeling low doesn’t define you.
As I have said so frequently over these past three years, ‘C’EST LA VIE!’ (Maybe I should’ve done French…)
Featured image: Epigram / Leila Mitwally
If you relate to any of the information in this article, don't hesitate to get in touch with Epigram Wellbeing for more information on who you should contact or call the student counselling service on 0117 954 6655.
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