By Lauren Chancellor
As the term draws to an end many might blissfully think back to their more frivolous uni escapades, otherwise known as Freshers Week. Though, whilst some already count down to their next chance at socially acceptable binge drinking, the Freshers period can be a mine field for those suffering with mental health issues.
Lauren Chancellor bravely and intimately breaks down her troublesome battle with anxiety disorder, giving a rare insight into how Freshers might be not so fresh.
I’m a full time student, diagnosed with GAD, Social Phobia and Panic Dissorder of 4 years.
Freshers week is advertised to students as one of the best week at university. Filled with the promise of meeting new people, drinking games and of course a dreaded hangover. But what happens when you’re riddled with anxiety, to the point where leaving your room simply isn’t an option?
I fell at the first hurdle – meeting new people. The first day I arrived at my university campus I was greeted with open arms by my fellow housemates, only for me to lock myself in my room. I cried for what felt like days. The thought of putting myself out there for everyone to formulate opinions on simply horrified me. I was so scared of being judged by my peers it felt easier to just avoid them.
All the time, I’m sat there thinking, ‘the longer I stay in here, the harder it’s going to be when I leave’ and ‘I look so rude for not interacting with the people in my flat, what if they hate me? What if they think I’m being rude? Am I going to have to explain to them that I suffer with anxiety? If I do that will they think I’m weird? The cycle continues… Most of my days were spent longing to be back home with my friends and family. I wanted to be around people who I knew, who I could relate to and who I felt safe around; staring at the same 4 walls didn’t help.
Isolated, I began to to over-think everything. The few people that I had met, I’d created a thousand situations in my head in which I’d already messed up the ‘friendship’, or they were only talking to me because they had nobody else to hang out with, which put even more strain on my already difficult situation.
Anxiety around meeting new people is something that I tried so hard to make unnoticeable, to which I think I succeeded – nobody came out and asked me directly, ‘do you have anxiety?’.
Then came the evenings, I was expected to ‘dance my sorrows away’. Not the case. Instead, I opted for standing on the side lines, holding peoples drink making awkward dad dance moves. Not my finest hour. I had so many people encouraging me on to join in on the drinking games, hoping that it would bring me out of my shell a little. however unlike in the case of a ‘non-mentally-ill-person’ alcohol doesn’t bring out my confidence, it makes me even more aware of my own anxiety. The sweats and shakes increase, the sickness would become definite and my nervous stutter would get a show of it’s own. This is something I didn’t want to explain to my peers, resulting in me looking like a miserable bitch.
I had never felt more alone with my anxiety. I was surrounded by people having a great time. People were dancing, singing, sharing stories and drinking together – things I knew I was capable of doing, but my anxiety wouldn’t let me. It felt like being strapped to a chair whilst looking at an open door.
Freshers is presented in a light that offers opportunity and an exclusive chance to get yourself on the ladder to successful friendships. It provides chances to get involved with societies and other groups around universities. However, they don’t show you what happens to those students who get left behind.
At every university, there are undoubtable students whose anxiety is just too much to deal with the social pressure and expectations of Freshers week. And we’re still to see a change in the way the first weeks at university is dealt with. Nobody is saying there needs to me an ‘anxiety society’, or an introverts corner, but universities all over the country need to put more effort into the students who simply get left behind.
For any students who feel they have symptoms of anxiety I would recommend speaking to your GP about your options. Also, keeping your university up to date is key to making progression with your anxiety. Faculty cannot help you if you don’t reach out. Anxiety isn’t something you should be ashamed of, it’s a natural reaction to fear. It’s the way you process these feelings that create a certain outcome. There are many different ways you can treat your anxiety. Medication and different types of therapy (usually CBT) are the two main ways for treating anxiety, but there are also free workbooks available online.
Helpful links http://www.nopanic.org.uk/