Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Endings

As Julian Barnes tells us, you never get the ending you want. Perhaps because we never want things to end. More probably because we cannot control everything. Things left unsaid that perhaps should have been said, things said that perhaps were better left unsaid. Acts, once done, that cannot be undone and opportunities missed to do things that might have made things different. Not better, perhaps, just different. As I close the door on seven years of university study, I am thinking a fair bit about endings. Not just the end of another degree, but perhaps the end of my academic career. I've been thinking about what, if anything, I wish I had known when I turned up at Warwick nearly 7 years ago. And, thinking about it, I don't actually know if there is all that much. Maybe it was not the ending I expected or thought I wanted, but it's the ending I got and in many ways, that's enough. Nonetheless, I have a few thoughts. Things that I wish I had known as a fresher. Take them with a pinch of salt, the musings of someone searching for things to do.

Find somewhere on campus/in town you like that's quiet

University is a busy mess. There is so much going on. It does not matter whether you’re on a campus university or in a town/city, university can be very full-on. There's always something you could be doing; a book that needs reading or an event that you signed up for in a hungover haze during freshers' week. You'll need a break. Find somewhere quiet that is not your room, somewhere you can sit and think and do whatever it is that you enjoy. Just a breather. Away from everyone and everything else.

When I was at Warwick, I used to sit in the Arts Centre from 7pm onwards on nights there was not a show. I used to walk there from my room, with a notebook that I wrote in and just sit and write for an hour or so. Sometimes I would read. Others, I would just sit. But there was virtually no one there and I could just be with myself, worries, thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears...anything I wanted to think about. I think it helped me. It might help you.

You, no matter what anyone tells you, are not unique

This was something a friend said to me a few years ago. It's been part of an important journey for me. In my university time, I have had 4 relationships end. None of them ended in a way I expected or thought possible, they just did but they shared similarities in that I struggled to cope afterwards. Whether it was not eating, isolating myself or losing my voice, they all took their toll in different ways. However, through it all, one theme kept repeating itself: I felt alone; I felt as if no one understood; I felt as if no one could possibly have a clue what was going on. I felt, to put it bluntly, as if no one had ever had a relationship end before. I obviously knew that was not true. But it was how I felt. So I was stuck, I felt a certain way and no one could help because they could not possibly understand. Clearly, I was wrong. Other people knew. Understood. Could help. Because I was not unique. And when I realised this, I let people in. I found friends who were compassionate and empathetic and loved me and tried to help and, ultimately, succeeded. I was also better at helping, at being a friend and being there.

Your parents may think you are unique. They may even tell you that you are. But there are seven billion-plus people on this planet and the chances of you being 1 in 7 billion are...well, that. This is important though. This means that every time you feel down or low, someone else has felt that way. Every time you feel worthless or lose your voice or wonder how to go on, you're not the first. Other people will succeed just like you, and other people will fail just like you. This realisation will humble you and help you. People have struggled through difficult times before, you can as well. People have done as well, if not better, than you so you should always keep trying hard. You are, in good times and in bad times, not alone. There will be people who can empathise with you at every step. Realising that your achievements are not unique will make you more compassionate. Realising you are not unique will help you make friends. Everyone joins uni nervous, worried about doing the embarrassing thing that labels them for the next three years. Embrace it. Make friends because of it. You're all in the same boat.

I wish I had more appreciation of this when I went to university for the first time 7 years ago. I think it would have helped.

Find two or three meals you can make easily

Eating at university is obviously important. In my first couple of weeks of complete freedom and ownership over what I would eat, I ate, pretty much exclusively, cereal. In the two months after my second breakup, I ate pitta and hummus if I ate at all. In my second and third years at Warwick I ate out three or four times a week before becoming more religious put a stop to that and made my Father's bank balance much happier. Not because I cannot cook (I love it) but because I could not be bothered to think of exciting things to make. Pouring milk over cornflakes was far simpler and more convenient. This was despite the student cookbook the lady who sits next to me at Old Trafford bought me on hearing that I had met my offer. The first proper meal I had at university was made for me by a flatmate who decided cereal was insufficient and kindly made extra chicken for her fajitas.

Cooking at uni need not be a drag or difficult. But it can be. Uni is busy and full-on (see point 1 above) and cooking takes a backseat. The solution is having quick, easy and tasty dishes that you can make fairly easily. A pasta sauce you especially like. A favourite chicken dinner. Those tasty videos that use one pot but instead of having 35 little glass dishes for ingredients just put it all into a pot directly from the original container like a normal person. You need to eat. You need to look after yourself. Make it easier.

Don't be scared of needing a therapist

Therapy was the best thing that ever happened to me. I needed it. In fact, I think everyone needs it. No one is so strong or secure or confident or comfortable that they won't benefit from it. All universities have free services. Use them. Make contact with them. Write them down. Share them with friends. Anyone can be your therapist. Speak about your feelings. Men, especially, men. Too many of us kill ourselves because we grow up in a world that tells us we cannot be sad, that it's unmanly or a woman's domain. We are not too "cool" to have feelings. Being sad does not make you a loser. Being emotional is not something women do. It's a human thing. Embrace your feelings and talk about them. Find friends that listen. You're always allowed to talk about how you feel.

When I lost my voice, I refused therapy initially. My Father persisted, I emailed her, told my Dad she was an idiot and just did not understand. I told him that it was pointless speaking to a therapist because, well, I could not speak. Seemed fair. She got round my inability to speak by asking to WhatsApp me. One of the first things I did was complete a set of forms about how I was feeling. One question sticks in the memory: "On a scale of 1-5 how much do you want to kill yourself?

It sticks in the memory for two reasons. First, how do you possibly quantify such a feeling? The other was my answer: 5.

I got there because I was too proud to speak about how I felt. It's all too real. I got through it because I spoke about how I felt, because I saw a therapist. Too many people do not get through it because they are scared or unable to find someone to talk to. It does not need to be a professional. Anyone can be a therapist. Be enough of a friend to sit and listen when someone reaches out. Be enough of a person to accept you do cannot and do not need to do it all yourself and reach out to people, speak about your feelings. And be attentive to those who may need to reach out but have not found the voice to do so yet.

We're all in this together.

Enjoy yourself

This one is self-explanatory. I enjoyed my university experience so much I did it three times. I'll be doing it a fourth if you count Bar School. Try new things. Sign up for whiskey and chocolate society even though you've never had whiskey before and you're perfectly adept at eating chocolate alone by the box in your room did I mention alone. Go to that talk that looks interesting or stay in if that's more your thing. Whatever you do, make sure it's something fun. Student life is quite unlike anything else. Use it wisely, enjoy it.

If you're off to university in the next few weeks, good luck. Try hard. And, of course, read my blog.

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