People say that university is where you find yourself, where you finally say goodbye to your inner child and begin building the adult within you. But it’s not...
I feel like I haven’t changed other than learning more about the people in this world. I’ve learnt the red flags for people to avoid, the ones to be wary of, the ones to not judge by first impressions and the ones who truly care. But when you’re me, you’re always aware of people, of watchful eyes and the judgemental world we live in. After all, social anxiety was all about the social aspect. The part you could never hide from forever. It was impossible. Inescapable.
It would be hard to find people like me, people who liked me for me, all my strangeness and unique qualities intact and not hidden somewhere in a box or stuffed at the back of my wardrobe. Finding a group of people that I could belong to. It was hard leaving behind the already established friendships, the people that had managed to make me feel normal and whole. As I stepped into the unknown once more, I was scared that I would never find that security again. Because people had always found me, I rarely ever went in search of them.
I was surrounded by blank faces, trying not to be judgemental but still scrutinising others, doing exactly what I feared they would do to me. Would my hobbies discourage them? Would I live in isolation if they refused my quiet offer of friendship?
We started with small talk, a series of questions many of us freshers would repeat in the coming week in attempt to make as many connections as we could. The same night came the party, the loud and overloading party which forced me to drink pre-emptively to kill off the nerves, despite being on medication which was supposed to do that anyway. I was putting abnormal amounts of effort into wearing something normal and trendy, straightening the natural kinks in my hair and smiling even though my inner self was already prepared to hide in their cave forever. I only felt comfortable when there was little trace of the real me left in my appearance.
When people showed up, I forced myself to be brave, this would be the way to find friends, people I could spend the rest of my university years laughing and drinking with. This was how I would find the group I belonged to. Yet as more and more people filled the room, I had to escape to the hallway, drinking more and more of the liquid confidence and steadying my breathing quietly to myself. Everyone was lost in the moment, the music, the chatter, the alcohol in everyone’s breath, the sticky floor beneath my feet. I could feel myself drowning as my body trembled. Too much. It was too much.
I remember little of the night, not from drinking too much, but rather from forgetting. The medication did it’s job all night, sobering me up too quickly, letting anxious thoughts run rampant in the club, paralysing me with the fear of being left alone in a nightclub I didn’t recognise, surrounded by drunk strangers and anxiety racing from the harsh volume of the music. When we finally made our way home, I was relieved. I had survived the night.
Yet I forgot that the high of drinking made my low sink deeper, when I returned to my room that night I sunk inwards into that cave as anxiety welcomed depression. I thought about the days to come, the year ahead of me. I knew I wasn’t the type of person to enjoy loud nightclubs and large social gatherings, but if everybody went there to make friends, who was left behind but me? I already felt so isolated and helpless. I was already exhausted.
I was lucky that I was stubborn because my refusal to give up so quickly allowed me to wear down a little of those fears and anxious thoughts. I had to leave early a couple of times when situations grew out of control and my body and mind couldn’t handle it no-more, but what settled some of those nerves was that people looked for me. They understood and hadn’t left me out, but instead asked if I was okay, supported my effort for trying and understood when I had to leave early. Moments like that made me realise I wasn’t alone, because these people cared enough to look out for me, even if I didn’t think we were that close as friends. I can never forget those moments.
As the year continued, I still didn’t find a group where I fit, like a forgotten piece of a puzzle I struggled to fit anywhere, all I could see were completed images. To try fit with them would be hopeless, I already knew what it felt like to be the odd one out in a group of friends, I didn’t need to feel that again. Instead I stuck to the people that had noticed me, the real me. I had never been the type to have crowds of close friends and was glad I had managed to find one or two. Other than them, I sat with my own company and occasionally the online voice of a friend from home.
Despite everything, going to university wasn’t half as scary as I had imagined it to be and the fears of the A level student in me were quickly removed as the days passed. I was glad I hadn’t let my worries get the best of me, because despite the low days, university was an experience, just mine was a little different to everyone else’s. And that was okay, because I was finally getting comfortable being myself. Maybe that was my way of growing up, by accepting who I was.
2nd Year BA (Hons) Creative Writing Student at York St John University
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