As I sit here and type this now, I still feel an element of confusion as I open my Internet browser and not be greeted with sixty plus tabs open and the biggest piece of academic work to date waiting for me to complete.
My undergraduate dissertation was my life up until my extended submission date on the 5th July. I submitted sixty-two pages worth of blood, sweat, and tears, and then, within a blink of an eye, my three years as a university student was over.
I felt a mixture of emotions once that concept had sunk into my very tired mind; relief, anxiety, and preparation. What will I do now? What if I fail? What if I pass? What was my next step? Now as an individual with an anxiety disorder, I need to do lists and plans to feel safe and reassured. Therefore, my first port of call on my graduate to list was to find employment.
Whilst I knew this was an important first step to take, I was still met with the question most graduates absolutely dread to hear; “well, what you will do for a job now you’re finished?” Luckily, I had a very sound awareness of what I could apply for and what I couldn’t quite yet. I applied to university wanting to be qualified counsellor, and I left not being one. Although my degree did not grant me the title of becoming a BACP accredited counsellor, it did provide me with a coherent and thorough understanding of all applications of psychology and gave me the thirst to learn more about the broad science.
I finished holding a strong element of love and gratitude for the subject I never dreamt I’d end up getting a degree in. As cliché as it sounds, my course guided and shaped me, it provided me with the right skills and initiative on how to proceed further into my future qualifications and eventual career as a practicing counsellor. With thanks to my lecturers and supervisors, I have finished my undergraduate degree with feelings of excitement and confidence for what may come within the near future or five years down the line.
Upon reflection, five years ago I had collected my A-Level results and was preparing myself to move to university, I was preparing for a taste of higher education, independence, and new experiences. Yet going to university was something I had never dreamt of doing.
I come from a working-class family, whom when they were my age, they worked in the vast choice of factories and construction jobs that were very much alive and well towards the end of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Times were different then, it seemed you did not need a university degree to take you from one job into another, curriculum vitae’s weren’t a necessity. So, when I ran down the stairs jumping and screaming for joy that I had been offered a place at university, they seemed taken aback at my decision, realising that the other twin was soon to fly the nest too. Although unsure, but they were eventually supportive of my choice and encouraged me whole heartedly during my three years as a student.
This memory seems like it happened only yesterday, as so much has happened since then. My time at university enabled me to grow both physically and emotionally as a person. I was pushed to my limits, starting and ending relationships, struggling with my mental health and experiencing close bereavement for the first time in my life during my final year. I honestly thought I would not make it out of university alive, literally.
When I hit a low during the end of my second year, I seriously contemplated carrying on with my studies. I was in a rock and hard place; I loved my course, as physically and emotionally difficult it could be at times, but I became the punching bag, and my mental health was unmercifully swinging at me at full force, pushing me further and further back from my goals.
I had been back and forth to my GP about my anxiety numerous times, but when I was told I was depressed, and given a cocktail of Diazepam, Tramadol and Naproxen, it sent me into a haze of hysteria and a state of rock bottom. It was almost surreal.
I was the one who supported others, I was the counselling student, and here I was attending counselling myself, and ringing Samaritans to feel safe from myself. I had well and truly hit my lowest ever point, and at the time, in all honesty, I felt down right incompetent. My anxiety whispered in my ears and fed me with doubts about my future as a counselling psychologist. “You’re useless”, it’d say, “how can you support others when you can’t even help yourself?”, “you’re unfit to practice”, “they’d be better off if you just disappeared”.
I know now that this experience was more a help than a hinderance to my competency as an aspiring counsellor, yet at that time, I seriously considered what was there left for me at university if I couldn’t even hold the motivation to see another day, never mind how to get out of bed and attend a lecture with a room full of fellow students without having my relentless and repetitive series of panic attacks.
In reflection of those dark clouds that loomed over for me so long, I am proud of myself for all I achieved during my time as a student. Without sounding gladiator like, I feel, and have been told, I defeated all odds to get where I am now. If I did not enrol onto my course, I would not have learnt about psychological conditions, various therapeutic paradigms, or mindfulness, from my god send of a mental health mentor, and would not have the strength I do now to practice it with my own anxiety symptoms.
I achieved things I never thought I could as an individual who has suffered with this condition since childhood. I managed to sit in my lectures, without running out every time to escape my social anxiety. I managed, through shaking hands, to present research to a room full of lecturers and students. I managed to achieve good grades and feedback that will aid me in my future studies and practice. I managed to get through the days where I didn’t think I could or would. Frankly, my university years made me the person I am today, and if I could travel back in time to three years ago, I would give myself the biggest pat on the back for trusting my gut and jumping into that final decision to do what was best for me.
So, to any current or soon to be students, enjoy your time at university, it sure is a ride, but hang onto those bars, keep your head down, have the time of your life and look after your physical and psychological wellbeing the best you can, because this journey is a fast one.
I also encourage everyone to reach out if you need support, guidance, or help; contact your university counselling services, contact services such as Samaritans, Young Minds and Papyrus, contact your lecturers, friends or family; you are not alone on this exciting, but expectedly daunting journey. I wish you all the best, and to any past students, I hope your time at university enabled and enhanced your growth too.
Grace is a 22 year old BSc (Hons) Counselling Psychology graduate living in Leicestershire. Aspiring to qualify as a BACP accredited person-centred counsellor, and eventually undertake a Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology. She wishes to specialise her research and practice with children and young people, placing a focus towards researching the necessary action that is required to improve the CAMHS within the United Kingdom. Grace is also a keen advocate for raising awareness around mental health conditions and reducing their stigma within society.
You can connect with Grace via Twitter