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Socialising at University

My parents born and raised in Africa, but moved to the UK before my siblings and I were born. Unfortunately, living in Africa heavily impacted their education. My mother’s father could not afford to fund my mother’s education and she was pressured to master dressmaking. My dad studied Medicine. However, despite his efforts, he was unable to practise as a doctor in the UK. Due to their disadvantages, my parents were forced to learn about the value of education the hard way. Therefore, my parents were adamant supporters of my education. 


This, of course, has positively impacted my siblings and I. I have always had a strong work ethic and focused on my education. However, in some respects, this over importance on education had negative effects on me. 


For instance, during my childhood and adolescence, I equated grades to success and self-worth. I neglected a lot of vital aspects of life. Self-care? That was for the weak! When you have thirty hours a day of work and twenty-four hours a day, you must keep on going. My diet was largely made up of microwave meals and saturated fats; the most exercise I got was occasionally running for the bus. I did well academically, but I was not particularly healthy. 


The one thing that I regret the most was neglecting my social life. At seventeen, I talked to most people in my classes, but this was mostly out of politeness. With my close friends, I would get on the bus with them or talk to them during the breaks in between class. However, I kept all interactions to the minimum because I had work to do. Some poor souls would try and get me out of my shell and talk to me whilst I was in the library or invite me out for lunch. However, I wasn’t having it! I would focus on my revision and occasionally throw a response, most likely work-related. During summers, I saw my friends but I was desperate to fill my CV with work experience. Therefore, I had very little time to interact with people. 


However, when I started university, I was given a completely fresh start. The fear of ending up lonely made me especially keen to form new friendships. I wore confidence as if it were armor for the first couple of weeks. I pushed myself further outside of my comfort zone and talked to people. I asked questions and found out about people’s past lives and hobbies. I put a lot of effort into getting to know the people I lived with at halls. 


A couple of weeks in, I had secured some friendships and I was ready to retreat into myself again as I did in college. I wanted to live in my books – not in real life. 


However, my friends would not let me disappear on them. They wanted to spend time with me and get to know me. Therefore, I spent most of term one I socialising. 


In hindsight, I do not regret this at all! Getting to know my friends better has positively shaped my University experience so far.  My hallmates and I bonded through traveling around the Midlands, watching movies, having pizza parties, and playing board games. I spent hours a day in my kitchen talking and getting to know my flatmates and ages in the psychology common room with my course mates taking advantage of the free coffee. I realised just then, how much I was missing before starting University. I loved people! I loved finding out about the lives the people lead and their interests and hobbies.


Unfortunately, by the end of the first year, my mental health was deteriorating. I had social anxiety and was developing an eating disorder. I started to struggle with the whole food aspect of socialising. You cannot get away from food – people want to go out for meals. If you go to the cinema,  people take snacks. University life is so focused on food and it was making me anxious and overwhelmed. 


I spent more time in bed, frantically thinking of excuses to avoid people, or rather more, food. Stewing in solitude just made things worse. When I interacted with people, they started to ask a lot of questions. Why did I only eat in my room? How was I losing weight? Why didn’t I socialise as much? I could tell that many of my friends were unconvinced by my excuses, but the truth seemed less believable. How could I, the most confident seeming person, struggle with social anxiety and an eating disorder? I was worried that I would lose my friends; that they would get fed up with my pathetic excuses or no-shows. 


However, my friends were understanding. My friends that I was struggling, they respected my boundaries. Despite not knowing what was going on, most of my friends supported me. 


I had never really opened myself to the fact that friends could carry you through the tough times. At college, I thought that the only thing that mattered was grades, and I have now realised that forming meaningful relationships is very important. out getting good grades.

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