Tag Archives: university

How University Ruined My Relationship with Writing and How I Got It Back

Story time, handsome people.

I graduated with a History degree in the summer last year.

Three years. Three, gruelling, tedious, stressful years.

History is a great subject. I love it dearly. But, sadly, what I don’t love is the University system, forcing a sunshine child like myself to hide amongst the yellowing, withered tomes of a dusty library. I can feel my skin stretching into parchment just thinking about it. Moisturise me, I’m starting to look like Cassandra.

I just wanted to dance and sing and bask in the sunshine, the nature, moss, trees and birds. It was agony to be inside, a recluse tasked with reading volumes of books at such a pace that any and all would gasp for a breath.

Truth be told, I struggle with reading. The educational psych said something about my processing speed. I’m a bit slow you see, and reading is often exhausting and challenging, especially when I have to read anything that I don’t initially have an interest in.

I was constantly reprimanded by my department for going off topic, for flagrantly ignoring the essay question, but honestly? I didn’t care. If I couldn’t do just that at least sometimes, I would have turned to dust (melodrama who?).

My Universities motto was: ‘In Limine Sapientiae’. It means ‘On the threshold of wisdom’. Well, it should have been ‘On the threshold of boredom and beyond‘. Reading was such a chore, an enforced chore. The worst kind of chore.

To add to all the laborious library prison time I was subjected to, I had fallen out with writing altogether.

Writing became, how can I describe? An extremely stressful, unpleasant and limiting exercise, all the things I have since realised it is not. Because support was poor, I was left to fend for myself, trying to gauge the right kind of style, direction and tempo for my essays. My anxiety levels were extremely high. It manifested in obsession with re-drafting minute word choices. With cutting and editing chunks of text. With a chronic sense of dissatisfaction in everything I produced. Writing was wound and bound with my ever increasing levels of depression and anxiety. They were inseparable.

My dissertation was, let me find a metaphor, like stabbing myself repeatedly and hoping to divine, from my own gore, the direction to take. I was suffering with the worst depression I have ever experienced for the entirety of my final year. Bringing pen to paper, even sitting down in this restless, unfocused and painful state was almost impossible. I submitted two weeks after the deadline. My final extension was not even enough to force me to work until the final five days. Something switched. The fear, sufficiently gripping, pushed me into a frenzy. I didn’t see anyone for five days except to leave my room for a bit of food. I was up the entire final night. I handed in my submission, exhausted, miserable and utterly finished with education.

The whole experience of writing at university had so upset me that I didn’t even go to my own graduation. These three years had been tiring and lonely, I had all but withdrawn from daily life. I was, at the same time, furious. How could the education system fail me so extensively? Support was minimal and I had even experienced cruel and callous departmental sanctions for my truancy (actually depression, dissolution and social anxiety). I would have burned that paper certificate, had I not worked so hard against these odds to complete the course.

Still, I struggled to reconcile the practice of writing, the stress of university and the cold overseers in the department, with the idea that I had succeeded. To this day, I still struggle to look at that certificate with anything other than contempt.

After this time, I began to work full time, not in a job I wanted to do, but in something with a routine that paid reasonably well. I started to heal a bit from the experience. I started to go to counselling, started to eat better, started to meditate more, started to be more comfortable around other people. My only real experience with writing had been as a student and within the frame of an essay. I had also written a few articles at university and some personal blog posts on this site during the time, however I had not reached a point where I believed that writing could help do anything other than prove a point. I had not reached the point I am at now, where I believe that writing is better used to heal and to teach.

I think a shift in perspective and being outside the bubble of the institution taught me to re-frame writing. To use it for myself as a way to learn about who I am and what I can do in this life.

I have to add that I do have University to thank for the discipline and development of my relationship with language. If I had not entered into it in this way, I do not know whether I would have gained so many tools to command it. I can communicate what I mean, but I am no longer confined by the restraints of a sluggish system which does not cater to someone like me. It is looking optimistic from here, as I continue to search for what inspires me. Christian Mihai’s blog, The Art of Writing, talks about pursuing your values in your writing and using it to help people. I hope that my experiences and reflections will help myself and others find and keep their passion in writing.

In time, I do not know what shape this blog will take, but hopefully, with a new found passion and enjoyment, a direction and purpose, it can only take even more beautiful forms.

Find your bliss and use writing as your map,

J

#WalkAway – Millennial Voices Series

Why did you #WalkAway?

Walking to clear one’s mind can be therapeutic. Walking away from something or someone who you know is toxic for you is powerful and freeing. For myself walking away was just that. Why did I decide to walk away? Well, it all started during the time I was transitioning from middle school to high school I was smack dab in the middle of the awkward phase. I was one of those low self-esteem scene kids who was trying to fit in by being different.  You know the usual dumb teenager logic. During this time, I was super left wing all the way. Whatever my friends and left-wing media outlets said I agreed without question. I agreed because I didn’t want to ruffle feathers with my friends, I just wanted to belong.

During this time I was raped by someone who I had built a relationship with and thought I could trust. I was devastated, ashamed and I decided to hide it from my family. When I went to my friends about this because I didn’t know what to do and I was scared, they just gave me the typical, ” Oh I’m sorry,” and then they brushed it off and started talking about things like music and media. It made me feel so small and like what I  went through didn’t matter. These people that I was trusting with something that destroyed me yet didn’t even care, were the same people who always talked a big game about how they would be there for anyone who was sexually assaulted.

Shortly after this, I began to show different views from the rest of my friends. Trying to rebuild my relationship with God and still trying to overcome the traumatic experience I went through by developing more conservative views,  didn’t sit well with the group of people I had called friends.  They began excluding me, only a smaller group stayed friends with me and that was because I wasn’t showing all of myself to them. I was still trying to fit in. The same people who used to be my friends were turning into secret enemies, they began talking about me behind my back and spreading horrible rumors about me. By the end of high school, I had only but a hand full of friends and I was ready to be done with it.

College rolled around, and I still had some left-leaning views, and a herd mentality when it came to the 2016 election.  I believed what I was being told by the left media outlets until I was challenged to explain why I believed what I believed and what facts I had to back those beliefs up. This was the real wake up call, it made me stop and think and research for the truth. I finally felt free. This is my #walkaway story.

Katherine T.G.

University – A Psychopathic Institution?

Psychopaths come in many flavours, all of them dangerous, but there’s a common thread that strings them together. Psychopaths create personas to hide behind, they might be the pleasant co-worker who asks you what you did at the weekend, or the cheery neighbour who always says ‘Hi’ with a smile as you’re leaving the house. Psychopaths have no empathy, they don’t feel anything for others, and they work hard to keep it a secret until it’s too late. Psychopaths are punishing, they act with cool rage and crushing retribution, delivered with full force, no remorse, and no warning. Psychopaths are dangerous because you can never tell where you really stand with them, until it’s too late.

Universities, too, are a little bit psychopathic, and here’s why:

Before getting to University, I was sold a face that didn’t match the interior. The open day was a bright and happy affair, bloated with opportunities, glowing reports, shiny presentations, and cheerful students. The reality was nothing like it. Fresher’s week, a thoroughly bizarre experience, left me swept under by feelings of isolation, sadness, and confusion, in the wake of excess intoxication, no sleep, false friendships, and having to deal with the behaviour of students even less well adjusted than myself.

Seminars were awkward, uncomfortable silences, intermitted by an equally uncomfortable lecturer’s cajoling – to no effect. You could sense nobody wanted to be there. Exams came, I’d never felt so wrong. Existing, just, on caffeine, sugar, the promise of a restful summer with no essays or exams, and pure-bliss freedom. The relief came and went in an instant. I sat on my chair at 10 am, after being up for nearly two straight days and laughed. Hysterically. The summer lacked its promise. Where was the rest? Gone with the thought I’d not make it to year two. How did I know I would, when I wrote my 24/48 hour exams not feeling at all like myself? I didn’t trust Mr Hyde, the maniacal, caffeinated creature, to do me justice.

So that was year one. Sunshine and daisies? Hardly.

The flowers only grew on the grave of my stable sense of self, the sun revealed the camber of the newly disturbed earth beneath. And the face of the establishment fell. I knew that University was filled with hollow promises and veneered smiles. It came for the person I was and smashed it to pieces. A sledgehammer of insanity, it walloped me.

Am I the only one to take a bludgeoning? I don’t think so.

And what did it offer me as recompense? There’s the open door team. You can see them a couple of times a term, if you’re lucky. There’s your supervisor, untrained and helpless to help. There’s the groggy, sluggish system, which punishes poor attendance, but prances prissily around the issue of mental health support. I don’t even know where I stand with it. Who makes up the rules and more so, where are they?

So, for me, university feels like something pretending to be what it’s not. It left me to fend for myself psychologically and emotionally, and in confusion, caused by the dissonance between perception and reality. It didn’t care that I wasn’t coping. If it did, there would be the necessary infrastructure to support students in crisis, but the reality is, it doesn’t exist. The rapid pace, lack of support, and brutal examination periods has left me, and many other students battered. I didn’t realise until it was too late, and I’m part of a bigger problem. It’s happening to students everywhere.

UPP student survey for the Guardian found that 87% of first year students struggled with some variation of mental health issue. Of this figure, almost half (44%), reported feeling lonely or isolated. We are facing an epidemic of psychological illness at universities across the country. Universities are not doing enough to support mental health issues, and we need real change here. With an institution that hides behind a cheerful, sun-beam persona, obliquely avoiding the issue of mental health, and smashing students to bits psychologically, university is a lot like an anti-social monolith, and it must work with students to learn how to feel again.

A voice lost, a lesson learned.

Second year of University was the year things really started to slip. Immense, self-imposed pressure, relentless deadlines, and a growing realisation of the disparity between the actual and perceived experience of University life started spitting over the sides of the cook’s neglected pot. I, the cook, had taken a vacation from everything. I just up and left. Dissociation, I think they call it.

The thing about this dissociation, the really horrible thing about it is how it makes you become transparent. Ethereal, half made, half mad, and half dead, I ambled, no, groped about the campus most days with my headphones in. I watched people silently, wistfully hoping that I would be noticed, desperately afraid of the idea as well.

It’s strange when you are surrounded by so many people, but you’ve never felt more alone. Isolation is uglier when you see the opposite everywhere you go. Students laughing and talking together. I felt shame, and anger, and desperation. I felt like a dying tree with screaming roots. Frantically I flexed my feelers through baron earth. Water never came.

Unsettling above all was how I knew I was all of those things, all of those emotions, and yet, I couldn’t feel a thing. I remember attempting to will myself to cry on many occasions. I knew I needed to, but the rain just wouldn’t come. I sometimes imagined myself in tears. I imagined a version of myself who was screaming, projecting imaginary tears, a continuous white water rapid across an ugly creasing vista, but it was only an image. I could not will it into being.

When I came home. When I finally finished University for the second year, I cried for a week. I was a mess. The dam broke, the cork popped, the banks burst, the rain poured, the wave crashed. Out came a half year’s worth of pain in a week. It was miserable, but it brought relief.

My parents were an incredible support during that time. They helped me in ways I cannot explain. My father stayed with me and talked to me when I needed. My mother treated me in her own way, the practical way she knows by checking how my health was and seeing that I was fed. I am incredibly lucky to have a family like this, and I have not appreciated it fully in the past. Reconnecting with them like this has healed me and made us closer. Sometimes it takes a mighty fall to grasp the olive branch that was always there to support you.

After I was well enough, I started to bury my head in books again. I was looking for something and it was as a direct result of coming through the misery I had experienced. Feeling transparent, like a ghost, I had no voice. I had faded completely, become a waif with the power only to observe. I never wanted to feel like that again. It’s like dying without the privilege of blissful ignorance. A privilege (I imagine) the actual dead get to have. Nevertheless, being entombed in silence was revelatory. I knew that I never wanted to lose my voice again, and, in fact, I would spend as long as I needed to make my voice more powerful than it had ever been before.

It has been my journey in the last few months as I recover, to find my voice again. To speak up and thrust myself into the world where it was before so happy to let me exist as the whisper in the wind. We cannot be muted victims of our experiences, we must become criminally loud and make the world hear us when it would rather ignore us. From silent lowlands to cacophonic peaks, I will rally.

And here we are.

Millennials have had a difficult time finding their feet and their voice while the world looks to us in contempt or with indifference, but we have a responsibility to fight back. The litany of structures which impede us are massive. PC culture is pervasive. The left has come to experience the type of crushing silence that nearly destroyed my voice and have retaliated. It attempts to protect victims by censoring and silencing and views itself primarily as a commodity of victimhood.

I can’t allow that to be my destiny. I will take responsibility for my voice, I will push myself to be louder and make myself heard. Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good roman emperors surmised: The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way..

  • I am not at the mercy of anyone but myself.
  • My voice is always my own.
  • I am responsible for the choices I make.

Now that we’ve arrived at this conclusion, get really damn loud about what you have to say. Let the world know you are here and that you mean to stay.

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