College can be tough. I think that a lot of people feel that ‘goes without saying’, but I feel it’s important to recognise that out loud every now and then. College can be tough, it can be stressful, upsetting, and a harsh environment to be in day-to-day. Often, the people around you don’t understand fully the impact third level education can have on your health, mentally and physically. Family, friends, co-workers. We all have our own issues in the lives we live, but it can be hard sometimes explaining to people outside of college how a degree or course you chose to do is not what you expected, or is impacting you negatively every day, for example. College isn’t always an educational utopia, there’s certain realities and personal experiences that we face that hold us back and hamper us in our own way.
I think the first time I realised the full extent of how college can affect your mental health must have been towards the end of first year. After a hectic year with new people, experiences, and things whizzing by me all the time – it finally hit me. Fatigue. I found myself looking down the barrel of exam season and worrying about how I would compare to everybody else. I wasn’t from the same background as most of my class, I didn’t have family who went to Trinity, I had no knowledge or experience of any further education like this until now. I found myself drowning in doubt. Am I going to be good enough, will I be up to scratch, what happens if I’m not? All these worries flying about after months of hard work wears you down to the bone and starts to take its toll. The reality of the work your mind puts in to doing well, or wanting to do well, becomes clear in these situations. Fatigue can hit like a sledgehammer, and you could burn out at the worst time possible. That’s what happened to me, my confidence dropped, my concentration evaporated, and it looked like college just wasn’t for me anymore. It was sudden, and a little unbelievable to me, how this happened.
Thankfully I got through exams, scrapped by, and then took some time in the summer to figure out why I burnt out, how all the doubts and worries crept in. I took a look at what I did day-to-day and how I looked after myself when things were going well, and when they weren’t going so well. I was very fortunate to have an active tutor who was more than happy to help me, and put me in touch with services like college counselling. Thanks to counselling, and support from friends, I was able to help myself, and put together a better, more positive lifestyle – which has paid off hugely. And although I didn’t make use of NiteLine at the time, a friend of mine (and past volunteer) introduced me them soon after. I joined as quickly as I could and haven’t looked back since. Being able to connect with so many students across so many colleges has given me great confidence in myself and the community around colleges.
I’ve found myself coping okay with the current ‘isolation’ situation we have going on. I’ve been very much aware of how my mental health is doing and have been trying my best to keep on top of it, so that I can do any work I need to. I think it’s important to try to structure your day as clearly as you can, know when any of your work is due – set yourself personal deadlines. Try your best to set aside time to get outside in an appropriate manner (keeping physical distancing in mind). Organise a phone call or video chat with friends at the end of each day to check in with each other. Make sure you’re still eating your meals at the times you usually would. These are just some things that I’ve put in place for myself, you should try them out or talk to friends about how they’ve been dealing with the situation! Obviously, your health comes first with all of this and you need to be able to know when to take a break, when to sit back and take time for yourself.
It’s important to recognise that college can be tough. It’s not easy for everybody, we all come from different backgrounds and we all have different expectations of ourselves and of education. Being a volunteer has made me realise how common some of these difficulties are, and how important it is that we recognise them aloud and address them aloud. We all face problems (big and small), and having a service like NiteLine there to help you in facing them is invaluable. Not only for our callers, but volunteers too. It’s a privilege to hear those problems and to inadvertently get some sorta mutual reassurance that; hey, you aren’t alone in how you feel. Nobody is ever alone in how they feel.
If you are interested in volunteering for NiteLine, please sign up to our recruitment mailing list so that we can contact you when applications reopen in the summer.