My first year of college was pretty terrible. Looking back, I can see that there were good moments as well as the bad, but at the time everything was just a blur of anxiety. I was obsessed with having the stereotypical, wild time that first years are supposed to experience – getting blindly drunk every night, having questionable one night stands, and throwing myself at any interesting opportunity that came my way. And in many ways I did have that experience – but I didn’t enjoy it. Because the only thing that actually makes any of that any fun is having really close friends to laugh about it with, and I felt so disconnected from everyone around me.

I’d taken a year out to travel before going to university, and I loved every second of it. I was so fascinated by all the places I travelled to – the food, the museums, the languages- but above all, I was fascinated by the people. I’d always had really close friends in school, but we’d all known each other from the age of five, so my year out was the first time that I was actively making new friends in a long time. I became friends with people with completely different backgrounds, different views and mindsets from what I was used to. I grew to be so comfortable with myself, and with my ability to love and be interested by every single person I met.

I expected my friendships in university to be just as instant, just as natural – I expected it all to be really easy. It was not. Maybe it was bad luck, maybe it was that my expectations were unreasonably high, but I really struggled. I expected to be best friends with my flatmates, but it was clear from the very first week that this would not be the case. Some of them I did like, but they went home every weekend, and I didn’t get the chance to feel truly close to them until the very end of the year. Some of the others I just didn’t click with, and I even grew to dislike them in a way I’d never disliked anyone before.

My apartment wasn’t a home for me – in fact, it was somewhere that I would often lie in my room alone, starving, too anxious to go into the kitchen. I became obsessed with instagram, scrolling through and feeling like everyone was having a better time than me. I liked my course, but it wasn’t enough for me. I missed my friends from my year out, and my friends from back home, but they had all gone to university the year before me, and were happy and settled. I didn’t want to confide in them how bad I was feeling because it made me feel like a failure.

My family would tell me over and over again that it takes time to settle, and I would tell them that I knew that, but it didn’t help me feel any less miserable in the moment. They were right, though. I am so much happier this year. In fact, up until coronavirus abruptly cut the year short, I was having a wonderful time. What’s really changed (apart from not living in first year accommodation hell anymore) is my mindset. I no longer beat myself up for not having the year I expected, in fact now that I’m less focused on my own misery, I can recognize that it’s pretty common. I am kinder to myself this year, and don’t force myself to go to things when I’m really not in the mood for fear that I’ll miss out on something – anything worth doing or anyone worth meeting, there will be another opportunity. And I’m kinder to the people around me as well. In first year people are so desperate to make friends and feel secure that they can cling to or disregard people too quickly. I know I did, and my anxiety made me have such a hierarchical and warped view of other people. I don’t anymore, and I like myself and others better for it.

To all of the first years who were struggling, and have had their year cut short: I’m so sorry. I know that I was just about starting to feel settled this time last year. But your first year does not dictate your entire college experience. The friendships that you’ve already made might be deeper than you know, and even if they aren’t – it really isn’t true that everyone has found their lifelong friends by the end of first year. Most people will always be open to making new friends. A lot of people who would’ve been just casual acquaintances last year, have become my best friends this year. And some people whose friendship I wasn’t sure about last year, have turned out to be more deep and meaningful for me than I ever would have guessed. I was just too blinded by my own misery to notice that they really did care.

One piece of advice I’d give to you is to get involved with things next year- anything that strikes you as interesting. I’ve thrown myself at so many different societies over the past two years. Some of them didn’t stick, and that’s all right. Some of them did, and the one that did the most for me is NiteLine. I signed up for NiteLine during freshers week of my first year, and it was a safe haven for me. The people you meet through it are so lovely and open, it’s rare to meet a group of people with such goodwill and warmth. It’s a community of people who give their time and energy to help other people, and just being a part of it made me feel worthwhile when I was at my lowest. And taking calls has helped me so much – it’s helped me to realize that everyone has their struggles, and helped me to feel less alone. It has reconnected me with that part of myself that really cares for other people, strangers and loved ones alike. And it has taught me so much about how to look after myself- Niteline has such an emphasis on not only caring for our callers but caring for our volunteers as well.

I’d never really thought about self-care before, I was so focused on other people, but now I feel much more in tune with my own emotions. If you feel that it’s something you might be interested in doing then I would really encourage you to apply, no matter what year you’re in. If not, that’s completely okay, volunteering doesn’t suit everyone. But we are here for everyone, so next year when all of this corona stuff is over, if you feel like you need to talk about anything at all- give us a call.