This is a space for students to read some of our content, written and edited by our own student volunteers. Each entry is related to the student experience, documenting the struggles our own volunteers have faced as students, as well as their successes and even some tips for getting through student life when it all feels a bit tough. We hope that this will be a positive resource for you, and that you will be able to find some value in our anecdotes.
Entry 5: Letting Go of the ‘Perfect’ College Experience – Anonymous Volunteer
I remember my first freshers week really vividly – I felt a strong mixture of emotions, from anxiety to hope. I think the strongest feeling I felt was the sense of possibility, that my life would finally begin in college – I envisioned myself living the ‘perfect’ student life. In my mind, this included a wardrobe of trendy clothes, an instant friend group full of cool and intellectual people from all around the world, endless parties and social events, and even more endless romantic opportunities – I saw visions of myself having accidental meet-cutes with mysterious strangers in lectures or in the library, having a different date every week, and finding the love of my life. Needless to say, this was not the college experience I had in first year.
I remember feeling bitterly disappointed in myself come Christmas of first year. Not only had I not attended a single college party, I was also too awkward and nervous to approach people on my course – it seemed to me that they had all already found their own friend groups, and that I would be considered an unwelcome intruder if I tried to break in. So here I was, the same old me, but in a different environment. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself – the transition from school to college can be really intense, and I had given myself all of a couple of weeks to completely change myself into this new, cooler person. It’s really no wonder that I was so frustrated with myself, for not being this ‘perfect’ student.
The anxiety I felt about myself really snowballed throughout the year, and led to a lot of insecurity and self-dislike. I would feel intensely embarrassed attending lectures alone, and thought that everyone was looking at me, this friendless nobody. Of course this wasn’t the case, but I couldn’t see the wood from the trees. This perceived judgement from other people really added to my sense of insecurity and loneliness – I just really felt like I didn’t belong in college. It seemed that everywhere I looked, people were having the ideal college experience – I would see groups of people laughing at the Pav, couples holding hands in lectures, and people in my course attending balls and parties throughout the year. The sense of isolation I felt was really upsetting at times. I think the crux of this feeling was one Friday night, around 9:30pm, when I was walking through front square after a couple of hours in the library working on a lab project. I remember just thinking to myself, why am I not out enjoying my life, partying with friends, like everybody else does on a Friday night? Why am I not having the normal experience that seems to come so easily to everybody else? What’s wrong with me?
Things got better for me throughout second year. I started a part time job, which gave me a bit more confidence making friends and interacting with people. Soon, I started chatting to people on my course about assignments and projects, and slowly I began to forge meaningful friendships with these people. That’s not to say that this year was totally smooth-sailing – I still suffered with bouts of anxiety, and sometimes severe feelings of sadness and loneliness, but on the whole, things got better. I started to go easier on myself, and began to accept my experience of college life. It was in the Summer following second year that I signed up to volunteer with NiteLine.
Throughout my third year in college, my experience improved drastically. I cemented my friendships with course friends, and through volunteering with NiteLine, made a lot of new friends. I think the act of putting myself out there, doing something that I really wanted to do – volunteering – gave me a lot of confidence in myself. My personality began to flourish, and I became a lot better at small talk and getting to know people. This carried on into fourth year, where I was finally enjoying my college experience. The main change that I saw in myself, was that I was no longer holding myself to this impossible standard – the perfect student, with the perfect social life – and I was just living my life, day to day, as best as I could. I was seeing friends for coffee, attending lectures (sometimes with friends, sometimes alone – ironically, the more comfortable I became in myself, the more I enjoyed going places by myself!), going to social events, and doing things that felt good to me – reading in the park, seeing films in the cinema, and volunteering. My student life finally felt good, and although I still sometimes felt the old pangs of anxiety and self-doubt, I can say that I finally felt happy.
If I look back at the person I was in first year, I can barely recognise her. And although I feel a lot of empathy for myself in those dark first years of college, and wish that I could go back and change things, I know that those years shaped me into who I am today. If I could go back now and have a conversation with myself, there are a few things I would say. Firstly, It’s OK to not feel OK, and there are a lot of supports around you that can help you to start to feel better. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ student experience – everyone around you has their own struggles and problems, and everyone is adjusting to this new way of life – so stop comparing yourself to everyone around you. Finally, be gentle with yourself when you’re not feeling your best, but also try to challenge yourself – sign up for a few societies, and go to a couple of events – if you don’t like them, you don’t have to go back. Put yourself out there – go to that party alone if you can, and be proud of yourself afterwards – this is a really big accomplishment when you’re feeling anxious. Most of all, I would tell her that she is valuable, even if she doesn’t have a lot of friends, and that things will get better in time.
If you are interested in volunteering for NiteLine, please check our ‘Volunteer With Us’ page by clicking here.
Entry 4: How Changing My Course Was the Right Option for Me – Anonymous Volunteer
Sometimes I worry that I’m a quitter. When I was 16, I went to the Gaeltacht for the first time. It was just 3 weeks long, I spoke decent Irish, and I went with friends. Somehow, my friends all took to it, and I just didn’t. It wasn’t so much that I was home-sick, I’d been away from home plenty before, but I just really strongly didn’t want to be there. And when my parents came to visit at the weekend, I went home with them. I quit.
I got my first choice in the CAO. I’d surprised myself with the number of points I got, and I actually managed to get a small scholarship from the college. I joined so many clubs and societies. I got on really well with my roommates. I joined NiteLine, and met a really cool bunch of people. And then, one weekend in February, I stayed up in college over the weekend instead of going home. Campus is a wasteland on weekends. Everyone goes home. There was not a single person I could ask to go for a coffee with me. And, I started to think, even if it was mid-week and everyone was on campus, who would I ask for coffee? Yeah, I had people I ate lunch with, and people I chatted to in class, but how many real friends had I made? None of the people I was hanging out with felt like my people. There was nothing wrong with them, but I just didn’t feel like myself around them. I felt awkward. I held myself back. I’d always had a solid group of friends at home, at school and at summer camp, except for that one summer I tried the Gaeltacht. But if I hadn’t made friends in six months at college, that must say something about me, I thought.
From there on, I sorta spiralled. This was further complicated by the fact that my course was not what I’d thought it would be. I loved the things I thought I’d hate, and hated the things I thought I’d love. So, I guess, I wasn’t what I thought I would be. I’d spent the first month or so going to every class under the sun, because I was so indecisive. And after all of my research into courses, and hard work for the Leaving Cert, and time spent trying out different classes at the start of the year, it seemed that I’d chosen wrong. I didn’t like my course. And I didn’t have friends. Again, I wasn’t so much home-sick, as I just didn’t want to be there. I went to talk to a lecturer about the fact that I hated one of my subjects, and unexpectedly loved another one. But I wouldn’t be able to study the one I loved after first year, with the way my course was structured. We chatted and I mentioned that there was another course in a different college, that seemed to perfectly combine the subjects I’d discovered I loved. Surprisingly, he agreed that I’d probably be happier there. In fact, his daughter was studying that course.
I reapplied to the CAO, and spent months agonising over whether or not to accept the offer for the other course. It would cost so much money. I would have to publicly admit and explain my failure in my original course. And what if I dropped out of the other course in the end too? Maybe this should be an inspiring story about how I toughed it out and made it work. It’s not. I quit. I dropped out and I started again. I left it until the day of the deadline, and I actually accepted the offer while I was in the NiteLine office.
When I came to college the second time, I was nervous. I was worried that it would just be the same as the last time. But I was also determined. I knew that I had chosen the subjects I loved, and I knew that I would not quit this time, no matter what. I started conversations with strangers before lectures, knowing that they were just as lonely and anxious as I had been in my first week. When I got a good vibe off someone, I invited them for lunch. If I asked, the worst they could say was no. If I didn’t ask, we might both end up eating our lunches on our own. I’m in my final year now. I made friends. I love my course. I studied abroad. I learned my strengths, as well as my weaknesses. I don’t really know what the moral of my story is yet. Even though things turned out so well for me, sometimes I still worry that dropping out means I’m a quitter. Maybe the moral is that quitting takes guts too? Probably, it’s that if you get good vibes from someone, don’t be too shy to ask them for lunch.
Entry 3: Expectations of College Life a First Year Vs. Reality – Anonymous Volunteer
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.
Entry 2: College Burnout and Mental Health – Anonymous Volunteer
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.
Entry 1: An Unexpected and Abrupt Goodbye to College – Charlotte, TCD Public Face
My first memory of hearing anything about Covid-19 was in January. I was sitting with my work friends, just before the start of my final semester ever at Trinity, and somebody told me that China had just built a hospital in 6 days. “6 days! Wow fair play to them, imagine if our health system was that efficient”, was all I really thought at the time. I went back to college, dove straight into dissertation mode, went to friends’ birthday parties, had lunch at the Buttery (far too often), had many late nights in the 24 hour library, and went to the pub – college life went on as normal.
Then, suddenly, the day I submitted my dissertation, college officially closed and the ball I was supposed to go to and celebrate at that night was cancelled – quite an anticlimactic feeling after handing in my dissertation! Within a few days we were asked to leave campus accommodation, so I booked my flight, said goodbye to my friends, my boyfriend, and to college. It hadn’t really sunk in that that was my last ever time in my room on campus or in Trinity as a student and, to be honest, it only really hit me today.
I would like to preface this by acknowledging how lucky I am. Firstly, I am young and healthy, I don’t have the virus and I don’t know anyone who has, and I haven’t lost any friends or family. Despite losing my job, and the fact that my parents are losing a lot of work, we have a warm flat and food in the cupboards, and we get along so well – I know that a lot of people are not this lucky. Furthermore, I’m not being asked to go fight in a war, we’re not being threatened with bombs, we’re being asked to stay home. So yes, things could of course be far, far worse!
Despite that, it is a bizarre time. There are so many uncertainties, fake news, rumors and change – all of which inevitably causes some anxiety. Money is probably the biggest source of this for me, as well as for so many other people who have lost their jobs, businesses and are dreading the global recession that is about to hit. But something else that has been playing on my mind is the abrupt end to my final year of college. For the last week since I’ve been home I have been in a mostly positive mindset. Having fun with my parents, playing virtual games of ‘Psych’ every night with my friends from college (play it now, it’s so fun) and trying to remain as positive
Firstly, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, but also because I kept reminding myself that this is shit for everyone – everyone has lost jobs, are missing loved ones and are feeling pretty nervous for the future, so it’s not just me. But today, for the first time since this started, I did feel shit. I did have a proper cry and spent 10 minutes feeling very sorry for myself. No more campus accommodation and living dead center in town, no Trinity Ball, no Psych ball, no evenings in the Pav as the days get warmer, no more library breaks with my friends, no more fun night outs with other Niteline Volunteers, no more soup at the Buttery, no more lectures with my course friends, no more being a student. I had been absolutely dreading finishing college this year, and suddenly it just finished with no real chance to say goodbye or make the most of the last few months.
What I want to get across is the importance of letting yourself acknowledge the disappointments, the inconvenience, the loneliness, the confusion and worry because those feelings and concerns are real. It’s important to let yourself feel them and not just ignore them and or push those thoughts down, because it’s going to be a long few weeks and those frustrations might come out in other ways. You’re allowed to not feel okay. It’s normal. It’s human. The more you allow yourself to accept it, the quicker and easier it is. As I said, I didn’t feel great this afternoon so I had a cry and chat with my dad, and then went for a lovely walk in the park, and immediately felt better and was able to let go of those feelings, just a little bit. Having said that, try not to dwell on the negatives. It is shit, but there are many good things that we are seeing in communities, with people trying to help each other and the benefits for the environment to name a few. At the end of the day, all most of us are being asked to do is sit at home and watch TV so yes, it could be worse.
Getting back to college, I’m lucky that all I have to do are three essays, before I finish my degree. I am not very good at studying at home and I am missing the library (never thought I would say that), but I have a checklist of what I need to do and by when, and I have a spot in my kitchen that I can work at and have told my parents I need to do work so they are aware and can hopefully help to motivate me. All in all, this is quite scary and not in any way what I thought 2020 was going to be like and it is okay to not feel great. Just because others have it worse, doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel down. But if you have your health, food, a roof over your head and a way of communicating with friends and family then you are doing better than many, and try to remember that this will all be over soon enough.
P.S I have absolutely loved being the TCD Public Face for Niteline and if you ever have questions about the service or about volunteering please get in touch with me.
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.