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My Life Fell Apart at University, But It Taught Me How To Keep On Going

When I first started my degree in journalism, I had big plans. My heart was set on doing everything I could to get a first and become the next Carrie Bradshaw: spending my days in front of my laptop writing stories, and drinking copious amounts of coffee to get me through. When I thought about student life I envisioned weeknight drinking in fancy dress, meeting loads of new people, studying hard and, of course, leaving three years later as a graduate. That was five years ago now.

University didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.

I moved to the Welsh capital and made incredible friends, yes, but what were supposed to be the best years of my life turned out to be a series of hurdles, knockbacks and tests of mental strength I hadn’t ever imagined. Beyond just my course, what university really taught me was that life doesn’t always go to plan; things can always go wrong but all you can really try to work on is your reaction to that. To me, the most important thing I’ve graduated with is the self-belief that I can persevere through even the worst times.

I didn’t even get 24 hours of “the student dream” before my first knock. The day I moved into halls, my mother had a stroke at the age of 44. I had to see the lady who taught me everything in life now unable to wash, speak or walk. It was soul destroying. I saw my mum go from someone who loved to work, to someone who couldn’t do anything for herself. Meanwhile, I was supposed to be downing jagerbombs at the bar with my new friends and studying to become a teller of stories. All I wanted to do was give up and run all the way home to rural South West Wales.

“What were supposed to be the best years of my life turned out to be a series of hurdles, knockbacks and tests of mental strength I hadn’t ever imagined.”

I’d never been one for excuses and, having excelled across the board at school, I’d never really failed at anything. But at that time I couldn’t keep myself together – mentally or emotionally – and I saw that as a failure. I found myself unable to go out on my own, unable to answer the phone to people and my motivation and determination were at an all-time low. To make matters worse, I failed my first year. With that news came the inevitable idea of giving up my journalism goals altogether; I nearly gave up on myself.

For a while I somehow managed to persevere and went back to Cardiff to re-do my first year.

photo provided

photo provided

It took a long time to slowly rebuild the confidence I’d lost, but I passed. Finally, it looked like things were starting to look up. Then, during my second year of study but my third year in Cardiff, the second knock came. My stepfather walked out on us; he had brought me up for eighteen years and had only ever looked at me as his own, but he seemingly left without any care for the consequences of doing so. The consequences were that, with my mum still slowly trying to rebuild her life and unable to work, and the lack of financial support from my stepfather, we lost our home. In the space of two years my mum had lost her everyday capabilities, her husband, and now the home that she’d built. Our once close-knit family setup was now nonexistent and that impacted me greatly.

Admitting you’re depressed is even harder than you think.

For me, I didn’t want to paint myself with the same brush as my mentally unstable biological father – who committed suicide when I was 11. I’d always been scared I would turn out like him and I really wanted to just be able to cope, to be strong and not sad. But after three turbulent years as a student I was a shell of the confident, stable and capable person I’d previously been.

My main worry at the time was: how could I tell a bunch of professional journalists who lectured me that I couldn’t hand in my assignment, because I couldn’t find the motivation to eat or wash, let alone leave the house? How would I ever become a decent journalist if I couldn’t even leave my bedroom to make myself a cup of tea? I felt alone in my thoughts and stuck.

I went from the girl that had never failed, to the girl with the excuses. I felt like a joke. I felt like people thought I had bitten off more than I could chew and that I was further away from my dream career than ever. I thought of myself as this massive failure and I assumed it looked, to everyone else, that I didn’t care about my future.

“Sometimes life doesn’t always pan out the way you expect it to, but at the end of the day, with perseverance, you get there in the end.”

But I was wrong: I had not failed. Admitting you need help is courageous; it shows how strong you are – especially in a society where being sad is stigmatised or just brushed under the carpet. When I was younger and tried to talk about my Dad people would pity me, avoid speaking about it again or ignore the fact he even existed in the first place. But I’ve learnt that ignoring you need someone to talk to is a dangerous thing. There is no shame in speaking out – maybe my Dad would still be here if he did just that. I learnt the importance of taking the support that is available to you when things are getting too much – whether that’s from university student services, family or friends – it’s ok to need it.

I also realised, and hope I can show other people, that sometimes life doesn’t always pan out the way you expect it to, but at the end of the day, with perseverance, you get there in the end. I was starting to think it wasn’t possible, but after five years, I finally graduated. Inevitably not with the first class honours I’d hoped for, but I still got there somehow.

photo provided

photo provided

Graduating was the best feeling in the world.

I didn’t get my perfect degree grade, or have the ideal university experience – but life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect and things aren’t always going to work out perfectly. I didn’t get what I expected out of my time at university, but what I did get was the knowledge that I’m strong enough to make it through almost anything.

One of my university lecturers once told me that you need to believe to achieve. It is much harder to believe when everything is falling apart around you, and there were definitely times when I had no belief whatsoever. But if you want something badly, don’t give up, and you will get there. Just don’t let yourself lose hope entirely.