FOMO, freshers & fish finger sandwiches

FOMO, freshers & fish finger sandwiches

Illustration by Sarah Martin

Starting university is intense. Especially, if like me, you moved to a huge university in one of the liveliest cities in the UK, after living in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere for the majority of your life. Prior to university, my only ‘nights out’ had consisted of going to the local Wetherspoons in the nearest town, where getting drunk simply involved drinking three Kopparbergs, or a vodka and coke or two, if I was feeling a little wild. I was not prepared for the sheer level of alcohol that is consumed by students. I had to adjust to a whole new level of drinking which was way above my limit of fruity 4.5% cider. Those first few weeks of consistent partying definitely toughened me up a lot. I could finish whole bottles of vodka now. Look at me now, world! I can take on ANYTHING.

But it turned out, I could not. I thought I was invincible and looking back I realise this is a big thing amongst students, especially freshers. There is so much pressure on your university experience to be the best years of your life, and this concept is massively amplified during freshers. If you’re not out every night until 7am you’re not making the most of it. If you aren’t snorting every substance under the sun you’re boring. If you aren’t having one-night stands and having all of these crazy things happen to you then did you really even go to university?

One thing that is important to remember is that university is a completely unnatural experience. You’re in a strange bubble between childhood and adulthood; but it’s not a bubble, it’s a 14-storey university halls building and you’re thrown in with 500 other 18/19-year-olds who you don’t know, and you all have no idea what you’re doing so are just getting very fucked every night to try and deal with that fact. When else in life are you going to be thrown into an environment like that? It’s fucking weird. Don’t get me wrong – it was new and fun and exciting, but it was also exhausting. Because it’s not natural to be around so many new people all at once, expected to always be at your best self and livin’ life to the fullest.

Any time I had a slight feeling of sadness or hesitation or felt that I should have an evening to myself to recharge, it was instantly replaced by FOMO – the fear of missing out. The infamous curse of university. If I don’t go out tonight, I’ll be forgotten by my new uni friends. I won’t be making the most of this amazing crazy new life. Shit! I’ll be thinking about this EXACT night when I’m 50 as I cry into my glass of wine, after working 9 to 5 at my shit office job. Each sip of my £3 Aldi pinot grigio will taste like painful regret and wasted youth. So onwards I would go, obliviously sinking deeper into a pit of drunken sadness.

But it got to a point where it was all a bit too much. Halfway through first year, there was a night where I had a panic attack in a club, ran off on my own and cried on a bench in the middle of Bristol city centre on my own for two hours. I think it was 5 months of built-up internal sadness, anxiety, and fear about this new life I had thrown myself into that had, inevitably, finally surfaced. The next morning, the first thing I did was sign up to the mental wellbeing service at university and damn, I am so glad at this point that I started looking after myself. I started seeing a therapist every week and it helped me become more grounded, in such a full-on environment where it is so easy to lose yourself and not recognise your emotions.

If you are starting university, I want you to know that it’s OKAY to sometimes think, I’m not really having a good time right now. Maybe university will be the best years of your life, maybe they won’t, but all I can tell you is that they absolutely won’t be if you don’t listen to your gut when it’s feeling uneasy or scared or unhappy.  

And if you can recognize you don’t feel good, you can also acknowledge that it’s natural, and that literally everyone else is in exactly the same boat as you. So talk to them about it! The friends I made at university saved my life on so many occasions in so many ways. University friendships are an incredibly rare species of friendship. They grow so quickly out of nowhere and become so much more intense and intimate because of this strange experience you’re sharing together in your little bubble. Don’t be afraid to share any anxieties you have with them, because you’re all just figuring it out together. Even though university is packed with thousands of people, it can be an incredibly lonely time if you don’t value the connections you build with people.

Remember that the end of university isn’t the end of your life. These three years will be so full-on and so magical, but you don’t need to be pushing yourself past your limits to be making the most of it. So ease off the pressure and take time for yourself. Use this as an opportunity to not only connect with others but to also get to know yourself. 

Other important uni advice: try and learn to cook, rather than surviving off fish finger sandwiches, hula hoops, and baked beans throughout your first year. Don’t be afraid to go into your kitchen, because believe it or not, washing up your pans in your en-suite bathroom sink isn’t that enjoyable. Oh, and also don’t tell your course mates if you sleep with someone regrettable on your course and it only lasts 30 seconds, because I promise you, it will literally never leave you.

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