Recently, I had become weighed down by the routine and responsibilities of life. This sounds like the most stereotypical millennial thing to say but why should that stop me? It’s true. The transition into University life has been difficult; the constant pressing down of academia on any and all of my spare time and the looming dread of deadlines and exams have been a burden. At Uni there is a constant pressure to be many people all at the same time; the ambitious person with a five-year plan, the social butterfly, the student who juggles five extra-curriculars, the party animal and the person who can survive on four hours sleep a night and powers themselves on a constant stream of the bitterest black coffee. Why do we do this to ourselves? Honestly, I have no idea. We are so caught-up in trying to copy everyone else that we forget how to be ourselves and do what we came here to do; to develop as a person.
Cynicism seems to be the most popular currency at Uni. I know that the world can be a very dark place but constantly working to seek out and analyse those dark spaces can be exhausting. I feel like in my first term I forgot to give myself a relief from all the critical arguments and debates which I felt that I had to constantly keep pace with in my classes. My course demanded that I immerse myself completely in other people’s pain or become just generally distrustful of everyone and everything in the world. That was not sustainable or healthy.
Now I have made it my mission to remind myself to actually breathe. To not weigh myself down so heavily with the cynicism of academic theory and the pressure to be a hundred people all at once. For me, I do this by looking around me and seeing what is actually happening, taking in the moment rather than constantly burying myself in articles which are telling me that the world as we know it is coming to an end or that we are falling into our inevitable doom as a species. Instead, I am focusing on issues that I am passionate about and that I can have an actual effect on, especially the environment. Living a more sustainable and eco-friendly life makes me feel productive and like I am giving energy back into the world rather than parasitically sucking it out. I am organising things that I can look forward to and enjoy, rather than scheduling work experience placements to bulk-out my CV.
I am so privileged that I can take a breath and think about what is best for me and my health. I am not having to constantly struggle to provide a living for myself or work a 9-5 job and I should take advantage of that because who knows what my life will be like in the future and what it will demand of me? For now at least, positive choices are ones which work towards bettering my mental health rather than my grades. If that means taking a path which I was not initially planning on, then so be it…
Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.
Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.
Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.
Recently, I have made a conscious effort to change my perspective on what role fitness and exercise should play in my life and what mental approach I should take to maintaining my health.
In the past, I have completely avoided doing any exercise. At school, I found it endlessly embarrassing to run around and play sports in front of the other kids, many of whom would take advantage of any opportunity they had to poke fun at me and chip away at my fragile confidence. Also, I had little to no self-discipline at the time and if a sport did not come naturally to me, I would quickly give-up and actively try not to participate by hanging around the back of the court or hiding behind the more proficient kids.
However, recently an epiphany and it hit me that I am 18 and yet I get out of breath going up a flight of stairs. It’s a sad situation which makes me ashamed of my current state and eats away even further at my self-confidence. So, a couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to make myself proud for once and take control of my health-related situation. For years people have told me that exercising could have a positive impact on my mental health, from reducing my anxiety to instilling me with more energy. So, I have taken-up yoga.
For me, yoga is the perfect form of exercise. I can set realistic goals for myself, attend small classes locally and, if I feel too anxious to leave the house on a certain day, then I can practice by myself at home. I’m not pressurising myself to stick to a cardio-heavy exercise routine which I would find intimidating and disheartening because of my present bodily state. Instead, through yoga I am reconditioning my body, strengthening myself and using it as an outlet through which I can feel calm and peaceful.
I am building towards feeling more confident in my body by taking control over what form it takes and strengthening my body rather than focusing on my weight or comparing myself to others who thrive in the gym and can run easily around the streets. In the past, I have shrunk from people who spoke a lot about fitness or exercise because of my personal shame but I would honestly plead with anyone who is struggling with either their fitness or confidence to take-up a manageable routine which takes them on a gradual conditioning journey rather than pushing themselves to their natural limits.
The breakthrough moment in my first year of Uni has been my lecturers striking.
Every one of my tutors are on strike at the moment and they will be for quite a long time to come. Whilst everyone else has been raging about it, whatever their opinion on the industrial action itself, I have had something close to an epiphany! For the first time in this whole academic year I have been proactive in my own studying, I have taken the initiative and decided to do all of the suggested reading because finally I feel like this degree is my responsibility, it is up to me whether I am going to be bothered or not to make a go of this.
Previously when I have been at Uni, I have done the bare minimum of work, just enough to scrape past and have a vague understanding of the syllabus. And it has been miserable. I have hated being the half-arsed student in the corner of the seminar room who is pretending to be aloof and above the whole situation when really the depression inside me was eating me up from the inside out. Finally I have instigated an actual interest in the work I am doing. I purposely start each day with the intention of finding something positive in the work I am doing, making the best of things even when a certain week’s topic may not be to my liking.
This is all down to the strike. Being left on my own to teach myself everything has been a revelation. Without the stress of having to go to seminars and the anxiety about sitting in a lecture hall, I have been able to breathe freely again and engage with my education because I choose to, not because otherwise I might be asked a question in my seminar and be completely stumped for the answer.
There has been a lot of anger and frustration surrounding this strike. Many students, whilst supporting the industrial action, have been annoyed that they are missing out on an educational experience that they have paid dearly for. However, for me, this strike has been my saving grace and I only hope that I can keep-up the momentum…
Purpose is a spineless word,
An excuse for existence
Without any merit or substance,
A carrot dangled in front of noses
To keep them pleading until the end.
Purpose can be elusive, mysterious,
Mixing itself with necessity and desperation,
A trickster keeping us running
Like clockwork; pained, rhythmic, undeviating,
For some cruelty, for some a blessing.
Purpose is practical and pragmatic,
Rarely whimsical or creative,
Too conformist to reach those people
Who dream of radical upsets
Or the hope of ink on a page.