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Leaving university

I thought I would use this post to talk a little bit about my life situation at the moment, in the hopes that maybe some people my age might find it useful if you're going through the same thing! University isn't for everyone, so don't worry if you're struggling.

So at the end of 2015 I made the decision to withdraw from my uni course, which is pretty much madness. I've always been a really academic person - I love to read and write and generally learn stuff, I even switched my college course a few years back because it was just too easy and I wanted more work! I'm a bit of a nerd, I can't help it, but I just like to use my brain. However, university (for me, at least) wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

In college, when I was studying my A-levels, it was pretty much drilled into me from day one that I would end up going to university, or else I'll just amount to nothing. I think, looking back on it now, it's really dangerous to give young people a very narrow idea of what they can do to achieve anything in life. I went to university because I thought I would enjoy it, but also because I thought that I had no real future prospects if I didn't get a degree.

First year was a struggle for me; I enrolled in a law degree because I'd done well in my law A-level and had really enjoyed it. But, entry requirements didn't specify that you needed to study law prior to uni, so it meant that the majority of the year was playing catch-up for everyone else that hadn't studied law before, so I was just going over old material. This was fine at first and made me feel smart! But it got boring very quickly. I also realised that the stuff we had studied in college was definitely the more interesting material... And unfortunately, at uni, I had to study everything because it was mandatory, whether it was boring or not (and trust me, it's all pretty boring.)

So because I started the year highly unmotivated, it meant I did little to no work, barely attended at all and just did the bare minimum to get by. I wasn't enjoying it at all, but I don't like to be a "quitter"; I wanted to see it through, regardless of how boring it was. I was feeling pretty down in the dumps, especially because I feel like I didn't pick an accommodation that was very good for me - I felt quite isolated a lot of the time, despite it being an all-girls hall and I did make a few good friends, but I sat in my room alone a lot. I was also keeping a part time job as well, so it meant that often I was missing communal meals at halls and people were bonding and getting along without me. I don't think I realised how important my social life was going to be, and what an impact it would have on my experience!

Exam time came and I didn't hold out much hope, seeing as I couldn't remember the last lecture I'd actually bothered to get out of bed for. Somehow, I managed to scrape by on all my modules except one, which I resat later on. I did pass first year though, which I will admit, I was pretty happy with! It gave me a bit of motivation for second year because I thought well, if I could pass my first year without really doing much, then starting a fresh year will be great and I can achieve my potential.

Unfortunately, the dread set in during summer when I was having a really great time at my new job, making new friends and doing nice things, including moving into my new flat with my best friends. I realised I had to go back to uni and I just felt sick at the thought of it.

I've always struggled with mental illness - depression and anxiety are just parts of my everyday life and I've learned to cope. However, the extent to how unhappy university made me just dragged me right to rock bottom, and I can honestly say that I hadn't felt quite so depressed for a number of years. I couldn't get out of bed, literally at all, and I was crying most days. I couldn't attend lectures, then slowly I stopped going to my seminars, then my work just stopped altogether. I think the that fact my only course-friend had left at the end of year one really impacted on the second year, because I was pretty much completely alone. I couldn't face sitting in a lecture hall on my own, hating every second and having nobody there to feel the same.

I made myself pretty sick, I'll be the first to admit. But it's really hard to tell other people that something like that is affecting you mentally. A lot of people expect you to just get on with it, because uni is meant to be hard work and you are inevitably going to feel stressed. But let me emphasise something - there is a MASSIVE difference between academic stress and complete desolation of your mental health. It took me months to realise that I was in a terrible, dark place and I didn't want to be there anymore.

I took all the steps I could to try and integrate myself back into my uni routine - I made appointments with the uni counsellor, saw all kinds of student support officers; I made the most of all the wellbeing facilities that they had to offer. And they were brilliant! I won't take that away from them. All the support I received I am truly thankful for. I was enrolled on a mindfulness/helping low-mood course and met some really nice people. But I knew after a few hours there that this wasn't helping me in the long run - I knew the root cause of my depression was being in university in the first place.

So, long story short, I took the difficult steps into beginning the withdrawal process. It was fairly quick and painless - just a meeting, a quick form to fill in and everything was sorted. I had officially withdrawn before the Christmas holidays and I really wish there were words to describe the relief I felt the day I left that meeting knowing I'd never have to go back.

I feel like a completely different person now. Obviously, I have bad days - it's in my nature, but my main trigger has been completely eliminated from my life and I feel mentally healthy again. Of course, I was a little frightened of what family and friends were going to think - my parents always supported me in whatever made me happy, but explaining that I'd essentially "dropped out" of uni to extended family really intimidated me. To be honest, I think people are still only just finding out! But at the end of the day, MY happiness and MY personal health comes before ANYTHING, and I don't care if I disappointed the entire country as long as I never feel that terrible again in my life.

I think the point of this post is just to let some people know that university is not the be all and end all of everything. Happiness is key, and there are ALWAYS other options. I'm working full time now at my crazy, fun job and I'm loving it - it might not be a permanent option, I know I still have to plan for my future, but I'm 21 years old and having a good time while I can. If you're feeling depressed in whatever you're doing, then it's not right for you.

I don't regret going to uni - it gave me the opportunity to move out of my family home and become an independent person. I looooooooovvveeeee having my own place to live and being in charge of my own life. I love living with my friends! I wouldn't swap any of that for the world. But studying for a degree isn't everything. I have massive respect for my friends that are keeping at their tough studies and I'm going to be at their graduations probably crying like a proud mother. I'll feel a bit sad that that will never be me, but I'm confident that I'm going to excel at other things and then everyone can be proud of me too :)

The point is - do what makes you happy, even if it seems scary!

I hope this helps someone out there toying with
the idea of leaving uni. It's a scary decision
but it might ultimately be the best thing you ever do!

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