Starting out at university

For many, university is a highly anticipated event which can be a cause for much excitement but also worry and anxiety. There may be many questions that plague your mind or maybe not. Here Jules outlines a few that crossed hers.

I remember being psyched for university and eager to hit the ground running. University to me meant freedom from my mum, independence, alcohol fuelled fun, friendships to be made, clubbing and balls.

University provided endless possibilities in what I could achieve and do, while also giving me the opportunity to grow, spread my wings and find myself. What I hadn’t prepared for was having my mental health crumble around me in my second year and then escalate to a full blown manic episode that would leave me with a shiny new label of bipolar I and eventually lead me to dropping out of my final year at university. If someone had said to me at the start of my course that I would drop from a 2:1 student to barely scraping a 2:2 and then not even able to finish my course I would have laughed in their face.

To give you an example of my high standards and determination I held for myself this is a snippet of what I wrote in my personal statement: “I feel confident that I am equipped with the skills that will enable me to do well at University, as the hard work I put in resulted in me achieving a level 7 at higher level . This has given me the confidence and determination to not only study psychology further but graduate with a First.”

As you can see I was very ambitious and wanted to achieve the level of success that I had achieved studying psychology in the international baccalaureate. For me university was my whole world it was the place where I was free, independent and living my best life. Crashing out of university like I did impacted me in a severe way, I lost confidence in my ability to succeed and was so stuck inside my head about failing that I didn’t allow myself the opportunity and chance at succeeding and getting my degree.


I spent the first couple of weeks into my third year in a hospital in Middlesbrough; two and a half weeks to be precise. The end result of my stay in hospital was a bipolar I diagnosis. At the time I had a whale of a time in the hospital as I was high as a kite and the inmates (this is what I referred to all the people in the hospital, it was a fancy prison) for the duration of my stay. Coming out of hospital was hard as I had grown accustomed to the routine, the hospital also had become like home and more importantly the inmates I had gotten to know were all there. I tried (not very hard I daresay) to get back into the swing of university but I just couldn’t.

The medication I was on was super powerful and for someone like myself who didn’t take any form of medication prior to this like paracetamol or ibuprofen it was a complete shock for my body. I was tired all the time, nauseous, dizzy and hungry most of the time. To be quite frank I was a mess and was in denial about my whole diagnosis so I partied the semester away. I wasn’t on top of my university work even with the help of extensions; I just wasn’t in the right head space. I came back after Christmas feeling deflated and at a loss of what to do. I had to have a sit down conversation with my students support officer about continuing on or postponing for a year.

I took the latter option and went home defeated at not being able to graduate with all my colleagues. September came around  quickly and I found myself back at Durham to attempt my third year for a second time. At the time my mental health was dipping and I found myself at  an all time low. I had little energy and just wanted to hide away under my duvet and escape from the world. My flatmates bless them tried to get me out of bed by literally dragging me out to do things but I just felt so sad and low. I had to face reality that maybe university wasn’t for me. I ended back in hospital as I was really suicidal and not coping at all. I spent the week in hospital calling my uncle and family about the dilemma I was facing: to leave or not to leave university. I made a pros and cons list:

Option 1 staying at university and finishing my course - I will:

  • finish what I started two years ago which will show the world I'm a finisher and that I can complete things what I startI I w
  • have a sense of achievement and success for finishing.
  • be showing I have the determination and will power so succeed against the odds.
  • make new friendships
  • I have a cheaper gym membership where I can continue my training of what Alina has taught me.
  • I could get myself a personal trainer for a fraction of the price up here.
  • I will be able to carry on my responsibilities as a college parent.
  • I will be able to continue rowing which I'm sure I will get my passion back for it.
  • I will be able to attend balls and functions.
  • I will be receiving grant money each term that I wouldn't normally receive.
  • I will have the support of the mental health team.
  • I will still have the support of family and Gini.
  • I could go home at weekends to visit family.
  • I would be making my family and friends proud of me for sticking it out and getting a degree.
  • I will have support from the church and cell group.

The accommodation is cheaper than it would be if I deferred the year again, I wouldn't be guaranteed a nice place for the extortionate prices and will have no flatmates that I know.

Even with the pros outweighing the cons I was so trapped inside my own head of fear of failing university and not achieving what I had outlined in my personal statement of getting a first that I put up a barrier to stop me even attempting finishing university. I ended up quitting and to this day it has stayed with me that sense of failure for not completing what I set out to do. I know that I can always go back to university as it isn’t going anywhere but the sense of disappointment that I feel for not finishing still weighs down on me.

What I learnt

More importantly I need to stop and take into account that I had a mental blip and need to acknowledge that while I didn’t complete the degree I still got a diploma out of the two years so I didn’t walk away empty handed just not with the full package. I’ve come to realize and it’s taken me a couple of years that I can decide to go back to university at any time to finish or  to start something new.  I have a passion for learning and I have to remind myself everyday I’m constantly learning new things and that life is all about learning and taking what you know and applying it to everyday life.

For anyone unsure about going to university or getting the right support, I would say do your homework on the university of your choice.  I would suggest that you choose a course that you are interested in and that you will enjoy as you will be studying it for 3-4 years and let me tell you that is a long time.

Finally if university isn’t for you then that’s okay too, there are numerous apprenticeships to do to learn invaluable skills. In addition, not all job roles require a degree so try not to get too caught up in the desire and belief that you need to go to university to get a job or be successful.

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