Managing university whilst looking after my health – how I am learning to find a balance

Education has always been something I have struggled to sustain. The last time I completed an academic year was when I was 12. I stopped going to school half way through first year of secondary school and haven’t managed to complete a whole year since then, even with numerous attempts at college and university. The most frustrating thing about this is that I don’t struggle with the work academically. Even with missing almost all of my secondary school education and having no qualifications, I am still able to achieve top marks in essays at university and I’m a bit weird in that I love writing essays! So this makes it even more frustrating that usually as the weeks go on, I start to struggle with my health which impacts on my attendance. It is usually a downward spiral. But this year has been different. I am near the end of the first semester, which is when I would usually have become unwell, but I am still doing well. My attendance has actually improved throughout the semester. This has never happened before! I have only been doing one module this semester so it has been less work, but even so I would usually still be struggling by now. I’ve worked really hard over the past year to give myself the best chance of succeeding this time and I want to share some of the ways in which I’ve managed to do this.

Self Care

I know the term self care seems to be everywhere right now, but it really has helped me and has meant more to me than just having baths or treating myself to nice things (although that has been part of it). Until this year I don’t think I had ever really put any effort into looking after my health and just focusing on myself. I’d spent years beating myself up instead. So I have spent months learning how to actually care about myself. Trying my best to sort out my eating (although this is an ongoing challenge). Making sure I have time to myself to wind down. Reading lots of fiction purely because I enjoy it. Writing. Long showers with lots of Lush sleepy shower gel and body lotion. Listening to audiobooks. Hot water bottles and hot chocolate, which for some reason I didn’t allow myself to have in the house before but now I do…with marshmallows and cream on top too! Being patient with myself. Letting myself be tired and to rest when I need to. Doing things because I want to, and not because I am telling myself I should. Making doctors appointments and finally dealing with all the physical health issues that I have been ignoring for years. Being kind to myself. Learning about self compassion.

Medication 

There is still a lot of pill shaming around these days, but medication can help some people including me. Since I was a teenager I have tried so many different medications. I have been on anti depressants, diazepam, mood stabilisers, anti psychotics and more. Some didn’t work, some made me feel worse, some had unbearable side effects. But the combination I am on right now seem to help. They are not a magic fix and I still struggle with a lot of things. I don’t want to be on all of them forever either but even if I am, there is no shame in that if they are helping. Medication has helped me to find a balance in my life that I need right now and I do believe they have been a contributing factor to managing university this semester.

Therapy

When I was in hospital in February I was put on a waiting list for trauma therapy. It is now December and I am still on that waiting list. Fortunately I have been lucky enough to be able to do some therapy privately. Committing to therapy was one of the most difficult things I have ever made the decision to do. I have tried therapy in the past but I really struggle with trust and the commitment, so I have tended to run away from it when it became too difficult. I wasn’t ready to even admit that I had been through any trauma (i still struggle with this sometimes), never mind go and talk about it or process it in any way. But I was in the right place to try and face up to it, and we spent a lot of time in therapy learning how to keep myself grounded and in a safe place. All of these coping strategies I learned in therapy have helped me massively. We started a bit of EMDR but this is something I have not been ready to fully commit to at the moment. Accepting that I need long term therapy to fully process the trauma I have been through has been difficult but a necessary step in moving forward with my life. Waiting lists for therapy need to change!!

Stickability 

One of my lecturers told me about this word and it has been in my head ever since. I have a lot of moments when I want to give up on things. When I get scared of failing I want to run. This semester has taught me that in those moments I need to remember why I am doing all of this. I need something to hold on to that makes me want to keep going through those difficult patches. For me that reason is because I want to use my own experiences to change something. That has been the reason which has kept me going back to try again at things, and it will be the thing which keeps me going when I want to give up.

Reaching out to people 

Sometimes I forget my reason to keep going, and I convince myself that I’ve lost it. But I never lose it, I just need a reminder sometimes. There are people around me who I know will be able to remind me of this. People who are so passionate about things themselves that it helps me remember my own passions. Or people who know me so well that they are able to remind me who I am again. People who can lift me up or connect with me, when I feel completely disconnected. These people could be friends, family, lecturers, mentors, professionals of some sort, therapists. There are people around who want to help, it is just finding them that can sometimes be the problem. But reaching out to those people when I am struggling or even just having those moments when I forget why I am doing this, has been a lifeline for me in managing not only university but also my life in general. Being able to be that person for other people too sometimes can help, as long as I don’t take too much on then being supportive to the people around me can bring me out of myself and help me to connect again.

Pacing myself 

I have never had much patience. Learning how to not try and do everything all at once has been a big challenge. But a necessary one as I seem to have a habit of trying to do everything and then burning myself out completely. To succeed at university and in anything else I want to do in my life I’ve realised I need to treat it as ‘a marathon, not a sprint’. Finding the balance of this has been difficult, but it is getting easier the more I practice. Being aware of the pace I am going is the most important thing. I need to be constantly aware of what decisions I am making, the emotions I am feeling, how I feel physically. Sometimes I realise I am going too fast and need to slow myself down again. Other times I realise I have done too much and need to give myself some time to rest. I have probably had to even be a bit too careful this semester but the most important things to me have been to complete the semester whilst feeling as healthy physically and mentally as I could be. I had to do this as slow as possible! I am hoping I can gradually be less careful, once I’ve got the hang of going at the right pace and trusting myself in the process that I am making the right decisions. There are so many things I want to do but one step at a time without getting impatient with the process is how I am trying to handle things.

Managing university whilst looking after my health is a huge challenge. I still struggle at times but I am gradually building up a range of coping strategies to help me through the difficult times. I learn so much from others sharing their experiences so would love to hear from anyone who wants to share what helps them manage their education and their health. Please feel free to leave a comment or share with my on twitter 🙂

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