Impostor Syndrome at University

London skyline at night

Today someone suggested to me that I might be suffering from impostor syndrome. I hadn’t really considered it before, but now I think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

Since coming to university, I have always had this overarching feeling that I don’t belong here. Although I love my university campus and surrounding area and couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else, I’ve never really felt like I belong on my course. At the moment, I think it comes from the fact that I’m not studying the course I applied for – I switched degree within the first two weeks and now I keep wondering whether I would have been accepted on this course if I had applied directly to it. I imagine myself sitting down and writing my personal statement back in the summer before Year 13 and wonder what I would have wrote to persuade my university to offer me a place on this course. Although I enjoy what I’m studying now – international relations, by the way – politics hasn’t always been a passion of mine, like most of my course mates.

I’ve always struggled to contribute in class throughout school, and since coming to university I’ve found participating in seminar discussions equally as hard. When I’m sat in my seminars, I constantly feel that I’m not good enough, I don’t know enough and I don’t deserve to be here. I always make sure to do all my reading to prepare for seminars and I understand the material, but when it comes to forming opinions and debating with my course mates, my brain freezes and I can’t think of anything to say. To me, it seems like everyone else on my course has a really strong understanding of politics and is really opinionated. I don’t come from a very political family, we hardly ever just had discussions about what was going on in the world when I was growing up so I feel like discussing politics in any way is still very new to me and I haven’t had the opportunity to form strong opinions on things.

I guess because seminars are the most direct way for me to compare myself with other people on my course, I presume because I struggle in this aspect of my course, I must not be good enough to be doing my course at all. Which, thinking about it, is ridiculous. Last year I averaged a 1:1 overall and somehow won the departmental prize for outstanding achievement. However, when I got my grades back, I didn’t really feel anything. I wasn’t happy or proud and I shrugged off my achievements by telling myself that I only did well because I’m good at memorising facts for exams and researching for essays and that I’m not good at my actual subject, just studying in general.

I’ve realised today that my experience of impostor syndrome at university has probably been caused by constantly downplaying my achievements throughout my time at school. I’ve always been a high achiever but for some reason I’ve always felt like I couldn’t celebrate my grades if my friends were disappointed with theirs and now it’s become a habit that I can’t seem to shake.

I think impostor syndrome at university is quite common. When you’re surrounded by people from different educational and personal backgrounds, it’s normal to compare yourself to them to an extent. I think when it becomes a problem is when you start to feel like your ideas and opinions are not valid because ‘everyone else is smarter than you’ or that you ‘don’t belong’ because your learning style is not the same as others. Impostor syndrome can make being a student really hard, but if you also think you suffer from it like me, I want you to know that you’re not alone and that recognise it as a struggle you face is the first step to overcoming it.

I’m not sure if this ramble will be useful to anyone in anyway, but I think it’s helped me to write down and deconstruct my thoughts.

I hope you’re all well and hopefully I’ll be back with another post soon!

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An Honest Reflection of My First Year of University

Hello! Hope you’re all doing well! I am currently on my summer holidays?!??! Which is mad because that means that I’ve SOMEHOW survived first year of university?!!!? If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that this year hasn’t been plain sailing and you’re probably very fed up of me rambling on about university, but it’s been a massive change in my life and I feel like my blog as become an outlet for me to document my experiences as a student. It’s definitely been a tough year and there have been points where I have wanted to give up but I feel like I have grown immeasurably as a person since last September and have learnt many skills for life throughout my university experience so far.

In all honesty, my mental health has suffered significantly since starting university and this exam season especially has been the toughest few months I’ve ever had to go through. Whilst I know it’s going to take me a long time to recover from the mental and emotional exhaustion of this year and get my mental health back under control, I don’t regret coming to university as I feel like my experiences here and the independence I’ve gained have helped me find the confidence to seek help for mental health issues I’ve been struggling with for a while. I don’t want to focus too much on the negatives though, I just really wanted to be honest and break the expectation that university is the “best years of your life” because believing that is partly what caused me to struggle so much this year. There have definitely been many high points throughout the year and I should be proud of myself for everything I’ve achieved. I’m going to talk about some different aspects of university life this year and share some of my experiences with you.

Living with other people

This was, perhaps, the thing that I was most apprehensive about when moving to university. Would I get on with my flatmates? Would I be able to look after myself? Can I even cook!? There were so many questions and worries that I had before moving into halls, which I think is COMPLETELY natural. One thing I’ve learnt is that everybody’s living situation is very different. The people that you end up living with in halls are allocated completely randomly and whilst some people get on well with their flatmates and become best friends, for others it can be a living nightmare. I’m quite happy that my living situation turned out to be somewhere in the middle of this spectrum as although my flatmates and I are very different and don’t have a lot in common friendship-wise, we get along well enough to live together. Sometimes I’ve wished I lived in a more sociable flat where we ate together and went out together instead of just five-minute small talk whilst cooking in the kitchen. At the same time, I’ve loved having my own personal space and the fact that I can stay in my room all day if I want to without seeming rude. Living with people from different backgrounds, cultures and countries has definitely been a learning curve but it’s been a very unique experience that I don’t think I would have got if I hadn’t had come to university. I’ve lived with people this year that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise and it’s helped me to become more understanding of different people. Of course there have been times where I’ve been fed up with the mess in the kitchen or the state of the bins but that’s just part of student life and adjusting to living independently. I think we’ve all coped quite well, aside from flooding the hallway, a ladybird infestation and the sad death of Henry Hoover. I’m actually quite grateful that I wasn’t close friends with my flatmates, even thought I’ve struggled with loneliness throughout the year, as that forced me to go out and socialise with other people! One thing I would say is that if you don’t find your best friends in your flat, try not to worry or compare yourself to the experiences your friends are having in halls as their living situations will be completely different to yours!

Independence

I guess this follows on from the first point but moving out of home as definitely given me more independence. I feel like almost a completely different person to when I moved in here. I was unable to cook anything and didn’t like using public transport or going shopping by myself. I quickly picked up how to cook for myself, I think you have to when you’re put in a situation where no one else will cook for you! And whilst I used to dread having to take the bus into town alone when I lived at home, now I will quite happily travel across the country on various modes of public transport, including going into London by myself and navigating the tube (which was honestly terrifying at first!!). I’ve also become a lot more independent in other ways such as looking after myself when I’m ill, taking myself to the doctor’s and reaching out for help from personal tutors and the well-being services when I need it. In that sense, I feel like I have more control over my life now. Part of me still can’t believe that I’ve managed to keep myself alive for the past year?!!?

Going out of my comfort zone

So pretty much the whole concept of moving out of home to the other side of the country was out of my comfort zone this time last year. I wasn’t even sure if I’d make it through Fresher’s Week but when I got here, I just kind of threw myself into everything and realised I could do a lot more than I thought. University is full of challenges and changes and I feel like I’ve really made a conscious effort to do the things that scare me as I know that’s how I’ll become more confident. In Term 1, for example, I went to a hiking society taster session BY MYSELF which was absolutely terrifying but it actually worked out okay and I ended up spending the whole day hiking with people I’d never met before (and unfortunately never saw again as they didn’t join the society, but that’s not the point!). I’ve also made an effort this year to keep in touch with some of the friends I made in Fresher’s Week and meet up with them throughout the year. I personally find inviting people to meet up very anxiety-inducing so this has been a big thing for me but I’m glad I put in the effort to keep in touch with people as now I have two good friends who I meet up with regularly for coffee or lunch that I met during welcome talks in the first week of term. Travelling to London by myself was very much out of my comfort zone too, but now I’ve done it dozens of times, it’s not scary anymore! Finally I applied to be a peer mentor in second year, which means I get given a group of freshers from my department to mentor throughout the year and help them settle in. It’s something I really wanted to do as I feel like I’ve been through a lot this year and would really like to help people settle in to university better than I have. To my surprise, my application was accepted and I attended training last week, which was daunting in itself, having to do group work with strangers! I think expanding my comfort zone is one of the biggest things I’ve gained from first year and I definitely feel like I am more confident than I was in Sixth Form.

Adjusting to a new environment

Another key part of moving to university for many students is living in a new city/area. Personally, I was really excited to move away from my hometown as nothing much really happens there and I wanted to escape all the bad memories that were made there. I’d only visited my university town twice before move in day and I somehow failed to notice that it was so hilly?? Like, the whole campus is on multiple hills. So the hardest thing to adjust to has been having to walk up two hills everyday to lectures and walk up another hill on my way back from Tesco with my bags of shopping (it is AN ORDEAL). My university is on a campus near a small town on the edge of London so I think it’s been easier to adjust to than being in a big city as it didn’t take me long to figure out where everything is. Although occasionally I still get lost walking down some of the residential roads as all the houses look the same! I’ve actually found living somewhere new really refreshing. It may sound weird but uni is starting to feel more like home than my hometown as it’s the first place I’ve lived independently and I’ve actually chosen to live here.

Homesickness

Although I have struggled this year, homesickness was surprisingly one thing I haven’t struggled with. There have maybe been one or two occasions where I’ve thought that I want to go home, but that’s more been because I’ve been struggling mentally and couldn’t look after myself properly rather than actually missing home. However, it is 100% okay if you are homesick as the majority of students go through this. Moving out for the first time is a big shock! I think what helped me not feel homesick is the fact that I told myself I could go home half way through term when we had our reading week, which was about 6 weeks after move in day. I was determined to stay at uni for as long as possible so I could let myself settle in and adjust to a new routine and setting a date in the future where I knew I could come home helped. I definitely think if I had gone home the first weekend, I would have been a lot more homesick. Also, I think choosing a university that is 3-4 hours away from home has worked well for me too as the hassle (and cost) of taking the train back puts me off from wanting to go home!

Friends

I think making friends at uni has been really hard for me. At first, it was easy to talk to people as everyone was friendly and wanted to socialise but as soon as people started forming little groups, it felt impossible. I was lucky in that I met a group of people at my departmental welcome party that I’ve stuck with throughout the whole year in lectures. Although they are all lovely, we’re not very close as I feel like we don’t have a lot in common so I kind of wish I’d branched out a bit instead of sticking with the first people I met. But I’m hoping next year I’ll get to know more people on my course as we split up into different modules. As I mentioned, I haven’t become good friends with my flatmates either which was hard. I think I just felt like the outsider from the beginning and as I’ve struggled with my mental health, I became quite withdrawn and avoided them at some points throughout the year. I have made two good friends though who I meet up with every few weeks, one who I met at the languages welcome party (as I started uni studying French and Politics) and another that I met in a Welcome Talk on the first day as I just sat down next to her and started chatting. So I am glad that I have them although we do different courses so I don’t see them as much as I’d like! I think making friends really depends on who you end up in a flat with and who’s on your course, but it’s never too late to make new friends!

Nightlife

Honestly, I was dreading this before coming to uni. I had only been to a club a few times back home and really hadn’t enjoyed it, mainly because the pressure to drink made me anxious. I did end up going out once in Fresher’s Week but after that I didn’t go out or drink again until about March because I just really didn’t like it. But then I made a good friend on my course, who I’m living with next year, that respected the fact that I don’t drink a lot so I’ve been out with her about ten times over the last two terms. I’m actually starting to enjoy going out now and figuring out what I do and don’t like drinking but if you’re not a fan of nights out, it’s definitely not the be all and end all of university life!

My course

Finally I should probably talk about my actual degree. As some of you may know (because I keep going on about it lol), I actually changed degree within the first few weeks of university as it just wasn’t right for me. This was very disruptive for me and I think it stopped me from settling into my flat as I was so stressed trying to catch up on work that I spent most of my time in my room studying. Sometimes I do miss studying French, but I don’t regret my decision as the way it was taught here just didn’t work for me and I probably would have ended up dropping out. So, I switched to Politics and International Relations and studied four core modules: Intro to Politics, Intro to IR, Classical Reading and Research Methods. IR has definitely been my favourite module this year. I struggled a lot with Classics because it’s a philosophy module and I had no clue how to go about writing essay or why Plato and Aristotle were relevant to my degree, but at least it’s over now! I’m still not completely satisfied with my course as it doesn’t offer me everything I wanted to get out of university, like the opportunity to study abroad for example. When I was doing French, I was enrolled on a four year programme with a compulsory year abroad which I was really looking forward to. However the PIR department doesn’t have ANY study abroad links, which I didn’t realise before I applied here. It’s really frustrated because I know if I studied politics at pretty much any other uni, I could do a semester or year abroad and still get the experience of living in France that I really wanted to get out of university. But I guess I just have to accept that that’s the way it is and there’s not much I can do about it now. In terms of the workload, it sort of fluctuates. As I only had 9 contact hours a week – 5 lectures and 4 seminars – keeping up with my weekly reading wasn’t too challenging as I had a lot of free time. However, in both November and March I had four coursework submission dates within the space of two weeks, which was very stressful and it was difficult to juggle writing four essays at a time whilst attending lectures and doing weekly reading. When it came to exams, I had one for each module in which I had two hours to write two essays. I’m honestly not expecting much from my results and it will be a miracle if I pass because I’ve been quite physically/mentally ill through exam season so was barely able to do any revision. At one point I almost didn’t turn up to an exam as I’d been sleeping for about two hours per night for the past few weeks and was having a break down at 5am on the phone to my mum when I had to get up two hours later for my 9am exam. So, exams were NOT FUN to say the least, but I’ve managed. And next year I’m definitely going to try to stress less and take better care of myself so this doesn’t happen again.

Wow, that’s been a lot of writing and I’m sure I’ve missed out some important stuff! Anyway, just wanted to say thank you for sticking with me throughout the past year and putting up with my rambles. It’s been tough and I’m so glad I have to whole summer to recover, I definitely need a break!

If you’ve just finished first year too, how have you found your university experience? 🙂

The Power of Talking; breaking mental health stigma

(I’m living life on the edge right now trying to type this out before my laptop restarts for yet another Windows update).

I met up with a friend today, spontaneously, but messaging her and asking if she wanted to meet up was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while. I think I wrote in this post, about how I haven’t been feeling at my best for some time and of how I started isolating myself from people, being trapped in my mind and quite honestly driving myself mad from overthinking. I made a promise to myself to get out of that phase, to interact more with my friends, to be more open and honest about my feelings, but since half term started, I’ve become more and more isolated and lonely and have just generally been feeling awful.

However today I decided to reach out to my friend, who I haven’t seen in quite a while, but for a moment I stopped overthinking that I wasn’t worthy of anyone’s time and sent her a message. When we met up, I didn’t want to pressure myself to talk about how I was feeling – even thought that’s why I wanted to see her, just to be able to talk to someone who has been by my side for a long time and who I trust – so I just said to myself that whatever happens, I must be honest. And I was. I almost had a breakdown in the middle of a park but we had some really deep conversations about overthinking and anxiety and social pressure, and I’m proud of myself for actually giving an honest answer when she asked how I was, instead of the usual “good, thanks”.

Through talking to each other, we discovered that we’d been going through similar things and we understood eachother, which really meant a lot. As I’m used to bottling up my emotions, the world can sometimes seem a little mad because I overthink so much that nothing makes sense in my head and eventually nothing makes sense in real life either. But talking, casually, about mental health whilst walking in the fresh air – and eventually over a box of chicken nuggets – made it seem normal and okay.

Some of the advice my friend was giving me really made me think. She can be very philosophical in her outlook on life, and although it probably won’t have as much as an impact once translated into my words, I want to try to share some of her insights in life here, so maybe it can help others too.

One thing we were talking about was the pressure of social media, because I explained how social media is becoming a huge source of overthinking for me. It’s the pressure of being constantly social, and active and talking to other people. This need to be constantly in touch with the virtual world can make us presume that if someone hasn’t replied to a message then they automatically don’t like us, don’t want be friends with us and don’t care about us anymore. This is becoming a big problem for me, because I almost constantly pick apart all my friendships based on people’s activity on social media – it’s a downward spiral, a trap. Sometimes if a friend doesn’t reply to a message, but I can see they have been active on social media, I will think that’s it, the friendship’s over, they don’t care about me anymore, I’m not worthy of anyone’s time, there’s no point contacting other friends stop because they won’t want to talk to me either, I’m just being annoying, none of my friends really like me and so on. It’s ridiculous that social media controls my emotions in such a destructive way, and that my friend – and probably many of you – could relate. Although it’s hard to avoid social media and the pressures that come with it in the world we are living in, I need to find a balance between real life and the virtual world to be free from this pressure. I do want to have social media in my life, because I have met some amazing people as a result of it, but I also want to live in the present and for social media to be a positive addition to my life, not a negative obstacle that holds me back.

I admitted that some of the problems social media was causing me were due to the fact that I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere, because I don’t really have a set friendship group anymore and I’ve been feeling a bit lost. But I know now that that’s okay, because people come and go through our lives and I understand now that, to borrow my friend’s analogy, even if you keep watering a dead flower, it won’t come back to life. That is to say, you can keep trying to hold onto friendships that are falling apart and friends that are drifting away, but there comes a point where you need to let the flower die – for both individual’s sake – because this makes room for new flowers – or friends – to come into your life and blossom. I may feel like I’ve lost a lot of friends, but I still have a few “flowers” who I can always count on, and that’s what matters. I will meet new people and make new friends, just as the people who have slipped out of my life will or already have.

We also talked about anxiety and the stigma surrounding mental health. I explained how I’d been suffering with anxious feelings for the past month or so, probably the result of stress and pressure from college combined with social pressures, all of which has contributed to this constant overthinking and worrying about what other people think. It’s tiring – draining – to feel this way; it’s been a long time since I felt like I could do something with ease, in a relaxed way without my mind constantly racing with all sorts of irrational scenarios and thoughts. It was comforting that my friend understood and we could talk about it freely, it really showed to me that it was okay to talk about mental health, because we all have mental health and the sooner we break down the stigma around discussing it, the better it’ll be for everyone. No one should have to face mental health alone – we are so much stronger if we tackle it together.

Now I feel so much lighter after discussing all this with someone I admire and respect a lot, and I think it helped her too. Although I don’t see many of my friends often, I am now a little bit more reassured that they still do care and the friendship is still there. I can’t express enough how much today has changed my perspective on life. Although my thoughts aren’t coherent and I’ve still got a long way to go, I took a risk in reaching out to a friend for help, and it paid off. Life’s all about taking risks, we don’t always know which ones will be worth taking until we’ve taken them, but we always learn in the process.

Here’s to more opening up about mental health, on my part and yours.

 

//8 ways to have a positive new attitude!//

Hello! Feels like it’s been a long time since I last wrote on here, but that’s because I’ve had such a jam-packed few days with deadlines flying at me from every direction but such is life. Anyway, today I wanted to share with you some tips for how you can have a positive new attitude.

I think it’s safe to say since starting Year 13, I’ve sort of been in a rutt when it comes to mental health, and I think a lot of you will relate when I say sometimes when we’ve got piles of work to do and hundreds of obligations and to-do lists, taking care of our mental health is not a top priority. But, over the past few weeks I’ve realised that mental health absolutely should be a bigger priority in my life. So, I’ve taken the decision to make some changes to my life and mindset, to hopefully take better care of myself and make sure I’m as happy as I can be.

1. Communication is KEY

As a naturally shy person, I’ve also been lacking on the communication front. But recently I’ve decided that I don’t want to be the person who sits there silently, holding back their opinions for fear of judgement as I have important opinions to share and you do too. If you’re sat their thinking, no one cares what you think then you’re wrong because you don’t know how people are going to react to what you have to say unless you take the leap and say it. I’m not saying you should be in polite and say anything on your mind, but you should definitely be scared to voice your opinion in class discussions, to ask the teacher for help, to talk to those people who you’re like sort-of-friends-with-but-do-they-really-lile-me-because-we’ve-only-talked-like-once because trust me, the worst thing that can happen is that someone decides not to reply to you which is their loss. Honestly, for the last few weeks I’ve made every effort to communicate with people around me as much as possible. I’ve joked around with my friends, I approached my teachers, I talked to people I don’t usually talk to, I met new people simply because I was engaged in conversation with my friends and other people decided to come and join in too, without knowing us. It was great. I felt so included and so, so much more confident as I kept reminding myself that it’s just talking and I talk to people every day so I don’t need to make a big deal out of it. Finding the confidence to be less shy and quiet is hard though, so if you need a little bit of help with this like I do, when you’re in class or in big groups of people, just try to focus on talking to one person at a time and pretend the others and their and that they don’t think twice about what you’re saying – or the fact you’re talking – because 9 times out of 10 they don’t.

2. Smiling makes you happy. FACT.

Okay I don’t know all the ~science-y~ stuff behind it, but I do know that we associate smiling with feeling happy and positive emotions. Therefore, I try to smile as much as possible to help me get into a better mindset. It probably sounds really cheesy, but honestly starting of each morning my smiling at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself you’re going to have a good day is a great way to start off the day. I don’t know about you butI often feel like my natural face is quite glum-looking and often I think this makes me less approachable as apposed to someone who smiles a lot, so I try to be as smile-y as possible at college to make me feel happier but also make myself appear happier so I feel more confident in myself and socialising.

3. Music makes the soul sing.

My sister has this quote on her bedroom door, and it’s so true. Sometimes I can get so caught up in work, I realise I haven’t listened to the radio or music on my phone for weeks, which is not good! When I listen to music, I genuinely feel a lot happier, relaxed and at ease. It’s something to take your mind off life, and you can let go a bit and sing along.to your favourite tunes. I’m not saying you should listen to music all the time because it might lose it’s effectiveness, but maybe next time your feeling a bit low, stick the radio on or trawl through Spotify, or even have music playing in the background when your studying.

4. Take life one day at a time.

I’ve always found this advice clichĂ© and brushed it off as one of those things people say that doesn’t actually work, but really I’ve found it to be quite useful. By sort of compartmentalising days, it helps me to make sure each day is a little more positive than the previous. For example, if you have a bad day, that’s okay, but try to wake up with the mindset that tomorrow is a new day and you can live it out as if yesterday hadn’t happened, if that makes sense. Basically don’t let bad days blur into bad weeks or months.

5. Write out your thoughts.

When I was younger I used to use diaries to decode my thoughts and emotions, and find a way forward, but somewhere in my teenage years I decided to stop doing this and try to bottle things up, which is not good. I recently started bullet journalling, and I’ve found it to be a really helpful tool to get me to open up and write about my feelings, which I totally wasn’t expecting. Having a space where I can physically write things down allows me to declutter my mind, and I feel like my thoughts have somewhere to belong as my bullet journal is sort of documenting my journey through life. Obviously writing stuff down doesn’t have the same effect as talking to people about issues, but sometimes you don’t want to share everything that’s bothering you, and doing exercises like this can help to remind you that you are strong and have control over your emotions without having to rely on others for help.

6. Positive reminders are underrated.

Somehow through trawling through the internet last week, I discovered Shine Text, which is basically a “bot” that sends you positive reminds and strategies to meet a goal (which you set e.g. building confidence) every morning via message. You can either subscribe via text or Facebook messenger, and honestly it has made such a difference to my mental health already. I’ve learnt so much about how to better look after myself, and so many coping strategies, it’s great! Aside from that, it’s really nice to have little positive reminders each morning, as sometimes you’re too tired or stress to remind yourself to think positively. I’d highly recommend!

7. Give yourself something to look forward to each week.

Since starting year 13 I’ve been really working hard at making sure I have something planned each week that I can look forward to. That way, it’s easier to focus on something nice that will be happening that  week and give yourself something to look forward to, and puts you in the mindset of rewarding yourself as you start to think “if I do this homework and that revision etc, I can do treat myself”. A few things I’ve done so far have been going shopping with friends, going to galleries and even just grabbing a coffee. This is also a really good tip as it makes sure you schedule in a time each week to relax and take your mind of things.

8. Celebrate your achievements, however small!

It’s so easy to overlook our successes, especially in school when your main focus is getting grades so everything else feels irrelevant,but the more you start to take notice and be proud of the little things you’ve overcome, the better you will feel. Sometimes it can be challenging to feel positive all the time but you should definitely make an effort to think about and recognise little positive things you do each day to give them value. 
Well that’s all I can think of for now, but if you have any tips to share, please do so below! I’ll hopefully be posting more frequently now I’ve adjusted to my new timetable and the year 13 workload, so until the next time, goodbye!