Tag Archives: responsibility

University – A Psychopathic Institution?

Psychopaths come in many flavours, all of them dangerous, but there’s a common thread that strings them together. Psychopaths create personas to hide behind, they might be the pleasant co-worker who asks you what you did at the weekend, or the cheery neighbour who always says ‘Hi’ with a smile as you’re leaving the house. Psychopaths have no empathy, they don’t feel anything for others, and they work hard to keep it a secret until it’s too late. Psychopaths are punishing, they act with cool rage and crushing retribution, delivered with full force, no remorse, and no warning. Psychopaths are dangerous because you can never tell where you really stand with them, until it’s too late.

Universities, too, are a little bit psychopathic, and here’s why:

Before getting to University, I was sold a face that didn’t match the interior. The open day was a bright and happy affair, bloated with opportunities, glowing reports, shiny presentations, and cheerful students. The reality was nothing like it. Fresher’s week, a thoroughly bizarre experience, left me swept under by feelings of isolation, sadness, and confusion, in the wake of excess intoxication, no sleep, false friendships, and having to deal with the behaviour of students even less well adjusted than myself.

Seminars were awkward, uncomfortable silences, intermitted by an equally uncomfortable lecturer’s cajoling – to no effect. You could sense nobody wanted to be there. Exams came, I’d never felt so wrong. Existing, just, on caffeine, sugar, the promise of a restful summer with no essays or exams, and pure-bliss freedom. The relief came and went in an instant. I sat on my chair at 10 am, after being up for nearly two straight days and laughed. Hysterically. The summer lacked its promise. Where was the rest? Gone with the thought I’d not make it to year two. How did I know I would, when I wrote my 24/48 hour exams not feeling at all like myself? I didn’t trust Mr Hyde, the maniacal, caffeinated creature, to do me justice.

So that was year one. Sunshine and daisies? Hardly.

The flowers only grew on the grave of my stable sense of self, the sun revealed the camber of the newly disturbed earth beneath. And the face of the establishment fell. I knew that University was filled with hollow promises and veneered smiles. It came for the person I was and smashed it to pieces. A sledgehammer of insanity, it walloped me.

Am I the only one to take a bludgeoning? I don’t think so.

And what did it offer me as recompense? There’s the open door team. You can see them a couple of times a term, if you’re lucky. There’s your supervisor, untrained and helpless to help. There’s the groggy, sluggish system, which punishes poor attendance, but prances prissily around the issue of mental health support. I don’t even know where I stand with it. Who makes up the rules and more so, where are they?

So, for me, university feels like something pretending to be what it’s not. It left me to fend for myself psychologically and emotionally, and in confusion, caused by the dissonance between perception and reality. It didn’t care that I wasn’t coping. If it did, there would be the necessary infrastructure to support students in crisis, but the reality is, it doesn’t exist. The rapid pace, lack of support, and brutal examination periods has left me, and many other students battered. I didn’t realise until it was too late, and I’m part of a bigger problem. It’s happening to students everywhere.

UPP student survey for the Guardian found that 87% of first year students struggled with some variation of mental health issue. Of this figure, almost half (44%), reported feeling lonely or isolated. We are facing an epidemic of psychological illness at universities across the country. Universities are not doing enough to support mental health issues, and we need real change here. With an institution that hides behind a cheerful, sun-beam persona, obliquely avoiding the issue of mental health, and smashing students to bits psychologically, university is a lot like an anti-social monolith, and it must work with students to learn how to feel again.

A voice lost, a lesson learned.

Second year of University was the year things really started to slip. Immense, self-imposed pressure, relentless deadlines, and a growing realisation of the disparity between the actual and perceived experience of University life started spitting over the sides of the cook’s neglected pot. I, the cook, had taken a vacation from everything. I just up and left. Dissociation, I think they call it.

The thing about this dissociation, the really horrible thing about it is how it makes you become transparent. Ethereal, half made, half mad, and half dead, I ambled, no, groped about the campus most days with my headphones in. I watched people silently, wistfully hoping that I would be noticed, desperately afraid of the idea as well.

It’s strange when you are surrounded by so many people, but you’ve never felt more alone. Isolation is uglier when you see the opposite everywhere you go. Students laughing and talking together. I felt shame, and anger, and desperation. I felt like a dying tree with screaming roots. Frantically I flexed my feelers through baron earth. Water never came.

Unsettling above all was how I knew I was all of those things, all of those emotions, and yet, I couldn’t feel a thing. I remember attempting to will myself to cry on many occasions. I knew I needed to, but the rain just wouldn’t come. I sometimes imagined myself in tears. I imagined a version of myself who was screaming, projecting imaginary tears, a continuous white water rapid across an ugly creasing vista, but it was only an image. I could not will it into being.

When I came home. When I finally finished University for the second year, I cried for a week. I was a mess. The dam broke, the cork popped, the banks burst, the rain poured, the wave crashed. Out came a half year’s worth of pain in a week. It was miserable, but it brought relief.

My parents were an incredible support during that time. They helped me in ways I cannot explain. My father stayed with me and talked to me when I needed. My mother treated me in her own way, the practical way she knows by checking how my health was and seeing that I was fed. I am incredibly lucky to have a family like this, and I have not appreciated it fully in the past. Reconnecting with them like this has healed me and made us closer. Sometimes it takes a mighty fall to grasp the olive branch that was always there to support you.

After I was well enough, I started to bury my head in books again. I was looking for something and it was as a direct result of coming through the misery I had experienced. Feeling transparent, like a ghost, I had no voice. I had faded completely, become a waif with the power only to observe. I never wanted to feel like that again. It’s like dying without the privilege of blissful ignorance. A privilege (I imagine) the actual dead get to have. Nevertheless, being entombed in silence was revelatory. I knew that I never wanted to lose my voice again, and, in fact, I would spend as long as I needed to make my voice more powerful than it had ever been before.

It has been my journey in the last few months as I recover, to find my voice again. To speak up and thrust myself into the world where it was before so happy to let me exist as the whisper in the wind. We cannot be muted victims of our experiences, we must become criminally loud and make the world hear us when it would rather ignore us. From silent lowlands to cacophonic peaks, I will rally.

And here we are.

Millennials have had a difficult time finding their feet and their voice while the world looks to us in contempt or with indifference, but we have a responsibility to fight back. The litany of structures which impede us are massive. PC culture is pervasive. The left has come to experience the type of crushing silence that nearly destroyed my voice and have retaliated. It attempts to protect victims by censoring and silencing and views itself primarily as a commodity of victimhood.

I can’t allow that to be my destiny. I will take responsibility for my voice, I will push myself to be louder and make myself heard. Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good roman emperors surmised: The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way..

  • I am not at the mercy of anyone but myself.
  • My voice is always my own.
  • I am responsible for the choices I make.

Now that we’ve arrived at this conclusion, get really damn loud about what you have to say. Let the world know you are here and that you mean to stay.

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