Tag Archives: university

A Perfectionists Guide on What (Not) To Do At University: 5 Things I Wish I’d Told Myself Before I Went

Hi All,

I decided to make this short guide because many of you are bright, intelligent people, who’ve had hard starts in life. As a result, you’ve struggled in the education system and it has left you with the belief that you cannot succeed in academia. This is simply untrue, and I am living proof.

I’m a third year History undergraduate who has made it to the final term of the final year (the dreaded dissertation looms) at a Russel group (Ivy League UK equivalent) university – on track for a 2:1; a pretty decent grade!

What makes this EVEN MORE REMARKABLE is that I did it all with very little support and WITHOUT MEDS.

Ok, so that’s me, but I wanted to tell you all why I think I need to give some advice on this subject. My experience, because I pushed myself so hard, was miserable. As a perfectionist (a personality trait I highly recommend NOT adopting) I worked so hard on the degree that I didn’t live. I pushed away relationships, exciting opportunities and virtually anything that made me happy in the pursuit of completing the course to a satisfactory level.

This is a TERRIBLE way to approach university as an experience, and I implore anyone thinking that they will approach it in the same way to reconsider! You are worth more than this piece of paper, and your happiness should not be bound up in something that will cost three years of your life at the expense of real human experiences.

The point I’m trying to make is this: You can go to University and be successful/ happy, but make sure you build support networks, take advantage of disability services and staff who will help you, use your family and friends to keep you accountable, and find your own methods of learning, don’t follow what you see others doing – it most likely won’t work for you!

Here are five things I’d tell myself if I was starting again from scratch (the very thought boggles the mind):

1. This degree is not a reflection of your personal abilities, rather a reflection on your ability to pass as neurotypical.

You MUST separate yourself from the idea that universities are assessing YOU. They are not. You are different and you have your own skills and abilities that often fall outside the range of assessment at educational institutions. Many of you are excellent analysts and problem solvers, some of you are excellent verbal communicators and excel in presenting information to people. Nearly all of you are exceedingly charming, a quality MORE THAN REGULARLY lacking in University environments. Your ability to read fast or spell well are not your strengths and so what? Yes, you’ll need to do both at university, but make sure you really reflect on your strengths as you go along – don’t invest your self-worth in your ability to read quickly and retain written information on demand.

2. Build a support network and make sure it is water-tight!

If you want to end up succeeding at university, you need a strong and stable support network, both in terms of your relationship to the university disability services and familial/ friend connections to lift you up emotionally when things get hard. I had a very hard time with this and if you cut people off, you’ll end up withdrawing more and more from your life and degree. So before you go, take stock – count up who it is you can count ON. Ask the university what they do for students with learning differences, ask to speak to representatives, come loaded with questions and take their responses very seriously into consideration when you choose the university degree for you. You deserve to be supported during your time at university and indeed ALWAYS.

3. Look after your BODY.

I can’t stress this enough. One of your highest priorities at university should be the regular administering of exercise, good food and even yoga/ meditation/ BOTH. We with ADHD are absolutely higher risks for illness under stress than the average person. What is more, our brains are as good as our bodies. Really, it’s true! Our ability to focus and learn is directly linked to our physicality. The more physically inactive we are, the less we can cope with the attention demands of the course. Some of my best work was done when I was in a regular gym routine, taking vitamins/ minerals and working on eating high protein, low carb meals, regularly spaced. The times when my work was worst or indeed the most stressful were those points where I relied on fast acting caffeine and high-sugar snacks to give me the energy I needed to get through the stress of impending deadlines. The more stressed I was, the less exercise I did and the more crap I ate. It’s a cycle of reinforcement that you need to keep an eye on at all times. I constantly got sick following these high stress/ poor diet/ exercise phases and that can be very demoralising over time. Don’t let it happen to you!

4. Find your own learning style.

From my own experience, underlining text, listening to lectures and passive reading of books are HORRIBLE ways for the ADHD brain to assimilate information. What worked best for me was to read and take notes as I went. Sometimes I would copy relevant passages verbatim, other times I would read a passage and summarise in my own words on paper. The important thing to remember again is the physicality. Because writing on paper involves movement, we process this information much more effectively than we do when we underline phrases or listen to lecturers – it’s even more effective than typing on a keyboard. Pen and paper is your friend and ally at university and you should also experiment with other ways that you can incorporate physicality into your degree. For History it made most sense to do as I did above, but for science degrees and more practical subjects, getting hands on as often as possible will make the information much easier to digest. Experiment, play around with it, find your own way, but NEVER rely on or expect neurotypical learning methods to serve you.

5. Find your tribe / work on your passions.

This was something I sorely missed out on at university. I never made many friends and I wish that I had. ADHD can be an extremely socially isolating condition for people and we need to acknowledge that. Nevertheless, I don’t want you to feel alone like I did, so please make the effort to put yourself out there and meet people. It might feel scary or difficult at first, but you deserve to feel connected in an environment that often feels extremely jarring for many. I personally found an outlet in drawing and writing. When I was stressed or overwhelmed I would retreat into my room and draw on my tablet for hours. I’m not brilliant at it, but it calms me down, gives me something creative to do, and builds a skill that might come in handy in the future! Find your own passions and USE THEM to escape from time to time. It is not healthy to think about university for three whole years of your life. Find your tribe, find your passions, let them consume you sometimes and forget about university at least occasionally. Your happiness and well-being is more important than the piece of paper you end up with in the end.

Afterword:

I hope some of these tips help you. I’m happy to answer other questions if they come along. The experience is a tough one and I won’t tell you that it will be easy, but part of the reason I wanted to learn in the first place is because I respect the experiences of people who came before us, and passing the baton of experience to those who are starting out feels important. I want you to have the best experience you can possibly have and avoid as many of the pitfalls that I have experienced as is humanly possible for you.

You are not defined by the establishment, so establish your own definition of education and hold onto it throughout. You’re good enough to do this, and you deserve to pursue your intellect at its fullest despite your ADHD. Look after your body, be looked after by others, learn how to learn in your own way, find your tribe, find your passion, and detach your self-worth from your academic achievements. These are pillars to live by at university, and I hope they serve to house you securely as you learn and grow as a person. Good luck. If I can do it, so can you.

#WalkAway – Millennial Voices Series

Why did you #WalkAway?

Walking to clear one’s mind can be therapeutic. Walking away from something or someone who you know is toxic for you is powerful and freeing. For myself walking away was just that. Why did I decide to walk away? Well, it all started during the time I was transitioning from middle school to high school I was smack dab in the middle of the awkward phase. I was one of those low self-esteem scene kids who was trying to fit in by being different.  You know the usual dumb teenager logic. During this time, I was super left wing all the way. Whatever my friends and left-wing media outlets said I agreed without question. I agreed because I didn’t want to ruffle feathers with my friends, I just wanted to belong.

During this time I was raped by someone who I had built a relationship with and thought I could trust. I was devastated, ashamed and I decided to hide it from my family. When I went to my friends about this because I didn’t know what to do and I was scared, they just gave me the typical, ” Oh I’m sorry,” and then they brushed it off and started talking about things like music and media. It made me feel so small and like what I  went through didn’t matter. These people that I was trusting with something that destroyed me yet didn’t even care, were the same people who always talked a big game about how they would be there for anyone who was sexually assaulted.

Shortly after this, I began to show different views from the rest of my friends. Trying to rebuild my relationship with God and still trying to overcome the traumatic experience I went through by developing more conservative views,  didn’t sit well with the group of people I had called friends.  They began excluding me, only a smaller group stayed friends with me and that was because I wasn’t showing all of myself to them. I was still trying to fit in. The same people who used to be my friends were turning into secret enemies, they began talking about me behind my back and spreading horrible rumors about me. By the end of high school, I had only but a hand full of friends and I was ready to be done with it.

College rolled around, and I still had some left-leaning views, and a herd mentality when it came to the 2016 election.  I believed what I was being told by the left media outlets until I was challenged to explain why I believed what I believed and what facts I had to back those beliefs up. This was the real wake up call, it made me stop and think and research for the truth. I finally felt free. This is my #walkaway story.

Katherine T.G.

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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