University – a rite of passage, where you ‘find’ yourself, develop life long friendships and start your career. Or so your parents and teachers will tell you. The years that will set you up for life. Dictate your career. Decide how successful or otherwise you will be. The reality is for a lot of people, it’s just a 3 year piss up.
I left home without much trepidation. The nerves and excitement that most of my peers seemed to have was noticeably lacking for me. It just felt a bit like any other day. It was in fact a key moment for me. I had made a conscious decision that the friends I had from school were by and large not my people. I had already started to see who I was, the young adult I had become, and it was very different to most of those around me. University was my chance to go and find the like-minded ones, as promised by career advisors, teachers, and just about anyone else who decided to chuck their two penneth in.
My parents got all my stuff in, and left me to crack on. I was in halls that first year, living with 5 others. Now you’d maybe assume, as I did, that there would be some common ground between the 6 of you in the flat, that we would have a cracking year. Well, what a fucking weird bunch we were. We had the posh one, the rugby one (me), the West Country one, the charver, the scouser, and the one with a rod permanently lodged up her arse. Once and for all proving that to assume is to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.
When I arrived, it was just “the posh one” and myself. We actually got on really well. He would be my best friend through university, and the one friend who almost lasted post graduation. We had a fair few shared interests, and whilst we had different upbringings, I would say we were the most similar of the bunch.
My course was unbelievably crap. I spent a total of 45 minutes on my first assignment, and got the highest marks in the room. I was no longer the class clown, I was now the nerd. Full of ‘jocks’ trying to out ‘jock’ each other. It was like being sat in a changing room after a game, but with 130 guys who would describe themselves as lads. I was surrounded by a culture that I once embraced, but now felt alienated from. I was tired of being a social chameleon, changing my personality to suit those around me.
After a few weeks of explaining political theory to “the posh one”, he suggested I was doing the wrong course (my knowledge in the area largely down to my Dad’s encouragement to read a wide spectrum of political articles, one a day). Following a meeting with the Politics course leader, the move seemed to happen rather quickly. Within the week I was attending seminars on subjects like failed states and democratisation, rather than “what is a business?”.
Outside of the course, things seemed good! My social life largely consisted of playing Fifa, drinking cheap alcohol and generally having a good time. However an earlier pattern started to emerge once more. When I had time on my own, I just wasn’t coping. I had never been good with my own company, it was a running joke In the family. Long before FOMO was an internet acronym, I had a fear, not of missing out as such, but of being alone. I was never good with occupying myself. I found my mind to be a scary place. I am an incredibly logical person, always had a natural aptitude for numbers and loved things with a definite answer or ending. I used to say I had an “imagination barrier”. This was far from the truth, I just couldn’t cope with my imagination being allowed to run away with itself. I still to this day struggle with science fiction movies or books, or fantasy. I dismiss it as ‘unrealistic’ rather than allowing myself an escape in to the realm of fiction.
This pattern developed further throughout my time at university. In year 2 we got our own shared house. 6 of us. What a mistake that was… never shall I live again in such a shit tip, I told myself. As the few friends I had there settled with new partners, or had more frequent trips home to see old friends, I was left on my own. Rather than seek out new people and explore, I regressed. I have always loved adventure, but I chose to cut myself off. This culminated in me moving home for my final year. I travelled down to the majority of lectures and seminars, had the odd night out, but I spent most of my time back at home. All my old friends still away living their new lives. No longer in touch with most of them, I found the couple of people still there, and clung on. I knew this was wrong, we were very different people and they were not right for me, but what choice did I have?
I found some new friends through these old connections, some of whom I still count as good friends today, but the world they inadvertently introduced me to was one which I wish I’d never known. I graduated from university with a 2:1, narrowly missing a first, but that wasn’t to matter. I had a graduate job working in a related field. My life was set, all the practicalities taken care of. Yes, I was living at home, but I was earning over £20k straight out of uni. I was a success. My grandparents thrilled that I was paying in to a pension at 21. My life was waiting for me to take it by the horns.