When I started this blog, there was one thing I knew I definitely wanted to talk about and that was my time at university. Not only did it make a huge difference to me as a person, but it had a huge impact on my anxiety, both good and bad.
During my time at sixth form, you’d often find people sharing ID’s or even tampering their own driving licence so they could get into clubs and get absolutely trashed. But for me? Na, you’re alright. There was no way you would get me to go out with my anxiety, let alone drink. By the end of year 13, I was ready and excited for a new start and new people at university studying photography. But with emetophobia, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than the big drinking university lifestyle.
With the car stuffed with me, my parents and all my things, we headed off to move into my new accommodation with 15 other students. The first night of freshers was looming and with a bar crawl on the cards = my worst nightmare. Luckily, after everyone congregated to meet each other and discuss plans for the night, it was decided not to go for the bar crawl but spend the evening in getting to know each other. Thank god for that I thought, I’ve escaped the first hurdle. Instead, I ended up somehow not heating my microwave meal properly and scared myself too much to eat it, and had a packet of crisps for dinner. I literally sat in my room thinking, how the hell am I going to cope with this? How am I going to be able to live here on my own? Can I go home now?
The next night, I had to face my fears and go out with all my new housemates. I think we got to the club and I had one shot. The rest of the night was spent thinking oh my god I’m going to be sick. I’m not even joking. But of course I wasn’t and I had managed to get away without anyone noticing that I wasn’t drinking. After one too many bevs, a couple of our housemates went home. When I returned a bit later, I was greeted with “don’t go in the kitchen, M has been sick”. Oh. Dear. God. That was when I knew I was hardly going to be able to keep this phobia a secret. As I told B, he insisted on keeping me out the kitchen until it had all been cleaned up. I still gingerly sat in there the following days, avoiding ‘the chair’.
Next was the dreaded fresher’s flu, and as one of us caught it, we all went down. I’d been hastily taking vitamin tablets leading up to fresher’s week and still didn’t escape, NO ONE CAN. Luckily, the extent of my illness just meant I completely KO’d on my new housemates’ bed but another was being sick from it. Safe to say I avoided him like the plague and spent my time constantly worrying about whether it was going to be me next. But thankfully I was fine. As university continued and I became settled into a routine with my new friends, I still spent more nights doing one or two shots and worrying about being sick, worrying about people spiking my drink, worrying about making myself ill from cooking – you name it, I was debating whether it would make me ill.
I don’t think I ever spent a night drunk in my first year, and that was okay. That was the way I liked it. I had my own limits and I was safe, and I was still enjoying myself. I was also so lucky to be blessed with a group of friends who would always look out for me, and understand how little I wanted to drink and why.
Second year was a completely different story and god knows how, I somehow gradually built up the confidence to drink and would actually get drunk. Tuesday night’s with my course mates became a regular occurrence, to the point where we always saw people we knew and we had bare bantz with the bouncers. Even with what I drank, there had to be a ‘routine’, beginning with sourz shots, sambuca shots and my failsafe malibu and coke. With each week, I would push the boundaries more and more. You can imagine what happened next. No, luckily I wasn’t actually sick. But I had the worst hangover I’d ever had in my life, a morning full of panic attacks and chest pains that were so bad I was beginning to think I’d need to get my boyfriend to call an ambulance. It was obvious I’d finally pushed myself too far, and since then I have never drunk as madly.
It goes without saying, I had a lot of fun. I was finally going out and enjoying myself. I would have the odd moment of panic, but I’d be loaded with my oils and chewing gum and plenty of people to distract me that luckily, it would never last too long. I can’t even understand now how I managed it.
But it wasn’t just night’s out that I was anxious about. I would end up in such a fluster in the morning before going into uni that it often became easier just not to go. It was obvious I ended up annoying some people particularly when we had group tasks, but some days my anxiety was too strong to battle. Missing my lectures didn’t go unnoticed and I ended up with warnings. Instead, it meant I had to battle with myself to make sure I got out the door, constantly fidget and fight panic attacks during lectures and more embarrassingly, often keep running to the toilet. I did have some counselling, for my anxiety and to discuss other various things that have happened in my life, and she advised me with various breathing techniques morning and night and also keeping a journal. When I could remember to do these things, it was helpful. I don’t think having counselling massively helped with anxiety, it was hard for me to open up and I felt extremely self conscious. And her response to having emetophobia was “what is the worst that could happen?”. That obviously wasn’t going to solve the problem. But it was good to talk to somebody who you knew wasn’t judging you.
Slowly but surely, knowing it came down to me and only me to push myself in order to live independently and get my degree, I just had to do it. I am not a fan of when people say you need to just do things and you will be fine, because I have all the same apprehensions and think over every negative possibility which can occur. It’s about pushing yourself, yes, but doing it in a way you find comfortable. For me, having my most trusted lecturers knowing I suffer with anxiety meant I knew I’d be able to get out if I needed to, as well as knowing my friends would be by my side if I needed them. I always carried (and still do) a bottle of water with me everywhere, my rescue remedy roller, chewing gum and more. I don’t want to say too much about my habits, because I know particular things other emetophobes said they do, I also decided to do myself and I don’t necessarily think that’s always the best. But find out what works for you, and don’t be embarrassed of it either!
I know this blog post just seems to mainly talk about alcohol, how much and how little I did and didn’t consume during my time at university. I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging, because that is not me at ALL. But from going to only being able to have one shot, to drinking the amount that I did, quite frankly shocks me. I know it’s not like an incredible achievement, but for me, as an emetophobe, it kind of was. I do think there is massive pressure on students to drink when they go to uni, especially first year. But I was able to over come that for a period of time, and enjoy myself, let go. I’m not saying you need to have a drink to have a good time by the way, because you definitely don’t! And when I didn’t want to, my friends understood that. Anyone who is a real friend will never make you do something you don’t want to, neither should you feel the pressure that you have to because everybody else is. Some of my happiest and funniest memories are from nights out after a little too much to drink, and thats okay.
University is undoubtedly a life changing experience. I went through loving it, to hating it, to detesting it, to counting the days to when it ended, to feeling immense sadness when I wasn’t going back. I made new friends, did my own washing, ate too many takeaways, dressed up as a minion for halloween, visited Ireland and ate nothing but sandwiches for the fear of getting sick, stuck my tongue out in too many pictures, had a firework thrown through our house window, sat for 6 hours watching paint dry before an exhibition, got to dress up in CSI photography kit, was inspired to learn to play the violin, got to photograph my football team, I gave a 10 minute presentation and completed my 3 year photography degree. There are so many special memories, the list would be endless if I spoke about everything. Sadly, times and people change, and a lot of crossed wires and disagreements mean I have mostly lost the people I was close with at university. But I still have those special memories, and I have me, the person that university made me. It gave me confidence I never thought I would find.
This is one of my favourite photos, because I was just having fun and being me, even with anxiety.