Dear Agony Aunt: how do I get my student-life together in lockdown?

“Basically, of recent, I’ve been finding things really hard in Durham. I’m a girl who is a 3rd year law student and really should have sussed out how it works here by now, but I can’t concentrate on my online lectures. On top of this, I feel so isolated and feel like everyone else is seemingly having fun (somehow?) and I’m just feeling, well, crap. Although I have lovely housemates and a good support base at home, I feel like I’ve been forgotten about by so many people in Durham and although I know no one is having a normal social life right now, I’m going mad without one. Any ideas on how I can mimic some kind of normality and get my act together?”

 

Without invalidating your own personal experience: join the club. You really are not singular in your feelings with this one. With slight fear of sounding too cliché and obvious, the state of the world right now is a dire one, and there is no wonder as to why we’re all feeling a bit crap, as you say. As with all more complex and profound, problems, I can’t unpick the threads of your discontent in a few hundred words in this column, it’s not as simple as saying: he sounds awful – dump him! But I can offer you some first-hand tried and tested methods of just simply surviving, coping and sometimes (on a good day) living as a student at the moment.

 

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug

Image by Green Chameleon, Unsplash

You say that you can’t concentrate on your online lectures. Really, I don’t know anyone who is finding them particularly engaging – this isn’t what we signed up for, is it? Online university courses used to be a flexible option for those who couldn’t, or didn’t want to be an undergraduate falling around hazily on greasy club floors, running out to throw up in a 9am and, just sometimes, walking purposefully to a seminar with your friends, feeling enthused about the prospect of talking about a subject breathily and passionately in a room with others similarly enthused. We wanted these things though, that’s why we came to uni. We didn’t want breakout rooms with faceless names in capitals, we didn’t want to get drunk again with nowhere to go and we didn’t want to book library slots 5 days in advance of our study session (how am I meant to know what I’m doing next Tuesday?). But, alas, this is the position we find ourselves in. I use the plural in these instances, because, although I feel for you, this is the same situation we all find ourselves in. With online lectures, try as hard as you may to stick to your given timetable. This may sound painfully obvious, and is something I’m actually quite bad at, but when I do, I just feel that little bit more together, and that’s a bit pro in a time of many cons. As you are a finalist, there is an end goal in sight, and you’re not the only one who is doing lectures online – chat with your friends on your course, and your friends on other courses about how they are coping, or indeed just about how miserable it all is.

woman in black and white stripe dress holding wine glass

Image by Zachery Kadolph, Unsplash

But although we’re all in the same boat with online learning, this situation (paraphrasing Emily Maitlis) is not a ‘great equaliser’. For some, this current circumstance is more difficult than it is for others and indeed exacerbates issues that are already there. For instance, if you have mental health problems, if you are a carer, or if you find it difficult to reach out at the best of times when things are difficult, it will be tougher for you than it otherwise would. I don’t know your full medical background or mental health state obviously, but if you’re struggling with low-mood and/or low-motivation, ask for help – really. It’s tough to ask sometimes, especially if you feel you aren’t sad/low/ill ‘enough’. You could be feeling a level of imposter syndrome here – rather than feeling you don’t deserve success which is a classic manifestation of imposter syndrome, many of us can feel imposter syndrome when we are struggling with. poor mental health and it can result in complete denial, which is a not very good idea. Our brains can sometimes take us down slippery slopes, from good to bad, very quickly, so even if you’re coping right now, there really is no harm in requesting some premeditated help, whether that be some talking therapy, academic support or a few essay extensions to make it all seem a bit more manageable. I’ll link a couple of places at the end of the column that can offer this kind of thing – these things take some time admin-wise, so if you act now and if you need it more urgently in the coming weeks and months, it is more instantly accessible to you at the time you most need it. This could be helpful given the circumstances, as some of the many crutches humans usually rely on when they’re feeling down – really anything involving normal socialising – aren’t available to us as normal.

You’ve highlighted you’re feeling the lack of socialising specifically – me too – it’s tough. I am seeing friends, ‘in a highly Covid safe manner’ (although I am anonymous I shouldn’t and won’t advise to break the law and put the health of our nation at risk) but we are not living the normal social life of a student. I too struggle a lot with this at the moment – what can we expect to draw from a university social life now there’s no clubs, pubs, bars and house parties? Why am I so excited about roast chicken and 11pm bedtimes now? It’s easy to worry that you’ve become boring and antisocial. But I think I’ve come to a healthy conclusion: I am simply surviving. The law and morality regarding Covid aside, it’s no fun to desperately make a million plans a week in Durham at the moment in order to feel ‘social’, furtively dodging police whilst sipping warm beer behind closed curtains, crossing your fingers you won’t be fined ten grand. I promise you haven’t been forgotten, and although you’re a finalist and are graduating this summer, when the world opens up again, I assure you, you will most likely, slowly but surely reconnect with the fun extremities of your ghostly social life once more – and if you don’t, you will sculpt a wonderful (perhaps better) one for yourself out of the people around you when we emerge from this. Finally, as for ‘getting your act together’, don’t be so hard on yourself, we’re all doing the best we can – in the meantime, sleep enough, keep on top of your work, hug your housemates and bake some banana bread.

 

Talking Therapy Links:

https://www.talkingchanges.org.uk

https://www.dur.ac.uk/counselling.service/

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