My name is Daphne, and I’ve just completed my bachelors’ degree in Maths. I joined the Alumni Online Community (AOC) because I learned a lot about myself at UCL – and knowing how difficult university can be, I wanted to share stories, insights, and to start to normalise aspects of how we understand each other.
I’ve come to realise that there is a complex relationship between emotions and their causes. I struggled with anxiety, but half the time I was just trying to understand where it was coming from. After all, many experts tell us that if we understand the origin of our fears we can overcome them.
But it’s not easy – perhaps not even possible – to figure it out. That’s coming from a maths student, and we try to figure out everything!
At this point, my backstory might paint a picture. I was a shy child; introverted and a deep, existential thinker – the perfect recipe for an angsty teenager. Then, in high school, I fell seriously ill with something that my doctors couldn’t diagnose.
In hospital, I lived through months of strange surgeries and inexplicable shocks. I felt totally hopeless, but reckoned that if I just kept being and being, I might be able to leave.
My eventual discharge came as a big shock. I obsessed over death and detachment, and was left with a strange feeling somewhere between a heavy bag and a big hole. I remember the total dizziness, fear and confusion, and having no control over my thoughts. I just wanted to run.
For a while, I thought that my anxiety was explicable: there is an obvious trauma and if I get through it, I’ll be better. But it’s more complicated than that.
My struggle varied between existential panic attacks to social anxiety, insecurity, and the fear that I wasn’t good enough. While I have learned to love some of it – it’s still the anxiety that gets me to work hard, to appreciate life and beauty, and to constantly question myself – it has been difficult.
As I experienced this, I developed a common mental conversation:
“I am feeling anxious.”
“Why am I feeling anxious?”
“It must be because I am afraid of dying. Or because I love somebody who doesn’t love me. Or because my friends are only pretending to like me.”
I would then proceed to obsess over the reasons I must be feeling anxious, which – trust me – was only a waste of my limited thought-time. Then something changed, and I transitioned to:
“I am feeling anxious.”
“Okay, interesting, what is this feeling? Let me explore it.”
And after a while:
“Do I still want this feeling? Not really.”
“Maybe now I can stop feeling anxious.”
And I moved on, gaining control and ridding myself of that constant desire to associate meaning.
It also helped to examine the way that my emotions were changing. During university, our bodies and minds develop in interesting and complex ways – and a lot of what we think and feel have little do with our experiences and more to do with the fact that we are set up to feel certain ways and want certain things. But we do what humans always do, which is forcefully assign reasons to the way we feel.
The challenge becomes to detach yourself from some feelings, and treat them in a more meditative and mindful way, as things which pass, rather than manifestations of something hidden.
At least, that’s what works for me.
If anyone studying at UCL wants help with or to talk about their experiences, know that there is always advice out there. You can also look at the resources available via Student Support and Wellbeing, or even just listen to the UCL’s Remarkable Stories podcast – recent episodes feature staff, students and alumni discussing their own wellbeing, and sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re not alone.
Stay healthy and thinking good thoughts!
If you would like to network with fellow UCL graduates like Daphne, visit the Alumni Online Community (AOC). If you would like to contribute to the UCL Wellbeing Blog, find out more about UCL’s digital volunteering opportunities.