University of Sussex : My Welcome Week : Off-Campus On-Campus Social

Welcome to day two of my welcome week at what will be my second home, The University of Sussex! 

I know I'm a few days behind with these updates so bare with me ;) 

Today's story is from Sunday 15th September, and begins with me being absolutely broken from the previous day. I could have stayed in bed all day, and really wanted to, but once again I have to get dressed and be sociable. This is going to take a lot of getting used to...

The previous day I had visited my mum, and borrowed her posh steam mop with the hope that it would at least start to deal with the horrible stench that is still hanging in the kitchen from that maggot-infested fridge. I swear to god nothing worked, so being the scientist of the house, I figured maybe steam would kill off the foul-smelling bacteria or whatever it is! Apparently you're only meant to steam 'sealed' wood flooring. What the hell does that mean?! But it didn't really matter. There was something evil in this kitchen and it needs to be cleaned within an inch of it's life. Repeatedly.

It was so much fun!! I'm totally getting one. The floors look so much better and it definitely helped my stress level simmer down slightly. Pretty sad that steaming the floors clean is what soothes me but there we are. Lily didn't appreciate having damp paws but it's her own daft fault for not wanting to stay in the bedroom!

I had to return it to her the next day because OxO is an old man and keeps having accidents at night. Bless him. If he knew how to bark or make his daft noises louder he might get let out when he's asking. He definitely would have tried, but he's just a very quiet boy.

So. Back to grotty Worthing we went. We dropped everything back at Mum's then headed to the MIL's house. She invited us for lunch as the boyfriend's sister and her boyfriend were staying the weekend. Student's don't refuse free food, so I agreed to go. A couple of years ago I would have been near tears at the thought of doing something like this, and probably still backed out. It blows my mind how much more I am able to do now. It's still hard, don't get me wrong, but I can do it.

I took my laptop along and tried to make the most of having a broadband connection before we sat down for a late lunch of roast beef. It was yum. However, the weather was taking a nasty turn and my general policy about crap weather is one of avoidance.

It is at this point in the story that one of many 'new things' happen. To kick us off, I have been talking with on Facebook and texting a very lovely girl, who was struggling with anxieties and I just tried to be something of a supportive shoulder to lean on. She came all the way from Italy the previous day and was placed into a horrible student house. I haven't seen it myself, but from what she's said, it sounds like an absolute disgrace. Students of Sussex University, hell, anyone, deserves better than what they have to put up with. I really, really hope that the Student Union will do their thing and get them some help very quickly!

Anyway. The weather was crap. I texted her and asked if she really wanted to brave the wind and rain on her second day, to which she said much to my amusement that this is what she thought England was like! Hahaha!!! What a lovely image to have as a nation. She said she felt really uneasy in her house so I agreed to meet her and we'd go on the bus together to the campus, as she'd not done the journey before!

So. It was a bit of a race against time! We left Worthing just after 5pm and aquaplaned most of the way to Brighton along the A27. It dawned on me during the trip that buses must run less often on a Sunday, so I grabbed my phone and checked the Brighton and Hove Bus app - very handy, if confusing to operate! Our bus was at 5.50pm so I had literally 5 minutes to change my top, shoes and brush my teeth before flying out the door again.

I had hoped to see my Facebook friend at the bus stop already or coming down the road towards me within moments. Nope. I had given directions but perhaps they weren't clear enough. I heard my phone go off and already knew what it was going to tell me! My friend was lost. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Thankfully, I sort-of knew where she was and said to her that I'd come find her, so off I went on a 5 minute power-walk. I got to where she was, and I use that word with emphasis, because she wasn't there anymore. She was at the bus stop at Sainsburys! My 5 minute power-walk was cut down to an impressive 3 minutes, and by the time I got to Sainsburys I felt like I was going to collapse.

I looked like hell. I couldn't breathe. I was sweating. But my friend was there and she was in one piece. So that was a relief. By this time it was just gone 6pm, so the Off-Campus On-Campus social had already started. By some minor miracle, another university bus was due in 3 minutes so we wouldn't be very late. Phew.

I like to think that we built up a rapport very quickly, because we certainly weren't stuck for conversation! I try to text her everyday to see how she's getting on. She's doing a different subject to me but that doesn't mean we can't travel together and so on... I'm being quite ambiguous on purpose so I don't violate her privacy. 

The Off-Campus On-Campus social is an hour long meet-up for freshers who aren't living in halls. It was easy enough to find; the meeting house has multi-coloured windows and was apparently designed to resemble a candle.

In keeping with my no BS policy, I shall give my honest opinion here: It sucked. There were around 100 people crammed into a pretty small room which had tables with flyers surrounding it. There were no drinks provided, or any little plastic cups for the water machine thing in the entrance hallway. I mean, really. You expect people to talk for an hour and not need a drink? We were so thirsty when we got there after our bonus walking... Very poor effort.

The 'ice-breaker' was a game of person-related bingo where you had to go around and find people who ticked the relevant box. I played this game in college. It was painful then and it was just not going to happen this time around! My friend had the same opinion so we avoided the rep handing out said bingo 'cards', browsed the flyers and left!

The age range was definitely in the 18-21 category. I didn't see anyone who looked like they were a more 'mature' student. Personally, I felt suffocated in that room and could feel my anxiety levels getting to a point where I needed to be by an open door. My friend didn't like the noise! Not too long after we parked ourselves on a stone table a lady appeared who had come to collect her daughter, who was 18 and had to be kicked into going to the social.

We spoke to her for a good 20 minutes about various university related topics, and I tried to impart what little wisdom I have on anxiety as a teenager to try to reassure her that her daughter would be very well looked after here and the support services seem to leave nothing unchecked. My initial concerns were that she seemed to be placing an immense amount of pressure on herself, and that she felt unworthy of a place at Sussex. Oh how that one kicked me in the stomach. The perfect storm for eating disorders to make their presence known.

University halls are a breeding ground for eating disorders of all types, as well as drug and alcohol problems. This 18 year old girl was going to be living at home and commuting. Her mum was a professional dancer prior to re-training as an accountant. That eased my worries. Dancers, ex-dancers, teachers, we know the signs.

I guess a part of me felt the need to almost try and offer as much information as possible about managing anxiety and backward thought patterns as it was when I was 18 that my anorexia became much more severe. Thankfully, the girl in question didn't drink, much to her mum's relief!

That led us onto a mutual hatred of the way students have access to lethal amounts of alcohol, are actively encouraged to binge-drink and are served alcohol when they are clearly drunk. I hate it. HATE IT. Not only is it dangerous, irresponsible and morally wrong; but you are adding to the level of people in their early twenties with alcohol problems. I could really expand on this now but I have a special blog post in mind just for this topic, and I'd like to try and do some research.

As you can probably tell by now, my Facebook friend and I were having a much more productive and social time talking to someones mum than our student counterparts! That has to be an age thing...

By the time 7pm rolled around, the rain had pretty much stopped and mother and daughter had been reunited. She even came out with a boy which made me want to hug her with pride! Just before this her mum asked me if I'd go see how she was getting on, and she was with a group of people, looking scared and nervously chewing her jacket but she stuck it out! Awesome girl.

We left shortly after them and located a bus stop. Everything looks different in the dark and it's very disorientating!! We then had a conversation that went something along the lines of this:

Friend: "So, you don't smoke..?"
Me: "No."
Friend: "You don't drink...?"
Me: "Er, nope...."
Friend: "You're pretty straight-edge aren't you! Do you eat junk-food??"
Me: "From time to time..!"

I then had to try and explain my quiet life and it did leave me feeling a bit like a loser but I was open about how I used to drink but became dependent and have now stopped. There is absolutely no way I could study at this level and use alcohol. My friend agreed that it's not something she plans to do much of, not just because it takes a couple of days to recover!

I was curious how she was going to find the food over here, as the Italian diet is absolutely incredible. Hopefully we'll find some good greengrocers and deli's. We parted ways at Sainsburys, after I'd made sure she knew how to get home!

As I was walking up the horrible hill home, it hit me that although the 'social event' was a total bust, the evening out had actually been pretty successful. It was certainly thought provoking, and led me to some conclusions.

I can't deny what my life is, why it has to be this way, or who I am.... what I am. If people ask me a question I will tell them the answer. If that means 'owning up' to having mental illness, being a recovering alcoholic, recovering drug-addict, recovering anorexic, so be it. All of those horrible things have led me to one of the most amazing educational institutions in the country.

I'm not ashamed of these conditions I live with. It's no different to diabetes or coping with migraines. If people feel awkward, that's their problem. It's up to us, the portion of the population who have been forced to suffer in silence, to start to use their voice. If we don't talk, the awkwardness, ignorance and judgement will never go away.

Over the next three years, I really hope I can work with the Students Union and their links with the Time to Change campaign. I'm even entertaining the idea of being a Student Representative.

So that's what happened on my second day of My Welcome Week!

Next time: The School of Life Science Induction Day... *cue dramatic music*

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