There is so much excitement about starting the university. A new start. An exciting one. (New) Friends. (Plenty of) Sex. Alcohol. Drugs. No-one to control your life. Feeling all grown up. A ‘University Dream’.
However, the difficult side of the university is often not acknowledged and ignored, by all – parents, academics, university and the students themselves. The University is surrounded by the hype that is reinforced by all the participants mentioned in the previous sentence and even more. Rarely we are taught the difficulties of this new chapter in our lives and that is a major failing: Money troubles (although, not that often and not for all students); Daily life decisions we were never asked to make; Fear and uncertainty about the future, career choices, placements, grades etc.; Dating is intimidating and friends are badly needed/wanted, because being alone in these circumstances is frightening.
In a sense, to-be freshers experience the excitement before the reality. The planning of things to be done; how I will be a different person; how much fun I’ll have; how circumstances are going to improve being away from home etc.
“We ask 18-year-olds to make huge decisions about their career and financial future, when a month ago they had to ask to go to the bathroom” (Adam Kotsko).
University can be a dangerous battlefield. So many of us enter the university campus not knowing what to expect. Some of us will like it there. Some of us will hate it. Some of us will be indifferent. However, none of us will be prepared, because you can’t prepare for it.
This article will not be for everyone, but for those who need it. A lot of students enjoy their university years, for some the university experience will be the most exciting time in their lives. In turn, the pressure to feel happy and enjoy the university is immense. If you don’t enjoy it, you feel even more lonely and isolated. It is easy to see why there is stigma attached to this feeling; why we are afraid to confess it; to admit it. The consequence of the hesitancy to express your pain makes us forget how rife the loneliness is.
For this article I will not bore you with the official statistics, policies, academic studies and so on. A quick search on the internet will present you with the plethora of articles, forums, websites and other material dedicated to negative feelings, mental disorders and so on. Digital age makes us even more lonely than any of us would like to admit.
I think Facebook is dangerous. It is fake and it is naïve. It is an act of showmanship that promotes the deception and fabrication of false values, false friendships, and false personalities. What Facebook and other similar websites lack in depth they make up with ignorance. Do not compare your life to the Facebook posts, please.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. IT’S NOT. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone”(Robin Williams).
Writing about the loneliness is challenging. In most cases it is either ridiculed or romanticized. I understand the broadness of this subject and regardless of the depth I present in this essay – some things will be omitted. Loneliness is not an isolated issue, but merely a part of a greater design that involves a wide array of emotions – despair, frustration, isolation, anxiety, fear, panic etc.
The loneliness is more than just feeling lonely. It is a sense of isolation; feeling all alone even if you are surrounded by people; a sense of detachment and inability to communicate with the people you meet (not everyone and that’s a crucial difference). Not everyone you talk to will be your friend; Your friendships will come, but you have to remain patient.
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you” (Carl Jung).
It is also dangerous to create a sense of superiority and depth about these feelings. Loneliness does not (always) make you ‘deep’ and special. It makes you feel like you are and caution must be applied. Loneliness gives you a different perspective. It gives you strength (ironically) and it presents you with the new paradigm that others lack. Loneliness can even be a gift because it can enrich your character. Do not abuse it. Do not oversimplify it and do not exaggerate it.
“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them” (Jodi Picoult).
This quote (—>) is both powerful and accurate. There is no superiority surrounding the loneliness but genuine feelings of loneliness and isolation must be respected and acknowledged.
The danger presents itself when the ‘privilege’ of loneliness is being tarnished with the false claims of depression and the similar feelings/diagnoses. The real feelings of melancholy, perpetual sadness, depressive/suicidal thoughts have been smeared with dirt and dishonesty. It is painful to see how the word ‘depressed’ has been oversimplified and overused, disregarding and neglecting the actual people to whom the word ‘depression’ means an actual clinical diagnosis.
I am not minimizing your feelings and underrating your experiences, but we have to understand the clear distinction between the (temporary) feelings and medical diagnoses. You may or may not be suffering from a mental disorder. It may or may not be depression. It may or may not a temporary dent in your emotions. It may or may not pass. It may be something serious or it may not.
Respect the emotions and do not downplay your experiences and feelings. Do not feel inferior and do not be cowardly. Even be proud of them because only this way you can learn to live with them.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty” (Mother Teresa).
Currently, I am a second year student in one of the UK universities. My academic discipline matters little, though it’s a social science subject (yes, I know, it’s pointless, stupid and I will be unemployed, whatever – pass your exams first). My first year of the university was the toughest year of my life and I had my share of struggles during my short life. It was marked by financial struggles, very poor mental/emotional state (resulting in below average grades), social isolation etc. I was a mess; I was alone; I was in a really dark spot. I have been in a dark spot for years.
I found it extremely difficult to connect with anyone, because no-one understands life like I do. Still, even today, I struggle finding people who share my views and my experiences. I grew up in poverty. I don’t remember much of it, just fractured memories of my not-so-happy/sad childhood. Things kept getting better each year. However, I still regard poverty as part of my identity. The university I am studying in is a good one. Naturally, students here are wealthy/in good financial position.
It’s easy to feel like an outcast when the attempts to connect with people alien to you are futile. For so long I thought it’s my fault. Maybe I am awkward and quiet and shy – everyone described me like that, so why not? Maybe it’s all my fault? Then one day you realize it does not have to be your fault. Then you stop bashing yourself and you stop criticizing yourself for the things you did not do.
“Who knows what true loneliness is – not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion” (Joseph Conrad).
Very few people know how to be alone. The human need for socialization and companionship, besides acting as a survival mechanism, can be the factor of one’s demise. That desperate need to fit in and be part of (any) group makes you do things you don’t necessarily agree with; you bend and twist your values to fit in; you change the way you talk, they way you act. Because if you don’t, you’ll be alone…
When you feel alone it is easy to be corrupted, in an emotional sense, of course… One wants to belong. Our whole life is one great quest for belonging and being a part of something. When you feel alone you want to grasp the first thing comes your way, be it the ‘lad culture’ or the wrong friendships.
Loneliness has the ability to starve a person making him/her extremely vulnerable to negative outside/social/cultural influences.
“Don’t trust people whose feelings change with time… Trust people whose feelings remain the same, even when the time changes” (Ziad K. Abdelnour).
One of the most remarkable of observations I noticed is the transition from freshers to second years. First year is all about adapting and finding your ground. Figuring out how things are going to be from now on. Second year is all about being a ‘man’.
You see, I view most of the students as kids. I’m a kid myself, there is no doubt about that, even though I’m 21. However, I acknowledge that and I know it to be true. I do not act like I know what I’m doing. I don’t pretend to be tough and I don’t show off in front of the ‘lads’. I’m an outcast, in many senses. I’m a very closed and private person. I keep to myself, I carry my own weight. I struggle alone. I do not need the approval of anyone. I don’t need to prove how much I can drink; how many girls I can bring to my room; how much I know about football (football, not soccer 😉 ).
However, in relation to my own experiences – I haven’t met a single male student (in my university) who remained the same, in other words, true to himself. The danger with the university life (and not just with it) is that it can mess with your head in the wrong places. It presents a false idea of adulthood and manhood – something some of those children have never actually experienced. However, they act manly, tough, bold, aggressive… It is both sad and funny…
It becomes a spectacle: A bunch of wannabes get together to drink and watch football before going to the nightclub in the hopes of ‘pulling someone’; Children desperately trying to validate themselves as men, through the approval of other children. A ritual of sorts… Initiation to manhood…
“This above all – to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man” (William Shakespeare).
Now, yes… I’m all bitter because I don’t have many friends; because I’m a weirdo loner; because I was picked last in PE classes (it’s true though ;( – that still hurts to this day…); because I’m a virgin etc… Sure, whatever 😉
Oh yeah and I’m a feminist – why not throw this label in as well while we are at it; However, to educate you about the history and the implications of the feminism (something I do study in relation to my degree) would require a separate article to help you understand what feminism truly is…
Remember, leaving for university does not have to mean the parental chains have to be cut and you have to act wild. Think carefully what you want to achieve while at the university. Think carefully how you want to repay your parent’s sacrifice. Think carefully how important other people’s opinions are to you. Think carefully how you want to portray. Think carefully what you want to be.
It’s a tough world out there, yes. It’s big, scary and ruthless. Even dark and gloomy. And lonely. And a million other things. There is no shame in being afraid. You are unprepared and you feel like you are not ready. You feel incompetent and you feel stupid and you feel alone. You are afraid.
It’s not easy and it’s okay. I don’t know if it will get better. Neither do you. Take one day at a time… Then everything becomes manageable…
You want to live and you want to be happy. Most importantly, you want to be okay. And you try to be okay. You do what you are supposed to do no matter how tough it is. And you smile and you engage in those conversations and you try to portray the interest but it doesn’t work. You go out and you join those societies to satisfy the need for social interaction. You approach people; you try; you do your best to appear friendly but none of that (so far) resulted in any real friendships. You smile and you laugh even though you know once you close the doors to your room you will cry. And at this moment you realise how alone you truly are.
And that is okay. There is nothing wrong with you. Most likely there is nothing wrong with other people too. The only fault is the incompatibility of characters and the lack of common interests. You will find friends. You will find a girlfriend. You will find a boyfriend. That’s a fact. So don’t close in. Carry on with your life, engage in your hobbies and the rest will follow.
Loneliness is simply having different values than the people around you. You will find those who share the same values with you. The only questions is: When?
Now listen to the song ‘Beautiful’ by Eminem to understand the message of this article.