11 Things I’ve Learnt At University

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It’s been a week since my third year of university began. I’ve been running around like mad, trying to juggle course reading, and society commitments, and somehow manage to get to class on time. The fact I have the overwhelming urge to write a blog every two days does not make matters easier. Last week, I wrote four blogs! It seems I have found my voice, and I am grateful for that, even if it’s screwed up my sleep schedule.

As I slipped back into the chaos and structure of university life, I couldn’t help thinking of the ways I have changed during my time here, and the lessons I’ve learnt about life. Below are 11 (non-academic) lessons I’ve learnt during my time at university.

1 ) It’s never too late to change.

I had a completely different personality in 2nd year than I did in 1st year. An easy way to distinguish between them is this helpful rhyme: 1st year Eliza was a mess, 2nd year Eliza was depressed, 3rd year Eliza is the best.
When I was in 1st year, I had to figure out what my place in the world was. I was used to school, where I was despised, and deep down I felt I had to overcompensate to make people like me. I flip-flopped between complete introversion and over-the-top extroversion, my sense of humour sometimes missed the mark. All in all, I was plain annoying. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on myself. I can’t have been that bad, or I wouldn’t have had any friends. But I’ve definitely improved.

In 2nd year, I became more reserved. I was depressed for the whole of first semester, and well into second semester, which tamed my more annoying traits. During this time, I did a lot of soul-searching, and tried to figure out who I want to become. I realised that the person I was in first year wasn’t my real self. The person I was in second year wasn’t my real self either, but she was a damn sight closer to it. I learnt to own my interests, rather than keeping silent about them for fear of being ridiculed. Even six months ago, I wouldn’t have talked to people about astrology, I wouldn’t have talked much about my novels, or anything else that mattered to me. In 2nd year, I finally developed the attitude of “this is who I am, take me or leave me.”

I was scared people would always see me as who I’d been in first year, but the important lesson I learnt over the past year is that your reputation changes as you do. If you are consistent and authentic, people will see you’ve changed. 

I didn’t just change my personality, I also tend to change my whole aesthetic at least once per semester. At the beginning of 2nd year I wore fake leather jackets and dark jeans, by the end of the year I wore bright pinks and purples. Now I’ve changed my colour scheme to blue (although I have yet to forsake my love of purple lipstick). Apart from one joke about “are you no longer sponsored by ribena?” people don’t care what I wear. How I present myself is a personal choice, and there’s no point worrying about people being sceptical of change. Change is integral to growth, and growth is what I am here for.

2 ) You choose your family

The way I think of my family has changed a lot since I left home. We were always close knit, and they were the solid foundation I could rely on. My parents’ marriage broke up this year, and I have had to rethink what family means to me. Family is no longer a cohesive unit, it’s a bunch of people scattered across the UK. It no longer feels solid, even if the individuals are still people I can rely on.

Family, for me, is more than just my parents, or my sister, or my niece. Family is more than blood relations. At university, I found the thing I had been lacking for my whole life: a sense of community. I joined an improv theatre society during fresher’s week in my first year of university, and that choice was the best decision I ever made. During my first semester, I didn’t have many close friends. I had three. One who was my own friend, and I am still friends with her today. The other two were a buy-one-get-one-free deal, and the overall dynamic of this three-way friendship grew toxic in the long run. I often felt isolated at this time, but I consistently went to improv every week, even though I wasn’t brave enough to socialise with everyone afterwards. During second semester I made more of an effort to socialise with improv people, and when two of my three friendships reached their inevitable end, it was the push I needed to commit to bonding with people from improv. I needed new friends, and I needed them fast. So I did my best to put my anxiety aside, and reach out.

By second year, improv was more than a safe space, more than a group of friends. It was my second family. People would come and go from the society, but the feeling of home stayed the same. This year I’m the society’s secretary, and publicity convener. The only thing better than a family that loves you is a family that votes you into multiple positions of power.

3 ) Life is easier when you laugh at yourself.

You may have guessed this from the fact I’m in an improv theatre society, but I have a sense of humour. My sense of humour is 31 percent puns, and 69 percent sex jokes, but it is a sense of humour nonetheless. If there is one thing that has helped me through the past two years, it is my ability to laugh. Specifically, my ability to laugh at myself. My life often verges on the ridiculous,  and is filled with irony and situational comedy. It’s easy to laugh at the funny parts, or the ridiculous parts. But lately I’ve learnt to laugh at the painful parts too.

Maybe I just have a dark sense of humour, but there is something about looking back at things that felt like the apocalypse, and bursting into hysterical laughter. Because I survived. I survived emotionally abusive people, I survived my heart being broken multiple times. I survived depression, I survived anxiety, I survived two years of university (and counting!). There are so many things that could weigh me down if I let them. But right now I am lucky enough to be in a healthy enough mental state that I can laugh at it all (well, most of it).

I could think “oh my god, that guy left my message on read for 4.5 months” or I could laugh at myself for being gutsy enough to confess my feelings in a facebook message. I could think “oh my god, I hit on this guy and he rejected me” or I could laugh at how stupid his rejection line was. (I don’t know why all the examples I’m using have to do with men rejecting me, though it’s quite a theme in my life). 

I have a theory that I will die from laughing at one of my own jokes. I’m pretty sure it nearly happened yesterday, when I made a particularly funny pun whilst walking down a flight of stairs, and was practically doubled over from laughter. I am a hilarious person.

4 ) There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.

Yes, I stole this one from F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m like Terry from Brooklyn Nine-Nine: I love love. It fascinates me more than anything else. I also just messaged my friend saying “wow I’m writing a blog that’s not about my love life”, so I should probably change the topic immediately. But I’m talking more about platonic love here, so I think I’m safe.

I didn’t really have friends before I came to university, so it was all new to me. Two years on, and I have made many friends. Among those friends, there have been a handful whom I became really close with. The relationships I have with my three best friends are completely unalike. I can understand it by looking at their astrology (which is how I understand most things), but it is also simply that different people bring out different aspects of our personalities.

I have one friend who I met in a facebook group chat for our accommodation, before we even moved to Glasgow. We’ve been friends for just over two years, it’s the longest friendship of my life. We’ve never had a fight, I can talk to her about anything, whether it’s my deepest emotions, or a cute cat I saw in the street.

I have another friend who’s practically my wife at this point. We’re like an old married couple, with our matching lipstick and matching gin and tonics, arriving and leaving together always. I have to make sure I don’t use her as a safety blanket to hide behind, because she is the person I know I can always rely on. The first time she spoke to me, we were walking up the stairs to improv, back in first year. I remember she was carrying a cup of bubble tea. I thought she hated me because she had a resting bitch face, but it turned out we were just equally intimidated by each other. It took another couple of months for us to become best friends. I was awkward at initiating friendships, and didn’t even know where to begin. In the end, we bonded over our questionable taste in men, and we’ve been gossiping together ever since.

My other closest friend is perhaps the only person in the world who doesn’t just see through my bullshit, but consistently calls me out on it. Whilst I have learnt that he’s not right about everything, he is the voice of reason I need to ground me when I’m disappearing into flights of fancy. We’re both stubborn and headstrong and clash over the most stupid things, but I know I would be lost without him. I would be lost without them all.

It’s important to have different friends for different parts of yourself. One person cannot meet all your needs, and they’re not designed to. Two of my best friends are studying abroad this year, and I was worried this would make me rely too heavily on the friend who’s still here in Glasgow. Due to the medium of social media, I can be just as clingy to my friends who are far away. If anything, it’s made me appreciate each of them more, because I fully see what qualities these people brings to my life, and why I love them all so much. I wouldn’t want to love these people in the same way, because there is not a one-size-fits-all on what love is, it varies from person to person, and that is what makes it beautiful.

5 ) Nothing is irreplaceable.

I used to love cheese. Cheese was one of my favourite foods. I’ve been vegan for two and a half years, and if you’ve ever tried vegan cheese, you’ll know that it tastes like disappointment and mediocrity. That said, I never really missed cheese. I went vegan for ethical reasons, and so it was easy to make myself grossed out by the thought of dairy and eggs, by thinking about the cruelty of those industries. 

A couple of months ago, I went into Waitrose (much to the detriment of my bank balance), and I discovered a new brand of vegan cheese. It was called Koko (this is not a sponsored post, I just really love fake dairy products), and something about it was different to other vegan cheeses. For one thing, the packaging was that specific texture of plastic used in dairy cheese packaging. Furthermore, the cheese itself tasted slightly like dairy cheese. It wasn’t salty enough, and didn’t have that particular tang, but it was the closest thing I’ve found in two and a half years. It gave me hope.

My experience with vegan cheese feels like a metaphor for life. Something may feel good for a time, and letting go of it may be hard, but it’s not irreplaceable. However, replacing it takes time. You’re not going to find an amazing vegan cheese overnight, just like you’re not going to find a new friend overnight, or fall in love with someone again, etc. Life is cyclical, and similar experiences will inevitably enter your life.

The other night, I was drunk and lying on my friend’s floor (to quote her “a party isn’t a party if you don’t have a drunk Eliza lying on your floor”), and I found myself talking about another friend of mine. I described them as “irreplaceable”, and even in my intoxicated state, I was surprised at myself. Because I know better than that. You can love someone more than anything in the world, but most friendships and relationships do not last forever. There have been people I thought I couldn’t live without, and I replaced them, inevitably. It’s not a matter of finding people who are exact clones of everyone who walks away from you. But we all have a “type”, and are drawn to particular characteristics and traits. It is inevitable that similar people will crop up again and again.

6 ) We’re all human.

Last night, I was walking to improv, and I saw something that almost made my eyes pop out of my head. I saw someone who was the villain in my story, once upon a time, and they had got their happy ending. I was surprised, but not shocked. I had seen it coming for two years, but it was simply the last thing I expected to cross my path on a Monday afternoon. The strangest part was that I felt nothing. I was like “okay, that is now a thing”, texted my friend about it in caps lock, and moved on with my life.

As I was walking home a few hours later, I let myself indulge in over-thinking. At this point I don’t care at all about this person’s life, I wasn’t over thinking about them, but in how they related to me. For the first time, I saw my role in their story. I was the obstacle in the way of their happily ever after. I was, most likely, the villain. I couldn’t help thinking “but they were my villain” as if both statements couldn’t be correct.

This was a person who had hurt me badly, been emotionally abusive, destroyed my self-esteem. I don’t hate them, but if there is one person in my life that I come close to hating, it’s them. It didn’t feel right to think of myself as the villain in their story, because I was a human villain to them, but they were a monster to me. 

It occurred to me today that they’re not a monster. They treated me appallingly, but they are still human. They still have hopes and feelings, they crave a happy ending as much as I do. 

Once upon a time, I would have been bitter. I would have resented the fact they had found someone to love them, when I haven’t found that for myself. No one wants to see their villain getting a happy ending that seems so out of reach in their own story. But I didn’t resent him, I didn’t resent the situation. My happily ever after is that he’s no longer in my life. My happily ever after is that he’s finally leaving me alone. My happily ever after is that I can look at him without having a panic attack. Maybe it’s not the fairytale ending I’d hoped for, but my story isn’t over, this was simply the closing of a horrible chapter. 

Now that the chapter is closed, I can see it from a new perspective. I wasn’t blameless. I didn’t handle things well, and I was immature at times. It’s not on the same level as emotionally manipulating someone, or destroying their self-worth, but I can acknowledge that it wasn’t as black and white as him being a demon and I an angel. 

He is a human being. A human being who hurt me, a human being that I want nothing to do with, and would gladly never lay eyes on ever again. But I don’t wish him ill. I don’t wish him anything. Accepting your demons are human is perhaps the clearest sign that you’ve healed. I still have healing to do, the damage runs deep, but I am in a better place than I have been in years, and I no longer need to cling onto the wounds of the past.

7 ) Find someone who inspires you.

I don’t believe in love at first sight. But after this year, I believe in love at first sentence. In the second semester of my 2nd year of university, I had the most amazing film lecturer ever. From the moment she opened her mouth, I knew I either wanted to be her when I grew up, or I wanted to marry her. I was literally picturing cartoon love hearts floating around her head. I went up to her at the end of that first lecture, and told her how amazing it was, and there began my constant attempts to be a teacher’s pet. On the one hand, I was completely intimidated by her, and struggled not to be tongue-tied whenever she was around. On the other hand, I had this bad habit of blurting out how much I worshipped her whenever we were in the same room.

During that semester, I got the best grades of my entire two years at university. Why? Because this lecturer was my hero, and I wanted to do well to impress her. I was motivated to study, I was a perfectionist about my essays. My attitude towards my education completely changed.

It wasn’t just that I had a massive girl crush on her, but that she was a positive role model for me. As a female film student, one can often feel out-of-place, or like one’s opinions aren’t valid. I haven’t watched most of the “must watch” film canon. In first year I spent too much time around someone who made me feel like my tastes in film weren’t valid, and that I didn’t belong on that course. By having a lecturer who challenged the status quo, and taught feminist film history, I felt validated as a female film student. I felt like I belonged. She once told me she sometimes deliberately abstained from watching films such as “The Godfather”, simply because everyone expects her to have watched them. To hear a film lecturer say that, made me feel validated for having tastes in film that don’t adhere to the accepted canon. 

It’s important to have a role model or mentor to look up to, because they will help you see the world in different ways, and set a positive example. They will help you have faith in yourself. It wasn’t just my grades that improved last semester, it was also my self-esteem. I looked at my lecturer and saw the kind of woman I wanted to be, and it was such an empowering experience.

8 ) You’ve got to be your own number one fan.

I used to be a people pleaser. In the past six or so months, I have learned to let go of this trait, and please the one person who matters: me. These days, I only play for Team Eliza. When you commit to supporting yourself, you inevitably learn to like yourself. You have to convince yourself of why you’re worth supporting, and you can only do that if you recognise your good qualities.

My relationship with myself has changed drastically this year. I went from despising myself to loving myself. I still see my flaws, I still have moments of “why the f*****g f**k would you do that, Eliza?”, but I come to it from a place of compassion. I see my good traits, I see my bad traits, and I see them objectively. I want to see myself do well in life, because I am a great person and I deserve it. 

The past couple of weeks have been dramatic and ridiculous, and it would be easy to beat myself up for some of the situations me and my big mouth have gotten me into. But I don’t resent myself for any of it. I’ve learnt my lessons, I will do better in the future. I forgive myself. Why? Because I’m rooting for myself, I want to see myself get that happy ending. I can view myself as a character in a novel or TV show, and see all the reasons why the audience would be on my side. And I can choose to be on my side too. Just so long I don’t start writing fanfiction about it!

9 ) Your body knows what’s up.

I thought this was going to be the year, the year I finally get through September without succumbing to fresher’s flu. I felt the first hint of a sore throat on Friday afternoon, and staying up till 5am on Saturday night (well, Sunday morning) pretty much sealed the deal. I woke up on Sunday afternoon with a terrible cold. I attempted to get up and go about my day, but I felt nauseous. The thought of food made me nauseous, the thought of staying inside made me nauseous, walking made me nauseous. But my feet led me to the fruit and vegetable aisle of Lidl, and the chilled aisle of Morrison’s. Often when I’m ill, I get to a point where there are only two foods that don’t make me queasy: fruit, and soy yogurt. My body forces me to eat healthily, or eat nothing at all.

There is a solid correlation between my diet and my health — both mental and physical. If I eat crap, I feel like crap. If I eat healthily, I feel good. In the madness of the first weeks back at uni, my dietary standards have slipped. I’ve eaten lots of pasta, and not so many vegetables. I barely remember to drink water, and drink way too much coffee. Combine this with the fact I often stay up past midnight to either write blogs, or message a friend in a different time zone, and you can probably see why fresher’s flu caught up with me in the end.

I, like most sane people, don’t like being ill. However, I trust my body, and I believe everything happens for a reason. Catching a cold, or getting flu, is the body’s way of telling you to slow down and rest for a while. I’ve been so busy the past couple of weeks, that I’ve barely had time to relax (not that I ever knew how to do that in the first place). It’s important to listen to the messages your body is giving you, because you are on the same team. Your body is looking out for you, and you should look after it too, because the pair of you are stuck together for life.

10 ) You are lovable. 

This is the lesson it took me the longest to learn. There are at least three placements in my astrology chart that make love a challenge for me. It is my life-long lesson (no wonder I’m so obsessed with it!). There are also maybe four placements in my chart that represent low self-esteem. Perhaps this would explain the endless stream of rejections, and the feelings of low self-worth that I carried around for 20 years.

I don’t quite know how I learned to love myself. It may have just been sheer stubbornness. I refuse to accept anything less than the best for myself, and I knew the only way to get that was to become the love I was lacking.

The other thing that changed was: I listened to other people.

I remember kids in my village telling me I was ugly when I was as young as six or seven, and those words stuck with me for years. A couple of years ago, someone I was close to told me I would “never be beautiful”, and it confirmed what I had always believed. But in the past year, something shifted: I began to listen to the positives, instead of the negatives.

My female friends tell me I’m beautiful regularly, and I usually don’t listen. Recently one of my male friends called me beautiful, and something about the circumstances made me believe him. I’m sure if I reminded him of it he would deny saying it, or say it doesn’t count because he was drunk. But I tend to assume there is truth to the things people say when their walls are down, and to hear him call me beautiful, unprompted, shifted the way I viewed myself. This may be internalised misogyny talking, but perhaps I needed a man to tell me I was beautiful, to counteract the effects of a man-child telling me I’d never be beautiful. It’s not that I value compliments from male friends more than from female ones, but more that in my experience women a freer in their compliments. In general, there is a certain earnestness in compliments from drunk people that makes them easier to believe.

When I realised other people could see me as beautiful, I began to see myself that way. It took an other few weeks to properly cement this change in my mind, but I began to see myself through the eyes of people who loved me, and I fell in love with myself. I wrote a whole blog on this topic a few days ago.

Just because people have made you feel unworthy of love in the past, it does not mean you are unlovable. Your worth is not defined by people who don’t know how to love you. The right people will love you for who you are, and you won’t have to change yourself for them. Real love accepts you exactly as you are, warts and all.

11) Life goes on.

As a somewhat dramatic person, my life is a constant emotional rollercoaster. Every so often, something will happen that is beyond the usual scale of my drama, and it will feel like the apocalypse. I used to look at these moments and wonder how I could possibly move past them. The future was a bleak wasteland I was scared to face. Life has toughened me since then, I am stronger now. Each time an apocalypse hits, I remind myself that I have survived everything life has thrown at me so far, and I can survive anything it brings in the future.

Everything in this world is temporary, which means the pain is temporary. Life is cyclical, and even the most challenging cycles will eventually come to an end. 

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