Within weeks of starting Uni, I learned just how stupid some people are! It was clear that many lacked personal insight, and had no idea of personal space, or people skills.
I studied my fellow students as they barged their way through the doors and jumped in queues to get the seats at the front of lectures or lessons.
Now, I was really skinny but still, trying to get two people through the narrow single doorways at Uni was nigh on impossible. And, if they thought I wanted to bring attention to myself by sitting anywhere within a ten-foot radius of any lecturer, they were sadly mistaken. Those lardy arses who bulldozed past me, snorting, kissing their teeth, or tutting were welcome to their prime seats.
My own mental health needs
Having only recently recovered from a lengthy psychotic episode, I still felt really shy, nervous even. I constantly prayed to someone who’d help me hold off the ever-impending anxiety attacks. I’d sit somewhere in the middle of the halls and quickly avert my eyes or pretend I was taking notes if I thought the attending lecturer might question me.
I was so busy monitoring my pulse and breathing, I probably missed half the lectures anyway. Still, most of the lecturers appeared to be reading straight from books, which meant I could catch up by going through the same book or reading any handouts during breaks or at home.
Various ways in which we learned
What I hadn’t bargained for was the seminars and classes, which normally lasted between one and two hours. For the first eighteen months, the lecture halls were filled with some 250 students. This included mental health, general, and midwifery. students
In study lessons, we were in smaller groups, normally around eighteen to twenty students. Following the lesson, we’d be further split up into around 2-4 people. We’d have to discuss some topic or other, then complete a written task before presenting our understanding back to the group
However, because of the sweet/crisp packet rustlers, the stupid questions, and other disruptions, we’d often run out of time and had to complete the task at home. Once done, we’d meet with our small groups to finish the task and then feedback to the larger group.
I panicked at the thought of presenting to my peer group
Oh, my word! If I’d known that I would have to stand up! In front of everyone! And speak! I would never have applied for the course. I managed to dodge this one as a couple of the others were happy to do it — this time.
After that, there was no way was I making an absolute arse of myself in future presentations. I practised for hours in front of a full-length mirror at home, where I’d present my findings calmly and with a flourish, maintaining good eye contact and waving my hands theatrically. Cracked it; I could do this.
Huh! For all that, the first time I presented to the class, I dropped the acetates I was relying on to distract my peers as I spoke. Taking in huge gulps of air as I bent down to retrieve said slides, I could feel the heat rising up my neck and hear my heartbeat pulsating in my ears.
Then I swayed and felt dizzy, increasing my anxiety tenfold. ‘Please do not let me have a panic attack’! Though not sure who I was asking. By now, I could see my heart leaping out beneath my clothes like Jim Carrey’s character in The Mask and felt sure everyone else could see it.
It felt like an age as I raised my head and saw my well-meaning contemporaries smiling, encouraging me, willing me to get over the finishing line, so I began. With trembling hands, a fake smile and what felt like a massive boulder in my stomach, I managed to stutter my way through my presentation and answer some easy questions.
There was no theatrical waving and no calm, just relief when it was over and I was able to watch my peers presenting. Not sure I should be glad but, I could see I wasn’t the only anxious student in the room. Those following me muttered, mumbled, lacked eye contact, had hives creeping up from their chest and for some, their presentation wasn’t even relevant.
Note to self: “Today I will not stress over things I can’t control.”