Newport, Wales, UK 2011
I have a habit of getting extremely anxious at big social gatherings which are supposed to be happy occasions. It is primarily for this reason that I fear having a big wedding and instead hope to have a small one.
In general I had poor mental health whilst at University. I saw a counsellor in my first year and the rest of the years were dotted with moments of breakdowns where I couldn’t speak and would just be some sort of comatose blob on the verge of tears.
In many ways I should have been happy at University. I was away from my overbearing father and to a certain degree I had freedom. In some ways I was happy.
But I guess it’s the classic tale of a high achieving student going into an environment where they are no longer teachers pet or the best in the class. I compare myself to other people in every single way possible and suddenly I was forced to be alongside hundreds of students who I all considered to be better than me in terms of talent, or they were thinner, or prettier, or had a boyfriend or were more popular.
So you would think graduation day would be a happy day as I would be leaving that world behind and would never have to be in that high intense situation again.
Except a few things had happened in my last year and the summer preceding my September graduation.
In Summer 2010 my grandmother passed away. She was the matriarch of my family, our carer, our shining light. I did not cope well with her death.
As a result of this I did quite badly on my course in the final year. I also spent most of my time at University not going to lectures with my classmates as I found it too terrifying being around people who were so much better than me. I couldn’t handle that intense scrutiny, whether imagined or real.
There was also the fact that realising I was potentially going to get a bad grade on my degree I decided that the best way to give myself some good employment prospects was to gain work experience. So I went through one of those companies that arranges a work experience placement abroad in a relevant area.
Except they never found me a placement.
And they never refunded me.
And I can’t take them to court as when I sought legal advise my lawyer had to tell me it would cost thousands of pounds and the company had so many bad things about it I could lose on a technicality.
This is how I originally got into debt.
So graduation day approached. A time to put the bad times behind me?
There were many reasons I was not looking forward to my graduation. One was the fact that I had (by my accounts) ‘failed’ (this means I did not fail, I got a grade that many people would be happy with, but for me as a high achiever it was one of the worst grades I had ever got).
There was also the fact that my Dad had decided his car wouldn’t stand the journey from West Sussex to South Wales and decided he wasn’t going to come. For some reason getting the train didn’t occur to him.
I am still angry about this.
I woke up early on graduation day to straighten my hair. For many years I would refuse to leave the house if I had hair that hadn’t been straightened. I had such low self esteem I couldn’t believe that anyone would like me if I had my natural curly hair on show.
The trouble was as it was Wales, in Autumn, there was mild rain and just picking my mum up from the station about ten minutes away was enough to put a wave into my hair that I found horrendous.
I was already in an extreme state of anxiety when I got to my University and was getting overwhelmed by everything. I had bought heels to wear but after realising they were impossible to walk in I decided against it and had to carry them instead and wear my flats.
As I entered the hall where my graduation would begin I was looking around for where to go when a member of staff took me by surprise by saying hello to me. I was in a state of anxiety remember and this threw me. It was then the member of staff next to him felt the need to do that thing I hate most. Which was to say ‘Smile’ in a snotty voice.
I think there is a special place in hell reserved for those people.
The actual graduation event itself passed relatively straightforwardly. I even evr so slightly cheered up.
But the rest of the day was just awful. It’s like my anxiety sees a happy occasion and puts me in a state just to spite me, just to go against the grain.
My boyfriend and mum were both attending and I couldn’t even stand near them or talk to them. I would pointedly stand a few steps away and could see them getting more and more concerned and asking each other what was wrong with me.
I couldn’t be happy at graduation because I had failed. I was in such a state that I walked past my best friend and blanked her without even realising whilst she called after me.
In some ways going to University was the happiest time of my life, and I did have good moments.
In many more ways it was hell for me.
Most people are normal and feel happy at graduation days, like so many other happy events before me I was incapable of overcoming my anxiety and instead had a miserable time.
In the end it was a good thing my Dad hadn’t come as I couldn’t have been anxious or been uncommunicative as my Dad has never understood mental health or anxiety and he would most likely have ended up screaming at me or something. Maybe, maybe not.
I did not take a single photo at Graduation, and I certainly didn’t have one of those classic professional graduation photos done. There are only a few photos of me that friends took where I have a posed smile on my face. I just want to forget that day ever happened.