Being Me

Posters, Presentations and Pressure

My previous post was centred around the hand-in of my manuscript that had lightened the hefty load that has been on my back this year. The manuscript accounts for 40% of my overall mark, so with its hand-in, there was little more I could do – apart from breathe!

The weekend following my hand-in was the scorching May Bank Holiday, which couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. Sitting in the sun with a book, tanning and pretending I was in the Caribbean instead of Lenton, was just what I needed to unwind and have a well-deserved break.

The end of the Bank Holiday marked the end of the nice weather, as well as the end of my break. It was now time to get on with my other course commitments. This included a scientific poster and at any other time, I would revel in the opportunity to be creative and design an outlet where everyone could see what I achieved with my project. It hasn’t, however, gone so well. The days have consisted of staring at a laptop screen and little else. Each time I look at my poster, I panic, because I have no idea what the module convener is looking for (although to be frank, neither does anyone else). Trying to calm myself, I decided I would dedicate my weekend to ensuring that my poster was the best I could and submit it on Monday. Like the manuscript, once I had submitted it, there was nothing more I could do.

Unfortunately, it’s never as easy as one task at a time. There are also presentations and Viva Voces to work for. For those who don’t know what a Viva Voce is, it is the opportunity to talk to specialists about your project and to support the reasoning and wider significance of your results. Both require extensive research, so it is unfortunate that I also had to contribute my time to this as well. Not to mention, a mock presentation on Wednesday, with only three slides of a presentation made.

These may sound like menial tasks, but to me it caused unnecessary stress, and I was exasperated that I didn’t have the chance to stop. As someone particularly vulnerable to stressing out and doesn’t manage stress well at all, the combination of this, an internship rejection and the consequent fracturing of relationships with people I love has all been a bit too much. Four years of university has finally gotten to me.

After what can be described as the worst week of fourth year so far, I decided I may find solace in writing a blog post which highlighted how further education can be harmful for your mental health. If you are a university student, possibly even a high school student, that is reading this, then I’m sure you would agree with me when I say that education is a pressurised environment. You must do well in your GCSEs to go to college and choose your A levels. You must do well in your A levels to go to a good university. Anyone would think that your hardest days are over once you are at university, but for me, they have gotten worse. I am incredibly grateful to have gone away to an excellent university, but it has meant that I have entered a game that is incredibly competitive. Being a borderline first-class graduate, rejected from every graduate scheme and internship I have applied for this year, trying to balance extra-curricular activities that should be for fun or relaxation, but has instead turned into an opportunity to write ‘teamwork skills’ on my CV. I have detested having to weigh up opportunities based on their usefulness, rather than whether I would enjoy myself. Worst of all, the boasting of the University graduate employment acts as a scare-tactic; if you don’t have a job lined up in the three months after you graduate, you are a failure. It all gets too much at times to think that the ‘best years of my life’ have been overshadowed by feeling like you won’t live up to everyone’s expectations. It is reassuring, though, to know that I am not alone.

Dumbledore once said that “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Well… J.K. Rowling said that, but the quote is spot on. Things seem overwhelming right now, but I know it won’t feel like this forever. Speaking to my family and spending time with friends have done wonders for me, allowing me to see that the things that I am currently worried about will no longer be on my mind in just a few weeks. My ‘100 Days of Happiness’ challenge on Instagram has allowed me to look back on days where I have been happy and knowing that feelings are temporary always makes me feel a little bit better. In terms of the relationships that my temperamental behaviour have strained, I can only hope that time can heal, and allowing those people a break may be what they appreciate the most. Although pressure has been put on me, I also put pressure on those around me by seeking their support constantly, and for them it must have gotten too much as well. The important thing is to not only build relationships with people who understand, but to understand their anxieties as well.

This blog has been more than a Masters assignment to me; it has been an outlet. Writing and receiving lovely feedback has improved my confidence and been a method of  relaxation. The message that I hope can be taken away is that no one and nothing is perfect. You would think that I would be the happiest person in the world because I am studying a course that I love at a great university. I have incredibly supportive friends and family. I have a boyfriend that has been tolerant and patient when I’ve been at my worst. And I have the ability to push myself to try new things (as you may have seen from my pole pictures on Facebook!). Life is far from rosy, though, and I am one of the first to know that. If things are getting a little tough, then all I can say is don’t be afraid to speak to someone about it, as chances are that they have those exact same feelings of anxiety too.

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