Here's to you, LJMU

Beth Gribbin in graduation gown and cap

My course granted me the opportunity to challenge myself both academically through the material that I studied, but also socially. Having to attend seminars and lectures was, for me, something that incited fear and anxiety. Nevertheless, I did learn to cope with the thought of seminars and lectures over time and they didn’t worry me at all by third year (my final year, I know). I have also made friends for life due to university and I feel very lucky to have met the people I have, they have stuck by me through some rough times, and I know they’ll always be there. They’re my best friends.

Academically, I was pushed and pushed throughout my time at university, achieving things I didn’t think were possible. Stepping out of my comfort zone was another achievement for myself during my time at university, with LJMU offering me the chance to take part in an internship in the summer after my first year working alongside others off my course. This wasn’t the only opportunity that I had access to, I was also able to gain some valuable work experience as a copywriter, as I had been editing the postgraduate student brochure. This gave me a massive confidence boost, as voluntarily putting myself in that position helped me conquer parts of my anxiety that had plagued me for the few years preceding university.

Beth Gribbin and friend at graduationStudying at university was a great distraction for myself as I could immerse myself in books, journals, essays, internships and work experience, with there being little time to think. However, as good as things were for me in terms of opportunity and education, my mental health deteriorated. Before I attended university, I was forced to take a year out due to being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I was in no fit state to carry on in education, I needed a break. On the advice of doctors, a year out is what ensued, and I tried to get myself back into a good state of mind to tackle the challenges that university was going to present me. 

When September came and I was going to my first lectures and seminars, I was still really struggling and wasn’t coping very well, not only with adapting to education again but also a different style of education, alongside trying to make new friends. Even at this point, I don’t think I had recovered enough to go to university but this was something I had worked so hard for and anyone who knows me well will tell you how stubborn I am! 

So, I went to university then because I knew that this is what I wanted. I managed to scrape through my first year with good marks and with support from my friends and family but I felt exhausted and worried about how I would cope for the following two years especially as I knew they would be the deciding factors in what I achieved for my degree.

Second year began and I was still unsure of whether I would be able to cope but I decided to keep these worries to myself. As most people know, second year is more intense than first year, with every piece of work now counting towards your degree. Work load and time pressures started to affect me which caused my mental health to worsen, leaving me in a quite bad place both mentally and academically. Work was piling up and I kept putting it off as I was unable to concentrate, focus or read anything. My attendance started to drop and I was missing lectures and seminars more and finding it even harder to catch up when I did attend. 

I felt like I was trying to run through mud, and was obviously getting nowhere. Things had to change, so I reached out for support from my tutors and that is exactly what I got. 

All of my tutors were amazing, I got the academic support I needed but also a great understanding of mental health and the difficulties of it. Although I did get help and support, I was desperately struggling to complete the work, so much so that I had to have some extra time over the summer to complete it. Long story short, I managed to write about 14,000 words in a week to meet the deadline so I could still go into third year. I would not recommend to anyone ever to write that amount in the space of a week!

Third year came around quite fast as I only had about three weeks for summer because of the extra time I had to complete the work from second year, but I felt ready to face it head on and hoped that this year I would be able to cope a bit better. As everyone knows, third year is probably the most stressful year of a student’s life as deadlines come thick and fast, with time dissipating just as quickly. 

From September to December, I managed to cope fairly well but the Christmas period seemed to be my downfall as the deadlines were within days of each other and my mental health was still suffering. The thought of those deadlines felt like a mountain to climb and I just did not have the energy to do it. My sleeping pattern has never been great but throughout my third year I was surviving on 2-3 hours of sleep, I just did not know how I would be able to get through any of those assignments and I hit a wall.

I remember being sat in the library staring at my laptop and just constantly thinking “I can’t do this” and at some points I believed I couldn’t. 

Depression can be a debilitating illness and for me it was, especially throughout my time at university. I struggled to read because I couldn’t focus and my attention span was awful. Those things aren’t great considering the course I was on. I would read pages and pages of a book or journal and would not be able to remember what I had just read. Moments of bursting into tears became a regular occurrence and it was time I reached out for some help. I felt lost and overwhelmed completely. 

The moment came when I reached out to the counselling service at LJMU, and I can honestly say it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I went over to the counselling service, accompanied by my best friend Allie, who has always been there for me.

The kind people at the counselling service made sure I was okay as they tried to work out how they could help. I had an initial assessment which led to me being offered an appointment with a counsellor. I managed to speak to the counsellor and honestly, I was trying to listen and believe that things could change but at that moment, I didn’t believe it. The counsellor reassured me and told me I could get through this with the help and support from my tutors, family, friends and my counsellor herself. 

As the conversation carried on, I started to calm down and took on board what was being said to me, for the first time I felt hopeful that I could get through and I have my counsellor to thank for that. She was amazing then and was in every single appointment afterwards.

Beth Gribbin holding her degree certificate outside Liverpool Metropolitan CathedralSeeing a counsellor at university became a regular thing for me in my third year and it kept me going when at some points, I contemplated dropping out of university completely. Those appointments gave me something to work towards and I knew at that appointment I could be open, honest and not be judged. My counsellor helped me through one of the most testing times during my time at university and I could not be any more grateful for that than I am. Not only did I have this support in my final year, but my personal tutor was absolutely incredible too. I always felt as if I could reach out when I was struggling and I had regular meetings with her to make sure I was staying on track. 

With counselling, the support of my personal tutor alongside support from my family and friends, I got through that final year. I had some time to decompress after I handed in my last assignment, but then my anxiety set in regarding my results. I had dreams about my results in which I failed and on the morning of finding out results, I still believed I had failed. I opened that results statement with dread, but my eyes saw 68% and it wasn’t happiness I felt, but sheer relief!

I made it to graduation which was honestly the best day of my life as I got to spend it with my family and friends which made it extra special. All of those people who supported me and watched me struggle, finally witnessed me collecting that degree. The hard work and sleepless nights had paid off and I have never been this proud of myself, ever. Being proud of myself is something I struggle with, even on the day of my graduation when giving my name in to register, I was convinced that someone would turn around and tell me that I wasn’t meant to be there, and that there had been a mistake. That didn’t happen and I walked across that stage to collect my degree, which was the most surreal moment because I honestly thought that I would never ever make it to that point, but I did. It was the proudest moment of my life. Even writing this now is strange because I still can’t believe that I managed to do it. 

Some people may think getting through university doesn’t mean much and that tonnes of people do it each year, but to me it meant the world.

My experience at LJMU was the hardest time of my life but also the best. I made friends for life but I also achieved things that I never thought I could. I now believe that I can go on to do anything I want and that is all down to the staff on my course. So, thank you LJMU, thank you to the counselling service especially my own counsellor, and thank you to all of the staff on my course, especially those who helped me most. Now, after all that, I am now an English Literature graduate with a high 2:1 degree. Surreal cannot even describe how it feels to say that, but I did it. I actually did it!

This post first appeared on Beth's blog Things On Our Mind

Don't be afraid to ask for help: the Student Advice and Wellbeing team at LJMU are on hand to help you take care of your physical and mental health while at the University, with dedicated support officers in every faculty.


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