• Abbie Tibbott

Friday Special: My Mental Health Update


This past year has been difficult for everyone, and it's only now that I've found myself in a headspace where I feel able to talk about my personal challenges over the past twelve months. Mental health and wellbeing is something that I believe is crucial to being a successful student and a functional human, so I want to open up a discussion by using my own personal story. Life looks different for everyone, and generally I feel very fortunate that everything has worked out okay in the end, but that doesn't mean I have to romanticise the journey.

 

Moving home in October 2020 came with its challenges, but I was glad to have a stable situation in which to write my MA dissertation. Doing work for university in the middle of the pandemic was a challenge, but it was more motivation problems rather than anything. I got there in the end, and Christmas was amazing because Dan actually came to stay. We'd been doing long distance, but he managed to get here which meant so much after a busy few months. My mental health was good at that point, mainly because I was so focused on getting my dissertation finished that I didn't have time to worry about other things. The November lockdown was difficult, but it didn't affect me that much as I was spending a lot of time at home anyway.


My financial situation wasn't the best, as work was drying up with university and I didn't have the time to take on full-time work whilst writing my dissertation. Having a precarious working situation is the reality for many students, and the struggle to find (or keep) jobs during this time was definitely downplayed by the universities themselves in my opinion, with many students left struggling to pay rent.


Between January and March I submitted my dissertation and had some time to relax. I needed to decompress after finishing my degree, so I worked on sorting out my banking, having some dentistry done and working on my website which was a welcome break. I'd also submitted my funding application and applied for a PhD at Reading. However, I didn't see Dan for nearly three months and I began to worry about my future, as I received several emails saying that the decision on the funding would be delayed until late April, and it seemed unlikely that I would be successful, putting my future plans in jeopardy. I started looking for jobs in the meantime, but no one seemed particularly interested in hiring me, despite having a good CV and good references. Coming out of full-time study has its challenges, especially when the future is unclear. Universities claim that they are there to support students during this transition, but I found there was nothing on offer that was relevant to me.


In April I was rejected for funding, which was really difficult. I don't let a lot of things get to me, but I was upset by this as I'd been told I was in with a chance. It meant that I had to reject my PhD offer and begin a job hunt in earnest. I was running out of money and felt horrible most days. I plodded through by working on my physical health and began eating well most of the time. My friends were super supportive during this period and I'm so grateful to them for checking in on me during this time. I'm no stranger to rejection, but I'm also a perfectionist, so that can make for a toxic mix at times. Being told that you're a good student and an ideal student for funding to then not get a single penny was a massive blow for my ego and my confidence, the latter I'd spent four years building up. I'm very aware that competition was very fierce this year, but not getting any feedback from the process meant that I still have no idea as to why I was rejected.


I changed my CV to better suit the employers here on the island, as I worked out that I couldn't afford to relocate. The job market is crazy, but the economy is even more unhinged and I decided that I couldn't risk moving in case I was made unemployed, should the pandemic get worse again. However, employers on the island didn't want to interview me, and there weren't a lot of jobs that I was particularly interested in going. I did get some feedback that I was overqualified for entry-level positions, but seeing as I didn't get interviews for higher-paid jobs, I was caught in the middle. This was very frustrating, but was reflective of the economy at the time and also where I live. Most jobs here are seasonal and unskilled, so there aren't a lot of opportunities for recent graduates here.


If this tells you anything, it's that you can do everything the system tells you and you're still not guaranteed a job at the end of it. I struggled with feeling like my MA had been a waste of time, along with my self-worth taking a hit. I'm not someone who is used to feeling this way, and it really opened my eyes to the mental health struggles that young people face, and gave me a new perspective on life at university. I'd worked, volunteered, got good grades, produced publishable work and attended every workshop I could, but I didn't get anywhere with my job search. It's hard not to blame myself for this, but I honestly don't know whose fault it was if it wasn't mind. Now don't get my wrong, I loved my university experience, but the aftermath is difficult and confusing for those who don't have a predetermined path. I thought that I had done significant work in overcoming the barriers of my socio-economic background, but during the lockdown it seemed that any progress had been lost.


After getting no interviews I felt lost and didn't know what to do. After a visit to see Dan, I wondered about getting a loan and moving up to Reading as the job prospects were better, despite my worries about the economy. However, due to a recent inheritance, my parents then offered to loan me the amount of money that I would need to pay PhD tuition fees, which would allow me to spend the government loan on my housing. This chance act of generosity has honestly changed my life, and I am so grateful that my parents have chosen to invest in me to allow my career to get underway. This would have never been possible without my Gran's passing in January of this year, so it has left me with considerably mixed emotions about the whole thing, along with some guilt that I was never able to say goodbye, or attend the funeral. Closure is important to me as an individual, and I felt like I've been robbed of that multiple times over the past year.


There were some logistical difficulties getting my offer reinstated, but I'm happy to say that I've accepted my place and I'll be attending university this September. Being back with Dan, as well as in a town that I call home will be really special and I'm so excited for the opportunities that this will bring. Money has always been a worry for me, and I can't remember a time where my finances weren't always on my mind, but being able to afford a PhD will mean I can get myself a job and work hard at my course without feeling overwhelmed by money issues. I feel so much lighter, and the stress that was hanging over me has finally gone, and I'm so grateful that I can focus on preparing myself for September. Working on this website has given me a love for writing, and I really do look forward to sitting down and writing my posts every month.


The past few months have been a whirlwind, but I'm happy to say that I'm back to my old self! I'm still eating well, and I got myself a job for the summer which I enjoy. Having disposable income for the first time in over a year is the best feeling in the world, but I'm making sure to save at least half of what I earn each week for the future. Building my savings back up is a big priority, so I've been keeping my spending to a minimum while still treating myself occasionally. Dan and I are on the final stretch of our long distance relationship, and I cannot describe how relieved I am about that. Our commitment to each other has never been in doubt, but I cannot deny that missing time together has been difficult. Due to everything with my PhD being so last-minute, we don't have time to find a flat to rent together for the next academic year. We decided that it's more important for me to get myself a job and save as much money as I can, rather than spending time house hunting. I'll be going back into student accommodation, so Dan and I will be a 20-minute walk from each other next year.


My goal for the summer has been to build up my bank account, and get my ISA back to the level it was when I started my MA in 2019, as my finances were in a much healthier place back then. I'm happy to say that everything is going to plan, and my relationship with money is so much better now my income has been more regular. My summer job will be coming to an end soon, but I'm grateful for a working environment that has been fun and interesting.


It hasn't been easy, but I finally feel like I'm on the path that I was meant to be on. I feel confident about my abilities as a researcher and I'm looking forward to getting back into academia too. I'm excited to start giving back to students who are in a similar position to what I was in when I first started university and working alongside others again instead of doing it alone.


As for now, I'm enjoying the summer weather, and I hope you are too!