Day one – Arriving in Florida 🇺🇸

The Florida Files, University

Arriving at the meeting point following an agonising wait for the day to arrive, it was finally time to head to Florida, ready to engage in an incredible field course, offering new experiences and unforgettable memories.

With it also being my first time in The US!

6am sharp, we were packed up and rearing to go. Handing the bus driver my luggage proceeding to sit comfortably on the mini bus, gently wrapped up in my oversized fleece to accommodate the typical British weather. Freezing. It was dark, it was cold. But I was excited. All 16 students (myself included) alongside 3 of our wonderful tutors were set to go on a big American adventure!

We arrived at Manchester airport at approximately 8:30am, approaching check in, handing over our passports for checks and receiving seat numbers and boarding passes in return. The wait wasn’t too lengthy. And after successfully passing through security checks, my friends (Beth, Annabel, Carla, Beth, Georgina) and I wandered through to some shops, passing the time before boarding time approached.

Our trip to Florida consisted of two exciting plane journeys.

Plane one was our trip from Manchester to Philadelphia, lasting roughly 8 hours. To my amazement, we were issued individual televisions with a vast selection of movies, tv programmes, games and music. And watching Mamma Mia Here We Go Again millions of feet in the air, wrapped in a blanket and rested on a pillow, made me incredibly happy. The airline staff were wonderfully kind and accommodating throughout the journey, which definitely kick started my first American trip as a delightful one.

8 hours later…yay! We arrived in Philadelphia, undoubtedly restless but ready to collect our luggage so we could check it in for the next flight. The time difference already began to confuse me, but I remained confident I’d adjust in no time.

The second flight (Philadelphia to Fort Myers) lasted approximately 3 hours. In comparison to the earlier flight, time *literally* flew by and we arrived in next to no time. All of us feeling the exhaustion, but also the contentment of finally landing in our destination.

After locating and reuniting with our luggage, we headed over to the bus hire centre in order to receive the vehicle we required for our transportation to our accommodation – Vester Marine Field Station. We waited patiently and chatted away with minimal energy after a lengthy day spent travelling.

We finally reached our destination which was set to be our home for the upcoming 10 days. After a 30 minute drive, we unloaded the bus and chose our preferred rooms with the people we’d opted to stay with, afterwards packing and making our beds in preparation to fend off jet leg and to welcome our first full day in Florida.

University second year – An update into my student life!

University

Hi everybody!

Apologies for the absence; life as a second-year university student has been quite chaotic to say the least. With assignments, dance and revision fixed in my agenda, it’s been almost impossible to sit down and write.

Today, I anxiously decided to take a break from my studies to focus solely on self care. An act I have been shamefully neglecting recently and I began feeling extremely run down. Listening carefully to my Teachers’ advice and applying it to myself has worked wonders and will only benefit me as I continue to work hard in the upcoming days, weeks and months to obtain my degree.

Disclaimer: Self care is more than applying a face mask or painting your nails. It’s taking the time to engage with something that makes your soul happy and that makes you feel relaxed. Taking time out from the stress of the world around you.

My second university year has been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. I often disregard my issues and my feelings in a bid to make myself, and those around me, feel better (which is something I am working on…) I’ve attended counselling sessions and have had countless meetings with my tutors who give me the kindness and understanding I forget to give to myself, constantly reminding me of how well I’m doing academically which always brightens my mood.

Admittedly, I have faced an anguish of tough days with regards to my mental health and well-being. Battling Anorexia whilst maintaining a good student persona is tricky. But still, every day I am trying. Times I felt I couldn’t go on, but nonetheless, persisted, and have pushed myself to reach out during my darkest days. Times I’ve cried over food, resisted self harm urges or over the concept of sitting in a practical session due to high intensities of anxiety or worrying over the torment issued by my own mind.

Still, I am approaching the Christmas break and the end of my first semester. I’ve made it. It’s fair to say I have met some major challenges along the way, whilst learning more about myself as an individual.

I’ve challenged myself in a collection of ways, stepping outside of my comfort zone and finding the confidence to speak to new people. Going against my anxiety attempting to convince me that “I can’t” with my greatly needed “can do” attitude.

Strength, determination and persistence.

My tutors often remind me of the way I treat animals, upon reflection, I must treat myself in the same way. With compassion. Learning to no longer deprive myself of the things I need, in the same way I would for my animal friends.

And I am extremely privileged to have my supportive network of friends, family members and tutors who support me, whilst furnishing me with love, understanding and the best advice, always.

I partook in my first winter dance show, an honour to dance with such incredible people and to show off our hard-work and commitment during the past couple of months.

Joining Jazz has issued me with abundance’s of happiness and a newly found confidence since joining in September. Winning Dancer of the Semester and feeling incredibly blessed to be part of a club where I feel so at home, a place I can be myself and still be so accepted.

Whilst continuing with Contemporary. The first club I joined in University, again, standing as a place where I feel extremely comfortable and joyous as I make new friends and learn new skills.

I always leave dance feeling refreshed (even after Izzy’s warm up!) and as though my problems have faded away. It seriously does work wonders for my mental health.

I’ve found it hard to maintain a balance between different aspects of my life, becoming agitated if I haven’t managed to complete something, or missing sleep to fulfil the demands of my, never absent, thoughts. Becoming guilt ridden over prioritising things other than work, assignments or revision. And part of my life as a student is coming to the realisation that finding a balance is the way to be productive, not sticking my head in text books 24/7 or exercising to the point of exhaustion.

Each day, Uni continues to provide me with lessons unlisted within my degree specification. Lessons of hope, gratitude, forgiveness and acceptance. And although times have been dark, there has also been lots of light and lots of smiles.

As I approach the end of my first semester, I remain optimistic that the remaining weeks will be wonderful, whilst looking forward to the upcoming semester, new modules and new life lessons made!

University – life lessons, goats and second year!

University

A year ago, I set off on a new and exhilarating adventure. University life.

My first year as a University Student… Exciting!

I’m now just a week away from beginning my second university year. Following my studies in Zoology with Animal Behaviour as I aim to become a voice for those in need of one. My animal companions in need of a friend.

First year issued me with valuable lessons which I aim to apply to myself, and my studies, throughout the upcoming academic year.

A study carried out recently at Buttercups Goat Sanctuary (UK, Kent) found that Goats LOVE a happy face. A happy Laur equals a happy goat. Goativation? Therefore, for my caprine companions, it’s my upmost mission to be as happy as humanely possible as I embark on life’s next academic challenge.

BE THE GOAT FOR THE GOATS

As a student, and a young person in general, it’s very easy to become caught up in what those around me are doing. But I’ve concluded that I must make myself, my health and my happiness my biggest priority if I wish to succeed in my journey.

With just five basic lessons, I am confident second year will be increasingly more enjoyable than the first.

STOP BEING SO HARD ON MYSELF

During my first year, I became awfully distressed whenever I received a lower grade than I anticipated. Though, I wish to focus more on my efforts and areas for improvement as opposed to my so-called “failures”. Focusing on the positives leaves less room to dwell on the negatives, I believe. And trying my hardest can never result in failing.

My grades do NOT define me, or my worth.

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.”

CONFIDE IN OTHERS DURING TIMES OF STRUGGLE

I’ve learned the importance of reaching out for support during my times of need, coming to the realisation that seeking help is perfectly acceptable, there is always an ear to listen and I don’t deserve to suffer alone, or in silence. University is a wonderful place filled with the most supportive people (tutors and friends) and nobody will think of me any less for needing a helping hand.

Speaking up releases masses of tension and encourages others to seek help, too. A win win situation!

PRIORITISE HAPPINESS AND SELF CARE

Finding a comfortable, maintainable balance within my studies and “other things” is still a work in progress, but one I am keen to apply to myself. Ensuring I create time for the things I love outside of my studies – spending time with friends, volunteering and engaging in the clubs and societies I am involved with and have a passion for. The understanding that spending countless hours in the library, buried in text books or behind laptop screens isn’t healthy or necessary amongst the pathway to graduating. Nor does it make me a “better student.

FINDING MY STRENGTH

Moving away to Uni was a strength in itself, but my mission now is to maintain it. Finding the strength to carry on when things don’t necessarily go to plan, or when the day has been tough. A bad grade? Read the Tutor feedback and prioritise it next time. Speaking to my Tutor about it, a problem shared is a problem halved. A fall out with a friend? That’s okay. They happen, Uni is stressful and friendships are bound to begin showing some cracks; take a break, resolve it afterwards. A heightened struggle battling mental illness’ that day? Again, it happens. Prioritise self care, learning helpful distraction techniques and keeping myself safe.

SEARCHING FOR THE HAPPINESS IN EVERY DAY THINGS

I’m embarrassingly talented at dwelling on my nasty, more intrusive thoughts (Sigh!) So I’m ensuring I work tirelessly to focus more on the positives in my life, and less on the negatives. A balance of alone time, but ensuring I am not too withdrawn. Searching for the happiness in every day things, regardless of how small they may appear so that during my darker times, I can reflect upon the better times. Never underestimate the healing powers of a cuddle with an animal, a cup of tea or a simple stroll along a scenic route via a Beach or a Forest.

Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from the negative

Here’s to second year, another year in which I aim to succeed, exceed my own expectations and make some unforgettable memories with the incredible friends I am blessed with.

Anorexia and University – Studying and recovering

University

I want to talk about battling Anorexia whilst at University.

Initially, it was something I wanted to keep hidden from those around me. But then I figured it was pointless (and ridiculous) attempting to shy away from a huge aspect of my life. I’m no longer ashamed or embarrassed of the things I am going through.

It’s common for Students to develop mental illnesses whilst at University due to many different reasons. Not because they’re weak willed, lazy or unable to cope. However, I had been diagnosed several years beforehand so I had the advantage of developing my own coping mechanisms in order to help me manage my personal situation.

The pressure of studying, meeting deadlines and achieving “the best” grades. Being away from home, finding feelings of loneliness and increased anxiety levels when faced with a new situation. There are lots of factors which can trigger somebody becoming unwell.

I’m not a typical student, you could say. I don’t order pizzas and I tend to avoid eating out, or doing anything other than sticking to my *very* strict eating regime. I can spend lengths of time breaking down in my room due to my horrific body image or intense feelings of guilt. I have difficulties concentrating in lectures due to exhaustion and a tendency to reflect upon my darkest thoughts. Having an Eating Disorder does restrict you in many ways past eating and it tends to alienate you from those in your presence.

I turn to my Anorexia as a means of coping, a form of punishment, particularly when things go wrong. Such as receiving a slightly lower grade than I anticipated, fall-outs with friends, exam pressure and so on. Reminder: regardless of whatever happens I still need to eat.

I made it a goal of mine to allow those around me to know about my struggles, to avoid any awkwardness if I were to be asked to go out to eat or to avoid questions about my “abnormal” eating patterns. Opening up isn’t easy, I often worry about judgement or the fear of abandonment, worrying people will no longer wish to be associated with me. But, thankfully, the love and understanding I have received has been incredible and I am exceptionally thankful and filled with gratitude for that.

Battling Anorexia is a continuous, daily enervating task which takes significant amounts of strength, courage and determination. Even whilst studying something you’re truly passionate about, it doesn’t (unfortunately) ridden your illnesses. I’ve found it almost impossible to stick to a regular eating pattern due to my forever changing timetable and my other commitments, only motivating me to try harder (and to challenge my disordered thoughts) in second year.

Recovery and education are just as important as each other.

Waking up every morning to fight the demons which left you exhausted and agitated the day before….

That is bravery.

Eating Disorder recovery is often perceived as eating and being given a meal plan, when in reality, it’s often including battling excruciatingly painful and loud thoughts, relearning what a healthier relationship with food is, past diet culture, restriction and calorie counting. Alongside finding body acceptance, tackling the voice that continuously nags at you for not being “good enough or thin enough”.

Managing this on top of studying, a social life, volunteering and hobbies is still something I am learning to apply to myself. It takes a remarkable amount of power in order to do so. Ensuring I am busy enough to spend less time dwelling on my thoughts, but also finding the time to eat, even when I don’t particularly want to.

On my down days, I have the confidence to confide in those I trust as a reminder that I am not alone.

My marvellous dance teacher, and friend, Lucy has always been somebody I’ve felt able to speak to when I’ve needed somebody to listen. A very kind-hearted, beautiful person who inspires me daily with her strength, hard work and determination. Providing me with love, understanding and acceptance. Alongside two of my lovely tutors who have assisted, and advised me in countless ways.

Battling any Eating Disorder isn’t a quick fix. Or something that happens magically overnight. It takes years and years to recover, with every individual sufferer having their own unique recovery journeys, some people may never reach a full recovery due to the nature of the illness. But it’s key that baby steps are taken daily to challenge thoughts, behaviours and rituals.

I highly encourage everybody struggling to open up to those you trust. A tutor, a friend, or a family member. It helps to lift a huge weight from your shoulders and it acts as a constant reminder that you are not in this battle alone.

Uni and mental health – managing education and wellbeing

Mental Health, University

Managing education and mental health simultaneously can prove to be excruciatingly difficult at times, though, not impossible. Like with anything, the most important thing is to take it day by day. One step at a time.Fortunately, teachers and universities are becoming more aware of student mental health, they’re more understanding and willing to make adaptations to things when necessary. One of my biggest worries was managing my health and studies alongside each other, but in all honesty I’ve felt nothing but supported and understood throughout my first year and it’s incredible to be surrounded with such empathy.You’ve entered a whole new world, new surroundings and are bound to be met with new people going through the same. Some people can mask it better than others. Struggling isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s normal and it’s more than okay to admit when you aren’t really okay.My first year included a variety of ups and downs. Cries, laughs and a series of personal achievements. Though I ensured I reached out during my times of need because suffering alone and in silence wouldn’t benefit my education, or my overall well-being. Prioritising my mental health and well-being is still a work in progress, though I am enabling myself to reach out for support when I need it.I’ve found the strength to find the time for things that make me happy. Volunteering at the animal sanctuary and joining the contemporary dance club. Both of which were terrifying at first due to meeting new people and the fear of being judged, though I’ve been loved and accepted. And I’m beyond thankful for that. They’ve allowed me to meet new people and to give me brighter focus and positive distraction. Aswell as allowing me to gain an insight into the things I’m good at, not just the things my head tells me I’m bad at.

1) You are NOT alone. Being away from home doesn’t mean you have to deal with any issues by yourself, there is always somebody to listen, somebody willing to help. Even if that’s a chat to your mum on the phone or a cry on your flatmates’ shoulder, somebody is always around.

2) Speaking to your Tutors is a massive help. They will never think any less of you for needing support and will probably be thankful that you felt able to confide in them. Not only does it help shift some of the heavy weight placed on your shoulders, it enables you to gain trust in those around you.

3) Seek support from University support services. Most unis will now have services available within the Uni to cater for students, helping them deal with the possible stresses and struggles of life. Services which can be accessed easily with the importance of student confidentiality.

4) Open up to your friends! This is something I’ve recently found the confidence to do myself, and I can only say it’s very beneficial. Friends love you and want to support you, they aren’t judgemental and they always know what to say in order to relieve some of the stress.

5) Know what’s right for you. Don’t feel pressured into doing things you aren’t comfortable, or happy, with because it’ll have negative implications on your mental health. Find the time to prioritise your happiness alongside your studies.

University is an adventure filled with highs and lows. It’s a climb – you may fall during your journey, but you’ll always pick yourself back up to reach the finish. Your mental health doesn’t define you. Don’t allow your struggles to set you back. It’s incredibly brave to take on university as a challenge, especially whilst battling mental illnesses. You’re capable, worthy and valid. Never think of yourself as anything less.

You’ve got this!

University – good bye to my first year

Mental Health, University

25/05/2018

Today marks the end of my first year of University! It’s surreal how quickly it’s gone, it seems like just yesterday I was anxiously packing up my belongings and heading down to Bangor ready to begin my dream course, Zoology and Animal Behaviour. I had no idea what to expect, whether I’d adore Uni or hate it with a passion. I could only try. However, it’s been an incredible adventure filled with highs and lows, I’ve learned lots in terms of education and life lessons and at times I’ve really come to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses and at times I’ve struggled but, nonetheless, I am proud of myself for getting through the year despite my mental struggles and personal difficulties.


‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.

friends

I’d been wanting to attend Bangor Uni since 2014 when I first applied. My personal circumstances and a decline in my mental and physical health meant my plans were temporarily on hold and I became extremely upset that the majority of my friends were heading off and I was being left behind. I’m not better or in any way recovered, but I’m trying to include things in my life that extend beyond my illnesses. I’ve always been a lover of education and learning, so being away from it for such a long time broke my heart. Being back is the best feeling that fills me with so much joy. But everything happens for a reason, I wasn’t the failure I labelled myself as because I didn’t give up. “Nonetheless she persisted.” I got to Bangor in my own time. I am learning that there’s no age limit to success. Starting in 2017 doesn’t make my achievements any less than those who started years beforehand. We can either let our experiences worsen us or better us as individuals. 

It’s how we pick ourselves back up after we’ve fallen that counts, not the number of times we’ve been down.

Prior to starting Uni, I worried I wouldn’t fit in because I’m not the “typical Student” and my issues (including my Autism and social anxiety) make socialising difficult – I hate drinking and the thought of spending my evening in a club fills me with distress. I’d much rather sit in and write an essay. But that’s just me. I found that I did fit in, I found things I enjoyed doing with people I loved spending my time with. First year, for me, has been a learning curve.Not just in terms of academic study and finding new interests (microbiology , more in depth animal behaviour and evolution) but also life lessons too. I’ve found a strength in me I didn’t know I had. Determination. I stepped out of my comfort zone massively and continued to challenge myself in so many ways: moving to an entirely new place with new people and learning to adjust to my surroundings and University life, finding the courage to confide in my tutors and friends during my times of struggle and surviving each day despite the battles in my head that are seemingly torturous at times. I have exceeded my own expectations.

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University has given me a motivation and a much brighter outlook on life which I lacked for such a long period of time when everything was dull. I want to make others happy, animals happy and myself happy and my role as a student is helping me to do so, I’m massively grateful for that. It hasn’t cured my mental illnesses and I never expected it to. Though, its given me happiness, its acted as a constant reminder and a solid foundation of why I must keep going: to succeed in achieving my Degree to then go onto saving animals. Returning to education after two years off to work on myself really is a magical feeling, I’m beginning to feel as though I have a purpose again. I’ve been privileged enough to make valuable friendships with wonderful people who I’ll always treasure in my heart, people I’m thrilled to be spending the next few years with. My friends accept me for me, understand my mental health struggles and provide me with endless love and hugs. And for that, I am grateful, and very lucky too! My first year certainly wouldn’t have been the same without my amazing friends.

The year has been fantastic, a combination of tears and smiles, positives and negatives. Of course there are definite areas in which I can improve, but with each day I am learning and growing as a person accepting my flaws rather than striving for a perfection that doesn’t exist or even satisfy my own standards. First year has acted as a stepping stone to achieving even more milestones in my second year and I say bring on the challenge! And I remain confident that each year will result in being progressively better than the first. 

I must add a huge thank you to everybody who has supported me along the way. My friends and my Tutors (the kindest people I’ve ever met) who have both offered me endless understanding and love when I’ve needed it. I’ve never been judged at Uni for my struggles, instead I’ve been encouraged to focus on my strengths and achievements which seems impossible to do on my own accord. I wouldn’t have gotten through the year without the support of my tutors who never fail to pick me up when I’m down, inviting me for a chat (usually about Goats!) or emailing me back in the middle of the night when I’m stressed or just need somebody to speak to. I’m beyond grateful for everybody who has been an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on, a person to share a laugh with and to create a new memory with. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing by me through the good and bad times.

I’m very proud to be a Student at Bangor Uni SBS (School of Biological Sciences) I finally feel like I belong and I’m excited for all that’s next to come.