Starting Uni Student-made Wellbeing

How it’s going: My first-year experience at UoM

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I’m currently 20,000 feet in the air writing this, commuting back to Manchester from Derry airport after a short end-of-year vacation at home in the Fermanagh heartlands. It’s the third time I’ve undertaken this ‘return’ journey across the Irish Sea; the first returning from a brief reading week spent at home, the second from my extensive Christmas Break, and now I’ve just submitted my final assessment for the year (honestly, where has the time gone?).

I’m imagining there aren’t many things more transient or reflective than an aeroplane ride, so for the duration of my time above the clouds I’ll be reflecting on my time in Manchester as a first-year drama student…

1. My First Week In Manchester

My first taste of Manchester I now look back with fondness and humour; however, it certainly wasn’t in that moment! I cast my mind back to mid-September, landing for the first time in Manny at Manchester Airport. Plane lands; normal. Me and my mum alight; normal. We enter the bowels of the airport and suddenly everything isn’t normal! In actual fact, we’re lost!! But if you’ve had the pleasure of being to Manchester Airport before (which, I imagine, applies for a lot if not all of you reading this) this eventuality is highly probable! We did eventually manage to squirm our way out into open air, hitching a taxi ride for Fallowfield. I’ve since used this formative experience as inspiration for a comedy sketch!

Seeing my room for the first time was incredible. I’m sure you can all agree, simply having your own room gives you a feeling of freedom and possibility. An added bonus of my room is that it overlooks the Armitage football pitches. Who needs the Etihad when you have backyard footie on, right?

2. Sainsbury’s and Spending

The entrances and exits for Sainsbury’s almost echoes something from Orwell’s 1984– you literally have to scan your receipt to exit the store. But aside from totalitarianism and dystopia, I love going to Sainsbury’s! (No, I don’t.) Though I have a nickname for it. Every time I’m headed there, I message my mum: “Hey mum, heading to sainsbo now love u xxxx’. Anyway, I have bought some very useful items from there; postage stamps, cards for my mum, Christmas presents, Mother’s Day gift, a Mitre Impel football, and a Lego Star Wars Boba Fett’s Starfighter microfighter. Just don’t expect to find your, say, soulmate sitting on a shelf in aisle 12- unless it’s a Cadbury Oreo bar- but anything’s possible? (where the hell am I going with this?).

Right, now for some actual advice. Don’t go to Sainsbury’s. Other supermarkets are available. Literally. Instead, I advise catching the 142 bus down to the Aldi in Didsbury- it’s much cheaper, and there is arguably more selection. But wherever you do your shopping, always write a list beforehand, and ensure that whatever you’re buying is a necessity (it saves on cost and food waste) Briefly on the topic of lists, I’ve found that writing to-do lists- in my notebook, Notes app, or post-it notes on my desk- has helped me massively with reducing anxiety. Couldn’t recommend it enough.

Ok, takeaways. Yum. I’ve officially exhausted my welcome offers for Deliveroo and Just Eat (let me know personally if I’ve missed any) but they are lovely once in a while. Although nowadays I opt for my local chippy, The Battered Cod, which is a stone’s throw on the corner of Ladybarn Lane. Generally, takeaways are pricey, so try limiting them to once a month, or even every two months.

3. Good Habits

For the record, you don’t have to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect. I’ve completed first-year, and gained plenty of experience with it, but I’m certainly not perfect. At the start of the year, I was a mess organisation-wise. But I cannot stress enough the importance of creating good habits, discipline and routine. They really are the foundation for a happy and productive day. Ok, as this is of a reflective nature, I have a terrible confession to make. Be warned. Before I packed my bags for Xmas, I foolishly decided to neglect all of my dirty dishes. I arrive back from Christmas hols to find a very angry WhatsApp message- ultimatum, rather- screaming at me from my phone, with an image of a green rubbish bag. You can imagine what they were trying to contain. I tell myself, I’ll deal with it later. Later. Later. Later. After working my way through picnic tableware, I had no choice but to face the music. It took me three entire hours to wash those dishes. Never again. Anyway, at least now you can’t possibly be as bad as me!

But now I wash my dishes immediately after eating. I would advise you do the same.

4. My Course

I am a drama student, so you’d imagine that that would involve a lot of getting up on your feet and performing. Well, sort of. There is that, but equally a lot of study and reading which I equally enjoy. What I love most about my course is its collaborative nature. Whether it’s group presentations or devised performances, it has really developed my interpersonal skills and massively boosted my confidence!

For my practical work, I have an all-day practical workshop on a Friday, where we’ve done scriptwriting, verbatim theatre, and even puppetry. It was a hell of a lot of fun, but also quite demanding!

For my theory work, I’ve had to read plays, essays, watch films and documentaries, and listen to radio plays.

But ultimately what’s encouraged from my lecturers across the course is to think independently and formulate your own opinions- which come to fruition when we’re in our seminar groups. I’ve also found the course has delved into other fields besides theatre and performance, most notably discussions surrounding politics, gender, racism, the environment, history and art. So I’m learning a lot!

5. Things I’ve Been Involved In

During my time in Manchester, I’ve tried to keep busy, try new things and branch out from the bubble of university into other parts of the city. For example, I recently joined the Didsbury Players, an amateur dramatics society stationed in Didsbury (south of Fallowfield and Withington).

But why, you ask? Well, one of my New Year Resolutions was to gain more performance experience. So, what better way than to join an am dram soc? Just over four months later and I’ve since performed in a play, playing a witchfinder called Henry Packer in Vinegar Tom by Caryl Churchill.

Within the university, I performed in the Director’s Project- a series of extracts from some well-known plays performed by Drama students. I performed as the role of Howard Wagner in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman! I’m also a proud member of the University’s Content creator team. Like Didsbury, I’ve met new friends through it and it’s really creative work that gets you off your seat! My favourite piece of content that I’ve made to date has been my Earth Day TikTok, where I visited the Platt Fields Market Garden (go check it out!). I’m also a football fanatic, and to sate this I play five-a-side with some mates at Sugden Sports Centre on weekends. I also regularly play footie at Platt Fields Park!

6. Loneliness and Sadness

Despite all the ups, I’ve also had a few downs. Unfortunately, my pet cat, our family cat Ziggy, passed away just as I arrived back to Manchester from reading week. But through that grief (which I haven’t processed fully) I’ve been able to FaceTime my wonderful mum who’s always been there for me.

Another thing I want to open up about is loneliness. Now, loneliness can be good. Whilst I have a social life, I spend a lot of my day alone- and I love my own company! I’ve done some great things, and experienced great things, on my own. But at times, you do feel lonely. I’ve felt it- especially in semester one. When you don’t feel brave enough to leave your room, even for the simplest of things, that’s loneliness. When you don’t want to text your mum or friend back, that’s loneliness. When you wake up late and lie in bed on your phone, that’s loneliness. And that’s ok, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you need to chat to somebody, do that. Be honest to yourself, and to others! And take your time. Life isn’t easy, it’s a balancing act as my mum says. As Dolly Parton said, “Everyone wants happiness, nobody wants pain. You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.”

7. Dreams and Aspirations

Now, as I’m writing this, I’m very hopeful and full of promise for the short and long-term future. Summer is in full swing! The days are long, and the weather is scorching! I’m feeling positive, motivated and grateful for all the good aspects of my life. I have aspirations and dreams I’m pursuing. I’m waking up with a yearning for the day ahead. I hope that you, as you’re reading this, are well and happy.

There’s so much the world has to offer, and so much you have to offer it. Keep going, it will get better. As the Persian adage goes, “this too shall pass.” And finally, as the poet Seamus Heaney, who I’ve loved reading in my spare time, once said, “if we winter this out, we can summer anywhere”. We’re here in this moment. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts! 🙂

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