A letter to my eighteen year old self at the start of the new university year: mental health, hindsight & regret

A letter to my eighteen year old self at the start of the new university year || raeritchie.com

My dearest, darling Rae,

The new university year has begun and there is talk of it everywhere – on the news, in the papers, next to me in the coffee shop.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since we were in that position, gabbing away to our friends in Fusion café about when we were starting, what we were packing and whether the fuel strike would be over in time for our parents to fill up their cars for the journey there.  There was no way we carry all our stuff on the train!

We took so much with us but still seemed to be missing essentials.  No trainers, no laptop, no printer.  Those first few weeks and months were a steep learning curve.

We didn’t even know what Freshers’ Week was and it took a while to catch on that it was something we were actually participating in.  So clueless! 

Now I taunt myself that we could have, should have, done more research about both the specific institution we chose and university life more generally, but then we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

One thing we did know was that we wanted to do history.  We felt so sure about this at the time, but I suspect English Literature would have been a better choice for our interests and aptitudes.  History seemed like a safe option, one that earned us approval from the sources that we mistakenly wanted to impress.

Oh you poor love, it’s only now I’m realising how much damage was done to our still pretty naïve schoolgirl self.  We’ll be living with the repercussions, consciously or subconsciously, for years to come.

History also seemed to offer me a straightforward route to a career: we’ll be a historian!

It gave us a convenient focus that felt steady and secure rather than having to face the tumult of exploring other possibilities and desires. 

I’m bound to have an inkling of regret about our dogged pursuing of this path seeing as we’ve recently walked away from all that investment of time and energy to become a writer.  Maybe we could have been ahead of where we are now if we had listened more closely to the voices that whispered quietly in our ear; instead we chose to drown them out.

‘Why didn’t you go into publishing?’ a friend asked a short while ago, seeing my passion about magazines and the printed word.  ‘I don’t know,’ came my reply.  ‘I just don’t know.’

Who knows what would have been if we had taken a different road?

Hindsight is a wonderful stick to beat oneself with. 

At the time we made the best choice we could considering the overwhelming sensation when a fresher was of feeling besieged by terror.  We were unmoored and in freefall, uncertain of ourself, of what to do and how to be.

Remember that weird drowning sensation we felt in between the first floor library stacks?  It was a panic attack. 

Remember fleeing the hall dining room on a Wednesday lunchtime, bumping into Charlotte from downstairs with hot tears stinging our face?  That too, a classic panic attack but we don’t know of such things back then.

Looking back, my recollections are peppered with perhaps, maybes, what ifs.  Perhaps we should have gone with my insurance offer.  Maybe we needed to take a gap year to grow up a bit first.  What if we’d quit in the first term and reassessed our options?  Who knows how things might have worked out?

Wishes and wonderings … But still some things assuage our regrets. 

Last Sunday, our university housemates gathered around our dining table.  We feasted upon roast chicken and an almond cake (it should have been vanilla but I pick up the wrong extract bottle). We sat together and talked and shared our lives.  Mostly they wanted to know what’s been going on in our life, in our head, over the last few tumultuous months.

As they piled into the car to make the hundred plus mile trip back to their homes, I felt their warmth and affection.  I knew how much they cared about me, about us – the clueless girl we were then and the still learning woman we were are now.  I felt this love and knew we made some good decisions after all.

With all my love,

Rae, now aged thirty-four

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