Castles of disillusionment

I just felt a little frisson of joy. I was sitting at home alone, feeling sorry for myself, when I realised I could blog about my feelings. This is already taking on the role of full-time therapist for me, and at quite a reasonable price as well!

So why was I moping? Every few months, my mind rolls around to the same topic: university. I had a miserable time at university. In my first year I studied Chinese at Oxford, worked really hard, realised I hadn’t actually really wanted to study it, and dropped out in a storm of burnout and the cinders of my first proper relationship, which hadn’t exactly gone swimmingly.

When I returned to uni, to study Linguistics at Cambridge, I thought, “This time, it’s going to go right!” And it ended up being worse than my first outing. I barely made any friends in my first year, at least not in my college, and I soon realised the linguistics department was tiny and shambolic, meaning the academic side wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as it should’ve been. At the end of the first year, I entered a tumultuous relationship with someone I genuinely fell in love with, but I wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with the mental baggage we both brought to the table, and I ended up hurting him badly, which haunted me for years afterwards.

Things got a little better in my second year, when I got involved in student activism, but they took a severe nosedive when I had a nuclear falling out with a lynchpin involved with almost every aspect of LGBT/feminist activism in the university, meaning I ended up cutting ties with a bunch of people I had once been close to. My last year was languid and depressed, with my health melting down into a cauldron of filth, as I sat, trapped inside by anxiety, binge-eating sweets, wracked by insomnia. It was narrowly saved by my determination to become a Writer, damn it, a goal which succeeded in dragging me out of my depressive slump over the following two years.

(Side note: yeah I’ve been to both Oxford and Cambridge. They both suck.)

A lot of the aforementioned malaise can probably be put down to me not realising I was trans, and when I had realised it, still being in the tentative early stages of transition. But I think there’s more to it than that.

University is an oasis of experience siphoned off from adulthood. We’re set up to expect that we’ll make amazing friends, party hard and maybe work a bit, and come out of it bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for the adult world.

OK, so I’m embellishing a bit. The thing is, I wasn’t just blindly expecting The Uni Experience. After all, I got to do it two times. I actively tried to move outside of the usual circles, to get to know “townies” (I hate that term), but I still ended up sad and alone. Worst of all, I’m now envious of the access students have to social events, particular queer/activist ones. It’s much harder to get out there and meet people as an adult. I miss the cameraderie that uni allowed. The “friends for life” narrative compounds this, because if you don’t make a stable set of friends in uni, then you’re emotionally stunted for years afterwards.

But in hindsight, I should’ve seen it coming. I’ve had a miserable experience with Education since secondary school. I was bullied and friendless for many years, and those wounds don’t easily heal. I was ecstatic to go to sixth form, because my mantra was: “Just get through this, and you’ll be able to go to uni where everything is great”. Well, that didn’t quite work out.

Unfortunately, for mentally-unstable trans girls, there is no shining castle waiting at the end of our dark corridor. The walls may grow wider and brighter, but we’ll always be staring into the distance, searching for the glimmer of what was never there.

And that’s something I’m just going to have to work through. There was a time when I thought I’d never get over the traumas of my past: the sexual, the academic, the social. I still don’t know if I ever truly can. But the difference now is I have hope.

Some castles take a long time to crumble.

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