The first time I came home, I remember crying all weekend.
I was eighteen. I’d been at university four weeks. I was anxious, depressed, homesick, and totally out of my depth. I’d met up with my twin sister and some friends of mine in Manchester for the day, and realising we were forty minutes from home, my sister and I decided to not waste hours going back to university, but to go home for the weekend, and have a bit of a break. The emotions just spilled over, and I cried all weekend. I was so relieved to be at home.
Things didn’t get better. I plunged further into depression. University was a total culture shock to me. I was used to being surrounded by people like myself; working- or lower-middle class families, where continuing with education past 18 had only been a thing for a few years. Previously, you wouldn’t have bothered. University wasn’t a thing that people like us did; it was only after Tony Blair announced that fifty per cent of people should be looking at going that people started to think about it. Myself and a group of friends were identified as ‘Oxbridge candidates from deprived backgrounds’, and sent to a meeting at the local private school about it. I fell in love with the idea. I was bright enough to get into the best universities in the UK, and loved the prospect. Until I went for an open day. It was an alien planet to me. Mothers and fathers dressed for Ascot, staff explaining that with my D in AS-Level Critical Thinking, taken in Year Eleven, I would be better suited to ‘another class of institution’. This snobbery followed me through to university. Students and staff alike would suggest to me that maybe ‘people like you’ weren’t suited to this; the daughter of a teaching assistant and an engineer. I developed a major chip on my shoulder about it, which plunged me even further into the darkness.
The clouds have since cleared, the year abroad done with, the coursework and exams handed in, the graduation ceremony done and dusted, with the shaking everyone’s hands and the throwing of extortionately-priced caps. The lease on the house is up, and I’ve moved back home. The first month was great. I was seeing my old friends, enjoying life, catching up on everything that I’ve missed. And then, at some point, it will inevitably hit you.
You’re home. Back in with your folks. Jobs are hard to come by, and you’re losing hope, your degree certificate clutched to your chest, trying to convince yourself that those four years, and all that debt, were actually worth something.
So yesterday, as I lay in bed, trying to hold back tears, something hit me.
Four years ago, I was distraught at the prospect of leaving home, everything I’d ever known, and the security of my parents’ place. Now, it’s the opposite. The lack of transport, the way the buses home stop at 7pm on a weeknight and even earlier on weekends, the way your friends have moved away or moved on, or just don’t give a shit, the way that I have to tell my parents where I’m going, who with, what I’m doing, and when I’ll be back. The fact that I’m likely to be stuck here for at least a year, while I get myself on my feet.
It feels a bit like I’ve regressed.
Here’s an example. I went away with my parents and sister in July, down to the Loire Valley in France. I’d ummed and aahed about going, but eventually was persuaded to go. We stayed in a small hotel in a tiny village about an hour from the nearest city, with very little public transport. That meant that wherever we went, we had to go by car.
Now, my parents had given us the whole you’re adults, do what you want talk to my sister and I, but with one car, and two provisional licences between us, we were going nowhere fast. The village, which comprised of about five restaurants, endless gift shops, and a bakery, only really opened at about two in the afternoon. The week was spent in chateaus and castles, walking at my parents’ pace. Now, that wouldn’t be bad. It really wouldn’t be. But as a language graduate with typically British parents, i.e., those who speak poor to no French, you’re going to be used. Every time they saw something, I’d be called over, and asked to interpret. After a few hours of this, I got annoyed. But instead of acting like a reasonable adult, and explaining that I was sick of being used for everything when they could just try, I turned into a sulking teenager.
It shocked me how easily I’d returned to the sulky twelve-year-old who was desperate for freedom, but who couldn’t have it. Except this time, I had a choice. I could do something about it, but chose not to.
And this is where I’m finding myself right now.
With an offer to do an MA next month, I’m finding myself stuck. I could go back and do it, taking on a loan and a part-time job, hoping to just start paying it back in the future. I could take a year out and live at home, where I won’t pay rent, but will lose all my freedom. Alternatively, I move away, and have my own place, but no MA, and less money to do so in twelve months’ time. And this is what I’m getting at.
Now, I’ve always been totally against paying for education. It’s a human right. Nobody should have to pay for their rights. Yet here I am, willing to take another 10k plus interest next to my name, for the sake of a qualification that may or may not get my a higher rate of pay in the future. Is it worth it? Who knows. Am I going for it? Probably. Here or abroad? That’s the next question. I could easily go abroad. Twelve months ago, I’d have jumped at the chance to go abroad again, but fourteen months after finishing my year abroad, I’m back in my old ways. I’ve regressed.
Last night, I was hit by the highest wave of anxiety that I’ve felt in years, just like when I was a teenager. It wasn’t even over whether I’ll ever pay off my debt, or ever find a job I like. It was over whether I’d left my Child Heath Book in the safe in the room of my old house, and over having given away a toy I’d been given as a newborn to a daughter of a friend of my parents. When I look back, it was a stupid reason, but I was lying in a cold sweat, struggling to breathe over something I did at the age of six, and something else I can easily rectify, because my friend’s boyfriend has my old room next year. And this scared me.
When I was a teenager, I was so anxious. I was even an anxious child, for that matter. My parents laugh about it, and say it was so cute how cautious I was about some things, almost funny at times, but these days, a child showing that level of anxiety would be undergoing CBT. Nobody should sit in a classroom aged nine, terrified of their teacher, terrified of the prospect of going to school. The anxiety caused me to be scatter-brained, and when I left my homework at home, which, as puberty came along, became more common, my teachers shouted even more, leaving me even more scared. I used to be nervous about raising my hand in class, right up until the age of nineteen. I don’t want to be this way. I need to move out, regain my life. My relationship with my parents has changed, and it feels like I don’t know who or what I really am any more.
My friends seem to agree. Home isn’t what it was four years ago. We’ve grown up, and our parents have grown used to us not being there. We left children, and came back adults. With time, we fall into old roles – our parents nagging, and us kicking back against them. They remember when they were younger, when jobs were plentiful, and the interest rates were okay. When education was free, and if you went to university, you’d get a good job. You wouldn’t crawl back home and take up an admin job that you could have taken with A-Levels. But things change. The jobs market has changed, and we must change with it.
The importance here is honesty. Sure, it’s awkward to say “morning everyone, I’m struggling here. Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”, but maybe, just maybe, this is what we need to be doing. Maybe graduates need to be more open about their mental health, about the issues they deal with while they take their first steps into the big wide world of work. Just maybe the idea of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ isn’t going to work here. If we can swallow our pride, get rid of the stiff upper lips, and speak our mind, perhaps this won’t seem like such a lonely struggle.