Looking after yourself

I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about my life, specifically a positive decision I have made over the last month that has bought happiness into my life.

Let me start off with some context. I was raised an only child, with parents who divorced when I was before my age hit double figures. I was always a reclusive kid, a lonely kid, a bullied kid. Looking back on those days, I have few people that I would be able to call friends – people I felt at home with, people with whom I could truly be myself.

Over the years, and particularly after I moved to University, I got better. I devoted time to making friends – proper friends, not acquaintances.

And then, over the summer, I realised they had all gone. I’m now in my fifth year in Bangor, meaning that those in 3rd year now were freshers in my final year.

I’m not going to lie – I felt a bit alone.

The Students’ Union movement talks a lot about mental health, and the stigma attached to this. Mental health isn’t about people who are defined by a medical condition, it’s about looking after yourself. It’s about taking holiday, having time for loved ones, and making sure that you are happy. “You have to be selfish to be selfless”, as I was once told. It is through meeting some inspirational people in the student movement, and through some excellent welfare work in Bangor over the last few months, that I feel confident to talk about my own mental health. This isn’t about being lazy – it’s about self-preservation.

For all the above reasons, I decided this year to spend as much time as possible out of the office interacting with students, whether directly related to work or whether it was just hanging out with clubs and societies. What I hadn’t accounted for is the friendly and welcoming nature of the groups I was visiting – asking me not whether I would come back, but whether I would stay. And, before I knew it, I was a member of a club.

A club competing at the top of their field in the UK.

A club feared by others.

A club who still embody the principle of sport not being about winning, but being about making friends.

The Quidditch club.

Now, I could write about all sorts here. The joy of being a cog in a machine, not needing to worry about anything but my own specific role. The mental health benefits of regular physical activity. The joy at discovering a new skill you never knew you had.

But I’m really here to write about the value of friendship. I’ve discovered, over the last few weeks, the power of friendship. The happiness that comes from knowing you are valued for who you are. The joy of just hanging about and goofing around. Whilst there are some wonderful people in Bangor, it’s been a while since I had this level of emotional interaction – and it is invigorating.

One of the most refreshing re-realisations (something I knew all along, but hadn’t actively considered for a while) is the immense value that SU activities bring to lives. The one club that I have got involved in has an active membership of about 25-30 – people whose lives are defined, in part, by their association with the Quidditch club. In Bangor, we’ve got over 160 different clubs and societies, plus another 25 volunteering projects. Each one of these is as unique as the rest, and each one supports humans in their day to day lives. The strength I gain from one club of wonderful people is replicated across Bangor, across the UK, and across the world. The kindness of strangers is matched only by the love of friends – and it brings a smile to my face knowing that my job allows me to support these interactions, to support friendships, and to support the very essence of life.

Looking back on who I was before University and who I became during University, I’m determined to make the most of this final year as a “student” – to try everything, to get stuck in, and to have fun.

And after that?

Well, time to bring more joy to the world in a whole new adventure!

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