Life hasn't gone to plan - Emma Shields

In the past, especially when I was in upper sixth at school, I spent a lot of my time imagining what my future was going to be like. Many a night I struggled to get to slept as I thought about what I wanted, then imagined all the ways that it could go wrong or I could mess it up. It’s hard not to when your life gets overtaken by university applications, a personal statement, exams and questions from almost everyone you know about what you’re plans are for when you leave school.


At this point in time, my hope was that I’d now be in my final year of university, training to be a mental health nurse. I’d soon be heading away to some African or Asian country on my elective placement. I’d be living in a house in Belfast with a few of the many new friends that I would hopefully make at university and I’d be making the most of student life. I also (as I believe most girls do, even if they won’t admit it) hoped that by this point I would have met a nice guy and be in a relationship.


Well, three years on, life has not quite turned out exactly the way I imagined. I never thought I’d have to withdraw from university after just completing one year. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t experience the amazing student life that everyone talked about, but would instead spend most nights in my room alone, feeling isolated and wanting to go home.


I never imagined that at 19 I’d have to spend two months in hospital, having everything I did under the strict control of the nurses. I certainly never thought I’d be writing this blog about my mental health experience. I was supposed to be the one to help people who were experiencing mental illness, not going through it myself.


My plan was to always make sure I gave off the impression that nothing phased me and I had my life together, I never thought I’d write something that involved me admitting that I don’t actually have my life “together”. In response to life not turning out the way I planned, I deemed myself a failure. In my head, I had to do well in my a-levels, get into university, have a buzzing social life and get a good job in order to be successful.

Nothing else would do.


Recently, I was talking to someone about these feelings, telling her how I felt like a failure for having to leave university. Her response was to ask me if there was people I knew that had either never went to university or like me had to leave. When I said yes she asked me if I thought they were a failure. That got me thinking because of course I didn’t think they were a failure. I didn’t think any less of them for it.


I think it would be fair to say that most people are far too hard on themselves. Everyday we put ourselves down, probably without even noticing, because we aren’t the perfect people that we think we should be. Yet we would never put the kind of expectations on other people that we put on ourselves. How is that fair? Surely everyone should be judged on the same scale. Or, even better than that, surely the scale should just be scraped altogether.


If you go to university, great. If you don’t, so what? If you end up getting a job where you earn 100k a year, fantastic, enjoy it. If you earn 12k a year and are able to support yourself, that’s all that matters. The main thing I want to say here is this; wherever you are in life and whatever you’re doing, if you are content, if it’s where you need to be or if it’s the best thing for your health at this time, that is absolutely ok. Don’t allow your own expectations or the expectations that you think others have of you stop you from just being able to enjoy were you are at right now.


For the past three months, I have been working on a pig farm. This was not part of the plan I had for my life, but I actually really enjoy it (even though I complain about it a lot). It’s not overly glamorous and the smell is pretty bad, but I’m learning to be content with it. And I believe that is the most important thing. I’m not saying I’ll never going back to university, but whether I do or not, it will not dictate who I am as a person




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Darren Shields

Healing through Honesty

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