The horrors of Freshers: Dissociation

Over the past few weeks, there’s been plenty of content on freshers week; the infamous experience all undergrads have to go through. There's a diversity of perspectives on the rite of passage: its the best week, filled with parties, excessive drinking and newfound freedom and fun, while for for some, it's overrated, underwhelming and insignificant. […]

Marina Snyder
24th October 2022
Over the past few weeks, there’s been plenty of content on freshers week; the infamous experience all undergrads have to go through. There's a diversity of perspectives on the rite of passage: its the best week, filled with parties, excessive drinking and newfound freedom and fun, while for for some, it's overrated, underwhelming and insignificant. Whilst each fresher's experience may differ from person to person, there is one psychological element that I think is often not spoken enough about: dissociation.

Dissociation is the feeling that you are disconnected from not only yourself but also the world around you; some people are in this phase for short periods of time, an hour or two, whereas others may feel disconnected for weeks or even months. Many factors may contribute to this detachment, with it being most likely a natural response to things you may find overwhelming (aka university) as well as a possible symptom of mental health or even trauma. According to mind.org, dissociation is a side effect of excessive drinking (it’s not looking good for us then).

After speaking to many freshers, a lot have said that they’ve felt quite disconnected recently, almost as if living in a daydream or simulation, myself included. For instance, the other day I went food shopping and felt as if I was a part of some game or an app where I get to pick what I want, not even processing that I had to use money (which as a student I sorely lack) to pay to make meals so I can survive. At times, I’ll just be walking or sitting in my room, and it’ll suddenly hit me that I’m here, and I’ll almost be shocked by it. Speaking to another student, he mentioned that “Especially during early freshers’ week, I felt completely zoned out, as if I was on autopilot” whilst another student remarked, “I feel as if none of this is real sometimes like I’m a part of some weird tv show”. Although the event of us all being in some kind of Truman show reality isn’t technically off the table, it’s highly unlikely. What’s more probable is the idea that we have been so overwhelmed by the sudden changes in our lives, that to cope, we have begun to detach ourselves from reality.

This idea that there are many of us feeling dissociated is quite a scary thought when thinking about it. What does it mean for us as new undergraduates? Are we all walking around like zombies or are we just so overwhelmed by everything that’s going on? Perhaps this year’s Halloween costume won’t be too difficult to accomplish with a theme of ‘Fresher zombies’ unfortunately underway.

To give us some credit, the idea of moving to a random city and living with six or eight strangers you’ve never met, for a year, is a strange concept. On top of that you are doing a degree on a topic you’ve most likely never done and are having to suddenly defend for yourself through cooking, cleaning, and budgeting. It makes you think, perhaps we don’t give enough credit to university students for all they accomplish, even just by going about their daily lives.

If you are feeling disconnected though, like you’re in a foggy dream, then I can’t stress how important self-care is at the moment. Look after yourself and try to ground yourself whether through breathing activities, grounding movements (the student union does yoga for 1 pound once a week!) or building a supportive network around you. It’s only natural to be feeling overwhelmed when so much is happening and changing so quickly, but you’re not alone in the process, and though it'll take time, you’ll start to feel more and more like yourself every day.

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