I am a clinically vulnerable student living in halls, and your parties are selfish

Everyone says ‘don’t go and you’ll be fine’, but it’s not that simple

Returning to university was a harder decision this year, for all students, than ever before. But it was also harder for me than most. I had planned to live in halls again this year after the friendship group I was supposed to be living with broke down. I also did a foundation year and thought it would be nice to get a second chance in my ‘proper’ first year.

On top of that, my family home has never been conducive to learning: the office being taken over by my brother’s Warhammer addiction, I associate it with a traumatic time during my A-levels, and there’s also the lure of my bed so close to my study space. So halls was an easy decision, right? But when your lungs don’t work as they should, and you weigh much more than you should, and there’s a disease which you are especially vulnerable to spreading through uni campuses like wildfire – the once easy decision has become a lot more difficult.

The problems started quite quickly. Group chats for my accommodation were planning parties before we even arrived. I tried to convince them not to and tell them that it wasn’t safe. One party got reported to the university before it even happened, and I being one of the few people who were obviously against parties and brave enough to speak up, got the blame and ended up being harassed via messages.

When the university moved everyone’s rooms to be in course and school bubbles, people started getting angry. “It’s Freshers’, what do you expect?” they’d say to me. “Don’t go and you’ll be fine”, as if the people at the parties won’t be the same people at the campus Co-op the next day, breathing down my neck to look at the meal deals. Multiple people told me not to come to university if I was worried about Covid – people saying I should delay my whole life by another year so that they can party.

Once I moved in it just got worse. People posting videos in huge groups saying “ooh social distancing” mockingly. Constant “motive?” talk. I wanted to go to a bar for the first time since March, so asked where would be good for social distancing. People saying “nowhere is safe” – failed attempts at humour that just increase my resting heart rate way beyond where it should be. I ended up going to a bar I deemed safe, but on the bus home, I was both the only person in a sunflower lanyard and one of the only people in a mask. My room is next to a path, so I hear people constantly walking by in big groups, parties on my doorstep. The Campus Security team is overwhelmed and students are being rude every time they get asked to move on and split up. I bought the security for my block a tonne of biscuits, to say thank you for all they can do. It can’t be easy.

My new flatmates have been absolutely invaluable in their support. We have a “be sensible” rule, and it seems we’re all on pretty much the same page. Flat drinks, flat movie nights, and our trip to the bar have replaced huge club nights and house parties. We’re a little team – there’s only five of us right now, all girls, all on similar courses. All supporting each other however we can.

As of writing this, there’s currently discussion that students won’t be able to go home for Christmas because the situation at unis has got so bad. We’re looking at the prospect of ‘Lockdown 2: Electric Boogaloo’, meaning I won’t be able to see my family, who I miss more than anything. I’ve already booked train tickets home to see them in November just after my birthday to ease my homesickness – hoping if I’m careful enough I can go without putting them at risk. But it’s not just down to me.

The fact is that there’s only so much I can protect myself. I can’t stay in my room 24/7, or I’d go even madder than I have. I’m constantly reading academic studies, being a Biomed student I find it interesting and it’s good to keep up with the science news, but it’s also just compounding the worry. I’ve quit my job (online tutoring) since my anxiety has gotten so bad that I can’t be sure I’ll be in the right frame of mind to teach. I’ve booked CBT (at £20 a session) to try to get over some agoraphobia I’ve developed, and my ever-worsening OCD. I’ve restarted yoga, been going on walks, doing meditation. But it only takes one person who’s attended a party with an infected person getting near me, touching the same door handle, same surface in a shop, walking close to me, or sitting near me on a bus, and it’s game over. Back to square one. The prospect of “long Covid” (permanent disability or health issues as a result) scares me to my core.

It feels like those times in primary school when the whole class gets kept behind from playtime since one kid is being a little shit. Except for more deaths and disability and bodily fluids. I wish other students could see we need to do more. To them, it seems like this far off reality that will never affect them, but for me, it’s a matter of life or death.

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