Lara with head in hands looking sad at the camera, with laptop open in front of her. On the left are images indicating her physical activity in April, with an arrow from them pointing to an image showing her poor sleep schedule and her looking dishevelled outside.

How returning to Lancaster University during a pandemic messed up my life

Trust me, this was not fun

I’m a second year studying International Relations and moving back to Lancaster Uni was a given, I just had to do it. This is a fairly relatable experience. What I did not expect, mayhap naïvely, was how far returning to uni would ruin my life. Yes, RUIN.

Living my best lockdown life

During lockdown, many people felt lost and without purpose. Weirdly, I discovered the opposite. I thrived. My tragic term-time sleeping habits were resolved, settling consistently at eight hours. I woke up naturally at 8am, happy as Larry. For the first time in years I had breakfast every morning with maybe two exceptions over six months. This may seem rather small, but it is honestly exceptional for me to be that consistent.

Lara posing with right arm up on a hockey astroturf in the sunshine

I exercised every day. Whether it was cycling or a walk with my wonderful mother, a dance workout to musicals on YouTube, HIIT or Pilates, I did something every day. I felt like magic! One morning, no word of a lie, I was so happy, so content, I got out of the shower and cried. Cried of happiness, this overwhelming feeling that I was ok, I was happy, and I have not felt like that in years.

This all sounds great, right? This all sounds amazing and healthy. Well, I won’t lie to you, it was. Obviously, there were days that were not up to this golden standard. I am human, I have my own issues and problems (with which I will not burden you) that do affect me often, but this must have been the most extended period of consistent happiness in my living memory. I wanted it to last forever.

Lara with face scrunched but smiling, hair messy.

Well, all good things must come to an end. By the end of August, I was beginning preparations to move back to Lancaster, into a new house with my exceptional friends, all of whom I had not seen since mid-March. It was exciting, it was exhilarating. Yet, around the corner was a veritable disaster.

Uni’s back people, and it’s really not the one

Once I got back to Lancaster, I was thrown for six. I was beyond overjoyed to see my friends. I was, and still am, loving my new house that is not lit up by ambulance lights every night (living off-campus in Cable Street last year was a different story). Unfortunately, it was also when my problems started.

Firstly, I did not manage to completely unpack on the day I arrived, having had to get my keys from the security lodge on campus late from a crash on the M6, and I’m not Dash Parr (we love “The Incredibles”). This meant my first 24 hours were spent existing in stressful disorder and mess, which freaked me out. I didn’t even attempt to unpack my clothes until the next week, which was not helpful for me and I was overwhelmed.

Being with my friends again was also brilliant, but not exactly conducive to a regular sleep schedule when you have six months of conversations, games and no Sugar nights to catch up with. I know, this is all my choice, my fault, technically, but I also do not know what anyone else would expect me to do. I’d also like to stress that this is all mostly happening before the term officially started, so the fun is about to begin.

The first week back drained me

My ridiculous lack of sleep meant I lost track of food and exercise, as well as workload. By the end of the first week, I was around 28 hours worth of work behind. I think that’s somewhat of an achievement, but still, not my proudest moment. A lot of things combined to make it a really difficult week. My mental health was declining, I was getting severely anxious about our friend Miss Rona, and iLancaster constantly changing whether or not I had to face campus.

Screenshot of Lara's resting heart rate trends showing them elevating in the time since returning to university.

We love anxiety noticeably raising your resting heart rate.

I am involved in multiple extra-curricular activities which do take up a lot of time, but so does the new online learning format. Not to diss it, I have opted for fully online learning due to the crippling anxiety over corona, but the lectures are rarely only 50 minutes long, rarely subtitled at the time I need to do them and in general, fairly difficult to focus on. I’m not at my best.

I’m lucky to have the support I do, friends who send me flowers, let me rant about Moodle, let me look and sound like I’ve completely lost it- pink hair dye helps. They’ve got me outside, they’ve sat with me and laughed with me and made me feel less hopeless. I couldn’t be luckier truth be told.

Trying to get back to ‘normal’

So, in general, what’s happened in the last month and a bit? My exercise routine has been blown up by a Moodle shaped atom bomb. My sleep schedule? Don’t know her. My eating habits? Destroyed. I feel overwhelmed, unable to do things that are good for me without feeling guilty about not working. Even with my sports club returning to training this week, which I have and want to be at, has left me with a lot of guilt, which it should not. I am the greatest hypocrite for self-care, I know.

Lara smiling looking down with pink hair

All I want now is to recover from this slump, re-engage with my wellbeing and be a better friend. Hopefully, I will be able to stay on top of work alongside that, but it doesn’t feel like I’ll get the same reciprocal value in my life from it if I do not fix those other things first. We’ll see.

Recommended articles by this writer:

An ode to Sugar Wednesdays: The Grease medley, VKs and making friends with strangers in the toilet

I went home due to Tier Three restrictions and honestly, it’s so much better

We spoke to Lancs students about their experience with sports this year