CONTENT WARNING: mentions of suicide and self harm, swearing

Ten months ago, I was a different me. I had just matriculated into Oxford University, embarking on my degree in History and English. I was a passionate 18-year-old, still a little stunned, but on the whole very positive about my next chapter in life. Making friends had been daunting but just about doable, the work was interesting and just about bearable, and the finishing line three years ahead was just about credible.

Of course, from the title of this article, you’ll know that it didn’t quite pan out like that. 

I physically left Oxford last February but didn’t formally rusticate until April. I scraped through online tutorials to make it, in a fairly disturbing form, to the end of Hilary. I had even planned to switch rooms in college so I could try to return for Trinity, but admitted defeat in Easter and made the decision to leave for good. I left without taking a collection, without taking prelims, and without any proper goodbyes. I just sort of disappeared.

The most consequential things I left Oxford University with were two new medical diagnoses: GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and depression. But more significantly I managed to keep hold of my life, something that I am still scarily grateful for when I realise how drastically the probability of keeping it had diminished during my time there. 

Unsurprisingly, my list of ‘firsts’ at university digresses from what I originally anticipated. It is where I first had counselling, where I first received anxiety medication, where I first called Samaritans, when I first self-harmed, and the first time I properly contemplated ending my life. It was also the first time I experienced strong, lasting feelings of disassociation, feelings that still have a big impact on my life today and I am still learning to cope with. Given all of this, it’s hard for me to even recall Oxford as a university – it feels far more like a dreadful world that made me lose my mind. I have inserted an extract from a letter I sent to a mental health charity in February to illustrate my feelings at the time when I felt my most unsafe and uncertain: 

‘… My university knows I am struggling and is  trying to make adjustments, but the environment of Oxford in itself is feeling like too much for me. I might be able to go home but I just can’t face upsetting my parents, I will have been the biggest letdown. I guess in an ideal world I could stick with this university, but I think it makes me more prone to ending my life. I am just so lost and trapped and things around me don’t feel real, I am not a person anymore, just a problem.’


I write all this not only for catharsis but with a little purpose too. Throughout my persistent low moods and uncontrolled anxiety, somehow I could still write – not just my increasingly shitty essays, but I could write something of this scared, half-dead me. I wrote nasty poetry about myself, journalled about how I could no longer recognise who was in the mirror, and sometimes just wrote all the swear words I could think of on a revision card. Even when I started writing suicide notes I felt lighter somehow. As Matt Haig said, “words don’t capture, they release.” Words for me are exactly that: a mode of exorcism. 

This column is here to serve a very similar purpose – it is simply another form of release. It will not do much in the way of current affairs or intellectualism, but at least it won’t make things any worse. 

Long story short, I’m in Oxford once more: I signed a house contract for second year before I dropped out. I’m working in an Oxford college again, but this time as a barista, not as an undergraduate. I am determined to make the most of my time here in Oxford, a non-student, trying to make this place feel safe somehow. This column is dedicated to any safe spaces (if I find them), any books I read, or just anything I do that doesn’t make things worse. Alongside this, I will try my best to weave in my experience with mental health, and how my relationship with Oxford continues to affect it. 

At the moment, the question of returning to my degree next spring is left open. I feel, at least for now, that it’s okay to leave that part of my life unanswered. In the meantime, I will be writing to fill that gap and using this column as a document of me trying. The ‘me’ I write of now is, yes, very different from 10 months ago. But this current, damaged me, is no less important than the old one, and is still just as passionate about language. 

The world through words has always been the thing I stay alive for.