Louis Ashworth with permission for Varsity

Day three of Freshers’ week. 7am. And I’m heaving over a toilet bowl.

Not exactly out of the ordinary during Fresher’s week, you might be thinking, I did the exact same thing. Except, the difference here is that this isn’t the unfortunate symptom of a night out. This is no consequence of tequila shots and Jägerbombs. Rather, the substance fuelling my sickness is my anxiety.

“I vommed this morning,” I tell my parents over the phone through trembling tears, “I keep waking up every morning feeling sick.”

“A few too many drinks on a night out,” my dad quips. Bold of him to assume I drank a drop.

I often look back at my fresher’s week with embarrassed regret. I never went clubbing, not once (very lame I know). I drank plenty, just in the safety of bops and bars – and going to a college famed for its bops, I didn’t feel like I was missing much. But I certainly didn’t go on some mad bender. Rather the certified freshers story I find myself regaling goes quite differently to most. I almost went clubbing after a pub crawl but then was attacked by a flood of involuntary tears and a second year had to walk me home. End of story, and (in the eyes of fresher me) my reputation.

But that incident isn’t something I should be embarrassed by. Not everybody’s freshers week is the same and there’s not some specific standard of liver poisoning that you have to reach. What was most annoying about my anxiety is that my brain was at war with my body. I knew rationally that I had nothing to worry about. But my stomach refused to listen, awakening me each and every morning with the same nauseous alarm.

“I imagined clubbing as a whole different kettle of inebriated fish”

Spending my wild sixth-form years home in the middle of nowhere during lockdown, the pandemic had brought all my pre-uni clubbing dreams to a halt. Yeah, I’d gone to parties. Yes, I’d drunk. But for some reason I imagined clubbing as a whole different kettle of inebriated fish. It’s easy for present me to chastise myself for my “wasted” (or not so wasted) week. But stepping into fresher-me’s shoes (a more pristine version of my current pair), I have to remind myself of the specifics of the fresher’s clubbing scene. I did not know these people; I couldn’t trust they would look after me if the night went downhill. Placed in the same boat today, I would probably still be on edge. And as I soon discovered that large amounts of alcohol will sometimes leave me teetering on the verge of a panic attack, I should really be thanking fresher-me for not pushing that boat out too hard or too quickly. As the betting adverts say: when the fun stops, stop. It was something I had to ease myself into, grateful to have a friend from home whom I could attend a Taylor Swift night with: the stepping stone from which I slowly worked my way up to a more regular clubbing routine. Though I still live in fear of the Lola-coaster.

Unfortunately the cold light of day brought its own challenges. The morning puke had more to do with my imposter syndrome, fear of change, and impending sense of failure than my inability to dance to drum and bass until 3am. Find your people through societies, they say. Ironically, the one society I did join was The Tab. Quickly realising I wasn’t interested in writing ‘which Taylor Swift era is your Cambridge College?’-style pieces, I felt I’d messed up. The Tab soon became the metaphorical donkey butt in which I would pin all my first term anxieties, constantly harassed by the guilt of going off grid and never writing a single piece. Sorry, guys!

“Trust me when I tell you that you belong here and you will find your place with time”

Coming to Cambridge, I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to be here, let alone good enough to be involved in its societies. Why act, debate, or write in a university full of future famous thesps, politicians and writers? I was not of the standard to compete with these soon-to-be-prized alumni. Plus how could I have time? I’m doing a Cambridge degree, so surely I must spend my every waking moment worrying about getting a first. I had yet to come to terms with the truth that it is what you do outside of your degree that matters the most in your uni experience. And god I kick myself everyday for not getting involved with Varsity sooner.


Mountain View

Notebook: Escaping the seasickness of Cambridge term-time

From an anxious fresher mess I’ve now discovered my people, my interests, and my (would it be pompous to say?) purpose. No, I promise that this isn’t some advertisement for Varsity in disguise. What it is is the piece that I wish fresher me had read. The promise that it will get better. The reassurance that simply surviving freshers week is a feat in and of itself. And the plea for you to trust me when I tell you that you belong here and you will find your place with time. But also I hope that this piece will be the push to encourage a fresher like me to take some of those leaps now. Because I promise you you’ll only wish you’d done it sooner.