Sarah shares her experiences of being a student at uni without the support of her family, for Estranged Student Solidarity Week (names have been changed).
Over a year and a half ago now I became estranged from the woman who raised me, for the sake of my own sanity and mental health. It felt like I had gone through hell staying with her for the past 17 years of my existence at that point in time, but little did I know the challenges that I faced in front of me.
I was extremely lucky and sofa surfed with my partner’s parents, who let me live with them for practically nothing and treated me like family, but I was still trying to process the massive change I just went through.
I am very lucky in the sense that I have a partner/his parents who have accepted me and I have a place to go if I truly need to, but a lot of people in my situation don’t have that, and it’s lonely. Even so, the people who do have a support network behind them often end up having what I can only describe as survivors' guilt.
I know that I’m absolutely riddled with the feeling of just being a burden and that people shouldn’t have to deal with your problems/you, even though logically I know that those thoughts are irrational. It’s also the guilt of being in a better place than a lot of people who are also classed as estranged.
Another point about belonging somewhere comes from the mindset of our culture that is so wrapped around in having parental support being the norm. I didn’t realise before how often I would be put in the awkward situation of having to lie to strangers about my home life.
A great example was I went to the opticians just before moving into my halls. I was chatting with the lady who was doing my eye exam and I mentioned that I was just getting some new glasses before heading off to uni, and her immediate response was “oh your parents must be so proud”. It is such an awkward situation to be in! It’s not like I can correct her either, as that would put a weird atmosphere in the conversation so it’s just the embarrassed laugh with the shy nod of agreement, to which the conversation stopped anyway. That’s one of the more humorous problems that arises with being estranged, but it does end up making you feel like you don’t fit in.
Coming to university was actually a god send for me, as I didn’t feel that guilt of what felt like being a free-loader. The feeling of having my own room that I’m paying for and can do/decorate however I wanted because it is mine felt like such a breath of fresh air. It really gave me a new lease of life, especially due to covid and the first lockdown.
I guess in conclusion, being estranged is better than what I had to live through before, but is extremely challenging in it’s own regard. You can end up feeling isolated and alone, even when you do have a support network, as it seems that not many people really know what it’s like. The system we have as a country at the moment isn’t great for it either, as it causes so much more stress for the individual having to go through all this.
So, to end, I guess if someone tells you that they’re estranged, you now have a little insight into what that might mean for them, and if you are estranged and feel like this then you know that you’re not.