When we leave our old lives behind, our new ones can seem so hectic by comparison that it comes as an unwelcome surprise to learn that things back at home can change in our absence. And it’s when these changes are for the worst that you really feel the distance.

Learning that a family member has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or has already passed on can rip through your new life and render what has lately become so important as meaningless. Suddenly, course texts and social events seem irrelevant compared to being there for your family.

But what I’ve come to realise is that while you can’t control illness or death, if you can keep the other aspects of your life running as smoothly as possible it does make the inevitable hardships easier to deal with. The important thing is not to give yourself any additional worry, so keeping on top of your other responsibilities (even if they’re the last thing in the world you want to be focusing on) is the key to remaining as stable as you can be during such a difficult time. Staying busy can also prevent you from over thinking matters which are outside of your control.

Hopefully, you’ll have an understanding family who realise that the idea of the lazy student with too much time on their hands is just that – an idea. In reality, the dedicated student aiming for the best has very little spare time and, unlike the nature of an average job, no-one can substitute for you.

On the other hand, it’s vital to remember that family problems such as these can mean you’ll have to drop things at the last minute or for a prolonged length of time; so it’s best to let the right people know what you’re going through as soon as possible. For some students, these conversations can often be uncomfortable, even overwhelming, and if this is the case I’ve found the best way to go about it is via email. That way you can send out a mass message and don’t have to repeat the process by visiting each lecturer individually.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to give yourself time off if you feel like you need it. There’s always the worry that a drunken night out during hard times will result in overdoing it; which in turn leaves you vulnerable to making mistakes. It’s not always easy to remember this after two or three pain-quelling cocktails, so make sure that you’re out with the right crowd of people who’ll hopefully be mature enough to keep a close eye on you.

Having experienced all of this and more lately, I’ve found that balance is the key. Keeping a cool head in the other areas of your life can give you a sense of control during a time that often leaves you feeling powerless; while remembering that being a student needn’t be a source of extra pressure – whether from lecturers, friends or from the course itself, you can always find the support and comfort that you need.

Photo by Donna-Lee Lewis

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