Understanding the Ghost Housemate

Jenny Rodenhurst explains why some housemates won't come outside to socialise

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Image courtesy of Ben Blennerhassett via Unsplash

Content Warning: This article discusses suicidal thoughts and references sexual assault 

“What kind of housemate are you?”

Admit it, we’ve all read those crappy Buzzfeed articles before arriving at university.

First, there’s the “Neat Freak” who drives everyone mad with their obsessive cleaning and timetables. Next, is “Sporty One”, who lives in lycra and spends more time in the gym than in lectures, religiously recording every session on Insta, of course.

Then it’s the “Party Animal” who is ALWAYS up for a night in Sugarhouse or getting hammered by one o’clock (in the afternoon, obvs). After that, there’s the “Thief” who uses up all your milk without asking, scoffs your Hobnobs and runs away with your shiny new spoons.

Finally, there’s the “Ghost”, whose existence you are only made aware of by the presence of their toothbrush in the bathroom, and the occasional coughing noise coming from their room.

But who is this elusive ghost? And why do you never see them?

Maybe they’re actually a vampire, only emerging at night: reduced to dust by any glimmer of sunlight. Maybe they’ve only recently discovered Netflix and are lying in bed, transfixed, watching back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones.

Or maybe, just maybe, they’re struggling with crippling mental health problems. Too afraid to leave their room or even attend lectures.

I was a Ghost Housemate, once upon a time, before coming to Lancaster.

Already having had problems with anxiety and restrictive eating the previous summer, I quickly became overwhelmed upon arriving at my former university. Attempting to juggle a degree with lectures that might as well have been delivered in Russian, an intense “friendship” with a fellow fresher I’d met online, and a kitchen colonised by my drug-dealing flatmate and his “pals”, it wasn’t long before the panic attacks started.

Shortly after that, I moved all my food into my room so that I wouldn’t need to enter our ever-full-of-grown-men kitchen to attempt to eat my dinner. Then, I stopped attending lectures, doing my work, and going on nights out or sitting to chat with my other housemates. Finally, I stopped leaving my room.

Instead, I spent all my days and nights alternating between sitting on my bed crying while binge-eating dry cereal (your guess is as good as mine!), failing to sleep, and standing in the shower having severe suicidal thoughts. I didn’t leave my room for two weeks and, after hundreds of distressed calls with my parents, it wasn’t long before I left that university.

Despite a month of getting to know each other by playing Never Have I Ever, gate-crashing parties and having heart-to-hearts over cups of tea, not once did my other housemates check that I was alright.

And I wasn’t alone. Just typing “can’t leave my room at uni” into Google yields hundreds of posts from students who have been in the same situation.

Amy*, a second-year law student at the University of Nottingham, felt so much pressure to get a first in her degree, that she worked morning and night, barely taking time to leave her room or grab a cup of tea. In her first year, she only spoke to her housemates during fresher’s week and felt very lonely, stressed and exhausted.

Then there’s Shannon*, a previously bright and popular girl, who had lots of friends while at sixth-form.  After being sexually assaulted on a night out in freshers’ week, she found herself shaking and crying every time she tried to leave her room. Eventually, she was unable to go out at all and developed severe depression. Like me, she had to drop out of uni.

Now, enough of the gloom.

I’m not saying for one minute that my flatmates were to blame, or that every Ghost Housemate is depressed and sitting in their room binge-eating dry cereal. They could just be busy winning tournaments on FIFA 17.

But maybe, just maybe, next time you’re walking past their room, you could stop and knock on the Ghost Housemate’s door. You could be greeted by a vampire or an angry boy with a controller in his hand, or you could be greeted by someone who is very grateful.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.