The Seven Year Journey to my Degree
This week I got to partake in a ceremony that thousands of other final year students would be proudly participating in. Donned in my robe and mortarboard, I graced a stage before my loved ones, greeted by the Head of History and congratulated by the Pro-Vice Chancellor.
I officially graduated.
This hasn’t been the easiest journey, and unlike the majority of my fellow graduates, I had been eagerly awaiting this day since I first enrolled some seven years ago.
Back in 2010, I had just turned nineteen and had excitedly moved up to Leicester to begin my studies at De Montfort University. I was excited, incredibly so, and proud too; the first in my family to go to university, this was a huge moment. I was however, tired. I was drained after my A Levels, and life hadn’t always been the kindest to me or my family. I was worried about failure, I was worried about finances (Student Finance cocked up and for eight weeks I lived off of £20, loaned to me after a lot of pleading to the university), I was worried about all the things a nineteen year old is worried about, their identity, their mortality, their place in the world.
About six months into my first year I began to feel… Different. I couldn’t place it at the time, but the bouts of darkness I’d felt at other times in my life only ever lasted short periods of time. This, this was unending. This was darkness I’d never known before. It lurked around, and crept ever-so-slowly in. By the time I had started my second year, I had become a person I no-longer recognised.
I had passed my first year completely on a whim, fudging in thirty minutes of revision (if that) before my exams. I didn’t care about demonstrating the best of myself, I didn’t care that I was often drinking too much. I’d spend eighteen hours in bed each day, only to quietly emerge once all my flatmates had long gone to sleep. I avoided everyone, I avoided everything. I scrambled to get my work done, only to feel complete shame at the drivel I was submitting, knowing I had once been better, I had once aspired to be better. I remember one night going through some of my A Level work I had taken with me, and reading my former words, reading my former eloquence and passion and knowing that teachers would have been dismayed and horrified at what I was passing off as my best now. When I wasn’t sleeping all day, I’d have these intense bursts of mania; I would stay awake for nearly two days straight, cleaning, tidying, cooking, and buzzing around, only to crash and burn. I’d spontaneously cry at anything. Sorting through my socks after I’d left my washing for three weeks. Cry. Sweeping the floor. Cry. Sitting up in bed. Cry.
This period of time, and I don’t wish to dwell on all that I was feeling, because I think your imaginations can take you to my thought processes, this period of time was the bleakest. It wasn’t dark, it was bleak. Everything was muted except for my overwhelming feeling of constant sadness and failure. Nothing held bright for me (well, mostly nothing), and the weight of the world felt like it rested upon my crumbling shoulders.
So in January 2012 I realised I had to do something about this. I pulled myself out of bed, I forced myself to shower, to dress, and prepare for the world. I walked into university, and spoke to an academic advisor, and forced myself to tell them I needed to pause my study. I needed to take some time out, I needed to find Sammy again, I needed to find some light. I cried. I shook. I pleaded. “We do not recommend you suspend your studies as it cannot be guaranteed that there would be a place for you in the next year”. I was advised to speak to a doctor (I had tried, and felt very uncomfortable), and was told to keep in touch.
The next month on the day of one of my assignments I never completed I took myself down to Brighton. I visited friends, I went back home, and felt… free. It took a few more months for me to finally be convinced that I had to move out of my horrible flat, but by late April 2012, I was back home.
I got a job, I got myself girlfriend, I reconnected with my friends, my cat. I took the time to engage in some much needed self-care, I stopped drinking for a while, I began to work on the negative thought-processes that seemed so intent on ruling my life. I found love, I found joy, I found happiness. I began a process of finding myself; rebuilding the confidence that had been shattered over the previous eighteen months, re-engaging with my passions and hobbies. It took a long time, an awfully long time to feel like I could genuinely smile again, to feel that darkness lift. It edged in a few times, it lay waiting for moments of vulnerability to come crashing down, but I had better tools to fight back now.
It wasn’t until one long train journey in late August 2014 that I realised that I could and wanted to go back to university. Not the same institution, but back to my studies. I wanted to achieve, I wanted to aspire to be something again. On my phone I looked up courses similar to the one I had begun at DMU, I looked up my student finance options. By the following evening I’d sent off my finance application and had e-mailed a few departments at Kingston University to see if they would take my Certificate of Higher Education, and could I please start my second year the following month?
On my 24th birthday I enrolled at Kingston University, I was now a second-year student of History and Politics. I was proud, I was scared (well, terrified actually that it’d all go wrong again), but I persevered.
I daresay the past two years have been far from the easiest, on top of the insanity of the third year dissertations (and my penchant for extreme procrastination), everything else seemed to go horrifically wrong. Familial health issues, finance, and worst of all facing eviction from our family home and then my cat dying, it all felt like more often than not, too much. It was too much. But I had a much stronger support system, I had a much stronger resilience to that impeding darkness; it’s been tough, more so that I dare write here… But, I made it.
It took me seven years to graduate, and whilst those seven years haven’t always been the greatest, and at times I have lows I didn’t know existed. I’m now sitting here, with my certificate on my desk, and allowing myself to indulge in pride for all that I have achieved, and all that I have overcome.
Quitting, all of those years ago wasn’t a sign that I had failed, though for a long time it most certainly felt like I had. Quitting university, and admitting that I wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t coping, most likely saved me. Quitting enabled me to carve out some space to heal, to rebuild and reconnect so that when I eventually felt safe enough, I could return. I didn’t always know when that would be, and at times I doubted if I ever would. But that’s okay. Sometimes the path to success, whatever that means, is neither foreseeable or easy, and sometimes you have to have some help on the way. All of that is okay.