About nine months ago I did something very foolish, and now I’m just waiting for results.
Unprotected optimism, kids. Not even once.
In recent years, I’ve had a lot of health problems. I’ve suffered from depression for a long time, but about four or five years ago it ramped up from occasionally awful to totally debilitating for long periods. I got through some bits of uni with the help of deadline extensions, accommodating lecturers, and the best counsellor I could have had. In fourth year I started having real problems. I signed up to do a dissertation, then totally cracked up not long before the hand-in date and had to pull out of the year. I tried fourth year again the following academic year but had another breakdown in the spring.
I went on medical leave not long after, and tried to do the work in my own time to be ready to sit the exams.
You can guess how well that one went.
The past year or so has been better. My doctor switched around my meds to the most helpful combination I’ve had yet; I put in serious mental-health-related work; I applied for and was granted disability benefit, allowing me stop worrying about finding and being unable to do full-time work. And I decided to finish this degree for once and for all.
I did warn that this probably included too much optimism.
So in September I confirmed to college that I was going to sit the goddamn exams in May and breakdowns be damned. I don’t think I swore in the emails to my tutor, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did on receiving them. He is seriously great, but I’ve been the most annoying tutee I can imagine. I contacted all my lecturers and got the reading lists, then I bought textbooks. Any resurgence in the Irish economy last autumn was down to me and my dealings in Hodges Figgis. I could build a small house with the stacks of books, paper, and folders in my room – and they’ve probably cost me about as much as that small house would.
Then I looked at the calendar, saw that May was a long way off, and applied myself sort of patchily to work.
Autumn was fine; winter less so. I fell into a bad depression from about the middle of January until the start of March, and woke up out of it to find that I had two months until exams and quite a lot of stuff to do.
The rest is unfortunate history, and anyone who’s had me on Twitter over the last few months has seen the process. Insomnia, blasphemy, the odd midnight anxiety attack, far too big a reliance on tea and Diet Coke to substitute for sleep, and having to find and stream all of this season’s Doctor Who because I kept reading too long and missing it.
I’m being light-hearted, but teaching myself final-year law is probably the craziest thing I’ve ever undertaken. I keep forgetting that it’s a pretty exceptional thing to do and giving out to myself for not reaching the standard that my pre-mental illness self would have wanted. I’m not going to get a 1.1. I’d be happy with any honour, to be honest, but at this point I’ll take what I get. I’m just glad it’s over.
I don’t really know what baseline anxiety is for people without anxiety disorders. My friends say I’m knurd – so far past sober that I need two drinks just to be normal. Even so, I don’t recommend taking on a large and mostly unsupervised project like this. In general, too! Getting through this with my small claim to my sanity intact has required an iron grip on my brain. I did mindfulness therapy last year and, while at the time I thought it was a bit of a waste of time, I think some bits of it stuck. A grounding exercise, reminding myself that I only have to take care of this point in time and not all of the other, dreadfully intimidating, points, was useful.
(The bit of me that thinks it’s codswallop kept pointing out that that current moment was pretty hopeless too, but I mostly managed to keep her mouth shut.)
I sat the exams in the past few weeks, and did mostly okay. There’s only one I’m worried about, but I think that just about hit ‘okay’ too. I’ll know in a few weeks. I had one bit of coursework, which I handed in on time and pretty okay also. I came home from the last exam on Monday, drank a lot of wine, and have been as much asleep as awake ever since. It’s bloody lovely. I’d forgotten how nice books were when I don’t have to memorise them.
I think I’m going to be prouder of this when I know the results. I find it hard to see just getting there as an accomplishment (as I said to a frustrated parent, passing is the point – I could walk into my boyfriend’s college, sit his quantum mechanics exam, and fail it). Still, learning six subjects in a generally self-directed manner, fighting off several mental illnesses, and still having a partner, friends, and family speaking to me at the end of it is pretty good.
I can see that much.
A quick thank-you: you bunch of lovable [space] oddities on the internet have been a wonderful source of support. My Twitter friends and acquaintances have done more than they know to keep me sane(-ish) over this year. The 24-hour revolving pub door of Twitter is a support system and a distraction mechanism all at once. Twitter friends, you are bloody brilliant.
2013: Year of Getting Shit Done. And how.