Tuesday 23 September 2014

Learning To Let Yourself Be Saved

I like to think that 20 years from now, I can look back at my life and regard the 17th September 2014 as the day my life changed forever.

What begun as any ordinary day and finished as little more, turned unexpectedly into the day in which I learnt one of the most profound lessons of my life so far, the day that the ignorance I had been clinging to for so long was gently prised from my fingertips and I finally faced the music I'd been persistently shunning.

The 17th September 2014 was the day I realised there are times in life where you simply have to let other people in, so they can help you, to help yourself.

University has always been a subject of dread for me. 

It was a dread when I screwed up my A-Levels and didn't get into the place I'd pinned my hopes on, it was a dread when I went through clearing and accepted a place at a school I'd never even heard of, it was dreadfully brilliant when I finally got there and fell into the Freshers trap of partying too hard and drinking too much, which quickly turned to dread when that bit me in the arse and I ended up screwing up because of it.

Even when I re-discovered myself, buckled down and set to work to build a future, it remained a dread as I struggled to find the enthusiasm to complete the pointless, repetitive box-ticking required to pass and I instead focused my attention on work experience, internships and blogging, again, ultimately screwed up.

And so in the way that I frustratingly always seem to do when shit goes wrong, this summer, I closed off my mind to the acknowledgement of that dread, and I straight up chose to ignore it. In my mind I'd already completely given up on university, and so after term finished in April and I knew, as usual, I'd screwed up, I didn't tell anyone and refused to check my email account where my Uni correspondence was directed and carried on with my life in ignorant bliss.

It was stupid and foolish, and boy did I know it, but I physically could not bring myself to do it.

But with the arrival of September, that little part I'd been repressing since April started to stir and fidget, nudging its way to the front of my brain until I reached a point where I simply couldn't ignore it any longer. The pressure had been mounting for days and I knew I now had no choice. So with shaking hands, a pain in my chest and a shortness of breath, I finally went through all 2000 odd emails in that account.

The physical reaction I had was absolutely terrifying, and I genuinely felt seconds away from a panic attack when finally I stumbled upon a cache of emails that I really should've seen earlier in the year, and a string of increasingly desperate messages from my personal tutor.

I responded as quickly as I could, as if my hurry in that moment was going to somehow atone for weeks upon weeks of silence, and we arranged a meeting to begin to tackle this whole academic mess I'd created.

And so on the 17th September, I went up into his office, and I sat down tentatively before him.

He laid the facts on the line with brutal honesty.

You've failed this, you've failed that, you can't retake that again and you only just passed that.

A sickness crept through my stomach, but this was not news to me - what else had I been expecting to hear?

"And the thing is, Katie," He said, reclining in his chair, scratching his head a little. "Your case was put forward to the academic board, and they say you only have one strike left." My stomach dropped. "They don't see why we shouldn't be kicking you out."

The breath left my lungs and I cast my eyes downward to my fidgeting fingers. But I hated Uni... surely this is what I wanted? 

No, I thought, not like this.

"However, looking at your academic transcript," He brandished the ominous piece of paper which had haunted me for years now. "To me, it's evident that there's something else going on here."

My heart stopped. 

Because I knew exactly what he was referring to, and I had no idea he could tell. But then again, he was a journalism professor, I guess he was naturally astute to the not-always-obvious.

"And so, at your hearing," He paused, leaving his words and my future hanging in the air before us, "John and I stood up in front of the board, and we told them that they were fools if they were going to let one of the most talented writers this institution has seen in years slip away, because they are not medically well."

His words rang out into the following silence and I stared at him, speechless.

To add here, I'm not writing this to brag or to gloat. But after 3 straight years of being branded a failure, unintelligent, a drop out, a fuck up, constantly trying to fight my battle in saying that is not the case, that it's just my brain is not suited for an academic situation, I can't quite express my astonishment and sickeningly intense gratitude, that not just one, but two of my journalism lecturers had been able to see through the test scores and grade boundaries and just have faith in me.

I know I'm not the greatest writer in the world or god's gift to literature or whatever, but you see, writing is the one thing I've always had, my saviour and my solace, the one thing I've always known was the best thing I could offer the world. And to finally have that recognised by the people I've spent so long trying to prove that to...

I can't even find the words to explain it. How ironic.

I was in complete shock, unable to believe that he would have done that for me.

"And so we managed to come to a negotiation." He continued.

"Oh?" I muttered weakly, quite unable to muster a sufficient response.

"The Uni will go a hell of a lot easier on you if you can prove to them that you're trying to make a change, Katie. That you're trying to get better."

I fidgeted uncomfortably as my gratitude swirled menacingly into something resembling that familiar dread, but this had been a long time coming, and I knew the moment to turn this all around was now or never.


And so together, me and my tutor who had put his reputation on the line to give me a second chance, walked down from his office and across campus to one of the admin buildings. On the way I told him of everything I'd been doing on this blog, and all the opportunities that had arisen from it. To be honest, I think he was relieved. At least I wasn't entirely up shit creek without a paddle. He even bought me a coffee on the way.

And there we sat down with one of the University therapists and we explained the situation. 

I filled out some forms as they spoke, and then just like that, they'd shaken hands and my tutor had left with a casual 'Bye'. I must admit, I felt kind of odd, I wanted to run after him and almost give him a hug and profusely thank him for everything he'd done, but he'd already left - back to work for him. Perhaps I was just projecting some Dumbledore-like character upon him, when really he would do this for any of his students.

'Thank you!' I called out, hoping he would hear. I think he knew anyway.

And so right then and there, for 45 minutes I sat down with a therapist and began to explain.

I've always been quite frank when discussing my mental health issues on this blog as I think it's a very important thing to bring to light, but there's a boundary between discussing and celebrating, and whilst I'll always be honest about it, I don't think there's any need to constantly and unnecessarily draw attention to it, so I don't talk about it all the time.

But I began with telling the therapist all about my life alongside depression and anxiety, and the particularly debilitating way in which it was manifesting itself as of late. 

You see, the trend I have noticed recently, is that I go through these periods of intense radiating positivity where I believe I can do and achieve anything and everything, but then something just switches and I become anxious and depressed to the point I can barely even muster the energy to get out of bed to eat - I just stop functioning.

 The best way I could describe it, was to use an analogy of plastic carrier bags.

Throughout the ups and downs of my life so far, unfortunately I've gone through quite lot of shit. Although these things are in the past and finished and forgotten, in the present I am subconsciously holding on to these things, carrying them around me with me all the time and letting them permeate through and interfere with current situations. So it's like on a day to day basis I am carrying these straining shopping bags - but most of the time I'm more than strong enough to do so.

But then when I least expect it, these bags will suddenly split and all the contents which have been accumulating for years will go tumbling all over the pavement and I freak out and I'm desperately trying to pick up the pieces again and hastily stuff them back inside the bags while everything is falling apart. Then finally after I've picked them all up, I can put them in new bags, dust myself down and carry on and be totally fine again.

It's exhausting, it's demoralising and it just can't keep happening.

I don't want to live my life constantly just waiting for the moment when it's all going to fall apart and I'm going to be left to pick up the pieces as quick as possible.

I want to be able to just put those bags down and walk on alone, free from the weight of these ill-collected burdens.

And explaining this to the therapist, she then interjects;

"Or, maybe we can sit down with these bags, take each and every item out and look at them in the light of day and you can decide if you need them or not. And if not, you can put them down and you can move on. And if you do, you can put them in your backpack and you can still move on. They will become a part of your character and what makes you, you."

And as I looked at her then, I felt like I wanted to cry. 

It was what I'd needed to hear for so long.

For years and years I have co-existed alongside these demons which are perched upon my shoulders, waiting to strike once I've finally got something good going, and I guess I've just gotten so used to them that I know it will always get better again, it's just a matter of time.

But there is a way that it can always be better, that I don't have to take the crushing hit to feel the soaring high.

And for so long I was too afraid to let anyone in, assuming everyone would just think I'm crazy, making excuses or just being a drama queen.

But at 21, I am just beginning to grow into the person that I will be for the rest of my life. 

I'm going into my final year of University (thank the heavens above hallelujah), I've just started performing with a band, I have a new house, a new job, I've finally found 'my people', my career as a writer is really starting to take off, and I'm just beginning to forge my own personal identity. Arguably this is the biggest 'fresh start' I will ever have.

And I don't want to carry all these negative things with me, I don't want to let past problems and traumas contaminate future situations which have the unlimited potential to be nothing but great. I want to be able to launch myself head long into this beautiful complex world, completely free of restraints and qualms, keeping this constant passion and enthusiasm without the periodic breakdowns to follow.

I'm ready to be better.

And in some ways I am so, so lucky to have had these problems, and to have been able to realise them right now. The therapist even said to me 'I don't think I've ever seen someone with such an extraordinary level of self-analysis.' which I think pretty much sums me up haha - I overthink everything so much that I know exactly what is wrong with me, just not how to change it.

But that's the beautiful thing, this is just the beginning.

And sat there in that office, I knew this was the start of the rest of my life, the start of a life of  positivity, light and hope, and instead of being scared like I was before, I found myself excited to see her again, excited to expel this negativity once and fall and lay my demons to rest.

And I owe it all to that one little professor who had faith in me.

At this I'm reminded of a quote I once saw by Ada Lovelace, a writer of science, philosophy and spirituality;

"Though I see nothing but vague and cloudy uncertainty in the foreground of being, I fancy I discern a very bright light a good way further on, and this makes me care much less about the cloudiness & indistinctness which is near."

Life might seem confusing, screwed-up and perpetually fucked right now, but if you can visualise a solution, if you're convinced you can see that light at the end of the tunnel which you know you'll get to one day, then it's an impossibility that you won't reach it.

Because the first, the most important, and arguably the only step toward everything getting better, is wholeheartedly believing that it will.

And from now on, that's all I'm going to be working towards doing.