31st December 2020: Semesters + New Year = Change

Blog posts are often like assignments. They get edited and revised over and over, until they’re at a decent state to post. They’ll never be perfect, because there will always be something we could always amend and tweak. (And this is one of those posts which I keep scraping, but know I need to keep).

Here I am at revision 8… Yawn… If I wasn’t so critical of my writing, I wouldn’t need to keep revising, nor reflecting further into the past or bringing myself back to the present. However, this kind of reflection is important for personal and professional growth. It’s something I have learnt to do over the years and it’s something I’ve been doing more recently as part of my university degree. I mean, it’s been a while since my last blog post, but my thoughts continue to flutter around in my mind as I try to make sense of it all. The first semester of Level 5 wasn’t an easy one, and whilst I wasn’t expecting it to be – I had hoped I’d find it somewhat less challenging than the previous year. After all, we learn from our mistakes, right?  


As I kept saying to you on the socials – I’ll write about it… I will… I shall. Honestly, I don’t know where the time goes sometimes! Of course, I’m pretty sure the assignments also have something to do with it – As I’m certain I’ve forgotten a lot about what self-care looks like over the past couple of months.

This post is a (messy) reflection on the semester I’ve just been faced with, the year we’ve just had, and the year we’re about to have…

So, here goes – An encounter of lockdown learnings; new chapter challenges; that literal feeling of ‘wake me up when September ends…’, October flew by and I aged another year, November seemed brief and December, well here we are at the very end…

Where is time going?

In mid-October I wrote: “I feel like I’m in this weird void, where I’m frozen still – Yet everything else is moving, passing me by. I can see things swiftly moving, blurred, much like the leaves passing in the winter breeze. The autumnal colours, brushing with the harsh icy rain, which falls sideways down, but to the side, creating a tornado of leaves and rain around me. There is movement, but I stand frozen.

Help.

I realise now how I never recovered from last year. Although we spent the second half of the first year in lockdown, and it feeling like the longest summer holiday on record. Reflecting on how I spent my time in crisis, it wasn’t all perfect, nor was it all chaos. I found myself panicked and threw myself into as much as I could, which potentially could have caused more harm than good, had I have not acknowledged what was happening. The need to do as much as I could during the time off was not a plea for sanity, but more of a sign of insanity. I should have rested, but instead I descended into an anarchy of information overload – An information overload which would not only smother me, but also test my patience and my abilities. The lockdown gave me the chance to learn new things, but it also gave me the chance to heal in ways that therapy possibly couldn’t have helped. Afterall, our worlds were being cut off due to lockdown, and new digital worlds were being open and explored. It was odd – But it was an adventure that I felt comfortable with exploring.

I just wish I felt the same way when I returned to the classroom.”

It’s true. The last semester was tough. We didn’t get to spend time in the classroom. I went in for the first couple of weeks, before realising that it was daft for me going in for a morning seminar, stressing about the journey in, to sit there being very, very cold because the windows had to be open for the fresh-air flow (covid rules), and leave me in pain, so I had my learning support plan amended to support my health, and was able to work from home. A couple of modules adapted to online teaching anyway, so this was ok, but then this meant the class dynamics were just… Odd.

It seemed to go downhill from there if I’m honest. Whether I’m a try hard, or a perfectionist, there’s just something not sitting right with me. I know for certain I can be too much for people, and this is something I learnt a long time ago. There was lack of engagement and as I sit there, I start getting itchy feet. Of course, when you’re sat at a monitor no-one can see you getting tetchy, and I’m picking out any fidget-stressor I’ve got nearby to lessen the strain of my tics and I’m at the point of bursting, when finally, a tea-break is called. PHEW. (I dread to think how many tea bags and kg of fresh tea I got through for my morning seminars!)

The work wasn’t too bad online, in fact I quite enjoyed it (when it worked!!). Some of the conversations were enjoyable and I learnt a lot from them. Other times, eurgh, I was glad to be there cuddled up with my worry monster, blanket and pjs. (We’ve all attended an online meeting in pjs at least once, right?!) It was the assignments which got to me the most.

Working offline, I spent more time with me, myself and I. My first assignment was easy. I flew through it because I was able to be creative and enjoyed drawing and having fun with it. Yet, as soon as I needed to write an essay, with a word count which I felt was too small for what the assignment was asking, I found myself listening to all the negative thoughts which were racing in and sat staring blankly into space. I don’t know how long I sat dissociated, disconnected from where I was, I just wasn’t where I was supposed to be and that it was peaceful. The problem was, it wasn’t getting the work done! When I brought myself back, it was tears, after tears, after tears.

I had my first extension of Level 5. The irony that the same thing happened last year. So yet again, the thoughts of feeling incompetent, not good enough, not worthy, “I’m stupid and don’t understand, I hate myself…” etc, all decided to beat me up. Duh. I’m in Level 5. I’ve got this! I hadn’t got the result back from my first assignment, but I knew it wouldn’t be long, so I continued to persevere with the support of my mentor and BAM! I got it in, just a couple of days after the due days rather than my extension deadline (And I aced my first assignment!) … The next step was realising the next three assignments fell really close together and I had no idea how I was supposed to control my stress and anxiety. Especially when there had been issues ongoing outside of uni which I’ve not discussed here. So, a discussion with my lecturers and programme director, and we’ve agreed to extend the deadlines for them. One is due 6th January. I finished it a couple of days ago, and I felt weirded out. Do you ever get that feeling? Like you’ve done it all wrong because you’ve finished it early?! I feel like I have cheated a little with the essay because I have experience using integrated approaches in therapy, but whether I’ve worded it correctly – Only time will tell… I’ve got two more assignments to do which I will be cracking on with in the New Year. I don’t know how I’ll fair, but let’s just hope for the best, eh?! Also, I really, really want to say: There is NO SHAME in needing an extension. I wished I’d had the support at school, college and uni (first time round) as it would have lessened my stress and maybe I wouldn’t have become so ill.

I guess that leads me to talk about some particular thoughts which make me ill on a regular occurrence (unfortunately):

I’ve got words running through my head from the last week of semester (the week before we broke up for the Christmas break), and they eat me alive. It’s crazy. The overthinking I do about things makes me not want to go back the following semester because I start wondering what “personality” can I “bring to the table”? Who am I “allowed” to be? Because I’m no longer allowed to be myself as it seems the real me is too much for people, so I hold back. Silenced. Yet, that is something which triggers trauma, pain and rejection. The feeling of being unwanted, disliked, and abandoned. Jeez, I’m that unwanted Christmas present that sits in the corner not being played with by the tree, watching all the other toys having fun. It hurts. I have been trying to find me, and not my “labels” for so long, but it seems as though my identity is that of the DMS-V.

I wish my emotions weren’t up-and-down like a yo-yo, but the emotional intensity varies so much throughout the day, that I’m so anxious how people will perceive me, and this makes it harder for them to understand. I try so hard to regulate my emotions, but it can be exhausting. Sometimes, the only way I can help myself is to explain things – And this can be seen as “too much” or “pushing the boundaries”. Goodness, I’ve done SO much work around boundaries, and I have grown so much from what I have learnt. The things I say now I am more than comfortable to share because not only do I see them as “just my life”, I see them as things that happen in life which we can all learn from. Of course, there are things I am still processing and I’m not comfortable with sharing – That I would only discuss in the therapy room. We all have our own ways of dealing with things and it shouldn’t be criticised by how we manage it, which is why I always say to people if I am too much, people have to let me know, because my filters are mainly black and white, and I do need a cue to click the pause button.

I feel different and it makes it really hard to want to engage. I do well, considering. Despite my annoyance, no doubt. I criticise myself because I feel like I’m the only one who can be honest with myself. I recognise the signs and the need to change, but the ability to change? I can’t.

……

Oh no. No, now that seems really negative, but I don’t mean it to sound that way. It’s not about changing. It’s about accepting. It’s not about a need to change. It’s about accepting change. Accepting neurodiversity, accepting mental illness for what it is, and allowing a space for people to feel safe. The reason I wanted to leave this post until the end of the year, after all my “I will do this, and that… blah, blah….”, is because this is important to me:

In 2020, I found out I am autistic. If I’m honest, I’m still trying to figure out what this actually means for me. It is something I still have to process for all the things I have struggled with – In particular my social circles, for my entire life. Not only this, but my mental illnesses also took a beating over 2019-2020, and we’re still on the road to recovery. As for my physical health, all I can do is laugh as always about it – because it always makes me laugh or cry out in pain. Whether the New Year investigations will see any further changes who knows, but for now, I’ll “snap, crackle and pop” or “rattle” as my Dad always jokes!

So, as I near the end of this post (It’s long enough, don’t you think?!) … I just want to end by saying I do plan to write up topics, as I notice there seems to be some which come up often, which I think may be useful for me to address (But maybe when I don’t have a 3000 and 4000 word assignment to do…!!)

I also want to say that as we come to the end of a year which has faced such adversity, we too have fought through with love, kindness, determination, and strength.

We’ve joined together as communities and supported each other through loss and life. We’ve cheered and celebrated; and we’ve cried, and we’ve roared. Some of us learnt new skills, took up new hobbies and helped out in the community. Some started new jobs, set up new businesses, signed up to online courses and joined in online classes.

You know what? In 2020, we all did our best – Whatever our best was and it’s ok if the only thing you did this year was stay alive.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

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