My last blog post was written 289 days ago, that’s 41 weeks or 9 months ago. Goodness.
This is me preparing you for a long one…!
They say your university experience passes by so quickly, that grasping onto it can be difficult. Time passes by so quickly. You’re busy studying, reading, researching, typing, and divulging in valuable conversations to enhance your understanding of your teachings. Sometimes sitting in complete silence, and other times surrounded by noise, just to heighten your senses, perception, and interoception to connect with your consciousness.
Your learning experience is one which will last a lifetime, but pass you by in the blink of an eye.
It’s September 2021, and the university opens the campus to all students. With some government regulations still in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many classes were split into two, or into several groups to maintain the safe social distancing rule. The groups on our programme had been divided into two. It felt odd, but also a relief to have a smaller amount of people in the room so that my brain could entertain the surroundings and company I found myself in. Not only that, it enabled the groups to bond in a way they hadn’t had the chance to, prior to the pandemic and during. It’s hard to form friendships behind computer screens, and seeing as only a few remained in contact with each other from making connections in their first year, in some way, those of us who didn’t make connections felt isolated.
Before starting the new academic year, I started speaking with one member of the cohort, firstly due to our understanding of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Hypermobility (Hi Jasmine!). Talking about our physical health and empathising on a supportive level, enabled a friendship to bloom. As the trust built, we opened up how we’d felt in the first year, and throughout the second year, which now all felt non-existent. The realisation that we’d felt the same way, and yet dealt with our feelings alone, made me feel quite frustrated that for a helping professions programme, there seemed to be a taboo around speaking up about how you’re feeling. The overwhelming anxiety of judgement would come in flurries from cliques, and it felt endlessly awkward when speaking; no matter what you raised your voice for.
Connecting with a few people within my final year has been one of the best experiences of my university journey. Without them, I’d have continued to feel isolated, fighting the loneliness and battling the shame and confusion as to why people didn’t want to get to know me. My attempts of being authentic were always challenged by those who didn’t understand, even in critical moments of our learning.
For some reason, my support lessened over time. Perhaps it was a sign that I was growing; that I no longer needed a hand to hold (metaphorically speaking). This change in me gave me the chance to figure out exactly who I am and fulfil my potential. I realised that the anxiety I felt when the two groups got together in the second semester was merely a test of my strength. The class sat split in two; a huge divide made it obvious to the lecturer that our class had been disrupted by the changes. Not necessarily due to the pandemic and the rules governed by the university, but the friendships and cliques, which sat comfortably unwilling to bond or even try to make any attempts to support one another.
There was no way our class would merge comfortably back into one, but it didn’t seem to matter for some reason. We were all in the last phase of our university experience; learning that we were reaching the end and soon planning our next steps outside the student realm. Some of us were continuing to look for further study, even applying for programmes before our dissertations were written up. For others, it was time to start job hunting, and then there were the few who were left with no clue what to do, other than take it day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Sometimes, the thought of just going with it felt like the best thing to do. But I knew that personally if I didn’t have some plan of action for the ‘what next?’, I would be sent into a spiral of self-doubt and lack of motivation. Without routine, I would panic that I’d find myself lost and feeling hopeless.
I ended up job seeking, as well as searching for graduate opportunities. I applied for an MA, which I’ve been accepted on but haven’t entirely made my final decision as to whether or not I’ll continue to study. I also went through several interviews which were all unsuccessful, to the point I’d given up. At the time, I felt I needed to focus on my last assignments which were slowly breaking me a little inside. I was feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and challenged by the last few assignments. And I needed time; and lots of it. Then, Lauren saw a job advert that she felt was written for me. She pushed for me to apply, and whilst I didn’t need that much convincing (I, too, felt as though my name was written all over it!), I applied with my heart on my sleeve. I wanted to give it everything I had. To be that authentic being, that I fought to be for so long.
Not long after applying, I found out I had an interview! Then, by the end of the week, I had been offered the job! Of course, this filled me with so much joy (I could’ve burst!), I lost count of the amount of ‘thank you’s’ I’d embarrassingly spat out over the phone as I tried to contain my excitement. On reflection, I shouldn’t have held anything in. What’s that word again? Authenticity. I need to stop masking and being me. I need to stop being afraid of judgement. To feel valued, wanted, and needed. Of course, being offered a job before finishing a degree was somewhat of a surprise. An unexpected but great surprise and achievement! But it left me with the worry of the remaining work I still needed to complete, and in some cases start.
Alongside my work, I had family commitments, including preparing and writing a Best Man’s speech for my brother and sister-in-law, who’d had their wedding postponed several times due to the pandemic. They’d wed in a small ceremony with loved ones and relatives who would not have been around for their big day if they’d held off any longer earlier on in the year, and the lucky couple got to celebrate their wedding several times; including with all the family and friends at an extravagant location with a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme, along with a live band and open-mic for us all to showcase our singing, dancing and acting skills (all with us having had one too many!)
In case you’re wondering, my speech was a hit. I stood there in front of 100+ people (I have no idea on what the turnout was, but I daren’t count the numbers!) and clearly read the speech I’d written only the night before… Okay, I’d penned some drafts but with all of my university work going on, my hands felt as though they were literally on fire. My fingers felt disconnected from my being, as if they had a life of their own. But the pain that lingered wasn’t easy. My speech though, as I read it out loud, made me feel proud. As I eloquently pronounced each and every syllable, instead of my usual mumble and mispronunciation, the party listened and engaged. As we all laughed towards the end, I thought ‘Isn’t this good? Look how far you’ve come!’ As I sat down, I revelled in adrenaline. I felt good and I felt as though I could take on the world. One step at a time though, eh?
Upon my return to student normality, of stressing about assignments, staring into books and annotating literature, my dissertation saw me sweat blood and tears, with the stress and anxiety of feeling alone and incompetent. If I could offer some words of wisdom to those stepping into their final year, it’s – Please choose your topic wisely. Choose something you’re passionate about, and feel ready and able to read and process so much about the work you’re learning and producing. I thought I’d chosen a subject which I should have been able to put my heart into, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I admit that it didn’t help that I had the constant reminder of my failed research project in Level 5, which was only marked lower due to the fact it was due when I was moving home, and my set-up for studying was incomplete. I was living in chaos, and the grades for the research module reflected that. I had been achieving much better than the previous year, and I had to keep holding onto the facts. I was, and am, in a much better place now.
My dissertation took the brunt of my stress in the final year. I thought it’d be a breeze to write about, but weeks later, I’d finally completed my research project (Check out my new page if you’d like to give it a read!). Once this was over, I began on my final assignment for a module I felt passionate about until the classes began. This was ‘Arts, Myth and Imagination’ (sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?). However, my expectations were somewhat not met, and that is no criticism to the lecturer or what was taught. What we’d learnt was fascinating and inspiring. I wished I’d been taught by this lecturer before because of the level of depth that went into each seminar and Powerpoint presentation! Sure, there were a few things I felt uncomfortable with, but mostly, I felt out of my depth. My anxieties left me feeling clueless, and I’d allow my mind to wander, as couldn’t deal with some of the content. Yet, despite this I ended up producing some of my best work, finding new meaning to the things which bring me joy and an inspiration to keep searching and reading on the subject of Shamanism. Ironically, what began as a whirlwind of a module, turned out to be a subject I wish I’d based my dissertation on, as I enjoyed every moment of the assignment process!
I end this post by saying that my final academic year at Canterbury Christ Church University, has been an interesting, insightful, rewarding, and incredible year. I would not have found myself saying that back in 2019-2020. As a student who thought they’d lose their life in the first year, after ending up in crisis, to persevering through each hurdle with the greatest of support from the lecturers, personal academic tutors, supervisors, our several programme directors, the amazing wellbeing team, study skills mentor and my wonderful DSA specialist mentor. Not to forget my friends, including those I’ve met along the way, my family, in particular my wife Lauren, and best friend Becky, who saw me at my worst, feared for my life, but stood by me and supported me throughout all the chaos, and my brother Chip, who inspired me and helped me break down my dissertation into sections manageable for me to survive through (that last hurdle was one I didn’t think I’d make it over).
I owe everyone a huge amount of gratitude. And why?
On 29th June 2022, I received my final results, and I have achieved a First Class Honours in BA Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring. I can book my graduation from tomorrow, 21st June, and it’ll take place at Canterbury Cathedral in September!
Life hasn’t been easy, but I haven’t let it stop me. I’m two months into working in my new job as a Peer Support Worker for Dover and Folkestone Peer Support Service – Rethink Mental Illness (if you’re on Facebook, please hit ‘like’ and share as many posts as you can!). I have recently started a training course which runs until the end of September to help with my role, with ImROC Peer Support, which will be covering everything I have learnt over the past three years, (so, I’m hoping to complete it with flying colours!). I’m also working with my team to build some new peer support groups, and I am so excited to be creative with them!
As Deepak Chopra says:
“Always go with your passions. Never ask yourself if it’s realistic or not”Deepak Chopra
I’ll always aim for the stars and chase my dreams, and I’ll be grateful for every given opportunity which helps get me there.
End note: I am aware that I have not written here for quite some time. However, I would like to direct you to my socials, as I’ve been adding quite a bit there throughout my university experience.
And, some exciting news… I’ve recently opened up a new Etsy Shop!
This Etsy name means there will soon be some new branding for my blog and socials to tie everything together as I move away from sharing university life, to disabled living and working life!
Please hit the follow if you’re keen to read more.
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