The first week is finally over. Those were difficult days, but compared to my last attempts (yes, the plural is correct) at studying over the past few years, I have been doing better. I have not skipped classes because I was afraid, I have gone to lectures where attendance was not mandatory, and I have managed this week on my own, without talking to my therapist about it. I’m going to see him next week for a regular session (the intervals between them are three weeks now), but I don’t want to become someone who depends on the therapist for every decision – my therapy goal is to become more independent… I’d lie if I claimed I didn’t think about what I’d tell him, but I’m glad things didn’t become so bad that I had to contact him.
Something I learned from this week is how relative success really is. For the majority of my fellow freshmen, this simply is another step in their education. They go to university, sit their exams and eventually graduate, and to them it means a lot of hard work and adapting to a new way of life and new working methods. To most of them, the biggest challenge will be an intellectual one: a certain class or project they’re going to find difficult. Other than that, they don’t struggle with being a student.
If (when) I graduate, however, the real triumph will not be in reaching a certain level of education, it will be the fact that I actually beat my anxiety and stayed in university long enough to reach graduation day.
Prior to Monday, I hadn’t attended a class in a year and a half… Exactly two years ago, in October 2009, I started my last attempt at finishing my old degree in prehistoric archaeology and got assigned a rather demanding project – holding a lecture called “A Diachronic Comparison Of Small Houses On Mineral Soil”, presenting settlement patterns and building structures throughout prehistoric times with a special focus on how those patterns might reflect socio-economic structures. It was a demanding project, both intellectually and in terms of energy invested, cost me most of the Christmas holidays and saw me working 16 hours a day on it towards the end.
I hadn’t been depression free since the age of 12, but around Christmas 2009 one of the better phases – which had allowed me going back to university in the first place – came to an end and I started slipping into depression rapidly. I still managed my presentation at the end of January (which I got the best grade for), but when I was told I had to hand in a written version of it before receiving my credits, it was too much. Every day I told myself I’d start typing it, but there was so little energy in me left and the depression got worse so quickly – I just could not do it. February 2010 was the last time I attended a class. I was depleted, burned out, empty.
It had been the last audible cough of a dying beast, but the deadly wound had been inflicted years before. In spring 2002, my aunt died from leukaemia after a short ailment and an even shorter but nonetheless dramatic decline, leaving behind two children aged 10 and 16. It was a rather sad time for the whole family, naturally, and this sadness somehow morphed into depression as the months went by, because I was also hypothyroid back then. I had no energy for studying and my job caused me social anxiety, all augmented by my malfunctioning thyroid. Even as the thyroid medication was well-adjusted, I never managed going back to university for more than a couple of weeks and a few hours per week at a time despite the best intentions.
Despite some anxiety and some tears this week, it has already been a success, because I haven’t attended so many classes in almost ten years.