So I finished the undergraduate portion of my studies and then I took a bit of a break because the university I was studying with didn’t offer honours by distance, only on campus. I had thought they might offer it last year, but they didn’t so I sort of more or less moved on from the idea of doing much more study. I could have gone to another university but that involves getting your pieces of paper stamped by an official of some kind which involves first getting your pieces of paper and I don’t know, everything that’s already complicated gets a bit more complicated when you’re living overseas and although I’m mentally pretty strong these days there’s nothing like running around (in real life and virtually) trying to get the right pieces of paper signed by the right people to put that strength to the test (and find it lacking).

Then they shifted to online delivery this year and I thought I may as well enrol because I still had my original goals plus a few others in mind and because it seemed a bit of a waste to have come this far and not go any further.

What it was that made me think I could study full-time and work full-time I do not know, but there was a pretty miserable month there at the beginning of the year until I did the sensible thing and withdrew from a couple of units leaving myself with the thesis (because I’d done so much work on it by then it was silly to withdraw from that) and the statistics unit because hahahahahahahahahahahaha I may as well get it over with.

Holy moly. That unit pushed me to the brink of insanity like few other things have done. The world of numbers, it’s not my natural habitat, but I’d pushed my way through the earlier stats units to do not too badly and had, in a strange way, enjoyed pushing my brain to places it hadn’t previously been. But something had changed. First it was a few years since I’d done the first stats units so I had to go back and remember everything I’d forgotten (which wasn’t quite everything I’d learned, but close enough). Second because I was at work from 7.30 – 4.30 every day plus driving time I had to get up early and stay up late to do things like listening to lectures and working through tutorial questions. Now, I do like getting up in the morning and padding about in the silence, but it’s hard to set your alarm with enthusiasm for simple regression and the analysis of covariance. And not to mention trying to load SPSS and sorry you don’t have the right operating system and etcetera etcetera etcereraagghhhh.

With every spare moment spent working on statistics – something I don’t like and get neither enrichment nor enjoyment from – I felt like my life was completely off-track. And this at a time when I had thought I really had got my shit together. Instead of striding with efficient speed from one task to the next as I had imagined I would do, I was back to standing in the middle of the kitchen, sobbing. I felt so stupid – not just because I couldn’t do the statistics, but also for being a grown-up, middle-aged woman, sitting at her desk with a hangover (easily come by when you’re living on six hours’ sleep) and working on an overdue assignment. All of the decisions which had once seemed sensible and focused now seemed as unfocused and as scattered as ever. I’m supposed to be in control of my life by now! I would rage at the mister. Everyone else knows what they’re doing and where they’re going and look at me. I’ve still got no idea.

I logged in to the enrolment page every day telling myself to quit, just quit. But I was past the withdraw without penalty date and I can’t quit, because when I was in first year university I withdrew from French after the withdraw without penalty date. I told my parents I was withdrawing, but I didn’t mention ‘past the without penalty’ bit. My mother was a beautiful, elegant woman. She was whip-smart and wise. But my goodness she was fierce and this is the conversation that followed when she saw my results for that year:

‘What’s with that French result?’
‘I told you I was withdrawing.’
‘You didn’t tell me it meant that you would fail.’
Silence from me (because I could see the fierceness rising) until my mother said: ‘This family will fail, but we will fail with dignity and with pride.’
You see? There’s no way I could really withdraw. I mean, she’s been dead for more than twenty years but those words still live.

So I kept plugging away. In truth, I couldn’t really work out what was the problem. I’d studied before. I knew that it would come to an end. The mister reminded me that I had said it was going to be hard in May and June. I didn’t know why I was getting quite so worked up. But worked up I was and when I rang the exam venue to confirm the exam time my voice was shaking and I burst into tears when I got off the phone. It seemed to be something of an over-reaction even for my over-thinking mind.

It wasn’t until I got to the exam venue and the frigid air of its air-conditioner, and the cloying lemon scent of the open bathroom door hit me that I got it. The last time I was sitting in this room it had been only an hour since I’d discharged myself from hospital where I’d ended up after a straightforward miscarriage went a teensy bit pear-shaped so if you added everything up, multiplied it by a sandstorm and divided it by completely-exhausted-because-of-getting-up-at-four-am you’ve got…well, you’ve got tears in the exam room. But there’s the thing. Once you realise there’s a reason and it’s not random insanity, everything looks a bit less foggy and feels a bit less muddy.

So I went into the exam room and goodness knows how but I did extraordinarily well in the exam which, in combination with the okay result I got for my assignment gave me a not bad distinction in the end. Which isn’t the high distinction I’m aiming for, but it was much closer to a high distinction than it was to a credit so I’ll be able to make those couple of marks up with the other units. And now I’m back working on my thesis which is a qualitative methodology and words and that’s much more solid ground for me and I’m not sobbing in the kitchen anymore, and actually I feel like I’ve got my shit together and I know where I’m going and how to get there. Plus dignity and pride.