It’s incredibly frightening, suddenly realising you’re on the wrong path. Worse still, is walking with the sun in your eyes, blinded by millennial promises – graduate jobs, career ladders, money, money and more money. Happiness.
Luckily, I wore shades throughout my university degree. And, quite clearly, I saw beyond even their rose tint. I was ambling up a mere dirt-track, muddied by years of hopeful feet. Feet weighing wellingtons of apathy. Tripping over sharp rocks on an, apparently, stable route. Climbing my very own mountain of debt.
When I reached the peak, where the sun was the brightest, and hopes fluttered high, I couldn’t ignore the glaring truth any longer. And, in the heat of the moment, with tear-soaked toes, I caught cold feet.
I was disturbed to discover that my degree in Biomedical Science was, yes, a key, but to one door only. Behind this door I found a narrowing corridor into specialisation and at the end lay my bed, quietly making itself. Progressively, the colours grew duller, time passed slower, doors without handles taunted me and I felt like Alice in Blunderland.
Half-way through my honours year at university, suddenly, I was refusing the bottles labelled ‘drink me’ and the food teasing ‘eat me’. By this point, I was fat with scientific knowledge, but, ironically, this wasn’t particularly practical.
Lab work was the job, but lab work was not my forte. Having to run five different experiments at once, for six hours apiece – with no time to daydream – often resulted in a migraine. My mind just doesn’t work the necessary way and I appeared slow. Really, it was just a serious sensory overload for me up in my little cloud. Oddly, step-by-step instructions are kinda impossible for me to follow under pressure.
This has always been a problem for me. ‘Careless mistakes’ has been written in every report card, exam paper and test I’ve ever received. When my mind is moving as fast as it normally does, I tend to miss the obvious details. Further panic ensues and, thus, mistakes stack up. In the labs, I often nearly passed out from the heat, I’d say – it was mostly the stress.
So, when it came to fourth year, when everyone else was discussing their exciting PhD offers and superb job opportunities, I was just trying to figure out how I was going to last the year.
I don’t mean this academically. I was actually on track for a really good classification – much to the horror of my project supervisor, who just thought I was having a moment and need not be so emotional.
But, truly, my anxiety levels were unbearable. I mean, when you find yourself crying every morning in the girls toilets, having panic attacks in the library, calling into work sick in floods of tears, and barely eating, I think it’s time to acknowledge there’s a problem.
Feelings of weakness and guilt plagued my decisions and fear clouded my judgement. Such had me convinced me that I was just meant to push through this. I wasn’t meant to let anxiety win. I was supposed to knock down or climb, at least, these walls that I kept encountering. Little did I know, this was incredibly stupid, counter-intuitive and ultimately more harmful.
It was one day, when writing a simple essay for exam practice, that I finally hit an immovable wall. I’ve then since tried to explain to people what this wall felt like: a solid barrier of nothing. I couldn’t go beyond it because there existed nothing yonder. Writing this essay was like trying to out-step the boundaries of a video-game and hitting a cold sheet of zeros. I suddenly couldn’t envision it ever seeing completion. Nowhere in the platform had the creators coded such a timeline into my gameplay. Time ceased to trudge down that dirt-track and, with it, so did I.
University had, basically, unearthed an anxiety disorder in me. So, it was nice to land softly on this calming fullstop in the narrative.
This was when I grabbed my sparkly, blue journal for the first time in nearly four years. I had to try and understand all these premature thoughts that I’d smothered in their cots. It was time to listen to myself again. I just had to ignore that buzz of an agenda and the palpitating deadlines.
It was then I wrote this: ‘I just need to see how I do in the last few weeks and If I still feel like leaving, I may have to. But, regardless, I need to not take it all so seriously. I don’t care about this degree. I don’t care what grade I get. I don’t care …but, perhaps, that’s reason enough to leave.’
Following this, I marked the page, put my journal back on it’s shelf and went to tell my parents that I was definitely dropping-out of university. In the space of four days, my friends had sequentially received ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I don’t want to do this’, ‘I’m thinking of leaving and not doing this’, ‘I’m leaving, fuck this’ texts. Texts that were so long they had to be opened in word documents, I might add.
It’s funny that not being able to write is what triggered a need to write, again. This desire was evident in those texts alone, I think. Thoughts, turbulent in my subconscious, only made sense when I wrote them down. It was clearer than ever, in this moment, that this writing thing was more than just hobby to me.
In fact, the long-distance relationship I’d been having with writing was probably what made me so ill. I’ve always leaned on writing as a crutch, ever since I was a kid. My mind is a bit of a colourful whirlwind, which I find hard to express in any regular way and on a day to day basis. Coupled with art, writing acts as the sieve that sorts, separates and makes sense of my world. I can only find my voice outside the box, strumming on more abstract chords.
I refrain from calling myself a writer and I’ll probably forever shy away from the title. I’m too much of a perfectionist to ever consider myself to be of that level of polished professionalism. However, I have started studying Journalism this month, so I am heading towards more serious writing opportunities. But, for now, I’ll take student. Student feels like a better fitting shoe for my fragile, pinkie-toe-sized ego.
It was a huge leap of faith, for me, to graduate with my bachelors, leave the Biomedical Science life-plan behind and, instead, pursue a writing career. I just saw no sense in completely discarding not only my dreams but my skill-set. Writing feels more natural to me than breathing. And, I knew if I could work that hard on something I hated, imagine what I could achieve if I felt more inspired by my goals. I knew in my gut, I’ve always known, that I need to write to survive. So, I thought, why not make a true living out of it.
To many, that may read like a genuine question, answerable by one pessimistic listicle. But it’s my sentence and it’s my life, both of which I get to decide the meaning of, and I’ve never written anything more rhetoric. I too, answer only to myself.