Five years ago today, I graduated from my BA.
Four years and about eight months ago, I broke.
I had a nervous breakdown that was soon diagnosed as PTSD. The nagging pain in my legs spread to every part of my body. Fatigue made everything hard work and slowed down my brain. I got a rash across most of my body that appeared suddenly and left suddenly a full year later. The rash is the only symptom that has ever gone.
I am tired and in pain and easily scared and easily confused. I have been for nearly five years.
I’ve been unable to walk unaided for nearly five years.
It’s kinda bittersweet to realise that I did graduate and did get a degree because of what had already started to happen to my body when I did. Because it would be too easy to dismiss the last five years of my life as “and then I never did anything else of note” because I live in a society where only (paid) jobs and grade-based study counts as an achievement worth being proud of.
I’ve done 2/3rds of an MA that I will probably never be able to finish. Making that happen was a huge achievement. Knowing when I should walk away? That is a gigantic achievement.
In the last five years, I’ve moved house four times. I’ve fought for and arranged my own social care despite the general awfulness of that system – twice. I’ve been assessed for ESA once and PIP twice. I had a year of living on emergency loans from the University and not having enough money for anything past food and rent. I’ll call getting through all that an achievement.
I’ve spent years negotiating my way through the NHS and the DWP and local councils and care agencies. Three years with all that and a University and Student Union bureaucracy as well. This is skillful and useful and an achievement worth celebrating.
I’ve had relationships. I’ve had the strength to end relationships. I’ve deliberately gone looking for love and found it. I’ve kept friends. I’ve made friends.
I’ve written this blog, even if I’ve written little else. I’ve read books even if fewer than I would like. I’ve tried new foods. I’ve made a serious commitment to learning a new language.
Every week I do things that make me leave the house and go somewhere I have to talk to other people. And every week I go to therapy.
This is not the after graduation life that I envisaged. This is not the adulthood I was promised. It’s strange looking at the young man in my graduation photos because I know what happens next and how very different it is from what he wants to happen next.
But it’s also strange looking at him and knowing that I now would not want what he wanted. The stressful academic career he wanted – I wanted – seems unappealing. Perhaps this is because I can see his breakdown coming. He’s been close to burnout for months and about to throw himself into more studying and more student politics. Sooner or later, he (I) was always going to break. It was just a question of how soon and how severely.
I like the life I have. I’m grateful for it. I think I manage what I have well and that I make myself and others happy. While it’s odd looking at the life I once wanted, I know that the life I am living is really quite close to being the life I want now.