I attended the Linden Centre in 2008/9 for severe depression and related issues.
I was extremely unhappy, mainly due to bullying at work between November 2007 and 2009. I was extremely low and didn't really see a way out.
A friend who knew how unhappy I was, suggested that I apply for a suitable university course so that I would get opportunity to use my brain (my job was basically a dead-end job with no prospects) properly in a field that was more suited to my skills and abilities. I initially resisted the idea, as I was 36 at the time, but I started looking tentatively at available courses on the UCAS (University applications) website.
A number of courses took my eye, especially one for music journalism, as I have always had an affinity with words plus a passion for music. So, I had a choice ; stay in a dead-end job where the bullying was so bad I couldn't function as a human being or take a huge jump into the unknown, hoping that my passion for words and music would carry me through. It was a no-brainer really. I took the leap of faith in my own abilities.
University as a mature student was hugely daunting but curiously exciting too. I never thought of myself as academic but, with the encouragement of a fantastic tutor, I threw myself into my studies, mainly as a way to try and block out all the other depressive and emotional issues I had. There had been so many negatives that the feeling of doing something positive and concrete to better myself and learn new skills was just something I had to grab onto - like a metaphorical life jacket.
Yes, I still had my issues, and in retrospect, maybe I should have done something to sort them out, but to be frank, I didn't know what to do or where to turn. Burying my head in my studies seemed the best thing to do.
It paid off. At the end of first year, my tutor told me that I was head and shoulders above the rest of the class (being double the age of the others, I would have been mortified had I not been top of class. This was a big pressure and I had to put serious work in. After all, I was a "mature" student. I was too old to lark about like the teenage students. While they were partying endlessly in varying degrees of continual drunkenness and debauchery, I managed the occasional pizza and bouteille de vin rouge).
In the second year, I had to present a radio show. This meant spending excess time delving around my record collection and writing scripts. This made me feel a bit of a fraud. Students doing other courses have to study Shakespeare and Dickens (Eng Lit), the Corn Laws and the Entente Cordiale (History), ox-bow lakes, bilharzia and rock formations (Geography), Skinner's behaviour theories, Pavlov's dogs and Myers-Briggs personality theory (Psychology), but here was I wallowing gloriously in my record collection, writing essays on the Beach Boys and the Eagles! I brought up this "study" guilt with my tutor. He simply asked me what the title of my course was. "Music journalism". Nuff said. I was allowed to wallow self-indulgently in my record collection and write critical blurbages about prog rock.
There were a few modules that were practical rather than theoretical. Practical was not my preference but I did well enough to turn an impressive performance in the following semester into a springboard for the final year.
A series of sharp deadlines after Christmas proved challenging. By the final submission date, I was almost running on empty. But then, calamity! Confidence and confidence in my ability waned, my depressive issues got the better of me and I was just a shell for a few weeks. My tutor could see my distress and gave his full support, suggesting that I consider extenuating circumstances. Within sight of the finishing line, I suffered a severe wobble, crisis of confidence and emotional collapse. The depression took hold for six weeks or so, when it was difficult to get out of bed, never mind leave my study room. I was a mess. But I managed to keep regular appointments with my tutor, who took every opportunity to remind me of my potential and coax me back to somewhere near normality.
With the deadline for the big year's project three weeks away, I managed to fashion some sort of structure to my project. I was slowly getting my focus back and with diligent care, deep concentration and unanticipated reserves of discipline, I submitted a 90-page project on deadline day.
Results arrived a few weeks later. The project had yielded near top marks. I knew I could achieve a First if I just held my nerve. I had three months to write a dissertation. But first, I had to figure out what I was going to write about. I just kept changing my mind every day or so. Every mood brought new doubt or inspiration.
I reluctantly attended the graduation ceremony in July. I had no degree because I had one module left. If I messed it up, I would not get a degree, whatever the classification. I did not want to tempt providence.
Three meetings later with my dissertation tutor - never mind a title, I didn't even have a settled topic. Three weeks before deadline and I had nothing. The fourth meeting saw me suggest more possibilities to my tutor, who finally ordered me to select one of them and stick with it.
I completed a 6,500 word dissertation, from scratch, in 17 - seventeen - days. This was as flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants-near-the-knuckle in the extreme. I threw myself into it, entirely. I started researching as many relevant academic papers as I could find, web material and books. Eventually, I had enough notes that I was able to form the rough outline of a story. The more I researched, the more I was able to get a clearer picture of what I needed to write and how I needed to write it. The seventeen days encapsulated the most concentrated period of work I have ever done in my life. It was like building a fairytale castle, brick-by-brick. Once I had enough material, I started writing up my notes in academic form. It took just over a week of painstaking, intricate work, checking, double-checking, reading, re-reading. I barely had time to sleep or ablute.
I handed the work in on deadline day in mid-August, satisfied that I had done my very best. But it was a nerve wracking few weeks. I would find out at the beginning of September that I received a first-class mark for the dissertation and therefore, a First Class Honours degree. I was elated.
Despite my own huge issues and self-doubt, I had put in the work necessary to get the top grade of degree.
Was it worth it? Yes. I have never had a degree before and no-one can argue with a First Class degree on a CV.
Paradoxically, if I hadn't been through the sheer hell of the previous five years, I would not have been in a position to even consider university, never mind achieving a First. I believe that less than 1% of the population have a First Class degree and when I am feeling at my lowest, that is one fact I remember.
I still have major, major issues but I am doing my damndest to sort these through. I am now engaging in further treatment and therapy to sort myself out once and for all. I believe that a First Class degree is a big way of contributing to the good of wider society, so I now feel empowered to do everything I can to resolve my issues and, if I can, to convince others plagued with confidence issues that they can achieve their own greatness. If I can inspire others to believe that it is possible to go from the lowest low to one of the highest possible academic achievements, then I will have contributed something good to society.
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