At the age of seventeen I was sat in a bare room, holding a mug of hot sweet tea with a College Councillor. I was making a decision that felt like I was at a cross-road. Which way to go?
“I can give you money, we have funds and we can arrange for you to have a bed-sit.” She said.
She was a friendly woman but I can’t remember exactly what she looked like, it was twenty years ago. I tried to register what she was saying.
“Or you can face up to the decision that now is not the time to study.” She continued.
They were wise words especially coming from an enthusiast of education. I took a sip of sweet tea. And left the room feeling confident that I knew the decision that I would make.
I gave up full-time education and took the second road. Packed my bags and moved to the other side of the country with the intent of finding a job. At the time I didn’t look back. I got work easily and settled into life.
However, within time my education was a niggle. I’d always enjoyed learning and once you are settled into a job you quickly become into a rut and there is no challenge. So I looked into night classes at the local college and started an A’ level in English Language and Literature. I looked forward to those classes and completing essays never felt like a chore. Exams never fazed me, I studied hard and passed. Afterwards it felt like a loss that I’d finished. I shrugged my shoulders and told myself that even though I wanted to go higher that now wasn’t the time, I had a mortgage and was pregnant with my first child.
After my first son was born I found myself with time when he was asleep so I started to write and look at Open University courses. I wanted to get a degree it looked like a good option but it was six years of studying. Six years when you are twenty two seems like an age. But in fact it isn’t. So instead I had another child.
At twenty-five something clicked within me. It would never be the right time. I wanted a degree, I needed to start. With two young children I took my first course. I had the children in good bedtime routines so I spent my evenings immersed in an humanities course. It felt so exciting to be able to do something for myself and learn things that I knew nothing about. I learned how to write a composition from listening to a piece of music or looking at a piece of art. I surprised myself because I could actually do it and these were subjects that I’d never had the opportunity to study.
It was tiring with two young children, a part-time working from home business and I was pregnant again. But I continued with my studies because it was what I wanted to do. And I had every intention of carrying on when my third child was born.
However, as for many. Nothing in life is ever simple. My husband at the time started a business. Financially we were better off than ever before but he was never home meaning that I had to deal with my growing family alone. It was an isolating time and after my daughter was born I began to feel unwell. The stress of three children under five began to take its toll. I tried to carry on but the more tired I became the more demanding the children became. I was doing night feeds, taking a child to school, taking another to playgroup and back, my ex-husband was old-fashioned, the house and the children were my job. I felt very trapped and exhausted, my brain wasn’t working the same and there were times when I couldn’t get my words out. I felt like I was on a go slow and I’d never experienced this before. I soldiered on. But then I started to get a pain in my toe. It came on suddenly. I went to the doctors because I felt like I’d broken my toes, he said it was age and high heel shoes – I was twenty-seven knew no better and he was a doctor. So I went home thinking I was just going slightly crazy. The pain spread to both feet, then my ankles, then my knees, then my wrist. My husband at the time thought he was an entrepreneur, his business was going well, he was driving an M3 and neglecting his family, he wanted bigger and better. We moved into an amazing 5 bedroom house and rented out what was our family home that had masses of equity in it. The moving was stressful, I had a bad feeling about it and the pain was spreading rapidly through my joints. It was at the point that my feet were two shoe sizes bigger, my hands were swollen, and my knuckles were swollen. My ex-husband told me to take ibuprofen and walk properly. Mentally I was struggling and I had nowhere to turn, the doctor had turned me away but it was clear that I had to go back. I was scared. I couldn’t open a door, I couldn’t kneel down, I couldn’t tighten my son’s juice bottle, I was picking my daughter up with my lower arms. I was swelling up and nobody was listening to me. The night sweats were terrible and I thought I was dying. Three beautiful children and in my head I thought I was dying.
The next visit to the Dr’s was a different story. The Dr looked extremely concerned as he examined me and told me that I would need to go to a joint specialist. But he also said that there were two things going on. I was diagnosed with severe depression. When I look back I’m not sure what’s worse, the severe depression or having a physical disability.
I found the more depressed I got the more my support network dwindled. I tried to tell people I was suffering from depression. At the time I got called loopy and told it doesn’t exist and to “get on with it” but it was real, it was happening to me.
The joint specialist was amazing from the start, she injected me with a steroid, took my bloods, told me that my thyroid was showing as under active and diagnosed me with an immune disorder and told me that she would get me on the mend but it would take time. It was a relief, there were tears, somebody was listening to me and I wasn’t dying. My thyroid mended. To this day I’m convinced that all I needed was for somebody to listen to me. We hold our emotions in our throat.
It took four months to get the depression under control and a year to get the disease under control and my joints back to normal. Once the depression was under control I went straight back to studying and studied an OU course in Creative Writing much against the wishes of the Specialist who told me that with three young children and such a serious disorder that I needed to slow down. But I wasn’t listening, there would never be a right time if I didn’t continue. I struggled through that course but I completed. One my mental stability and physical health was good and well, I sailed the next course even though it was a higher level. I got a distinction and achieved a Diploma in Creative Writing phoned my ex-husband to tell him the news. But he wouldn’t answer his phone, business was taking over his life and I knew that we were slowly going into debt so he was feeling pressured. So I told the window cleaner instead.
They say going through something major changes you. It does. You start to realise those around you who love you and those around you that say they do but don’t. My ex-husband and I had drifted apart. I felt like he hadn’t looked after me when I needed him. And that’s when I had the realisation while pushing a shopping trolley… I no longer loved him. I was going to leave him.
He wouldn’t leave the home and it’s a lengthy story but to cut to the chase. I packed my bags and left. I was in debt but I didn’t realise the extent and ended up in private rent. I thought it would be easy to pick up where I left off with the studying. So I got another job. The divorce was to be messy with bitter feuds as the true extent of debt came to light. He very quickly moved his Girlfriend into my family home and lied more about everything. I shrugged it off worked, put myself onto a debt plan and completed another course. But my rental property was not going smoothly, I had a nightmare of a landlord and that again is another story. I also needed to get a job of more hours, I needed more money as my ex-husband was not helping the children when they needed it. There were times when I was down to my last pound and my daughter would have a hole in her shoe and I would be crying.
Divorce is stressful and so is debt, it was at the end of the next course that my ex-husband announced that he was going bankrupt. My physical and emotional health started to waver. This had severe implications on me as I’d signed a guarantee for his business that meant I would be being chased. Four months later, he stopped paying the mortgage and the house got repossessed. More debt for me, I was in over my head. My saving grace was that I’d found another job. It wasn’t the job I wanted but it was a job that would help out. The first thing I did to help my stress levels was to take the children on holiday. I told myself I’d been depressed before and it wasn’t happening again. I was studying another course with the OU but my marks were falling very low but I continued and told myself ‘just pass the course’ I did but that’s all I did, just passed.
After the holiday we came back to a house that had a severe leak. With the fear of debt I knew that I needed security for my children so I put myself onto the housing register with the local authority. It was a wise decision the next nine months were to be hell in a private rent and at times I felt that the house should have been condemned. The day I got the letter to say that I’d been awarded a house in a nice area with a big garden was like the clouds had parted. But it was going to cost me money to move and the house was just a shell, it needed decorating, carpets and furniture. I rolled my sleeves up and listened to the councillor. Now was definitely not the right time to study. And now was definitely not the time to worry about debt. Our basic needs needed to be met, my children had to come first.
So the studying had to go on hold again, I was so close to the finish line, I’d got the degree but I needed the last course to give me the Honours Degree that I’d set out to do. I spent one year decorating our abode and turning it into a home, it was difficult with working and I still wanted a life with the children and I met my wonderful boyfriend. But we did it and one year later I embarked on my last course and completed it.
It took ten years from initial start, having babies, depression, a disease, debt, repossession, divorce, single parenting, many jobs, several house moves … but I did it… I’m still standing and I achieved my ambition. I have my Honours Degree in English Literature. My piece of paper means more to me than just a piece of paper. It’s a symbol of overcoming challenges. I will be graduating proudly at Eleys Cathedral in Cambridge.