The Slump

I’ve been going through a Slump.

A few weeks ago, I hit a wall in my personal life and it took me longer to get around it than I’d care to admit. I kept myself busy at work because I had no idea what to do once I got home. I stayed late at the office, I volunteered to cook dinner or do laundry or take out the garbage because it was another few moments that I didn’t have to think about everything else I should have been doing. I got excited when the traffic was heavy because it meant there was nothing I could do but sit there and wait. I did everything I could to avoid having nothing to do because as soon as my mind was quiet, I panicked.

I felt paralysed. I knew what I should be doing – I should have been looking at job boards and writing applications – but I’d reached a point where the thought of looking at Seek filled me with an overwhelming sense of dread. I was procrastinating because I was stressed, but I was stressed because I was procrastinating. You see my problem.

The truth is, I was actually getting a lot done and generally being very productive. I was meeting and exceeding my work expectations, I was getting my personal and social life off the ground and my wardrobe was cleaner than it had been since before I started university. I was the only one placing these expectations on myself, and logically I knew I was the only one who could do anything about it. I’ve dealt with anxiety on and off and on again for years, and I’ve learned what I need to do to overcome it, but knowing and doing are two different things.

There were lots of factors contributing to my Slump – long work days and not enough sleep, the poorly time arrival of some unexpected health issues, utter exhaustion with the constant self-evaluation of writing cover letters. I was lucky to have family and friends at my back, to help me regain some perspective, reassure me that I wasn’t a failure and, ultimately, kick my arse out of the rut I’d fallen into. Eventually, rather ungracefully, I clawed my way out of it. I got my shit together and forced myself to do something about it. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, but I did it.

I’ve pulled myself out of the Slump. I’m steadily gaining back my momentum. I can’t say I enjoyed being stuck in that rut – I hate the feeling of powerlessness, of paralysis and panic – but like all things, it must pass, and hopefully teach you a thing or two for your trouble.

In this case, I think, the lesson is that sometimes the only way around a wall is beating your head against the bricks until they give way.

The Graduate

I graduated last Saturday.

I’ve written about my struggle to confirm my graduation, the long appeals process I fought through, my dismay at learning I wasn’t allowed to throw my hat, but last Saturday, standing behind the stage waiting for my name to be called, I wasn’t thinking about any of that.

I was thinking I should have worn more sensible shoes.

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I’d worn one of my favourite pairs – deep purple, sky high, a little bit of sparkle. I bought them in Bruges on a trip celebrating my high school graduation. It seemed an appropriate choice. The shoes had come full circle.

But then I saw the stage – the polished, hardwood stage – I would have to walk across, and immediately regretted my choice. My shoes, while comfy and undeniably gorgeous, were not the most practical, nor the most stable of footwear. Suddenly the only thought in my head was ‘Please, Lord, don’t let me fall over’.

Being me, I jumped to the worst case scenario. What would I do if I did fall over? Surely the graceful thing would be to get up, laugh it off and carry on. But I never made any claims to being graceful. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with that level of humiliation, wouldn’t be able to recover from that moment. If I did fall over, I decided, I would stay on the floor and wait for death to claim me.

The graduand before me was called, and I stepped up to the plate. I didn’t know how to hold my arms in the wide sleeves of the academic robe. The golden hood felt unreasonably heavy. I couldn’t see my hat, but it felt weird. I couldn’t tell if it was sitting straight. The assistant dean read my name, and I remembered, a second too late, that I had to tip my hat. I temporarily forgot how to use my hands, so I sort of ducked my head and lifted my hand and somehow managed to deliver a mostly coordinated hat tip. Then I had to walk.

Miraculously, I made it to the deputy chancellor in the middle of the stage. I shook her hand. She said some words, and I think I said ‘thank you’ half a dozen times. We smiled for the cameras. More walking. A nice blonde lady who was probably more important than I gave her credit for gave me my testamur. More walking, some steps, and I was home free. I’d made it. I hadn’t fallen.

I sat through the rest of the ceremony, the opera interlude, the occasional address, the traditional Irish blessing and the exit procession, then we wove our way through the uni grounds like a flock of oversized ravens in pointy hats, down to the lake where there were canapés and champagne and cupcakes. My family pulled me aside for a few hundred pictures, I had my degree framed, my brother bought me flowers and then, rather suddenly, it was all over and we went home.

It was a strange thing. I knew I’d completed my degree, I knew I was graduating, I’d finished my studies months before, but to be in that hall, wearing those robes – that felt very special. Like I’d achieved something real. I’d been expecting a long, fairly boring ceremony and a few seconds of applause, but I found myself caught up in the pomp and circumstance. This was an occasion to be celebrated, more than leaving my last class or submitting my last assignment. I hadn’t expected the ceremony to mean that much to be, but to be recognised for what I’d achieved, to have the last three years of my life validated by my family and peers – that felt incredible.

So I wore my pretty new dress and my sparkly shoes, I enjoyed the champagne and cupcakes, I hung my degree on the living room wall and I didn’t fall over on stage. I’d say that’s a day worth remembering.