When dealing with things that can’t be fixed, there comes a point when the word ‘if’ replaces the word ‘when’.
“If you go back to uni in September.”
“If you’re well enough to live on your own.”
“If there’s any point looking for a flat for next year.”
“If you can leave the house without a wheelchair.”
“If the uni will let you back.”
“If you get more support from somewhere.”
“If you’re up to it.”
“If your health improves.”
“If the next year of university is as difficult as the last…”
“If you even passed your exams this year – you don’t even have 1/3 of a degree yet, you haven’t even sat two of them.” (That one was the man I call Dad, thanks for that!)
Questions are raised where once before there was certainty. And every single time my brain responds with a panicked what do you mean, if? Of course I will/ will be.
But what if I’m not?
Because honestly, my way of dealing with the ‘ifs’ has been to push them from my mind. Particularly one ‘if’ that my mum keeps pushing and pushing until my mind shuts itself off and crumples in on itself and curls into a defensive ball to shut the ‘if’ out…
The thought of not returning to uni for my second year is currently too much to deal with. Uni is… The best thing that ever happened to me. I have the most amazing friends there, like a second family. I don’t know what I’d do without them or how I ever smiled without their friendship. At uni I feel like myself, and I don’t screw up anywhere near as often. I feel more independent, I’m treated like a 20 year old, and my thirst for knowledge is constantly quenched – I love nothing more than sitting in the medical school library (it’s an old converted church with a few leather armchairs dotted about and I mean could a library be any more perfect?) and reading through a textbook on endocrinology or something just because it is there and I can. Too many times I have sat back and watched my friends advance through another year of their education without me. I re-staretd a year of sixth form because I spent the entirety of it in hospital the first time round (and the year before it), I started in a new year group and experienced bullying about my health that still rocks my world when I think about it… I don’t want to be the kid from the year above that got pulled back again.
(I feel I should put a little trigger warning here for the next part)
My mum has told me she can’t deal with having me in this house for a year, which is fair enough because I couldn’t deal with being here either… But what would I do? Honestly? You want the honest answer? You want to know what I nearly did in November when the university pushed me to interrupt my studies for a year, and in doing so pretty much asked me to give up my entire life/ the only place that felt like home/ the only thing I was good at… for an entire year? You want to know what my brain wanted to do in response to being told that my extenuating circumstances claims probably wouldn’t count, that I couldn’t go to my personal tutor about personal problems, that I wasn’t allowed to consult any other members of staff either except from under circumstances that were never made clear and contradicted the initial statement? I’d kill myself, I think. I almost did. I sat in my shower in halls that first night crying, with all the tablets I owned and a razor blade, and I didn’t want to die, I just wanted all the feelings to stop. I never did anything with the razor blade or the tablets (well, I may have cut myself shaving at some point, but that doesn’t count)
The only way to stop the urge, the despair that was so intense it was almost a physical aching… Was to drink. I couldn’t get out of bed without at least a bottle of cider in me beforehand – it was the only way I could face reality. I was too scared to go to my uni parents for… reasons I won’t mention. I couldn’t go to my personal tutor, that had been made clear. I felt so, so alone. So, so unsupported. So I turned to the only thing that was there for me – alcohol. For five days I drank until I was too drunk to feel, mellowed out enough to function. I didn’t know what else to do. There were people all around me and at the same time there was nobody there. I would walk through campus in tears, groaning (quietly but involuntarily) in emotional pain as the sobs tore their way out of me. And in my entire life I have never felt so alone. But I didn’t sign their paperwork. I wrote them a letter explaining why not. I got one of my consultants to write a few letters (he was equally as outraged, and said other people had experienced similar problems with my university before). I melted down at the psychologist that was supposed to be helping me with my emotions surrounding my physical health issues (because that’s what she specialises in). But no tears. In front of her, anyway (we spent most of our appointments talking about university at first instead of the health stuff, how messed up is that? To be fair, I never really talk to her properly, I’m not good at talking to people. And when I nearly died again a few weeks later, I didn’t care that I might die, I cared that the university might find out, and this time there were no uni parents to get me through).
I fought to get through that first year of university, mostly by myself; they didn’t want me there (or so it felt), I didn’t feel supported. But I did it. I made it through. Just about alive. I can’t give up on that now. That’s like fighting a war, winning, and giving up everything you fought for in the first place.
University is the route to who I want to be, it’s a comfort blanket, it’s an addiction, a drug, a distraction… In all honesty, it’s all I ever wanted. For two years the thought of getting out of my home town, away from the past and the present that I hated, was the thing that kept me going. For the past year, university has been the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning, even when things looked so pointless I could easily have given up (still somehow defying those odds… Hope my card isn’t called any time soon). I’m surrounded by people with similar interests, lecturers treat me like an adult; they love nothing more than to discuss their subject, and I love nothing more than absorbing the knowledge that overflows from their brains. University is heaven. I have genuinely spent the last year living my dream. What if you had to let that go? Interrupt for a year… Would you ever get well enough to go back, or would you continue to deteriorate?… What if? If…
And so I cannot think about the ‘ifs’ at the moment. I don’t have the energy to go through another year at university like the one I have experienced – the lack of support meant I really struggled to cope and very nearly threw my life away far too many times. I can’t go through that again. It wrecked my physical health because I pushed myself far too hard, afraid to show any weakness fro them to exploit, unsupported and scared and far too determined. I stayed out of hospital until I was almost dead because I was scared of how the university would react if they found out I was in hospital again. I have nothing left to give to it or to them. All I can do is replace the ‘ifs’ with ‘when’.
When I start my second year of university
When I get my own flat
When I pass my first year
When my health improves
When I get the support I so badly need and may just about possibly deserve (willing to fight for it this year, no longer as scared of big scary university people as I have been by the past few weeks of health hiccups).
Because there also comes a point when you have to take the word ‘when’ and use it to force out the ‘ifs’.
I had two options over the past few days in light of these questions that started popping up EVERYWHERE – crumble, or figure out how to stay whole. This… This isn’t denial, this time. It’s something more constructive than that. It seems to be a fire. And I’m not sure where it came from, because there’s nothing left to burn – they took it all. Or so we all thought.
We’re all stuck in a cycle of ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” – Haruki Murakami
Thanks university – for breaking me, and for making me. I am so much more than you thought I was. Look at me now: Alive. Slowly recovering from the wounds you inflicted. Still not giving up somehow…
Still saying ‘when’