This might sound like a bragging post. I assure you, it is not. Rather, I am struggling quite a lot with confidence about my abilities right now, and writing all of this down is to prove to myself that I can and have succeeded at life and I can succeed again.
I wanted to be home schooled because school was too boring for me. I wasn’t being challenged. But when I applied and got accepted into a new programme at one of the local high schools, I went. I was in the pioneer class of the Design and Technology Academy. In addition to the core high school classes, I learned mechanical engineering, interior design, graphic design, web site design, computer programming, 3D-modeling, and more. I taught myself geometry so I could skip ahead a year to learn Calculus my final year.
Meanwhile, I rode horses and did Tae Kwon Do. I was in Girl Scouts. It was during this time I first started writing fiction: I wrote an 800-page novel during my high school years, and my final project was to demonstrate how I would self-publish it. I was highly active in my church: I sang in the high school choir and the ensemble, I led Bible studies, I served on both the choir council and the youth group council. With all this, I managed to make straight-A’s at school (except for the occasional B in Calculus).
In university, I double majored in English and History with a minor in Cultural Anthropology. I took enough classes for my minor that if I had stayed an extra semester, I would have had three majors. I took twice as many core curriculum classes as I needed to because the administration was unclear whether I had to or not for the double major. I took classes every summer during my undergraduate years. Although I wasn’t in the honours programme officially, I achieved honours by studying abroad my junior year (3.5 months at Oxford, 3 months in Barcelona, with 3 weeks of traveling Europe in between) and by writing an honours thesis on Chaucer.
I sang in the women’s chorus and co-founded the Amnesty International club on campus. I worked part-time as a student computer tech (the only girl), a switchboard operator, assistant to two different history professors, and assistant to the secretary for the history department. I wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper during my final year. I continued to write novels (I wrote two or three during this time), I taught myself how to knit so that my hands would be doing something while I watched TV as study breaks. I graduated magna cum laude.
Right before my final year of university, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In addition to everything else I was doing, I was trying out various cocktails of drugs to get the RA to slow down and I was in pain all the time.
I supposedly took a year “off” after college. I worked three part-time jobs to make ends meet: I was secretary for the English department at OBU, a barista at Starbucks, and a collections assistant at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art. I read voraciously, wrote another novel, started swimming, and learned how to cook. I applied to 10 graduate programmes and was accepted into three.
So I packed up and moved to St Andrews in Scotland. (It was actually a several-month process, during which I worked full time as an assistant to the senior property manager at a corporate realtor firm.) My master’s programme was an an intense one-year programme in medieval English literature; naturally, I joined a choir upon my first week arriving and audited medieval Latin because I could. I also co-wrote a novel during this year with my friend Kelly and travelled to London, Oxford, Rome, Lisbon, and Inverness.
And then I started my PhD. The PhD programme itself is a full-time job plus some, consuming your mind and giving your life purpose. I changed topics during my first year, from working on medieval vernacular theology to the supernatural in Middle English romances. I had an office, I kept regular hours, and there was no such thing as “spring break” or “summer vacation” or bank holidays.
“On the side”, I continued to sing in choir. I wrote four novels. I started knitting again after a forced hiatus due to RA, and learned how to crochet. I became an altar server at church. I went swimming, hiking, cycling. I cooked a lot and learned how to forage and make jam. I co-founded and co-led the Postgraduate Christian Forum. I co-founded and co-led the Medieval Reading Group. I took a year of French classes. I served on House Committee for the English PhD offices. I worked part-time at the Museum of the University of St Andrews. I attended and presented at conferences. I travelled to Cyprus, Italy (twice), Croatia, Turkey, Poland (twice), Austria, and Ireland, as well as all over the UK and to the U.S. And, you know, keeping up with life: I had a house that needed cleaning every so often and a garden that I would try to grow things in, and that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, I still had RA. I struggled with severe depression and anxiety. Migraines. Various other complaints. A friend told me she didn’t want to get a PhD because she saw how it “ruined my health”. She might have had a point.
And despite the hellish final months of my PhD, I passed my viva with very minor corrections.
I suppose, then, that it is no wonder that now I am exhausted. So exhausted that I’ve become clumsy, that any form of physical exertion tires me. (And yet I want to go swimming, cycling, walking, horseback riding.) I’m still dealing with reverse culture-shock. Also, it is no wonder that I feel useless and purposeless during this strange period of limbo and transition that comes from completing a PhD. The project that gave my life an overall purpose, that structured my days and defined who I was in society for the last five years, is finished. Now what?
Now I am forced to rest. To regain my strength. I am reading, knitting, co-creating another novel, and learning French. I’m slowly feeling out options for how to proceed. And, I suppose, that once I have chosen an option, I will seize it with all the tenacity I have that has gotten me this far.
Self, we’ve done a lot. We will again soon enough. Let’s try to remember that.