A note to self

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.

5 thoughts on “A note to self

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m with Megan on this. I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished, awed by your drive and your passion, and in full support of this sabbatical to reset and recover. Love you.


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