This desk was intended for my final term’s work – an essay, an exam, and a dissertation.
The dissertation was the most important to me. It’s on a topic I’ve been exploring for four years, first summoned in a dark digs room in which I hid from a stinging, sulphuric world, during my Honours degree. I dragged colour into that room – crocheting a massive blanket that could sub for Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I plastered the walls with images cut out of the one magazine a month I bought myself. I fought a good fight. Well, I fought. But I never quite managed it. As my best friend said when he visited for the first time, you could see it was my room but it was a bleached version of myself, gritting its teeth.
That topic has followed me through my contemplating dropping out due to depression, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety; my decision not to; the classes I participated in when I sobbed during the breaks; the terror of that term’s final events; and the final push, when I finally wrote it up for the first time. It followed me through the heartbreak of the relationship that had held on by a tangled thread through two degrees finally imploded; through the seemingly inevitable hospitalisation that finally happened. And then it followed me through the slow push of my recovery. Finally, it followed me to Oxford, where it was officially meant to be the big submission of my MSc and the beginning of a possible PhD.
But more than a beginning, it was meant to be an end – a final farewell to the dark time that birthed it. That was the achievement that mattered to me. And it came to matter more and more in the context of the last months, wherein some part of me had begun to accept that I was dying. Somehow, as my mental health was again mangled by a university, pretty much from the day I arrived, and I got more and more lost in a maze of panic attacks, depressive swings, fear and fatigue, my gaze got more and more narrow. As my clinical psychologist brought up the topic of hospitalisation again for when I returned home for fieldwork, and the term “neurological function” set my exhausted hamster of a heart running again, the dissertation became my last hurrah. An achievement worth my life.
No achievement is worth your life. Duh. But when you’re caught on a sinking submarine of symptoms no-one can explain, and a brain desperately trying to birth answers…
Now, I type my blog at this desk. My cat uses it as a highway. There are always flowers.
I take pleasure in squeezing every second of pleasure from them that I can before they’re thrown out the window into the communal garden to make fertiliser. Once every few days, they get fresh water and have their stalks snipped. All dying or browning leaves or blooms are removed.
Today’s achievement is that I walked to the shop for toilet paper and orange juice alone, and I didn’t have an attack.
Tomorrow’s achievement is that I am starting to trust that I’ll be alive to see it.