This week I made a decision. It wasn't a nice, easy, fluffy, reassuring decisions. Although when someone says "I made a decision" very rarely is it an easy decision to make. No, the statement of having made a decision usually means there was careful deliberation, careful thought and it wasn't an easy decision that could be jumped into quickly without much thought.
The sort of decision which require you to say that you have made a decision are never easy.
The decision I made this week was the sort of decision which leaves you feeling raw, like someone has furiously rubbing away at your insides with sandpaper. It was the sort of decision which leaves you exhausted, mentally and physically. The sort of decision which leaves year mind full, your heart heavy and your eyes wet. The sort of decision that leaves you with a hole in your gut, ready to be filled up with something but exactly what you're not sure.
What was the decision? That I can't go on as I am. That I am not willing to further sacrifice my physical and mental health in order to pursue higher education. Why is it such a big issue? Isn't it a fairly logical sensible decision? Maybe but to explain why it was so hard I need to take you back a little way to 2010.
In September 2010 I started a full time photography BTEC level 3 (for people out of the UK this is a vocational qualification considered roughly equivalent to A level exams taken at age 18). When I say full time what I mean is 3 full days per week in college, plus an hour or so travelling each way. I enjoyed it, I was doing well. But by October half term, having done 6 weeks at college, I was completely exhausted. I rested on my weeks holiday and not a lot changed, I was still exhausted and I still wanted to do my course. Being the stubborn person that I am I went back after the holiday, the travel plus the activity required in the course, plus some other big stresses meant that by November my health had completely crashed. I couldn't stand for more than a few seconds, I couldn't get upstairs to bed, pain levels skyrocketed and I couldn't cope with anything except minimal levels of light and sound. I got my first wheelchair. My immune system was shot and that winter I got virus after virus culminating in appendicitis in February and an infection in the surgical wound. The college did all they could to support me but I just wasn't well enough to go back and do the hours I would need to get the work done. I finally dropped out (after a very low attendance rate) in March.
I ignored what my body was telling me and things just got worse and worse. It took me two years to even get close to where I was in the Summer of 2010. It's a pattern that has repeated too, I ignore what my body is doing because I'm prioritising education and my health crashes. I lose function, I get more pain, I'm more anxious, I get more viruses the whole lot. Even if I'm just ignoring it for a short time like an exam period (see hospital stays summer 2011 and summer 2012). I'm not willing to go back there again if I can avoid it.
Right now I see a lot of the same patterns and symptoms occurring as happened in 2010. I'm gradually getting more and more exhausted; I'm having trouble with light, noise and people; I'm putting a load of pressure on myself; I'm falling behind in work; I'm losing some physical function; I'm getting really anxious and I'm putting education before my health. It is not okay for this to carry on and something has to change.
The problem is that when I'm at uni I need to do three sets of things. 1) Daily living tasks, which includes directing carers; it is a lot harder to do this at uni than it is to do it at home. 2) Academic work: reading, writing essays, attending lectures and tutorials etc. And 3) Do enough Social Stuff to keep anxiety and depression to a minimum. But I can't do all of them, it just hasn't worked - using every scrap of energy I've got I can maybe do half of what I need to do in each task (or one really well, half of another and none of the other one). I've had lots of support from all sorts of people and I've kept trudging onward, doing pretty well academically but not really looking after myself. This takes it's toll, when I don't look after myself I get more exhausted and more anxious so I can't think clearly and have difficulty attending lectures. I put all my energy into doing the academic work and I end up not being able to do the academic work. It's been a hard decision to make because I love uni and love what I get to do when I'm there and I know that prioritising my health will mean all of that is going to change.
Exactly what the outcome of this decision will be I'm not sure, I need to speak to my university support team to see what they can do to help me. At the moment it looks like the best case scenario is that I sit my exams later in the summer, stay mostly at my parents home and finish my first year just a little later than everyone else. I have no idea how possible this will be, whether it's logistically possible or whether I will have the energy to put in the work that I need to.
There are a whole host of other options too and the disability team may have ideas I've not even thought about.
So I don't really know what will happen. Right now I'm finding things to soothe my soul, to relax my body and unwrap my mind from the panic that has been buzzing about for some time. Having made the decision that I'm going to proritise my health and my enjoyment of life has freed me a little. I feel freer to breathe and freer to do what I both want and am able to do. I still feel raw and a little churned up inside but it feels better than before. And it feels an awful lot better than the prospect of carrying on as I was, of keeping bullheadedly ploughing on doing what I am "supposed" to be doing. It feels so much better than the prospect of crashing so hard I end up in hospital again or in a state where I'm not able to do any of the things I love.
It's not easy, it goes against my instincts, but it is much better this way.