Sleep

I basically gave myself an anxiety disorder to finish my masters. I knew I was doing it. I knew I could fix it afterwards. I figured that’s what I’d use the month between submitting and results for, and it’s taken a little longer but it pretty much worked out. I didn’t like that I had done it to myself but it seemed the lesser of two evils. What I failed to reckon for, though, was the fucking sleep disorder. Another example of a side effect obvious in hindsight but completely overlooked by me in the planning phase.

I am ridiculously susceptible to sleep disorders. If I was to total up my childhood memories, most of them would probably be of night-time. In my early teens I became aware of ‘sleep phase delay syndrome’ which explained my night-time wakefulness and reluctance to rise at an acceptable hour. At university it progressed into full insomnia, which I honestly probably didn’t believe truly existed until I experienced it – night after night I’d just lie there, all fucking night, totally awake, bored out of my mind but scared to disturb my partner. The days were totally surreal, just like Fight Club had warned me about.

Then, after my relationship broke down, the exhaustion syndrome kicked in and I slept at every opportunity. For about six months it felt like all I wanted to do was sleep. Then the years that followed were just a chaotic haze of disorganised sleeping, a feature of the disorganised way I was living as I let everything I had built liquefy and tried to find a new path.

Years later, for sure oriented on a new path, hello pregnancy insomnia. And ever since, of course, I have enjoyed a more than standard level of parental sleep deprivation due to my new inability to sleep through any fucking noise at all because, as far as my body is concerned, I am on call and must be immediately prepared for anything should I hear a rustle in the night. So not only am I awake but I am fucking ready for action, adrenaline mobilised and awaiting instructions.

I had a few blissful months last summer where balance was restored and, oh my fuck, life was beautiful.

And I relinquished my peace to attain. Because that’s all I know how to do, really. That’s my unfortunate default mode. Achieve. Impress. Prove you deserve to exist. And I knew I could handle a little anxiety and depression; I have all the tools I need to see them off these days. But the sleep. I am not good at sleeping. It’s the sleeping I should have been worried about.

It’s 2:42am. I am not good at sleeping.

Eighty-fucking-five

I got my master’s thesis grade this week.

I’m normally pretty accurate at ‘marking’ my own work – I can often predict within a few percentage points what my mark will be, and I can usually guess what the feedback will be too.

In this case though, I have legitimately spent four weeks thinking I might in fact FAIL. I’ve done a lot of self-talk around how, if I do fail, it won’t make me a bad person; it won’t doom me to eternal failure; in the grand scheme of things it’s not that important; life will still go on. I’ve done quite a few calculations of various grade scenarios to prepare myself for what the lowest grade would be that would let me retain my distinction, what would permit a merit, and what would happen to my average if I just barely scraped a pass on my thesis. In my most optimistic moments I chanted ‘seventy-three, seventy-three, seventy-three’, because 73%, for some reason, is my comfort benchmark.

I have never in my life been so fucking neurotic about grades. I’ve never had to be. I’ve always trusted myself to deliver academically. I’ve always known that my half-arsed, last-minute, crash-my-bike-and-hitch-hike-to-the-submission-box efforts outpace most people’s very best work. I have always had the luxury of being very arrogant about my academic prowess. I’ve always known that, even though I’ve fucked myself over getting to this point, I haven’t fucked myself over enough that anyone else is going to notice.

But, this time, my brain broke a few months before the project was due.

Usually, if my brain’s going to break, it breaks after the deadline. After three consecutive all-nighters with sustenance derived primarily from energy drinks and pre-cooked quinoa eaten out of the packet. Surrounded by piles of debris, financial peril, and myriad evidence of how all other areas of my life were forsaken in favour of completing my assignment. I break when it’s over. Because I’m good in a crisis.

But this time, there’d been multiple crises dragging on for at least two years already. I’d wanted to quit my master’s back when lockdown first hit because I knew I didn’t have the reserves to see it through in my usual style and would instead have to resort to flogging myself across a scorched, barren landscape to make it to freedom. But I couldn’t bring myself to quit, so flogging it was.

In the last few months, there was a thick layer of transparent sludge between me and my project. Like that jelly they put on you for ultrasounds, but about twenty inches thick. I had to reach through to work on it but I couldn’t really see what I was doing and my arms started aching very quickly. The quality of the end product was anyone’s guess. But it probably wasn’t good.

Now I have been rewarded for the flogged muddling with 85%. Despite months of sleepless nights with a three year old pushing me out of bed. Despite my supervisor leaving two months before the hand in and having to renegotiate my report for new eyes. Despite needing to complete another module left over from last year alongside. Despite all the reasons that it only made sense that my grade should suffer, I got 85%. The first adjective used in my supervisor’s feedback was ‘exceptional’.

This wasn’t what the story was supposed to be. This was supposed to be a cautionary tale. That pushing myself past breaking point could not yield success. That sacrificing myself for the grade would not only lead to misery, but also underachievement. That I had to find a better way.

I’m actually not sure what to do with eighty-fucking-five. Don’t get me wrong; I did fucking earn it, more than I’ve probably earned any other grade. And, yeah, I’m probably capable of ninety-five with a gentle tailwind, so I can still be dissatisfied with my performance if I want. But what exactly is the lesson here?

Learn to take a win, Yve?

Stationary Direct

I handed in the work for my masters just before my birthday last month, as my derailed subway car skidded through the station with a deafening screeching, and sparks flew all around.

Then it was a case of waiting for the thing to come to a stop so I could disembark. Up to that point I’d thought the deadline was the destination, but I should have known a runaway train with that much momentum was going to overshoot the mark by some considerable margin. I think I’ve ground to a halt now but my body still has the sensation of moving, so I’m yet to clamber free.

I don’t know what comes next. My house is still a mess and I have no onward plans. I am back in the nebula, waiting for something to form. It’s hard not to wonder if this whole thing was just a £10,000 diversion. Okay, more like £14,000. I guess we’ll see in time.

White knuckles

I wrote this on the 27th April and then rode the subway car on into the abyss without a backward glance.

Lately, life has been feeling like riding on a rickety subway car, with no seats and no glass in the windows, along an old derelict tunnel. I’m sort of white knuckling the handrail as I’m shaken incessantly, really quite unsure whether the whole thing is about to crash into a barrier, fall through the floor or maybe just derail and skid along this subterranean passage for a while until it grinds to a slightly mangled, overheated halt. But on it trundles, at an impressive, somewhat alarming speed. Relentlessly. Constantly. Somehow still not there yet.

I don’t totally know why.

I’m in the last leg of my masters, and I’m certainly contending with the fact that I’ve allocated my time poorly up to this point and thus have given myself more of a slog to overcome than would be ideal. But I’ve lived through far more catastrophic levels of procrastination relatively unphased in the past.

Perhaps the pandemic has just frayed my nerves a little too much to cope with self-orchestrated academic crises.