Category Archives: Work and Studying

What A Week

graduationIt was my graduation on Monday.

I had booked my cap and gown, RSVP’d and panicked for months about walking across a stage in front of hundreds of people.

Conundrum – should I look at my feet when I walked or look straight ahead and hope for the best?

MS foot-drop is sneaky.

I got there early, accompanied by my best friend and boss (an honorary title) and we picked up programmes to flick through while we waited. I found my name (Masters Distinction!) then idly looked at the Awards pages. Erm, my name was there – it’s quite unusual, so it stood out – and I was there, with the MA Humanities Award for academic excellence.

Well. I beamed from ear to ear. I showed the boss, who looked as surprised as I did, given he’d seen me weeping over endless essays, surrounded by books and empty coffee cups on a regular basis. Or more often than not, on the sofa, poleaxed by fatigue. I felt a huge sense of … achievement. And something more than that – the feeling that I had put MS in a box, that I had done it despite everything it had chucked at me.

All too soon it was time to fetch my gown. My cap was too small (big head?) and I faffed around with grips to keep it in place. Then suddenly I was in the hall, and then walking in a snake-line towards the stage. Whoah. I duly handed in the slip of paper I’d been given to the booming announcer and there you go, I was walking – slowly, carefully – across the stage. I shook someone’s hand, grabbed my certificate and then the nearest banister.

It was a brilliant ceremony, despite my fears. And the week just got better. On Wednesday, I found out my dissertation story had been long-listed for an award, and I’m keeping everything crossed for the short-list. Not only that, The Teenager wangled free tickets to the Coldplay concert (I don’t know how he does it; inherited charm?).

Sadly though, it’s back to earth with a thud. My days are once again filled with concrete, roof joists and leaking buckets. From the lofty heights of academia to underground sewage pipes, the life of a building project manager is rarely exciting. But in the back of my mind, I’m replaying the moment I discovered my name in the Awards pages …

P.s. Don’t panic – I haven’t suddenly had a baby. The photo is of me and the boss with my friend’s son #cute

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Distinctly Over The Moon …

graduationThe final Exam Board marks for my Master’s were released by the University last week.

I’d already found out that my dissertation had gained a distinction (worth a third of the course marks) which for me was more than enough.

The other two-thirds was made up of six modules, most of which I sweated buckets over. I was going to be completely content with a Pass.

Reader, I got a Distinction. I know, crazy, huh?

Looking back over the last two years, each essay, each critical piece is interwoven with angst, MS symptoms, treatment and relapses. And that’s without guiding The Teenager through A levels and growing up. Plus dealing with a fussy cat.

Near the beginning of the course, I almost chucked the towel in, such was the extent to which it pushed my battered brain to almost impossible limits. This was totally out my remit but I figured I had given it a go, it didn’t work out. C’est la vie and all that.

After I had spoken to a tutor about how to withdraw from the course, I sat in my car and cried. Then I got angry. I should have been happy, now that the pressure was off. Maybe I could take up gardening or embroidery; something relaxing. But I felt a twist in my gut that hurt more than the brain-ache.

So I persevered. I’m not going to lie, I hated a lot of it, but this was offset with falling in love with literature all over again. During one of my relapses, I had found it impossible to read anything, so the joy of flicking through books, highlighting important points and soaking up the words was incredible.

Most of the essays were a nightmare and the critical elements drove me to distraction. As the course progressed, it felt like I had a fight on my hands against that most frustrating of MS symptoms, dodgy memory. Swiftly followed by fatigue, relapses, blah, blah. MS seemed determined to thwart me at every juncture.

It’s odd. I don’t fight back against MS – the whole ‘fighting back’ thing gets my hackles up; I’ve learned to live with it, adapt to it and get on with it. But the Master’s felt like a fight. Perhaps it’s pride, I’m not sure.

Anyway, my final essay had been handed in, many with time-extensions. People asked me what I would do when I graduated, which made me chortle. Probably nothing, apart from appreciate that I had done it, despite everything. I doubt I can fashion a career out of a Masters in Creative Writing. I’m quite happy in my job, bossing labourers around on building sites and working out how much a Porta-Loo will cost.

But, you know what? I have a germ of an idea for a novel.

Perhaps I’ll get that first sentence down on paper and see how it goes …

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The One Where I’m Put Into Storage …

storageThe Boss has finally noticed that I’m not operating at full strength over the last couple of months so has decided to put me into storage.

We’re working on a particularly large renovation so he hired a storage container for me to use as an on-site office, which means I’m within yelling distance, but far enough away to be able to doze off and/or daydream.

He bought me a MacBook Air for me to project manage everything and so far I have created some lovely colour-coded tables and notebooks. I’ve played around with the fonts and sizes and can easily pass a couple of hours highlighting and un-highlighting everything in bold or itallic.

My office also doubles as a mini-kitchen, complete with a table and chairs for the labourers to take their breaks. I have a kettle, microwave, toaster, fridge and radio, plus ample supplies of biscuits which is an ongoing struggle of avoidance. I also have a set of shelves where I have arranged (and rearranged) loo roll, cloths, tea-towels, kitchen spray, etc). It’s truly amazing what you can find to do in a storage container.

I miss being more hands-on, but my balance is shot, I don’t walk in a straight line and when I yawn, the labourers start yawning too. I’m a bad influence. So, The Boss does all the wandering around the site stuff, looking serious and important, then feeds all the relevant information back to me, which I promptly forget. After much trial and error, we’ve now developed a system of notes which he sends straight from his phone to my Mac. Genius. I then put them in the correct colour-coded table.

As I’ve been so poorly, The Boss has been picking me up for work recently and this is when the real work gets done. We brainstorm, which is quite funny as it’s my brain that’s playing up, but actually, it’s a good way to push projects forward as we swap ideas and chew over problems.

A couple of people have asked me why I’m so determined to stay in work despite feeling absolutely dreadful but I’d rather feel dreadful yet useful in work than dreadful and useless at home. I’ve been there, done that too many times.

However, I do have one fear. I remember as a kid watching a film where the baddie was hiding in a storage container at a port. The doors were closed and the last scene was of that container being craned onto a huge ship, bound for somewhere thousands of miles away. Every time I close my eyes (just for five minutes, lol), I worry that I’ll wake up on my way to China with nothing to sustain me but a packet of Kit-Kats and a half-eaten ham roll …

 

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Definitely In Spirit, Not So Much The Body …

cementFlexible working is great. Until it isn’t.

Over December and January, it meant that I could take off oodles of time with MS.

Luckily we were fairly quiet, so I spent day after day on my sofa, nursing my fatigue and nerve pain, feeling very sorry for myself and admiring my Nordic-Noir Christmas tree, i.e. it had white lights on it and not much else (too tired).

Now we are in February, those days are coming back to haunt me, and how. Money is not so much tight as non-existent. There’s no more days off and I’m still not 100%.

The good news is, I’ve devised ways to be in work, without actually doing that much. It’s genius:

  • On a large building site, I try to have complicated A3 plans open and nod, seriously, pen in hand. There’s always a pile of cement bags to sit on and cultivate the ‘hmm hmm’ look.
  • If there’s no plans, I sit on the cement bags and look up, with a pondering expression. People will think I’m checking out the roof pitch. For added authenticity, I open the calculator on my phone and tap furiously.
  • I waylay contractors with questions I already know the answers to – plumbers and electricians love nothing more than talking you through their work, wire by wire, pipe by pipe.
  • I count the bricks that have just been delivered (being careful to check the invoice beforehand so I already know the actual number).
  • Make teas and coffees for everyone. If I do this, no one will care you’re actually doing nothing at all.
  • If all else fails, I grab a brush and hold onto it for dear life. I look busy and it’s a great way to stand up straight.

So this is what I have been doing, alongside practising my ‘eyes wide open but I’m fast asleep’ look. I’m getting pretty good, which is why I think The Boss has twigged just what I’m up to.

He bought me a teeny-tiny computer a couple of days ago, so we can synch stuff. Which means I have to do some work. He’s also looking in to office spaces and has booked me into the Apple Store’s ‘Macs for Complete and Utter Numpties’ session next week. (there’s a pretzel store opposite, result).

As my best qualities are bossing people around and typing up spreadsheets, he’s taken the MS into account and is making the most of my talents. I’m a people person and there’s only so much you can say to a pile of cement bags and a tonne of sand.

I’m excited to be moving into a more office-based role. And the best news? It comes complete with zero office politics (I can’t argue with myself/no danger of being sacked for having MS), I still get to wear my builder’s gear to work as I’ll also be out and about checking up on our contractors and I can appear somewhat creative as I open my tiny Mac in the nearest coffee house.

If I could just work out how to use the Mac, I’ll be fine.

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Goodbye, I’ll Miss You

mastersLast week, after two years hard graft, I handed in my dissertation.

As I pressed the ‘send’ button, I expected to be flooded with euphoria.

I envisaged cracking open the Champers, unwrapping a bar of Dairy Milk and viewing my cleared desk with bliss.

Reader, I cried.

I felt bereft. I couldn’t bear to leave my desk. My books were neatly back in their shelves, mounds of paper shredded or filed. I had a fresh page on my notepad. The scribbled ramblings I had wasabi-taped to my walls were in the recycling bin,.

All evening I wandered around the house, sadly picking up my stapler, stroking it and putting it back in its place. I opened a book about critical thinking skills for old times sake. I rearranged my Sharpie pens in their pot, light colours to the front.

What was going on?

The Masters has been a cruel mistress, luring me in then kicking me in the guts, leaving me anxiety-ridden and confused. At other times, I would be in seventh heaven when I manged to string a couple of sentences together that actually made sense. Many a conversation with The Teenager would be interrupted with me suddenly saying, ‘hang on, an absolutely genius point has just popped into my head, gimme a bit of paper.’

I struggled to write academically, my sentences more often than not beginning with, ‘I think my work is good and getting better’. Whole days, weeks would go by when I wrote nothing and every time I walked past the papers on my desk, I would sigh.

In the week since I pressed that button, I’m lost. I’m binge-watching trashy shows, reading trashy novels and eating trashy comfort food. I feel weird. I don’t miss the anxiety and I do feel chuffed I finished it. I just … miss it. I guess it’s because I nurtured it from nothing into something I’m proud of, despite the lack of long words and sentences.

The Teenager, my eternal sage, put it bluntly yesterday: ‘Are you sure you wanna do a PhD? Not sure I can handle it. Did you get the chicken nuggets in yesterday? I’m starving.’

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