Tag Archives: PhD

Halfway There

Around my 25th birthday, I drank a whole lot of different-flavoured vodkas in a smart Polish restaurant in West London, feeling very sophisticated.

A few years previously I’d celebrated by necking vodka from the bottle on the roof of a small-town railway station somewhere in Poland, and I felt free and full of excitement about the wide-open future.

Now I’m approaching my 45th birthday, I will no doubt be tucked up in bed by 9pm with a glass of water on my bedside table and a lopsided party hat on my head.

But, looking at it positively, I’m (perhaps) still only halfway there? At 25, I was halfway to 50. Now I’m halfway to 90. Not a bad age and a decent one at which to bow out.

Casting a beady eye over the past, it’s easy for me to see this life as a series of fabulous adventures, terrible dead ends and a whole load of missed opportunities, like one of those infuriating tiny, plastic maze games we had as kids, with a little silver ball we had to angle and guide into its final slot.

So was MS a wake-up call despite its terrible ramifications?

Physically, yes. I transformed overnight from a somewhat harassed single-parent with a job that fitted around school hours to someone who was quite literally on the floor.

I was planning and studying for a path to career enhancement, once The Teenager was safely ensconced in high school and life would become a little easier.

Tiredness back then was a long day in work followed by all the child-centred tasks after work. And repeat.

I really, really didn’t know anything about tiredness.

Mentally, MS was akin to being punched in the gut, over and over again. But, like they say, when you’re in the gutter, you’re still looking up at the stars.

When you go back to zero, the only way is up.

I liked writing as a kid and thought there was nothing to lose by trying it again. Six years later, I’m about to start a PhD in Creative Writing. Weird, huh? And all thanks to me venting my MS frustrations all those years ago.

I’m no academic, just a person who is passionate about writing the truth. My studies will focus on the MS ‘it’s all in your mind’ scenario that happens to so many of us, including me.

‘Hysterical’?

That’s me.

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Stupid Is As Stupid Does …

stupidI adore learning.

I was never a gifted academic at school – good grades coming only after a hard slog – but the desire to learn was always there.

Perhaps it is a longing to discover more of the world than is immediately apparent, to get under its skin?

I’m questioning this as I’ve been encouraged to take a PhD, since completing my Masters. Even writing these words seems embarrassing. My second degree, the one that, pre-MS, was going to spring-board me into a promising career as The Teenager would then be out of child-care, ground to an abrupt halt as soon as the first symptoms appeared. After almost ten years of working in a low-paid, part-time job to be available for him, it was a bitter pill.

A Doctorate is an idle, long-held dream. It was something other people did, the clever ones. Not the ones who turned down a University place at 18 to move to Austria instead. If I’d done the former, I would now be a Russian-German translator, and who knows how my life would have turned out?

To get to the point that I could even think about the next step is nothing short of miraculous, and obviously I have the incredible MS treatments I’ve had to thank for keeping my MS progression at bay. But I would like to think it’s also due in some part to my sheer obstinacy. The days, weeks, months I spent with huge sheets of paper dotted around the house filled with random jottings and essay outlines. The fluttering waves of post-it notes on my desk. My tears when my brain refused to comply.

And yes, I tried to give up, many times. It all seemed impossible. Who was I trying to kid? But where does this obstinacy come from? Well, a very unlikely source.

Years ago, a partner of mine (who will remain anonymous although if he is reading this, he will know exactly who he is), told me over and over again how stupid I was. I had no degree back then, just years of experience working abroad and three languages under my belt. He had a degree and a post-grad qualification.

This became quite an issue, with every argument prefaced with, ‘well, as I have a degree, I feel more qualified to say …’. In frustration I challenged us both to MENSA tests. And what do you know, my score was higher. But in a way, the damage had been done. I believed I was stupid (it had been said often enough). And for years after, that voice followed me. Until MS came along and his voice was drowned out.

MS could have been the final nail in the coffin, and it would at least have been an excellent excuse.

But I have other ideas …

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To PhD or not PhD …

etc… that is The Question.

I have had an incredibly exciting day, visiting a Post-Graduate University event, feeling very, very old, collecting my bag, freebie pen and numerous leaflets before being ushered to various stalls.

Where I collected more pens, leaflets and a head full of ideas.

Weirdly, there were bowls of sweets and plates of biscuits at every stand, but I was polite and declined all offers, yet afterwards I wondered – was it a bizarre initiation ceremony? Had I somehow failed by refusing the tempting Jammie Dodger  or Gummi Bears at the Student Union stand?

After whizzing around the stalls (the peeps were beyond helpful and enthusiastic), I had a couple of hours break when I went home to rouse The Teenager from his pit, today being his day off school.

Long story short, I let him sleep (easier), put a wash on, sorted the recycling, had a coffee and headed out to the talk about Creative Writing PhD’s, before heading back to my Uni for a tutorial about the book ‘Omega’, which I read a couple of months back and therefore couldn’t recall a single interesting thing to say.

I waffled.

When I got home, hours after leaving the house, I offloaded the industrial quantity of bananas for The Teenager and told him off for giving the cat a dangerous dose of catnip – she’s currently racing through the house, climbing anything she can find and bouncing off the sofas, wide-eyed and lethal, much to The Teenager’s amusement.

Anyway, my journey to this point has been weird and wonderful – being sacked for having MS, contacting the inspiring author M J Hyland, who encouraged me to start blogging over three years ago, to you guys who nudged me in to publishing a book, to taking a Master’s, to now. And next? PhD?

Am I suited for academia? I don’t know the language, but I have a passion . Is that enough?

Or am I fated to spend my days measuring concrete in square metres and advising customers about the benefits of vinyl over block flooring?

Let me know what you think – and if you offer Gummi Bears as an incentive, I’m all ears …

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