I burned out.

Twelve months ago, I’d just started my final ever university exams. I was a bit stressed out, but nothing I couldn’t handle. There were a few things going on in my personal life that weren’t at all easy, but it was nothing I couldn’t deal with.

And then real life started. I sweat blood and tears into applying for a degree I couldn’t afford, and deferred it at the very last moment. I was so upset over that, upset at the prospect of being stuck at home with my parents. I wanted independence, goddammit. So, I took up the first job offer I got, and moved away.

It turned out that job just wasn’t for me.

So, there I was, in a new city, where I knew nobody, where my job made me work antisocial hours, where I became depressed and despondent, and dreamed of going back to where I studied. Then all my friends told me they’d be moving away, too. I’d be starting over, but it would only be worse.

Have you ever heard of Bref? It’s a French TV show, every episode only a few minutes long. A bloke, probably in his thirties, talks very, very, very quickly about his life, always starting with the word bref, anyway. And one episode stands out. It’s called Anyway, I was depressed.

He goes out with his friends, has a good night, puts the wrong key in the lock, and he starts to cry. And he cries for weeks. His friends tell him he’s depressed. And one day, he hits rock bottom. He realises he has to do something about it.

And that’s kind of what happened to me.

I’ve known for the last month or so that I was close to burnout. But then one evening, I did. I went out with some colleagues for a meal. A great meal in a great place. I had a great night. Got home, chatted to some uni friends, and started to cry. But properly crying. Big, ugly sobs. I haven’t cried that hard in years.

I went home to see my parents the weekend before, and had a long chat with my mother. We hatched a plan, after I got my thoughts out in the open. I’d quit my job and move back home. I’d learn to drive, save some money, then maybe go back to uni. And that plan’s given me a bit more life.

Back to the depression. I feel fucking flat. I’ve finally hit rock bottom. I’ve been floating around near the plughole for a while, but I’ve always managed to pull it back. Not this time. I think at work, some of my colleagues have noticed. They keep asking me if I’m okay, saying I look sad. I keep telling them yes, I’m fine, I’m just tired. I’m not sure they believe me.

But I’m sick of lying awake at night and crying and feeling like I have no escape. Because I do. I know my life is worth more than this. It’s worth more than telling people how to find Caps Lock, or how to print a document using an iPad. I have brains, brains that are rotting, brains that I want to use. So I’m getting my life back. It’ll be slow, and it’ll be at times painful and embarrassing, but it’s got to be done if I want my life back.

So I’m doing it. Just watch this space.

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now.

(This may make no sense – it was first written before Christmas, while doped up on cold and flu medication with a fever – but I still think it was a point worth making.)

When I was sixteen, taking AS-Levels at a sixth-form college in Stoke-on-Trent, I spent a lot of my afternoons waiting for classes to start in a tiny corridor that only languages students seemed to be able to find. Taking French and German, I knew this corridor very well indeed.  In that little bit of time I had for myself, I’d sit there with my iPod nano (remember those?) plugged in, listening to whatever came up on shuffle. I was just getting into discovering things that weren’t My Chemical Romance or Green Day or Muse, and, in true hipster teenager style, I’d kind of fallen across The Smiths. Okay, I’d discovered them through a Muse cover of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, but I was soon digging my way through back catalogues. My German teacher, an ageing former goth, would frequently ask me what I was listening to. I’d tell him, and it was usually Muse, except for one occasion, when I announced I was listening to The Smiths. He looked at me, and shook his head in disbelief.

“You’re too young to listen to The Smiths.” He said.

I thought he was wrong. I understood The Smiths. Of course I did. I was seventeen. My whole life had changed over the course of five months. I’d changed schools, made new friends, lost old ones, and I’d just lost my grandmother. Add that to battling what I now know to be anxiety and depression, and I thought I knew it all.

Except I didn’t.

For years, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now was my jam. I knew how it felt. I was miserable, watching my friends get loved up, leaving me behind in the dust trails of their new-found lust. That’s a thing I genuinely wrote at that age. Cringeworthy. For years, (and perhaps it still is), my Valentine’s Day tweet would be ‘two lovers entwined pass me by, and heaven knows I’m miserable now’. Because I just got it. But this isn’t what I’m on about. It’s the line afterwards. For the uninitiated, it’s in the title.

When you’ve just graduated, the next obvious step is getting a job. You put your heart and soul into it. Maybe you’re lucky, and you get an offer straight away. Maybe you’re not. Maybe after a month, two months, six months, a year, you’ve still found nothing. And you get desperate. You take what you can. And sometimes it doesn’t work out.

Sometimes you find yourself sitting at your desk, wishing for it to be 6:30, so that you can go home. And then you go home, and you’re knackered, so you can’t be bothered to go out. Maybe you’ve moved towns and know nobody in the new one. Maybe the weekends are lonely, and the weeks are exhaustingly long. Suddenly, you find yourself wishing you’d just got a retail job in your uni town, scraping pennies at the end of the month, but at least you’d have a decent social life. But then again, you didn’t get a degree to work a zero-hours contract in Sports Direct. You went in to try to better your prospects. You’d be doing yourself a disservice by giving up a well-paid job just so you could have a life.

Or would you? I’m of the strong belief that we only live once. Once you die, that’s it. No more, no second chances. I don’t want to find myself on my deathbed, wishing that at twenty-two, I packed that job in earlier. I want to look back and know that for the most part, I was happy, and I hope that I’ll have no regrets.

Why am I worried about this? I don’t want to give away too many details; I’m probably identifiable enough as it is on here. All I can say is that I’ve realised that my job is not as stable as it seemed. If I were living with my parents, it’d be no big deal if I got sacked. I’d just find another job. I mean, I wouldn’t be paying rent – their insistence, not mine – and living costs would be lower than where I currently live. Here, though, it’s different. I’ve got rent to pay, and it’s not cheap. My paycheck more than covers it, thankfully, but if I lost my job on Monday, I wouldn’t be able to stay here until my contract finished. If I take on a longer placement here, and lose my job, I’ll forfeit the deposit, which is no small sum. It’s worrying.

But then again, I’m lucky enough to have found a job. Some of my friends are still unemployed, after months and months of searching and very few responses, none of them positive. I know I shouldn’t turn my nose up at such a fantastic opportunity, but it’s all getting me down. I had a sort of appraisal recently, and my boss asked me how happy I was in my personal life. I told him a barefaced lie. I told him I was relatively happy. I’m not. I’m worn out.

Maybe Col was right. Maybe I was far too young to appreciate The Smiths.

One year older…

… and not at all wiser.

The end of the year always makes me think. My birthday is in early December, so New Year marks me being a year older, and a chance to look over the previous year, and to decide to start afresh.

 

I’ve never really been one for resolutions. For years, it was ‘I will stop biting my nails’, which fell by the wayside when I became a bit of a hygiene freak at the age of about seventeen. After that… nothing.

Reading through the internet the other day, I read a list of reasons why people break their resolutions. One of them is that they’re never written down. So here’s my attempt at keeping them.

  • Learn a language.

Starting with the big one. Maybe this is too much to ask. I already speak three languages other than my mother tongue (more or less) fluently, but these came through years of lessons at school, and later at university. In the sales, I’ve bought myself a few language guides, and hopefully I’ll be conversational in one (or preferably more) of the following: Danish, Icelandic, Welsh, or Catalan. Even better, I’d like to be able to watch films and TV without subtitles in at least one of them; this is most likely to happen in Catalan, because I already understand a good 50% of it, I just can’t speak it. I might even give Hebrew a shot, but I’m a bit hesitant.

  • Toughen up. Learn to stand up for yourself.

I’ve been a bit of a doormat all my life; my mantra was ‘keep your head down and don’t rock the boat’. My entire school life, I never once stood up and made a noise about what I believe in – I only started to even make my views known to people I didn’t know well in my final year at university – and that’s pretty sad. This year, I’m starting as I wish to go on. If I see something I don’t think is fair or right, I’ll make that known – be that to friends, family, colleagues, or strangers.

  • Get fit, for the love of God.

In school, I was lucky enough to be one of those kids who was so skinny, extra-curricular sport wasn’t really necessary to keep in good shape, thanks to a combination of a fast metabolism and chronic anxiety. Six years after finishing compulsory sport lessons, I’ve put on about fifteen kilos. While I don’t want to be the bag of bones I was at school – looking back, I look like a skeleton – but it would be nice to drop a dress size and improve my fitness a bit. I got a Fitbit for my birthday last month, and my pulse rate is enough to make me want to hit the gym.

  • Do what makes you happy.

This is the big one. I’m not going to go big into details, but put it this way – I’ve made a few decisions in the last three months that I regret, and that are making me pretty unhappy. Only I can change this. And I will.

  • Travel.

The world is a very small place, and you only live once. It’s no good never leaving your country, or never leaving your continent. I’m earning enough money to allow me to travel, so I’m saving up my days off to take a few weekends away, to visit old friends, to visit family, and to see new places. Being a slave to the job is no fun at all.

  • Be honest.

I’m usually an honest person. If I make a mistake, I own up to it. What I mean is about being honest to myself. I’ve been keeping things quiet for a long time, and I think this year is the time I admit these things. Otherwise, I’ll only end up regretting things.

Those are mine. What are yours?

Let It Go.

Reconsider yourself/Forget what you know/Leave the past in the past/Let it rest, let it slide, let it go.

These lyrics come from a song I spent some of my darkest days listening to, back when I was living in a room no more than 15 metres squared, with a window that never closed, damp that crawled up the walls, and a housemate who can be best described as a bipolar dictator. I’m happy to say that those days are far behind me, the keys to the house long handed in, contact with that housemate long gone, but the music still stays on my iPod. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, it certainly won’t change the world, but it’s early-to-mid 00’s alternative rock at its absolute best, and I’m not ashamed to say I love it.

I’ve been doing a lot of reconsidering my options lately. I was, until recently, going to move to Germany to take up an internship, but I fell at the last hurdle, meaning that my options are all under consideration right now. The issue is that I have to decide between what seems like a step forwards, but maybe potentially fuelled by nostalgia, or what seems like a step backwards, but maybe better for the career in the long run.

I’ll explain.

I’m holding an offer to go back to my home university, to study something that I’d love to do. I’m more than capable and ready to do it. All my friends will be back in that city. I know the department really well, and the convenor’s one of the best lecturers you’ll ever meet. It’ll open up doors to get me going down the path I think I’d like to go down.

Tonight, I’m going to have to turn around and defer for a year.

It’s not because I don’t want to do an MA, like some of my friends. It’s not like some of my other friends, who’ve applied, confirmed their place, burned out, and then asked to defer. I’d love to go back. I’m desperate to get out of this awful suburb of a West Midlands market town, where whenever I tell an acquaintance I’m going back to continue my studies, I get a grunt, followed by ‘woss want study languages fer, duck?’*, or some comment about betraying my working-class roots. I’m not quite sure what being descended from farmers and miners has to do with any of this, but that goes to show what living in my town is like. You have your place in society, and you’d better know that place and stick to it.

The reason I’m deferring is because I simply can’t afford it. I’ve known this all along, and I’ve putting the deferral off all along, too, because I can’t bear to close the door on something that I really want to do.

I’m one of those that those who argue for fees complain about. Growing up in a small town, there were never many part-time jobs around, and so any money I was ever given was frittered away on simple things like bus fares and fast food. When I went to university, and got that first loan payment, I frittered it away on things like clothes and books and a TV license. I’d never had that kind of money before, and nobody had ever taught me how to properly budget. I just got the money, and mindlessly spent it, thinking that if I weren’t going out clubbing, I wouldn’t be wasting the same amount of money that my friends were on club entry and booze.

Wrong.

I spent my money on things I never needed, just to try to comfort myself about the fact that I was feeling like shit. What I didn’t realise was that possessions don’t mean anything. As my mother said to me, as we were cleaning out my grandmother’s house, you can’t take things with you when you go. (How I wish it were possible – it would have made that job a whole lot easier.) That shirt that you think you quite like isn’t going to stop you from feeling like your world’s falling in. You’ll inevitably stick it in with your sheets on a boil wash, and ruin it. Sometimes, although you might be miserable for a short time because you can’t afford something, you’ll be better off in the long run.

And that’s what I’m telling myself. It’s time to be a responsible adult – to accept that I’ve not been careful with my money, and now I’ll have to stay home for twelve months to get the money together, as penance for my sins (a thing my grandmother would have said).

It’s still a wrench. I’m stepping backwards in that I have to tell my mum where I’m going, who with, and when I’ll be back, all the time. I can’t roll in at half-four in the morning any more. I can’t spend the day lying in bed, doing nothing, simply because it’s Saturday. I have to accept a fact that there’s no longer a lock on my door, and the phrase please knock and wait means nothing in this house.

And maybe it’s time to take stock. To reconsider, to forget my old experiences, and to let it go. It’s time to rethink things, and to remember where I came from, and what got me here. Sometimes you have to go through things you don’t necessarily want to do, and to give up something you love, just to be able to get where you want to be.

And slowly but surely, I think I’m coming to terms with that.

*No prizes for guessing which part of the West Midlands I’m from.

Homecoming.

The first time I came home, I remember crying all weekend.

I was eighteen. I’d been at university four weeks. I was anxious, depressed, homesick, and totally out of my depth. I’d met up with my twin sister and some friends of mine in Manchester for the day, and realising we were forty minutes from home, my sister and I decided to not waste hours going back to university, but to go home for the weekend, and have a bit of a break. The emotions just spilled over, and I cried all weekend. I was so relieved to be at home.

Things didn’t get better. I plunged further into depression. University was a total culture shock to me. I was used to being surrounded by people like myself; working- or lower-middle class families, where continuing with education past 18 had only been a thing for a few years. Previously, you wouldn’t have bothered. University wasn’t a thing that people like us did; it was only after Tony Blair announced that fifty per cent of people should be looking at going that people started to think about it. Myself and a group of friends were identified as ‘Oxbridge candidates from deprived backgrounds’, and sent to a meeting at the local private school about it. I fell in love with the idea. I was bright enough to get into the best universities in the UK, and loved the prospect. Until I went for an open day. It was an alien planet to me. Mothers and fathers dressed for Ascot, staff explaining that with my D in AS-Level Critical Thinking, taken in Year Eleven, I would be better suited to ‘another class of institution’. This snobbery followed me through to university. Students and staff alike would suggest to me that maybe ‘people like you’ weren’t suited to this; the daughter of a teaching assistant and an engineer. I developed a major chip on my shoulder about it, which plunged me even further into the darkness.

The clouds have since cleared, the year abroad done with, the coursework and exams handed in, the graduation ceremony done and dusted, with the shaking everyone’s hands and the throwing of extortionately-priced caps. The lease on the house is up, and I’ve moved back home. The first month was great. I was seeing my old friends, enjoying life, catching up on everything that I’ve missed. And then, at some point, it will inevitably hit you.

You’re home. Back in with your folks. Jobs are hard to come by, and you’re losing hope, your degree certificate clutched to your chest, trying to convince yourself that those four years, and all that debt, were actually worth something.

So yesterday, as I lay in bed, trying to hold back tears, something hit me.

Four years ago, I was distraught at the prospect of leaving home, everything I’d ever known, and the security of my parents’ place. Now, it’s the opposite. The lack of transport, the way the buses home stop at 7pm on a weeknight and even earlier on weekends, the way your friends have moved away or moved on, or just don’t give a shit, the way that I have to tell my parents where I’m going, who with, what I’m doing, and when I’ll be back. The fact that I’m likely to be stuck here for at least a year, while I get myself on my feet.

It feels a bit like I’ve regressed.

Here’s an example. I went away with my parents and sister in July, down to the Loire Valley in France. I’d ummed and aahed about going, but eventually was persuaded to go. We stayed in a small hotel in a tiny village about an hour from the nearest city, with very little public transport. That meant that wherever we went, we had to go by car.

Now, my parents had given us the whole you’re adults, do what you want talk to my sister and I, but with one car, and two provisional licences between us, we were going nowhere fast. The village, which comprised of about five restaurants, endless gift shops, and a bakery, only really opened at about two in the afternoon. The week was spent in chateaus and castles, walking at my parents’ pace. Now, that wouldn’t be bad. It really wouldn’t be. But as a language graduate with typically British parents, i.e., those who speak poor to no French, you’re going to be used. Every time they saw something, I’d be called over, and asked to interpret. After a few hours of this, I got annoyed. But instead of acting like a reasonable adult, and explaining that I was sick of being used for everything when they could just try, I turned into a sulking teenager.

It shocked me how easily I’d returned to the sulky twelve-year-old who was desperate for freedom, but who couldn’t have it. Except this time, I had a choice. I could do something about it, but chose not to.

And this is where I’m finding myself right now.

With an offer to do an MA next month, I’m finding myself stuck. I could go back and do it, taking on a loan and a part-time job, hoping to just start paying it back in the future. I could take a year out and live at home, where I won’t pay rent, but will lose all my freedom. Alternatively, I move away, and have my own place, but no MA, and less money to do so in twelve months’ time. And this is what I’m getting at.

Now, I’ve always been totally against paying for education. It’s a human right. Nobody should have to pay for their rights. Yet here I am, willing to take another 10k plus interest next to my name, for the sake of a qualification that may or may not get my a higher rate of pay in the future. Is it worth it? Who knows. Am I going for it? Probably. Here or abroad? That’s the next question. I could easily go abroad. Twelve months ago, I’d have jumped at the chance to go abroad again, but fourteen months after finishing my year abroad, I’m back in my old ways. I’ve regressed.

Last night, I was hit by the highest wave of anxiety that I’ve felt in years, just like when I was a teenager. It wasn’t even over whether I’ll ever pay off my debt, or ever find a job I like. It was over whether I’d left my Child Heath Book in the safe in the room of my old house, and over having given away a toy I’d been given as a newborn to a daughter of a friend of my parents. When I look back, it was a stupid reason, but I was lying in a cold sweat, struggling to breathe over something I did at the age of six, and something else I can easily rectify, because my friend’s boyfriend has my old room next year. And this scared me.

When I was a teenager, I was so anxious. I was even an anxious child, for that matter. My parents laugh about it, and say it was so cute how cautious I was about some things, almost funny at times, but these days, a child showing that level of anxiety would be undergoing CBT. Nobody should sit in a classroom aged nine, terrified of their teacher, terrified of the prospect of going to school. The anxiety caused me to be scatter-brained, and when I left my homework at home, which, as puberty came along, became more common, my teachers shouted even more, leaving me even more scared. I used to be nervous about raising my hand in class, right up until the age of nineteen. I don’t want to be this way. I need to move out, regain my life. My relationship with my parents has changed, and it feels like I don’t know who or what I really am any more.

My friends seem to agree. Home isn’t what it was four years ago. We’ve grown up, and our parents have grown used to us not being there. We left children, and came back adults. With time, we fall into old roles – our parents nagging, and us kicking back against them. They remember when they were younger, when jobs were plentiful, and the interest rates were okay. When education was free, and if you went to university, you’d get a good job. You wouldn’t crawl back home and take up an admin job that you could have taken with A-Levels. But things change. The jobs market has changed, and we must change with it.

The importance here is honesty. Sure, it’s awkward to say “morning everyone, I’m struggling here. Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”, but maybe, just maybe, this is what we need to be doing. Maybe graduates need to be more open about their mental health, about the issues they deal with while they take their first steps into the big wide world of work. Just maybe the idea of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ isn’t going to work here. If we can swallow our pride, get rid of the stiff upper lips, and speak our mind, perhaps this won’t seem like such a lonely struggle.