Let me take you back in time. It was a late July day in 2011. I finished my A Levels with decent grades the year before, and this had been if not the image of a gap year seen in popular culture, then a break of sorts. In part because I was young and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and in part because 2010 overwhelmed me in several ways, most the fault of two disabilities, one known, one still a mystery. But there was more afoot in 2011. The Coalition Government saw a multitude of concessions on either side, and the most notorious of these from the minor Liberal Democrats, was opposition to Tuition Fees increases. With their concession, and in the zeitgeist with it their political fate, fees were due to rise to an over nine thousand pound cap for students starting their studies in 2012. In other words, this was the last year of ‘affordable’ tuition, if any sane person could ever consider three grand ‘affordable’. My parents, having done so for my sister, wanted to give me the opportunity of those studies too. But while they were able to put aside a lot, they weren’t able to sequester triple-fees costs. Last chance. And on that July day, my heart sunk when I saw that despite praying for rejection, I had been accepted to Sussex University, to study Politics. What choice did I have?
There were several factors to why I failed. First off, not wanting to go is not helpful when trying to force motivation. But, to my credit, I managed to get past those feelings quite early on. The truth is, though it’s taken almost a decade of distance, therapy and patience to uncover it, I loved Sussex. If the willingness factor were the only barrier, I might have made it. The failure on my part – and in fairness to past me, the university too – in getting me disability support sunk things too, but this was only mental health support if I had gotten it. No one was floating EDS as a possibility back then, and when I kept having energy crashes, all I could think to do was push harder. When I broke, the fall was if nothing else, spectacular. I cycled 11 hours to get home, sustaining injuries some of which I feel the echoes of today. I had to, it was 2am and it was all I could do to just get away.
But I didn’t want to give up. Again, it took years to understand why but in hindsight it’s obvious: I loved being there, and I wanted to ride this out. So, I pulled myself up, changed courses, and started to study Childhood and Youth. And it went well, genuinely well, to start with. The willingness was there, and I even found coping mechanisms. In my first month as a reborn student, I started to write a book to give me a focus outside of study. I named that book The Unreachable Star. Unlike the proverbial star, success seemed within grasp, until I started to falter. Burnout, in spite of all I was doing right on paper. Yes I had no disability support but I was making my own support, what was I missing? It’s only this year I found out: EDS. I was burning out because I had chronic fatigue, and the pain I kept trying to ignore for around three years at this point was starting to become debilitating in those darker moments. My memory is hazy around the point it all began to fall apart, and all my records are distorted, with some written entries in my proto-journals downright unsettling to read today. My mind was falling away, and I honestly thought I was on the way out by then.
I narrowly failed that second attempt at the first year, but that was enough. From what I can piece together, with the help of the course leader who has been very kind when I reached out to her a few months ago, I asked for one last try, but barely managed to attend. My pains were getting worse, and I was starting to have frequent and worrying chest discomfort, which would a few months later land me overnight in hospital. In the end, I mentally decided my choice was to give up, bail on life and say I can’t function as an adult, or leave and try to forge a new path, somehow, all the way from rock bottom and with no energy left to do so. I chose option 2, just barely. I left Sussex, and for 8 years, never came back.
Three failed attempts.
There are a lot of moments I could single out for the turning point. I could say when I sat in therapy on January 12th, and said out loud for the first time “I want to go back.” Or I could pick a few days later, my first visit to campus in almost a decade, where I felt as if I’d never left. I could point to the conversation I had with my mother at the Winter Solstice and at Christmas, where she asked me “What do you want?” I could point to my xirlfriend Ambs and how they encouraged the idea that “you’d enjoy being a historian”, a notion my A Levels made me abandon years ago, but then, I am not the person I was back then. I could point to those final moments at Sussex. I could point to the moment yesterday, when SFE over the phone confirmed “You have full funding for your course”, finally ending this first phase of the project, and with it the need for any secrecy.
But in truth, as important as all of them were, you know the moment I’m going to point to. There’s only one. It’s the moment so significant, that I’ve been counting up from it ever since, 1,406 days ago. It was 1K. A thousand words a day, across 1,406 days, gave my routine the backbone it so badly needed and brought me to here, and to the point I have the skills to do this again. Work signed off on a part time contract a week or so ago, hence my cryptic comments that there was now ‘no reason’ to be cryptic. I have full tuition and maintenance grants, and my DSA should be no problem either. And, I have my habit, daily writing, which once I finish TEL, I am turning over full force into academic writing. But I’ll still write stories, because those make me happy. And between the two, I will still write a thousand words every single day. This, has been a harder year than 2021. It’s been harder than 2020. In both of those I was barely holding on, but I found I could hold my own and stick to a goal in spite of my world falling apart. So, in 2022, I did it on purpose, sundered everything by design, with a singular goal in mind: Going back to Sussex. American Studies and History BA.
4th time lucky. Hopefully now you understand why I had to be cryptic. Now the real work begins.