I've been trying to write this post for the last three weeks, ever since the day I handed in my dissertation. But try as I might, I just couldn't work it out. Something wasn't right. No, nothing was right. I'd lost the ability to do words.
You see, no-one told me that the hard part of finishing a degree wasn't the dissertation. It was the recovery period that follows it. I never thought to ask.
For months, I'd spent every evening, weekend and spare minute at lunch time thinking about my dissertation - about what I needed to write, about what the graphs and tables should look like, about how to format it, and about how to thank everyone who'd helped me with the process. And then, all of a sudden, it was all gone. No longer could I hide away in the library or squirreled away in my sofa-nest of blankets and journal articles. I was expected to return to the world as a "normal" person, to be able to pick up where I left off - a time when I couldn't use my dissertation as an excuse for being permanently exhausted and just a little bit distracted.
The problem was, I'd forgotten what that was like. Without warning, an empty space had appeared and "free time" had reared its ugly head.
"Free time" and I don't really get on very well. I don't trust it and I don't know what to do with it. I live in constant fear that I've forgotten to do something, and that someone is going to come looking for it, forcing me to find an excuse for not doing it.
So the past three weeks have been just a bit empty. I guess the reason I've avoided blogging is because I didn't want to have to tell you that, actually, I was feeling a bit crap.
I spent a lovely three days "doing the Festival" with a friend from school (yes, I'm very aware that I promised you reviews and observations of the Fringe, and that hasn't happened. They'll come, eventually), and it was great to have her here. But apart from that, I've just been a bit lost.
While I was busy avoiding real life, I failed to notice was that the elephants in my head were secretly growing, hiding being my dissertation getting ready to pounce when I least expected it. Have you ever seen an elephant pounce? I understand they're generally not known for the element of surprise, but the elephants in my head are different. They're sneaky.
To cut a long story short, the "lost" became "miserable", which became "depressed". Although I still see myself as "having depression", I've not been "depressed" for ages. So when I realised that was how I was feeling, it hit me a lot harder than before. The problem with discovering emotions is that I now feel stuff, and that can hurt.
The hurting, as the result of thinking, as the result of not having a distraction any more, all came to a head two weeks ago - a Saturday. I spent the day at a training session for Girlguiding Trainers, up in Stirling. On the way home, I began to think. Thinking and driving can be dangerous - I found myself in Glasgow, which is definitely not on the right side of Scotland for me to be a) not concentrating, b) feeling miserable, and c) exhausted.
As I dragged myself across the M8, I realised that I didn't want to be there. I didn't really want to be anywhere. And I particularly didn't want to be at home. These new-found emotions were confusing, and I didn't know how to deal with them. I was scared, and I needed to find a way out.
Since starting to see a counsellor, I've found ways to deal with feelings that don't involve crying and retreating into myself. So, I looked for options. What I came up with was possibly not the best advice for anyone feeling the same way:
1. Talk to someone. Find a friend - except at 6.30 on a Saturday night in the middle of August people generally have plans. I didn't want to interrupt them. And I was probably miserable enough without having to drag myself off to the crisis centre or to call the Samaritans and be patronised for the rest of the evening.
2. Alcohol. For various reasons, mostly naivety and stupidity, alcohol has get me into some pretty ridiculous situations in the past, so I don't really drink a lot. But I do like red wine, and sometimes it just takes the edge off.
3. Pizza. For the record, I'm aware this sounds like a bizarre "way out", but bear in mind I'm quite severely lactose intolerant - half a dairy milk bar makes my face erupt, and you don't need (or want) to know about the other side effects.
I found my respite in Sainsburys. I hate supermarkets, especially on a Saturday night. If
you have nothing better to do on a Saturday night than go to
Sainsburys, you need to get a new hobby. But you can guarantee that
there will at least be other people there, making it a "safe place". And Sainsburys sells both wine and pizza. Double win.
My poor attempt to make myself feel better by giving myself a hangover and some particularly unhappy dairy-induced-side-effects pretty much failed. Mostly because I fell asleep after the first large glass of wine and woke up on the sofa at 3am. As angry as I was with myself at the time ("I can't even do miserable right"), I'm glad this is the way it worked out.
I guess what this has shown me is that life isn't always happy all the time. Sometimes, it's spectacularly rubbish. But learning to accept that, and being able to question why we react in the way we do, is the first step to making it a bit less rubbish.
I've spent the last two weeks letting myself feel rubbish, but the difference between this time and the previous ten years of feeling rubbish is that I was aware I felt rubbish, and I was aware of why.
Today, I'm done feeling rubbish. I've had words with the elephants and they've shrunk just a little bit. I've filled my "free time" with friends and Guiding and books and all of the other things I've neglected over the past six months (except washing up. I'm not that desperate). I've started eating vegetables again, and I'm looking forward to not having to do any more studying. At least for now.
So that's my excuse for neglecting you over the past few weeks. I'm not going to apologise for my disappearance - it's just a thing I needed to do. But now I've stopped feeling sorry for myself and hopefully normal service will resume.