Today is Day 5 of the Self-Esteem Challenge, originally from Better than Dark Chocolate. It’s a series of questions and prompts to get you thinking about your good qualities and things that make you happy or proud. See my introductory post for more info.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment was probably getting my 1st Class Honours degree in Literature and Philosophy. It was a tough journey as although I’d always wanted to go on to higher education I found it hard to be away from home. I’d been brought up in the middle of nowhere amongst miles of open fields and I hadn’t travelled much, so my world up until 18 was fairly small. I also came from a close-knit family and hadn’t really spend any time away from them.
When I moved to Leeds to go to university, I was overwhelmed with the city. Suddenly everything was big and scary. I wasn’t used to the independence and I felt a bit intimidated by all the confident, popular students. I’m loud and crazy when with my own group of friends, but I felt so shy when I started there and it was hard for me to make friends. Most student activities seemed to involve getting totally wasted, clubbing until the early hours, taking drugs and having one night-stands. That just wasn’t me-my idea of fun is curling up with a good book!
The lectures and tutorials were amazing and I did really enjoy my course. I met a few people there that I clicked with and joined a few of the societies in which I had a lot of fun. But back at my flat I spent a lot of time hiding in my room rather than joining in with things, and I quickly became very lonely and homesick. I’d recently started a relationship with my future-husband back home (after being in love with him for a long time) and it was so hard to be apart from him after waiting to be with him for so long. I missed my family, friends and pets terribly too. I could see the appeal of uni life, but it just wasn’t the same as home.
Over time I started to become quite depressed and would spend a lot of time crying alone in my room. It was a battle to drag myself out of bed to attend lectures as I felt so bad about myself. I started to shut everybody out and isolate myself from my friends. I put all my energy into studying to get through the essays I needed to do in the week and I started coming home every weekend as I couldn’t stand to be alone again. It cost me a fortune in train tickets and I also spent a lot of money shopping for clothes and beauty products to make myself feel better. Shopping became a bit of an addiction for me, as I would buy things just for the thrill and then never use them. I was also binge-eating and starving myself alternatively. Friends and family had noticed the changes in me and I knew I had to do something about it. I was referred to counselling by my doctor, and eventually I made the decision that I would push on until the end of my first year and then leave and transfer my credits on to the Open University.
At the time it was heartbreaking for me. I hate quitting anything and I felt like I’d failed myself and let everyone down. I was jealous of my friends who had gone off to uni and fitted in so easily and had an amazing time there. What was wrong with me? I also didn’t know much about the Open Uni and had the impression that it wasn’t a ‘proper’ uni. I thought people would look down on me.
But I soon discovered how amazing the OU was. I was luckily able to transfer all my credits from the University of Leeds, so I got to start in the 2nd year straight away. I was impressed by how flexible it was-you could go for an ‘open degree’ and choose a combination of any modules from any subject that you wanted. It was also a lot more sociable than I thought. I went to tutorials every month about an hour away from home where I met a lot of interesting people from all ages and backgrounds-some who wanted to return to education after retirement or having children and who had never had the opportunity or means to go to university before. It was nice studying alongside adults who already had careers and families and I made a few friends that I’m still in touch with now. I also got a lot of support from my tutors. I could email, call or Skype with them nearly all hours of the day and they were fantastic. In fact I thought I got more support from my tutors there than at Leeds, and it was more personal. There was also a lot of activity on the online forums and the OU was such a positive, supportive community.
I underestimated the workload, though and at times it was hard to motivate myself. There was a HUGE amount of reading and lots of TMAs, but luckily my courses were so interesting that I really enjoyed the work and learnt so much. I didn’t have to travel too far for exams and was amazed to find there were students on the same course as me in my own town! When I finally got my degree result I was just overjoyed. I couldn’t believe that all the hard work and perseverance had finally paid off. Aside from my wedding (which is hard to top), my graduation ceremony in Birmingham with my mum, dad and partner was one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. When I’m feeling rubbish about myself it reminds me what I’m capable of achieving.
What achievement are you proudest of?