It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on ClassicalFix. Truth be told I’ve been in a bit of a rut, lacking any real motivation or inspiration. But on this beautiful Easter weekend (well, it’s beautiful here in East Yorkshire), it seems that I’m starting to emerge from what can only be described as a self-imposed state of exile. As I write this I’m thinking lots about the events of the past six months and particularly the twists and turns in my life!
It’s been just over a month since I deferred my study of A864 which if you don’t know, is part 2 of the Open University’s MA in Classical Studies, and although it was a really tough decision I know it was the right choice for me. I’ve studied with the Open University for almost ten years non stop whilst working full-time and although it’s been a challenge, in terms of my work / life balance I’ve managed it well, so without seeming too cynical the epic meltdown that occurred just over a month ago was well overdue! To cut a very long story short, my work / life balance came crashing down, I literally lost the plot and couldn’t see the wood for the trees! I felt I was failing in my studies (although this was not the case owing to the reassurances of my outstanding tutor) and I essentially withdrew from everything in life except my day job. On the top of all this I’d been seeing my doctor for a while with what I’d self-diagnosed as mild anxiety issues which have now (thankfully) culminated in an official diagnosis of OCD. Now you might think that receiving an official diagnosis of mental illness would be a massive set back and why on earth would I be thankful for this? Well, no, it wasn’t a setback at all, well at least not in my case because in actual fact this diagnosis has literally set me free! It’s provided me with some much needed clarity and has helped me make sense of my behaviours over the past year or so.
Now I won’t bore you with the in’s and out’s of OCD, which is a type of anxiety disorder, I’m certainly no expert and frankly I still don’t completely understand it, plus it affects different people in different ways. I’m also not going to go into detail about the tedious affects it had on my life, like how I had to circle my car four times after locking it to check it was secure and how I’d have to kick each tyre twice (not sure why that was necessary), but suffice to say it was having a significant impact on my life. That being said, the one thing that seemed to anchor me to some notion of ‘normality’ was my study with the Open University. My commitment to my studies, my pursuit of knowledge and my desire to understand the Classical World and the complexities of Classical Latin was my life line. Classical Studies had become my life’s ambition, it still is, but as I progressed with my studies, I tried to shake off a distant ‘menace’ that was seemingly getting closer and closer, a ‘menace’ that threatened to undermine my only saving grace. Unfortunately, the ‘menace’ that was my thus far undiagnosed mental illness was starting to affect my studies, particularly at TMA time! Anyone who’s worked towards an assessment will likely have felt the same at some point. In the beginning there’s often uncertainty, worry, confusion but at the end there’s usually a shift towards clarity and (hopefully) understanding. Unfortunately, as a result of my OCD I was not progressing past the uncertainty stage! What was a generally uncomplicated question, with a clearly understandable objective was literally eluding me. Every TMA I approached I over complicated, I was looking for something unnecessary, something passing the boundaries of what was required, yet try as I might I couldn’t bring myself to admit what I saw as defeat and opt for the simplest route and ANSWER THE BLOODY QUESTION! Even when I submitted my assignments, which I hasten to add I always completed, I still had no confidence in my work despite receiving good results. For me, my mental illness was making me question my knowledge, it was demanding more from me in a way that was not necessary, it was clouding my judgment, I would write, re-write, re-hash, delete and re-write entire sections in pursuit of perfection when in actual fact I’d already achieved what was required, writing TMA’s became a hellish ordeal. The ‘menace’ that turned out to be OCD got the better of me, I failed in my pursuit of knowledge, I admitted defeat & deferred A864.
As I recall it was the Friday after my deferral from A864 that I visited my doctor where we discussed my condition at length (well, in as much detail as you can in 10 mins) and the term OCD was thrown into the mix. At this point I was feeling very down hearted, not owing to the diagnosis, but at my decision to defer. That being said after I had left the GP surgery with a good handful of literature on my condition and the intent to get down to some OCD research on the web I had a glimmer of hope that my perceived recent failings in my studies could be attributed to my mental health? So, fast forward a month and here I am! I’m so very thankful for my diagnosis because it’s put my recent attitude to life and my behaviours into an understandable context. I’m out of my self-imposed exile, I’m writing this blog post and literally raring to get back on the horse that is A864 in October. I’ve done a fair bit of reading on my condition, I’ve attended an online CBT session and I’m getting on well with my daily dose of Citalopram. I know it’s only been a month, it’s very early days and medication alone takes time to really take effect, but I already feel better about myself. I see my OCD for what it is and refuse to let it take anything else away from me. I look back to the struggles with my TMA’s and now understand that they were not down to a lack of understanding or insufficient preparation on my part, I had the knowledge, I had the understanding, I had the tools and the support of an excellent tutor, but my condition which at that stage I didn’t know officially existed was effectively hindering me. The annoying thing is that had I consulted a doctor earlier, had I had treatment earlier, had I understood my condition earlier, then I might have been able to manage my approach to study and therefore not have to defer, but as is always the case, we live and learn and hindsight is an amazing thing.
As I mentioned earlier, now I know what I’m facing I’ve taken the appropriate steps to manage my condition with the intention that in the future I can come off the meds. But for the time being I’m back in the study saddle! I’ve re-registered for A864 in October and as I banked my assignments to date, I’ll be picking up with TMA-03. I’ve thrown myself back into the wonderful world of Classical Studies and have re-opened the Latin text books. I’m slowly getting my mojo back and will get back to full capacity any day soon. I’ve taken to a bit of DIY, having revamped a new study space, which I now term ‘The Library’ and I’m on the look out for some Classics conferences / events to attend – The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion run by the OU is definitely one to watch. Oh, and I can’t write a blog post without mentioning my obsession with the Durham Greek & Latin Summer School at St John’s from the 20th – 27th July that I’ll be attending! So, for me it’s onwards and upwards! There’s so much to do and learn and so little time, I’ve got some big ambitions but then again that’s the beauty of lifelong learning, you can take it at a pace that suits you and the Open University is unique in that respect.
Open University Study & Mental illness – My personal experience.
I’m by no means an expert, this is all very new to me so I’m not going to give any advice other than if you are struggling with your studies then speak to your tutor or your Student Support Team. Since getting my diagnosis I’ve told the OU about it and although I’m very unlikely to need little in the way of adjustments to aid my studies, there’s loads of support available! When I deferred from A864 my decision wasn’t taken lightly and the Open University advisor who I spoke to understood that and was absolutely outstanding. She explained my options, provided advice and helped me work through my choices. At that point I didn’t know about my OCD but I know from hearing other stories that the OU are exceedingly helpful and understanding of the needs of its students.
In closing – The Open University has been a huge part of my life for the past ten years. It has provided me with an outstanding learning environment in which I’ve become the person that I am today and my mental health condition is just a minor blip in my OU journey. Classical Studies is my passion in life, the Open University has nurtured that passion and when I return in October to pick up where I left off with A864 then for me the sky is the limit, because after I’ve got this MA in the bag, it’ll be time to consider my options for a PhD.
Look after yourselves!
Useful Links – Here’s just a few useful sites you might like to take a look at.