Recording the journey …

So here I am, aged almost 54,  embarking on a side-trip into the world of academia; not quite my dream of full-time student life (I’ve never managed that) but I am blessed to be able to do this much.

Having received a bursary from work which has been reduced after I received a scholarship, I already feel the pressure to ‘do well’. This side show will be my attempt to keep it light and, if necessary (who am I kidding – WHEN necessary, to vent the stresses, probably self induced.

Pop in from time to time if you want to join me.  Note that I will be skewing comments to the positive and deleting any haters.

Why are there so few downhills on an undulating course

It’s Monday.  I’ve had a good weekend; even managed to go out and run in an actual race with actual runners who can run fast.  I don’t count parkrun because as we all know that’s a run in the park not a race and is more like being at home for a cuddly family meal than going out in your best dress with a load of folks you don’t know at all or, worse, know a little bit. I ran, slowly and I walked (even slower) but I didn’t once stop.  The voice in my head, which the counsellor from employee assistance called ‘The Judge’ didn’t shut up for one blithering step. ‘You can’t do this’; ‘They’re all much faster than you’, I used to be faster and fitter than I am and I can get faster and fitter, ‘even when you were faster you were never fit and they were still faster than you’.  ‘You might as well stop know’ ‘You know you’re rubbish’ ‘Why are you even trying; you’re fat and you’re slow and you’re rubbish’, ‘Just DNF, you know you want to’, ‘YOU ARE RUBBISH AT THIS, YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED AT HOME IN BED’.

I just kept moving slowly, one foot at a time, plodding on through the mud (which the horses and helped make muddier’, up the hills, up the hills and through the mud and up the hills.  It’s hardly ever down the hills when you’re running an ‘undulating course’ and then you do reach a downhill and:

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you’re kidding me right! ‘You’re going to break your neck, I told you, you were rubbish, you can’t run, you should’ve stayed in bed.  ‘You’re definitely going to DNF now’. I’ve never not finished a race; I’m going to finish this one. Stay in the moment, one step at a time, don’t look forward, don’t look back, breathe and stay here in this moment: one foot at a time.

The judge goes on and on; he’s always speaking rubbish but it sounds so real, so believable. ‘you’re not worth it’. ‘they’ll be better off without you, happier’ ‘They’ll have less to worry about if you’re not here’ ‘They can use your life insurance to buy a house’. ‘He can move to Scotland if you’re not here, tying him down’. To be honest it was good to be out running and hearing the ‘You’re rubbish; you’re too fat to run’.  It’s easier to deal with those.

I carried on running, slowly. I caught up with a runner who’d overtaken me earlier and passed her while she was on a walking phase.  We played team tag for a while and then with just under a mile to go she caught me again and said “come on we’ve got this”.  We ran together slowly and took a walking break together then I said in the Judge’s voice you go on if you want to, I used to be faster but now I’m rubbish and I don’t want to hold you back. I didn’t hear her response the first time, I was too busy hearing the Judge repeat what I’d just said, she repeated herself “so are you saying I’m rubbish? I’m running at your pace, we’re running together. I’m not rubbish. I’m doing this and I’m bloody awesome. If you’re doing it as well then that makes you bloody awesome too”

I almost stopped, for a micro/nano/millisecond I heard her and my inner voice squeaked I’m awesome too. It was enough.  I choked back the tears and ran ahead of her over the bridge and then let her pass me as I slowed up the final hill. I could still hear him but her words were louder. Every part of my soul ached as I ran the final 50 metres downhill (a real bloody downhill) to the finish where I heard so many voices shouting ‘come on Sue’ they became a chorus in my head.  

She hugged me when I finished and said “I told you you were awesome, well done”. Later she took the time to find me on strava (a run isn’t any kind of run, especially not a race, unless it’s on Strava) and commented “Well done Sue – and errr what did I say about that internal voice? If it is saying you’re shit that means it’s saying I’m shit and as you know I’m bloody awesome so it’s talking crap. You were ace today, it was a tough course! Xx “.

I’ve copied the story here to remind me because it’s Monday now and The Judge is louder and unobstructed. I will be ace again. I will finish what I thought I couldn’t. I will be faster, fitter, finner (thinner but the alliteration was working so well). Today I am in this moment, taking this step and those taken before and those yet to come are not now.

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It’s Monday and his bastard voice told me to stay in bed because I would be useless all day so may as well stay there.  

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It is physically exhausting this mental health/illness thing. There seem to be far fewer downhills.

Getting up, showered and dressed was an effort and my legs shook with the physical effort even more than they did yesterday with the hill and the mud and the next hill. 



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It’s Monday and today I am going to try the uphills again. If I don’t make it today then there will be tomorrow.  DNF is not in my dictionary where what’s important is concerned.


‘Make a brew, …, focus on the taste, watch the steam dance’.

I’ll try; first I have to lance the blackness.

It’s really, really, difficult to be in the moment when you’re living your life; studying, working (meeting deadline after deadline), dealing with demands of managers and tutors who really have no idea of you other than a part of a process, a tool, a means to an end. It’s difficult when you’re being a partner, mother, friend, daughter, sister; the star at the centre of your own universe. I’m no good at physics so it’s likely that my analogies here are all completely wrong; suffice that they draw a picture to give some meaning to the words. This semester I’ve slowly and without even knowing it watched myself  be pulled, pushed, moved inexorably towards a black-hole. It’s happening as I type and I don’t really know how to stop it; I don’t know how to start shining again.

 Related imageI’m told I don’t need to understand why but rather I need to learn the tools to stop the pull of the black hole; the intrusive voices; the deep unworthiness and the supreme knowledge that it would be better if I was not here but in there; it would be better if I just gave in.  Naturally giving in is not really in my nature so while I wait for help with the ‘tools’ – the lone x-wing combat fighter battling against the immutable deepest purest blackness –  I pull away; I push against the force pulling me towards the black hole and it’s exhausting, it’s deeply, deeply exhausting.  I’m too heavy and it can find me and suck me in.

I feel that pull every morning when I wake up and face the fact that I have to get up; it’s expected of me, I have to go to work, I have to attend lectures (at least the ones where the lecturers aren’t on strike – black holes come in different forms); I have to continue being a partner, mother, friend, daughter, sister. I never knew how hard it could be to just get up; how exhausting to drive to an office where I’ll be assailed by more demands all without the support of fellow fighters who are all busy fighting their own battles.  I don’t know when work stopped being a bright joy, a challenge, an opportunity, a time to learn and risk supported by the like-minded people who wanted to help you be the best you could be.  But it did. I think I may be lying, at least not disclosing all I could, I do know for me when it happened, when I stopped believing that the person mattered; that I mattered. Although what I did was nothing special it shone because it was valued; I was valued. Bullies are enabled by process and they’re rather like small black holes; they suck all the life out of everything until all that is left is themselves.

 Image result for black hole images nasaOne morning I woke up and knew I couldn’t resist the siren call of the black hole alone. It’s hard making that decision to ask for help, to speak to someone, anyone and describe even a part of the blackness that is calling.  It’s a failure if you can’t cope. Even though you may have always known within yourself that it isn’t; the moment you speak out against it you know you have failed. You know that you’ve given the blackness more power over you.  You know that thoughts and feelings aren’t facts but you don’t believe it.  You’re now part of a process and processes are designed to run smoothly; they can’t dig in and push back against the pull of the black hole.  Am I real? I feel like I’m just part of the machine, the process?

Those who try to help and those who don’t: at some point their actions create the same reaction. The reaction of the process.  There is an eight week wait before I can see the CBT therapist and there is no point seeing the psychiatrist before you’ve had CBT because it is the first thing the psych will do so ‘we’re saving time by doing it first’. Don’t worry you’re in the process now.  You’ve been off work 28 days continuously now so work need to speak to you at this time every week to see how they can help you; on top of that you have to meet face to face with your line manager urgently. It’s all part of the process. The process of sucking you closer and closer to the black hole. Don’t worry you’ll be at the edge soon. I’ve failed again; why did I ask for help, why didn’t I just keep on pretending?

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The process is actually lots of small processes none of which interact with each other.  They follow the conveyor belt smoothly to their ultimate end without ever willingly or knowingly considering all the other processes. I’m pulled along by different processes all at different stages – for the medical/GP/psychiatric process I’m here (6 weeks to go until the start of CBT). For employment I’m here (4 weeks in so I have to see them and speak to them about where I am). I’m here. I’m stuck between two processes that want to help but in ignoring each other at this place, at this time, here and now are both helping me towards the blackest, darkest hole I’ve ever seen.


There is light, there is hope, there is help to push back the darkness.  University, at least, offers what appears to be a person (rather than process) focussed system. Asking for help there suggests hope, a new dawn even. The system/process manages the needs of individuals/people rather than the needs of people being managed by a process. So I’m here.  Mitigating circumstances have been accepted; I can breathe. I can make a brew. I can focus on the taste and watch the steam dance. I can take a break from the inexorable processes which pull me staggeringly towards blackness. In that space I can hear and feel the support of others; my own alliance. An alliance created by asking for help. Who knows you need help unless you ask for it?

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Facing the blackness alone is not the most difficult thing to do. As a very wise person told me “asking for help is the hardest, bravest, thing to do. Accepting that we need to let someone else in, even when we feel we don’t want to”. The struggle is not over now I’ve asked for help; it goes on in almost every thought I think (“thoughts aren’t facts”) and action I do; in every choice I make.  I choose to write this blog and print it.

I cannot choose how you will react to it, to me.  That’s not actually its purpose.  It is another little X-wing fighter in my battle against the pull of the black-hole.


A terrifying delight

I love that I’ve got this opportunity to learn with enthusiastic students and great teachers who so willingly share and give of their knowledge and experiences. I love it all even the stats lectures and homework that terrifies me. 

Today’s tutorial made a long week even longer but it also created flickering light bulbs – nano seconds of understanding that sputtered out like windblown candles before I could shield the flicker into a full grown lightbulb moment. 

Six days later

It’s been windy since last Thursday. It must have been. The candle blew out.

Hump-day blues

Wednesday morning. By the end of today it’ll be over half way through the week; a day worth celebrating. Tomorrow is Thursday (you can tell why I’m studying at masters level) and campus day. It’s also week 5 and almost half way through the first semester.

I woke this morning with the unhelpful thought of how much I didnt know; how much I’ve got learn; how little time I’ve got to learn it AND how likely I am to fail. Not the most positive start to a dark and gloomy but surprisingly dry Manchester day.

All of that compounded by arriving at the station to travel to the Sheffield office without my work-pass as evidence of my failure. Most truly a bear of very little brain.

It would be so very easy to allow these negative thoughts to entangle me in that tightening spiral which John Green describes so eloquently in ‘Turtles all the way down. It takes much more effort to work against them than to embrace them. And I am sooo tired.

The tunnel is at it’s black dog blackest so I must imagine the light at the other end. That light is magnificent. It’s twinkling ahead almost tangible yet not. It’s the light of the myriad festivals which the human condition uses to battle against the darkness of winter.

It’s the light of snowdrops and daffodils nurtured in darkness to stand defiantly in the brief days of spring. It’s the light of the soft summer sun sparkling on warming waters. It’s the unquenchable light of the human spirit seeking to offer support across never-ending strife.

It’s hope. That double-edged sword which is hump-day. The joy of learning and the fear of failing. 

That’s all a bit deep just because I had a nightmare and forgot my pass!! 

Learning is joyous AND it is a struggle. Sometimes the distance to the end seems overwhelmingly and the negative committee inside my head becomes louder and more intrusive, not listening to them takes most of my energies. Travelling tjis line to Sheffield through and beneath the Pennines is a reasonable analogy on a day like today.

The tunnels are long and very dark and then ‘ping’ you’re in the gentle brightness of a sunkissed autumn morning. Like life. Like learning. The darkness helps you appreciate the light.

Studying is a struggle at the moment but that means the light at the end is so much more precious and warming. 

Next week is reading week and a chance to breathe and catch up with the things I’ve found hard and go over the bits which come easily. The hump-week.

Failure aka success.

This week after two intense lectures and several study hours my head exploded, well imploded – there was no gory mess only terrifying tiredness. I had Friday off work so planned a full on study day; I ran through an SPSS workshop and then sat on the bed to ‘enjoy’ some Jeff Gill to better understand the Statistical Foundations class of the day before.

Four, yes FOUR, hours later I woke up!! Obviously I wouldn’t have slept if I hadn’t been tired (and comfortable and secure and warm and reading on the bloody bed) but that’s four hours of studying time I’ll never get back and five, yes FIVE, weeks in I am (even more) aware of how much I don’t know.

This is the biggest conundrum for me; fitting it all in. How can I be all the things I’ve been to others and still do well. There is no way I am giving up this amazing opportunity. It’s the height of selfishness and I’m not selfish often enough for it to come easily to me. So how to make time …

Develop a timetable and stick to it by being clear to those closest what it includes.

Create spaces in that timetable to just “be” with those folk.

Find some minutes just for you (even meditation on the tram)

Get lots of fresh air and exercise.

Don’t do anything that someone else can/will do for love or payment. 

It is time to get a cleaner ⏲⏲🗑🗑 and stop trying to do everything. Small steps. 

It’s a marathon not a sprint 

Three things lead me to writing this morning:

  1. Running the Manchester half marathon on Sunday
  2. Attending an event on campus last night
  3.   The train being late.

1. You get a lot of time to think when you’re running (very steadily) around the mean streets of Trafford and Sale. It’s astonishing how much my brain processes stuff and settles into a response mode when I’m forced to concentrate on just putting one foot in front of the other. I spent the 13.1 miles (actually a little more because I nipped off course to use the facilities in a pub (much better than queuing for the on course loos)) chatting with John who runs Manchester Taxi Tours. (Check them out if you’re visiting or new to the area; fabulous way to learn about the city).

We’ve approached races in this way before; let’s enjoy it and get round; it’s not about pace or PBs, it’s about finishing and having fun. It’s about not getting DNF against the results. It’s about the bling and the t-shirt!

You can see where I’m going with this can’t you? My brain was assimilating this attitude and sentiment as my second toenail (right foot) was getting more and more bruised and my knees were screaming at me to “lose some fecking weight old woman (if you’re not going to do it for us do it for the race photos)”. It was (almost literally) with my weight slamming forcefully into the tarmac of the roads that I felt a tiny mindset shift – it really is all about finishing AND getting the t-shirt and the bling (in this case the gown, mortar board and degree). A weight has been lifted (from my shoulders not my knees – you can’t have everything) since Sunday. My second toenail (right foot) is blue but I’m not.

2. Honest reality is what people want when they’re making decisions. Forget unicorns and rainbows, tell me what it’s really like. I’m still learning that, at 53, I can only be me. I’m happiest when I’m being my version of me. That might not be your version or their version or his version or her version but it’s MY version. It’s  (oh feck I’ve lost the word), you know, honest, real. It’s my reality which might not be yours but is closer than some pimped up sales version. I’m unique (we all are) but the way I experience stuff is closer to your experiences than an advertisement version.

This thing at uni last night was about developing real experiences to become web content in order to tell the stories of real people going to university for the first time; being an overseas student; being a mature student; having a baby and being a student; working full time and studying; and/or being an old woman at school.

This one is perhaps less obvious but it made me think about why I’m writing this blog and am I honest enough about just how bloody hard it is to fit everything in (that’s not hard it’s fucking imposdible); how each day is a mangled mess of compromise and I never feel like I’m being good enough at anything (hey old woman re-read point 1). So why am I doing it?

That’s an excellent question but do you mean the blog or the course? I’m writing the blog because tomorrow I won’t know how I felt today and when I finish the course I won’t remember the steps I’ve travelled.

I’m studying and taking the courses because I want to create opportunities and take new challenges and, honestly, to see how far I can go when DNF is not an option. I hope that you, dear reader, will enjoy the journey with me but if there are no “dear readers” and I’m writing for me alone, I can, in time, learn again about the hard tarmac beneath my bruised toes and celebrate each magnificent step because I did it.

3. Well the train was late and I had answered all my emails and read the paperwork so I had the gift of time. Even the disagreeable can be a positive opportunity (you can vomit now if you like).

Arrived in Sheffield and the driver will run to the other end and pull the train in the opposite direction onwards to Nottingham – I’ll leave the station forwards after entering backwards. I remember how discombobulating that was the first time I took this journey. Go forwards or backwards but don’t DNF.

Age is just a perception

Technology failed me so far this weekend (although in truth it’s more than a little down to my own forgetfulness. Image result for linear regression equationI have three laptops/tablets; my (work) surface pro, has SPSS but I’ve locked myself out; my own large laptop has capacity but not SPSS and this little ALDI special tablet, dear reader, has SPSS but it seems, not the capacity to run regression analysis. With a formative assignment due in 18 hours I should be panicking, I do need the the feedback I’d get if I could hand it in but if I can’t I’ve done one regression and I can discuss that and go from there.

Sheesh, how did that happen?  How did I get so relaxed about it?  Well it could be the tablets (not the computer version)  finally working properly; re-balancing the chemicals in my system perhaps. It could also be that I’ve accepted I may be behind now but I will get there in good time. I will get there before the end.  I LOVE IT! I am enjoying the challenge despite having lost my weekends and perpetually feeling like I’m chasing my tail. I LOVE THE CHALLENGE. In our tutorial I worked through the ‘sums’ and loved it, I was more than a little surprised to recall it is 37 years since I sat my mathematics ‘O’ level – summer of 1980 (although to be fair I failed it and had to resit in Nov’80 successfully that time).

Image result for mature studentThe formative assignment is using a data set from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and asks about perceptions of ageing (dependent variable)  and how these are influenced by your age and gender.  So with laptops in disgrace I settled for thinking about it; what would I expect to find.  What do I perceive as old age? I remember being 17 and thinking 30 was ancient. Now at 53 I feel that my life is just beginning at least as often as I think I’m over half way there!! So is it more about positive outlook than age?  Anyway as these apparently random thoughts were chasing through my head (while patiently waiting for the laptop to defrag. and make me some space I came across the following article ( on the BBC news site. The article doesn’t specify which year the figures refer to but it identifies a number of older students and suggests that the latest HESA figures show 25 over seventy year old students commencing under graduate degrees.

Whatever age you are it is always time for new beginnings.  Right let’s have another go at that regression!





Blackboard, the Timetable and Me.

Today didn’t begin brilliantly. It’s already been a crazy week. A 15 hour day to London and back on Monday; 8+ hours and then data camp on Tuesday and succumbing to temperature, sore throat on Wednesday. I slept for ages. 

Anyway back (or forward) to this morning. I left my phone at home and felt bereft of a limb. I’d not checked the room for the practical and was going to do it on the tram – cue panic that I’d be late. It doesn’t matter that I’m in my 6th decade I feel like I’m 12 and bound to be in bother if I turn up late for lessons. Don’t be at all surprised if you see me standing up when a lecturer walks in the classroom!!

I needn’t have worried (as is almost always the case) I followed the lecturer up the stairs and into the lab. 9.33 am. No-one else arrived until 9.55!! Most never showed at all. The practical wasn’t on the timetable although it was in the course booklet and on blackboard and 3/4plus of the group thought the tutorial this evening meant their was no lecture. I don’t get it. It was in my google calendar, my outlook calendar, my work calendar AND my filofax!! 

I don’t think that can be just my age. It’s more about knowing I can’t keep everything in my head like I used to, it’s a coping strategy but it’s also that fear of failure of being and doing wrong. It’s a lack of confidence that has become a part of me.

Forgetting my phone was a major fail, it meant I couldn’t help peers who were asking about the morning class. Why not ask the lecturer or the student office? 

Are my fellow students as afeared of failure as I? Are we more alike than I had thought? Perhaps there’s less difference between me and them than there is between Blackboard and the TimeTable. Leaving my phone at home was a blessing on my journey to learning. 

Beginnings soon end


Two weeks in I’m finding my feet and my way around campus (albeit with google maps). I’m mistaken for staff as often as I’m identified as a student – the joys of being ‘mature’.  The fear of the unknown unknowns has become the fear of the known of unknowns – I must write assignments on this shizzle and I can still barely write an equation. Does anyone even know where those equation symbols hide in MS word?

THE BEST things I learned this week are that the AGLC is the ‘Ally Gee’ and I’m almost due a free hot drink from the cafe; it’s just over a mile of walking from St Peter’s Square tram stop to UP and doing the reading before lectures REALLY does help!!  (let’s call this a random sample 😊).

Thursday has become my favourite day – it helps that it’s just before Friday – the one day a week I’m at uni. I AM A STUDENT!! I’ve never been a full-time student and I don’t think the joy of being on campus around so many folks who want to learn will ever fade. It has a special kind of buzz that makes studying in the evenings remotely, from home, feel like the dark side.  (Luke, I am your mother!) Here’s me, almost 54, seeing the same things you do through your 18-year-old eyes and wondering if you’re feeling what I feel. Maybe when the fear of known unknowns has passed I’ll ask you.