THE MORNING PANIC
What the hell does a 33 year old wear to university? Now I know the answer SHOULD be ‘whatever the hell they want’ but being a mature student in a pretty mixed-age class with a penchant for 90/00s style bin bag baggy jeans and cartoon themed tops, it makes you start to question your life and fashion choices.
Especially in the first week when everyone is still getting used to everyone else, it’s all a little judge-y. Blue hair shoved in the “mum bun”, make up free and glowing (read: sweaty and gross) and adorned with tattoos and piercings in a sea of the latest trends certainly brings out a little panic. I have certainly found myself wondering if I’m too old to be rocking Hello Kitty trainers, Jack Skellington cardigans and anything with a good slogan on.
Do my forehead wrinkles render my love of emo-pop-punk style a little ridiculous? Especially seeing as I’m a chubby mummy. Hubstar tells me to wear whatever I like, whatever I’m comfortable in; after all he’s still in his skater jeans and band tees phase in his 40s but I swear its different for men – maybe a little less “ooh look what he’s wearing”. Doesn’t help things either that he looks younger than me when he’s had a good shave! The nerve. Many a morning I’ve littered the bedroom/bathroom/living room floor with a trail of discarded items of clothing whilst stomping around declaring I have “nothing to wear”. Do you reckon I could get people on board for a University universal uniform? Yeah, I doubt it too.
THE ANNOYING FELLOW STUDENT
You know you’re not going to get on with everybody and that in the first week people are generally on their best behaviour, trying to be nice to each other and not calling people out for their incessant talking over the lecturer, bringing every (and I mean E-V-E-R-Y!) conversation and topic back to them and their experiences and the experience of their neighbours dogs girlfriends owners son… there has been a LOT of tongue biting and not just from me. I can feel the pressure building and we’re all waiting to see who will be the first one to POP and tell this student to shut the fuck up! A quick scan around the room whenever this person opens their mouth shows I’m not just being a shady bitch about the whole thing, there’s a collective eye-roll and moan that they’re seemingly totally oblivious to. Shit’s gonna hit the fan folks! Watch this space.
WORRYING ABOUT BEING THE ANNOYING FELLOW STUDENT
I have chosen a course I am intensely passionate about and I have some background knowledge and first hand experience in quite a lot of what we talk about, so I tend to have a lot to say… and at the moment in my panic filled permanent state, I’m blurting it all out – a social-justice-verbal-diarrhoea. Now the shit I say isn’t always brought back to me in a personal manner – I comment and moan and groan about the welfare state and politics and politicians, but because of this fellow annoying student I find myself trying to shut my mouth a little more (doesn’t necessarily work). Why do we have this underlying desire and need to be liked? Honestly, the thought of being talked about in hushed circles and WhatsApp groups gets me so worked up that I then hate having to go in to university and class. I know its probably a lot more in my own head than I imagine it to be but still… I just want everyone to love me.
LIVING OFF CAMPUS
I am certainly not suggesting I should move into student halls of residence. The smell, the mess, the ‘kids these days’ – gah, no thank you! That being said, I do feel a little disjointed from student life. I wake in the morning and instead of throwing a cereal bar down my neck and stumbling to class in my pjs and still a little tipsy (may have happened the first time round – oops), I have small humans to monitor brushing their teeth and taming their hair to at least attempt making them look presentable. I have to be sober so I can drive to campus and then lose my temper in the never ending search for a bloody parking space. By the time I fall into the classroom, I’m probably just as disheveled and incoherent as a semi-drunk fresher. Similarly at the end of the day, I can’t join fellow students for a beer or two in the Union as I have a car that needs driving home and small humans to see and cuddle when I arrive home. Granted – the love and excitement and pride my kids exude when I manage to get back in time to pick them up from school massively outweighs a pissed up fumble in a sweaty club but I still seem to suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). One day I’ll fashion a different way to get to and from campus and indulge in a beer or two if I can persuade anyone to join me. I certainly don’t begrudge sharing bedroom walls with the campus shagger/drunk/gobshite so I guess I’ll count my blessings and bid farewell to the inebriated lifestyle I indulged in a little too much back when I was 18.
HAVING TO BE FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE
aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhh the student loan lands in the bank and it calls to me… “Jodie, I bet there’s a great deal on some more trainers you don’t really need but are really pretty; ooh look at that coat/tee/dress/bag that you could totally pull off” and so on and so forth. Now, I have mouths to feed and bills to pay; endless NON-FICTION REFERENCE BOOKS to buy that I will never read cover to cover. I have petrol and pyjamas and presents to budget for. I have to map out my financial incomings and outgoings, tally up the leftover money to fund things like birthdays and Christmas and this kid lost their school bag or this kid needs more school shoes. I have to make adult decisions about money I have sitting in my bank account, which I am totally not used to. Two weeks ago my family and I were facing homelessness having been hit with the new Universal Credit benefit cap – of course we were one of the first to be hit with it in our area. We’ve been struggling on and off financially for years due to instability of jobs, my own instabilities physically and mentally/emotionally causing Hubstar to either lose his job or have to leave to support me and look after the kids. I’ve officially been out of work for 7 years this month and I am in full-time education for at least the next 3 years (I may already be thinking about a masters…) and we weren’t even sure that student finance were going to fund my learning and fees and no loan was guaranteed; we were probably a month or two away from being evicted and have slipped back into debt with bills. This money has helped us so much, its given us a little breathing space and I am so thankful for it; but anyone with certain mental health issues can testify that being given such a lump sum of money is dangerous. If I’m experiencing a mania period then I want to be fully prepared for every eventuality – so wellies, sandals, thermals, blankets. I also want to improve our lives by furnishing the house to make it more homely – i already made a list including new curtains and blinds for 4/6 rooms. I want a rug for the living room but the carpets need a professional shampoo first. I also want a low, square, wooden coffee table and I am planning a total Christmas decoration overhaul too… the mind doesn’t stop, just snowballs and finds more and more things we obviously need. Swing over to a depressive period and I want to buy everything to try and make myself feel better – fluffy pyjamas, fluffy socks, DVDs, new duvet sets, chop my hair off, change my entire wardrobe to reinvent myself. It’s a compulsion. It’s an itch you have to scratch. When my mental health deteriorated massively 6 years ago I transferred all the outgoings to Hubstar’s bank account as I just didn’t have the mental capacity to think about money. It is such a huge trigger of mine. I also tend to use money to buy peoples affection. Not a good thing i know and can be seen as quite manipulative, coercive and controlling – all of which are common traits of certain mental illnesses. They’re things i wish i could change and I’m not quite sure if its down to how i was raised or if its just a bad lottery win/loss in the emotional brain department, but its my reality. I don’t mean that i make people do things or bribe them with money but I’ll offer to pay for a night out just so I’m not alone and I can convince myself I have friends. If someone mentions they’re struggling I’ll offer to help out just so I have an attachment to them. It’s more of a clinging on thing than a ‘dance monkey dance’ scenario. Anyway – the point being that I’m not a carefree teenage student this time round and my money has to be put to good use and not blown in the bars and shops.
I could go on. There are still the cliques that you’re convinced are talking about you every time you walk past and they go quiet and stare at you. Obviously the same old insecurities apply too. Nobody likes me. That person is only my friend because they want something from me/are using me. Imposter syndrome when it comes to lectures, classes, lecturers, fellow students etc. You feel like you shouldn’t really be there. I’ve not earned this place. I’m lucky, privileged and feel unworthy. I feel like I’m desperately trying to make friendships happen outside of the campus – so meeting up for coffee, lunch or a cocktail; and being knocked back because other people have their own lives and other real friends who they’ve known for years. They don’t need your friendship like you crave theirs. They don’t have to go home and sit alone night after night, they already have a social life. Same shit, different age. The scenery may change but the situations stay the same regardless of location. High school, university, work. You’re either in or you’re not. You have to watch from the fringes. Waiting. It’s so hard to put yourself out there, to make yourself vulnerable and subject to rejection. Especially at an age where you’re supposed to be mature. Especially when you’re already battling the voices in your head.
It truly isn’t all nightmares and loneliness though. I finally feel like I’ve found my purpose. I feel like my future has already opened up and brightened so much with just the whiff of knowledge and opportunity afforded to me in just the first week. I’ve made a friend – we actually finish each other’s sentences, our birthdays are two days apart (different year), we like the same things, we both fit under the umbrella term of ‘alternative’. I am paranoid every step of the way, every second of the day; my reasoning at the moment is that I’d still be paranoid sat home alone all day and so i might as well learn something and open up future prospects while still being paranoid. It’s hard. To make myself get out of bed and get in the car, but I’m doing it. The first time in 7 years i am happy to do it. I don’t sit on the edge of my bed hyperventilating and screaming and crying because i feel so much pressure to leave the house against my will. I tentatively walk outside each morning with a smile on my face because i am where i need to be right now. It has taken me years and years to find this place that fits me perfectly and i refuse to let my mental or physical health issues get in my way.
But would I recommend being a mature student?
photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker plot point via photopin (license)
A 30-something mum of 3 and guardian of a 40-something geek living life in middle England, her
parenting style is a little bit shouty, a little bit sweary, a whole lotta love and tends to rock it
under the philosophy of ‘pick your battles’ – a kind of parenting on the fly. A semi-reformed wine
o’clock mum who can still sometimes be found in the local beer garden, supping a beer and
letting the kids run off their energy. She’s an old rock chick at heart, at home at gigs (so long as
there’s seating!), a collector of piercings and tattoos. An ever-learning passionate intersectional
feminist, a fierce and vocal ally. Most likely to rant about inclusivity and the state of the World;
more likely to moan about school holidays and the state of her hips. Described by her family as
weird, crazy, funny, bookish, kind when she wants to be (or wants something), girly alternative
style with the compulsion to conform. She dreams of living the dream, but is still unsure of what
that is. Living with mental illness, chronic pain and navigating the maze of medication; starting
her own therapy journey (finally) and delving into assistance regarding her children’s mental
health. Always trying to figure out how to love her plus-sized differently-baled body. Probably
best known as painfully anxious with a badass edge. Looking forward to trying to make the perils
of parenting a little easier.