It’s the 18th August 2019 and a few hours ago I submitted the dissertation for my Information and Library Studies Msc, the final part of the Masters that has taken me over 4 and 1/2 years to complete That wasn’t how I planned for my Masters to go when I started it in September 2015, and when I started to feel ill I could never have imagined that my entire life was about to change so dramatically.
In the years since I’ve searched for answers to that all-important question; why me?? I spoke to other ME suffers who said that their symptoms started after a prolonged illness, confirming studies that believe ME is the body’s defence system. I had a nasty bout of flu caused by a failed flu vaccine and before that a string of ongoing illnesses. There was nothing I could do; my body couldn’t take any more. Additional evidence pointed to the effects of premature birth causing long term health problems in adults. I was born 20 days early, and new studies show that this is enough to cause health problems.
This was actually quite reassuring to know while I struggled with the changes happening to my life. I have the same messed up genetics as the rest of my family, yet I’m the only one who is this sick. The why me complex was real. I’m an only child so I have no siblings to compare to, so perhaps my parents’ genetics combined to create the worst combination ever; I’ll never know. What I did know was that other members of my family had some of my health conditions (hypermobility, bowel conditions, mental health, fibromyalgia) – too many to dismiss a genetic link. So finally learning that being born early was a probable reason gave me the power to fight this new addition to my health problem collection. I wasn’t cursed, or unlucky, worthless or any other negative word I’d labelled myself with. I was just me and ME was just a new, permanent part of me.
It took a long time to accept that and I’m still dealing with the emotional baggage of that; completing this dissertation is certainly a massive chunk of doing just that. I went through so many emotions trying to complete this, and I literally had to build myself up from nothing to at one point. At first, I couldn’t even write 100 words a day. It took me weeks of slowly working towards 100 a day. Some days I’d only manage 30-40, other days nothing at all and then there would be migraine when I pushed myself too hard. I was constantly feeling like I was being set back. But slowly I did it and 100 words became 200, and then 300 became 500. Eventually, I ended up with 31k words, way over the maximum word limit of 22k.
I was recently introduced to the concept of To-Do list debt by Becky at Doist.com who talked about declaring To-Do List Bankruptcy. The general idea of To-Do list debt is that we have a neverending list of things that we need to do, that we are indebted to ourselves to complete. We begin to feel guilt, shame and resentment as a result of this list and it’s really unhealthy.
Completing a dissertation is a brilliant achievement for anyone, and for me, it represents a huge moment in my recovery. However, my dissertation was also a large to-do list debt that I’ve been carrying around with me for 3 and 1/2 years. While I didn’t completely stop doing everything, I had to limit myself from doing certain things because I didn’t have the energy to expend. Living with ME is a constant balancing act of energy reserves; can I do that and still have the energy to do all the other things I need to do? My creative writing, for example, would happen in few short spurts now and then but otherwise had to be put on the back burner for 3 and 1/2 years. I simply didn’t have the mental energy reserves to focus on that and on my dissertation.
Even just the general sensation of having something due hanging over me all the time. Dreams about incomplete coursework for long-finished classes have been an almost weekly occurrence. For a long time, there was also the worry of ‘what about after the dissertation?!’, especially since previous career routes I’d considered were now unlikely. However, that one actually sorted itself out on its own.
Rather than declare full To-Do list bankruptcy like Becky, I’m taking the rest of August to clear my To-Do list of a few necessary tasks and schedule new content. Then I’m wiping it clean.
Bring on the next Chapter.
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