These last couple of weeks have been a time of stress, worry, self-hate, and anger. Sometimes, in life, there are things that happen that knock you down a couple of pegs, but you have to find the strength to pick yourself up and force yourself to get through the tough things. I had my first experience of post-traumatic stress, faced a final college assignment that really affected me and I had to once again, deal with my worst personal trait.
I was looking forward to getting the last hurdle of my Master’s degree finally finished. The last hurdle? A presentation defending my chosen topic and how I went about researching the dissertation. You would think that 80 pages and nearly 25,000 words of research would be enough but…. clearly not. I really did not want to do this presentation but we had no other choice. So, I had to spend one more week studying all of the work that I did for my dissertation, putting it all together into a presentation and explaining the topic that I’d studied. My presentation took place on the 9th of September and I was determined to make it the best.
A friend and I planned to work on our presentations together the week before. We arranged to meet at the Queen of Tarts cafe, somewhere I’d never been to before, but I’m always willing to try new places.
It wasn’t until I arrived that I realised that the cafe was located bang next door to a restaurant called the Piglet Wine Bar. I was horrified. This was the place where I had experience the worst allergic reaction of my entire life. It was the place where I honestly thought that I was going to die.
My hands started to shake. My breath was catching in my throat. A voice in my head was saying ‘Oh no, no, no.’ I felt worse when I entered the cafe. Its interior was exactly like the restaurant from that night, right down to the upstairs seating area.
Looking up the stairs, my mind kept thinking back to that night. I can remember stumbling to the bathroom, gasping for breath, barely able to stand. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror and not recognising myself. My face was white, my eyes were bloodshot…I didn’t look like myself.
I looked like a monster.
I had to force myself to calm down, to bring myself back to the present. I told myself that I was being stupid, that I was overreacting. I sent a message to Mum, telling her about what happened, saying I was being silly. I expected her to agree but she actually said that what I’d experience was perfectly understandable.
I’d had my first experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had just relived the worst moment of my life. I couldn’t believe it but looking back on it, it makes sense. Until that day, I hadn’t properly gone back to that area since the night of my severe reaction. I figured I was okay, I’d gotten over it. It had been nearly three years.
But clearly, I was mistaken. It took going back to that place for me to properly understand what happened to me. I think if the pandemic hadn’t have happen, I could have gotten over it sooner. Having said that, (and this is going to sound crazy) I am relieved to have experienced this now. Mum asked me if I would go back to the cafe again and I said yes. I cannot let this one bad experience put me off returning to that area. I’ve gone through the worst, all I can do now is move on with my life.
My friend and I were able to finish our presentations and on Friday 9th September, I travelled to the college campus to give my presentation. I had forced myself to practice relentlessly the night before. I didn’t want to stumble or make a fool of myself, I wanted to be clear and concise with what I had to say about the work that I’d done.
I arrived in good time and managed to get a last practice thrown in before I was called into the room where the presentation took place. There were two supervisors, one physical and one virtual via Zoom. I set my gear up and began my presentation. I managed to get through my presentation smoothly enough; I explained my chosen topic, how I went about my research, the films I had studied and the final conclusions that I reached. I thought that I had explained everything to the best of my ability.
Let’s just say that when it came to feedback… things took a bad turn.
Actually no, I wouldn’t call it a bad turn. I mean, I knew that my dissertation had been quite complex, I knew it was flawed, it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t want it to be perfect, I just wanted to show that I worked on it to the very best of my ability and I could create a good dissertation. It’s just, the feedback that the two supervisors gave me, convinced me otherwise. They liked how I presented my dissertation, it was clear that I had done a lot of research but they felt that my dissertation rambled a little bit, didn’t quite reach a proper conclusion, and could have been laid out better.
Looking back on it now, the criticism that I received that day, was fair. I knew deep down that I hadn’t done a dissertation that was completely perfect. But the criticism I got really made me feel that I had failed. It made me feel that I hadn’t done enough to pass. Maybe, the dissertation I had submitted, wasn’t good enough. I felt awful, I felt low, I felt like a failure.
I left the college campus, tears streaming down my face. I was bubbling up inside with sadness, and anger. Mainly towards myself. All I could hear in my head was ‘You stupid idiot. You should have done better. Now you’re going to fail and you should not have failed. How could you be so stupid? Stupid, stupid, stupid.’ That’s all I could hear.
I had to call my mother and explain what happened. By that point, all I wanted to do was forget, so her constant questioning and forcing me to go back over and over the presentation session did nothing to help me. I was upset and angry enough with myself as it was, I didn’t want Mum forcing me to drive the knife in deeper. I know she meant well, but I was an emotional wreck at that point.
Let me be honest and say that my worst critic is me. I am the sort of person who only really sees the worst in me. I am ambitious, but sometimes admittedly, I can be too ambitious for my own good. When I get a result that means, I have passed a module, I can’t help but think, ‘I could have done better.’ I am very very hard on myself and it is something that I know I need to work on.
I had to use these last couple of weekends to recuperate and find where my head is at. I needed to find myself, to go to that old cliche. Through it all, I was able to find support in my housemate Silvia and my fellow college friend, Adina Sarah. They listened to me and comforted me when I brought myself to tears and looked after me. I really appreciate all that they did for me. I’m so grateful to them.
Dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress, Anxiety and self-hatred, was certainly a lot to deal with, but I can say that I’m feeling better now after taking some time to recover. As to what happens with my dissertation, all I can do now is wait for my results. I’m really hoping that I’ve done enough to pass, but there’s nothing I can do now except wait and see what happens.
The worst thing that could happen is I could have to repeat the whole thing, but hopefully it won’t come to that!