I have long passed the stage of worrying about not updating this blog. It’s still here for me to mark big events and special occasions, both positive and negative. I wish I had more time/inclination to blog, but this year has been so busy and full. I haven’t worked at the evil call centre since March, but my little counselling business isn’t doing too badly at all. I had one client when I started in October, and now have eleven ongoing, alongside another ten who have left for various reasons – the resolution of the problem they came to see me for, the end of the university year (I see a lot of students!), or with some clients referred by occupational health departments, the end of the number of sessions their employer was willing to pay for. Although I see some weekly, many fortnightly, and so this only amounts to 5-9 hours of actual face-to-face work per week, I spend much more time travelling and doing paperwork. Some weeks I love being a counsellor, and other times – when I’m tired or stuck in a hot room during a heatwave or feel like the world’s shittiest counsellor for not having all the answers – I feel like a terrible imposter, a real-life lunatic running the asylum. But overall, it’s going pretty well. This week in particular, I feel like I have been on a roll. I am putting this down to the Very Good News I had last week, which really boosted my confidence.
Because, of course, the other reason I’ve been absent from the blogosphere is because I’ve been studying on the third year of my undergraduate degree. Last year I finished my foundation degree in counselling, qualifying me to practice as a member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. It’s a very common route to take into the profession in the UK – two years of either a foundation degree or higher diploma. However, as anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will know, I have always wanted to finish a full Bachelor of Arts/Sciences honours degree. I started my first – psychology at Cardiff – ten years ago this September. After dropping out of my education a grand total of six times due to various combinations of depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, PTSD and anorexia, I didn’t think I would ever finish anything in higher education. But I somehow got through my counselling qualifications – maybe because they build on each other, so by the time I started my foundation degree, I’d already finished a six month level 2 introduction to counselling and a nine month level 3 certificate in counselling skills, roughly equivalent to GCSE and A level standard. That gave me the confidence to take on the foundation degree, although I didn’t believe I would finish that either at various points – for example, as documented on this blog, everything went wrong in the first term, with my relationship, my job and my mental health all going to hell. Even when handing in my final assignment last summer I was convinced I would get hit by a car, lightning, a meteorite, a piano – anything to stop me actually completing the damn thing! But no, I did it, and I graduated from college last year.
The good thing about living in this area of the country is that several universities offer a ‘top-up’ course for counsellors who have completed their foundation degrees. If the foundation degree is equivalent to the first two years of university, the top-up is the third year. And that’s what I’ve been doing this year: ‘upgrading’ my foundation degree to a full BA. I was terrified of being back at an actual university rather than a small local college, and with my first assignment it seemed like all my nightmares were coming true – I was distracted by setting up my business while I wrote it, and it came back with a really poor mark. Cue all those thoughts about failure, not being any good at academia outside of a college where the standards were much lower, not being that clever anyway, it was all an illusion, what was I doing thinking I could do well at university anyway, blah blah whatever. After a good fortnight of alternately panicking and wallowing, I decided to really go for it with my next assignment, and after Christmas it came back marked at 72, a first. Comparable efforts with the other two shorter essays, plus the research project and my dissertation led to similar marks for all of them as well.
Writing my dissertation was an…interesting…experience. I did a literature review on counselling for survivors of female-perpetrated sexual abuse, which was inspired by my own experiences of disclosing to therapists that I’d been raped by a woman, and receiving shocked/disbelieving/horrified reactions in response. I focused on child sexual abuse to make it slightly different from what had happened to me, and to narrow it down a bit. The research and synthesis were absolutely fascinating, but I was suffering from burn out a bit by the end. My dissertation was the last piece of work to be marked and was due to be released with the course results, and as that was worth around 40% of the mark for the whole degree, I couldn’t predict what my final result would be.
I know UK degree results differ from many other countries, so a rough guide to our marks would be: an average mark of 70% and above is classified as first class honours, 60-69% is higher second class honours, or a 2:1, 50-59% is lower second class honours or a 2:2 (or a Desmond, in the lingo…Tutu? Heh), 40-49% is third class honours, and with most universities if you pass more than half but less than all of the final year modules, you can leave with a Bachelor of Arts/Science without the honours. My average mark before getting my dissertation back was 74, but as I said, it was all dependent on the dissertation. Even getting a fairly decent 2:1 on my dissertation would have lowered my whole degree classification to a 2:1 overall. And 2:1 is totally, perfectly respectable, you can get onto pretty much any postgraduate course you want to with a 2:1 – but after trying and failing to finish a degree for ten years, I really had my heart set on getting a first.
The course results were due out sometime during the morning of the 20th, so my other counselling friends and I were refreshing the appropriate section on the university website from 8am onwards. At 9am one of my friends phoned the department to ask when we could expect them to be up (impatient!), and obviously spoke to the office numpty, who told her they weren’t due to be released until the following Thursday. While my Facebook feed exploded in outrage, tears, and one girl threatening to vomit on her computer, I despondently refreshed the website again – and there they were…
Now, I know that at three months’ shy of my thirtieth birthday, if I’d not been ill I could have worked through a BA, a Masters and maybe a PhD by now, and be well into my career. But fuck me if I’m not over the moon at being the very grateful recipient of my Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours. I am still sleeping with the print out of my transcript under my pillow, just in case I worry that I read it incorrectly and have to check!
I always have a harder time over the summer, with nothing academic to distract my brain, and this summer is no different. But at least this year I have my little business, and my application for this really interesting Masters I found a couple of months ago to complete. Psychological therapies for complex mental health issues, including psychosis, personality disorders, and severe and enduring eating disorders. Now that would occupy my brain very nicely for the three years it’d take to study part time…
With my BA finally over, I am just about go on holiday to visit my family for a couple of weeks with Audrey. I am also still wedding planning in fits and starts – three and a half months to go! So there will be at least one more blog update this year, probably involving pretty dresses and drunken relatives. Whoo!
Although I didn’t update my blog then, it didn’t escape my notice that this February marked five years since I wrote my first post, and this March was the five year anniversary of the start of my recovery. I gave myself five years to make it worth something, with the proviso that I could give up if I didn’t get anywhere in that time. From twenty four with nothing in my life but anorexia to nearly thirty, engaged, running a counselling practice and about to graduate from my undergraduate degree AT LAST – I think I can safely say that it’s working out okay at the moment 😛