Real World Interlude: Exams

I have had exams. I’m putting this here because people know that I’ve had exams and will ask how they went and I’d rather not have to rehash it too many times over. The short answer is horrendously badly.
The one small positive is that it was through no fault of my own. I am supposed to have 25% extra time in exams, because I write slowly and because it takes me longer to process what a question is asking, thank you Asperger brain. I have a student support agreement which says that I need the extra time. In all of the class tests I’ve had this year I’ve had extra time. In a 2-hour exam, 25% is half an hour. Half an hour is quite a long time. When I started the last question of my Chemistry paper yesterday, I should have had 40 minutes to do it in. The invigilator told me I had ten minutes. When I protested (as quietly as I could, there were other people doing exams in the same room) that I had extra time, he brought me his sheet of adjustments, which said that I didn’t need any adjustments apart from a separate room. At this point I started to panic. There was no way that I could finish the question because I’d timed myself based on the knowledge that I had 2 and a half hours. I’m a perfectionist. I’m an aspie. I really don’t do well with sudden unexpected changes.
Rather than upend the desk and tear the paper to shreds as Robin of a few years ago would have done, I left the room. It was only once I was outside the room that I threw my water bottle at the wall and went into a total meltdown. The invigilator came out and told me he’d phone the exams office. Apparently they didn’t think I had extra time either. At this point I went to pieces. I managed to go into the room and pick up my coat and my bag, I didn’t even consider my ID card or my calculator. I left the room and as soon as I was outside the Nuffield I screamed. When I have a meltdown I feel like I am going to literally explode. Like there is an unstoppable force beneath my skin and if I don’t let it out it will tear me to pieces. So I, someone who finds it difficult to even speak to people I don’t know most days, screamed as loud as I possibly could in front of anyone who happened to be passing by. I’m not in control once I reach that point.
After almost half an hour of trying to calm down my breathing and shaking enough to text, I got hold of my mentor to explain what had happened. She got in touch with the exams office. It turns out they had an out of date copy of my SSA. From when I started the university. In 2011. Initially it was suggested that I resit. Until my mentor pointed out that this would be penalising me for the university’s mistake. So they will mark my paper on the questions I did and adjust the marks accordingly.
It seems that the university are under the impression that students just want to cheat. Yes. I have spent the last 22 years cultivating this persona of someone who has Aspergers and struggles with anxiety for the sole purpose of cheating in my Second Year Biochemistry exams. That meltdown I had was just a ploy to cover the fact I haven’t worked hard enough. I can’t believe you saw through my ruse!
I should be sitting another exam tomorrow. I’m deferring it until August along with the three I’d already deferred because I’m exhausted, meltdowns do that. I haven’t been able to do any studying or preparation today and I don’t think I could go into the exam room without freaking out again.

 

Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’ll get over it. I’m just tired of having to fight for things that should already be in place.

Tethered

Outside of the snow globe, it’s exam time. Perhaps because of exam time and putting weight on and attempting to find a balance with food, the world inside my snow globe feels very real right now. The world outside feels like a film set seen through the snow globe glass. I have written so many times with so many slight variations how much this distance from the world bothers me. Yesterday though, as I wandered around campus, pressing my feet into the floor, squeezing the banisters and really looking at the buildings to remind myself they were real I changed my mind.
 I am in my snow globe, but the ground is thawing, the budding leaves on the trees are starting to unfurl, the world is coming to life. I am in my snow globe, but I am capable of thinking and feeling. So maybe it’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to have times when the world inside my head is far more real than the world inside it. Maybe I’m allowed to let time pass on snow globe time sometimes and not worry about it. The world outside is vast, terrifying and utterly outside of my control. I’m allowed to want a safe place to retreat to.
Sitting on the grass in the middle of my snow globe, surrounded by sketches for my library, things look different. There is a breath of air, as if the snow globe itself is sighing in relief. The problem is not with the distance, it’s with seeing the distance as a problem. Perhaps the goal should not be to melt the walls of the snow globe but to tether them to the world outside. Instead of being a prison keeping me from engaging, the snow globe could be my protection. Letting me engage with the world without being overwhelmed by the enormity of it.

 

My library will be an open quadrangle. The three sides will be dedicated to knowledge, compassion and creativity. Those, whichever forms they take, will be my tethers to the world outside the snow globe. I can care, but caring enough doesn’t mean letting myself drown. Maybe for now, for me, the snow globe is where I belong. That has been the difference, even when the world seems unreal, I haven’t felt trapped, isolated or depressed I’ve felt calm.

Finding Okay

I’m sitting in the middle of a tree, half uprooted and spanning the breadth of the river yet still determinedly growing. My feet are bare despite the cold and the raging water of the swollen stream below occasionally drenches them. The stick I was using to massacre stinging nettles eventually snapped when I beat it against the thick trunk of an old oak tree. I threw the splintered halves into the river and watched as they were pounded, drowned and swept away.
I do not do things properly. Perhaps that is why the antidepressants, the CBT and sitting opposite a psychiatrist did nothing for me. If I’m going to learn to be okay, then it has to be on my terms. It has to be my definition of okay and I have to get there following my own route. What does okay mean? Can I describe it rather than the hole that it leaves?
A question has been put to me by a few of the workbooks I’ve come across, it is the question I ponder as my feet are sporadically soaked with icy river water. The question is this: what are you like when you’re well? Excellent starting point. It raises two questions of its owns, the first being what if it’s been that long that I don’t know anymore? The second being what if I don’t like myself when I’m well either? I could of course go on; can one be considered well if they don’t like themselves or is liking one’s self a necessary part or mental wellbeing? I kick my dangling legs, flex my toes and consider my answer. Perhaps, if I took fragments from a series of moments I could make a collage that resembled what I hope I’d be like if I was okay.
When I am in restricting phase, I like how controlled I am. I like how I stick to my plans and my routines. I like how I make exercise imperative.
A few weeks ago, when writing the exam stress leaflet for school took over my mind and devoured my attention, I like how much effort I put in. I like how determined I become to see it through.
When I was 18, walking around the fields talking to myself, I like how creative I was. I like how I built up a huge fantasy world, walking for over an hour then coming home and scribbling for just as long trying to remember all the details I’d pinned down.
When I’m sitting on a quiet train, or walking without a purpose or just coming out of meditation I like how my thoughts line themselves up and slot into place. I like how many ideas I have. I like how inspired I feel.
When I’m doing Jado I like how strong and free I feel. How calm. I like how everything else falls away.
From that hodgepodge, comes a picture of what I would like okay to look like. Okay means having routines for food and exercise and sticking to them. Okay means feeling in control. Okay means being inspired about lots of things and being able to focus single pointedly. Okay means making time to be creative and letting thoughts run free. Okay means facing and dealing with the scary things because being okay means being calm and strong.
Sitting on my branch I’m still contemplating pitching myself in because that would be easier than trying to find a way to be okay, than trying to build my library. I could sit and stare out at the water for hours or days or weeks or years.
Or I could push myself back to my feet, stretch my arms out for balance and start the walk back. I wandered off the path and that’s okay. I’ve put on weight and neglected exercise for a few days and that’s okay. I haven’t done as much writing or revision as I’ve wanted to and that’s okay. I’m not starting again; I’m picking myself back up. Everything that went before hasn’t been lost because of a few rough days.

 

I’m not purple. I might be blue. I might be red. Either is okay. Neither is okay. I won’t be an absence anymore; I’ll be a presence. That is what being okay means.