Working on assignments
When the result came in for the first year of my MA my husband and I were in our house in Sweden. When the confirmation that I had passed an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment rushed through my veins. Followed by dancing legs and the need to shout my success from the roof. The house standing in the middle of the Swedish forest without any human neighbours nearby made that only trees and bears shared my laughter and joy.
Brought up in Dutch society meant that, after the dancing and shouting were done, something else needed doing besides repeating “Can’t believe it… I made it…”. In Dutch culture, people hang the school back of their offspring on a flag post once the child successfully finishes their high school or university education. In the photo above, you see my school bag hanging from the Swedish flag post even though nobody other than my husband and myself would see it.
Growing up with doubters
Still, hanging my bag was important. As a teenager, I was told I would never be able to learn. One of the teachers, my Dutch language teacher, found it necessary to share his opinion about my lack of talent in learning. “You are a sweet girl, and I can see you are trying very hard, but you will never be able to learn”. I remember his words well. They burned themselves into my brain, where they eroded my feelings of self-worth.
I was the kind of child who loved going to school, loved learning. Being born in 1960 in a mainly Catholic village meant that girls were not expected to become doctors or any other profession for that matter. There was no expectation for me to do well academically. Instead, I was expected to get married, bear children and stay home, which I did. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t wait to become a mother but the love to study never left me.
Overcoming a lot to meet success
Being considered stupid undermined the way I felt about myself until I reached the fourth decade of my life. At that time I hit rock bottom. Lost everything: work, marriage and home after my physical and mental health declined in a short period of time. Thoughts of jumping from a bridge occupied my mind. What stopped me was my mum’s face the moment the police would ring her doorbell to bring her the news of my death.
When I felt I could not feel lower, sadder than I did, someone walked into my life. He became my husband and encouraged me to realize my dreams. I enrolled at university and successfully completed an undergraduate degree. The feeling of accomplishment, the rush after each assignment during each year were like building blocks slowly rebuilding my self-esteem. Not only did I accomplished a degree, but I also did it in England in English. I wished I could send that teacher a copy of my degree, but he probably lies six feet under, with his negative undermining comments.
Finally feeling myself
During the undergraduate degree, I discovered I love the pressure before every deadline for the many assignments. The pressure release after submitting my work followed by a build-up of excitement until each grade came through worked as I imagine drugs work. The whole roller coaster gave me a high.
After finishing the undergraduate degree I found myself missing the roller coaster induced feelings. With every accomplished module, my mental health strengthened, my self-esteem grew. Finally, I felt good about myself, felt worthy. I prove to myself I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. A missing piece of myself found its way home.
It is unbelievable how one remark of one teacher kept a hold on me for that long. It showed how I tend to remember hurtful stuff way longer than kindness. But, no more. Last year I turned 60 and this year I am about to finish my master degree. I already know I will miss the highs brought on by the roller coaster. The chance to study gave me the chance to feel complete. It improved my mental health and left me happy with who I am.