Nice Life Reminders When Life Is Not Peachy

The healing superpowers of learning new things

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Let me start with a little bit of backstory. You may or may not know that I am a high school drop-out. Despite being a good student, various circumstances and sensitivities conspired to have me keen to get the heck out of dodge and begin working … and that I did.

Those bumpy circumstances rolled on and on — as they often do for naive young women — but I intermittently became more settled in my life … mostly thanks to having a very lovely baby when I was 18.

I loved being her mum and wholeheartedly threw myself into playing, guiding, teaching and chatting the days away with that adorable little person.

After that? I somehow found myself doing all sorts of food-related jobs – working as a private caterer, working as an event coordinator, co-owning a very cute cafe.

Next? Two more babies and a long term relationship that had me spending many of my days tearing up, tagging along and/or trying to make things okay. (But still with a core of playing, guiding, teaching and chatting the days away with adorable little people. Of which there were now three.)

The pain of that difficult relationship eventually reached a tipping point. And I found myself well and truly tipped into chronic anxiety and depression, conditions which had been constant companions for most of my life but chose to stop me in my tracks and shake the heck out of me, once and for all three years ago.

It. Was. Horrible.

I can’t tell you how horrible it was. (Okay I sort of can because part of the way I managed to keep going was to focus on the holing up and writing a book about it.)

But — believe it or not — this is where it starts to turn around. From deep in the throes of tough times, the creative urge and innate tiny twinkle of hopefulness propelled me forward. Well. Maybe not propelled. More edged, truth be told.

Fast-forward to now and I am probably about a year into my ‘recovery’ from these conditions. And by that I mean I can function a little better now.

Writing a book, and indeed having a regular writing practice really, really helped. But I wanted to tell you about one other thing which has steadily eased me back on to my feet.

That thing is learning.

Late last year I impulsively enrolled in just ONE unit at university. It’s called ‘Creative Writing’. I say impulsively, but really I had been wanting to study writing for many years. I’d been lurking about course descriptions and signing up for mailing lists for writing-related things.

This particular day I got an email from Open Universities saying “Start with just one unit” or something like that. So I did. I enrolled in just one unit. I pushed aside thoughts of how I would one day pay for this, and decided that none of the ‘buts’ and ‘what ifs’ mattered. And I found myself enrolled in a course that’s studied 100 percent online with my first (tiny) student debt ever.

Informed by my recent mental health crisis I was fairly convinced that I would be a terrible student. That “just one unit” was a bit of a toe dip because I figured I would make a mess of it and not be able to adjust to a more academic world.

But I did it anyway and holy wowee (actual superlative) it shifted everything.

It goes without saying that I was learning new things about writing, but something cellular was happening too. From the inside it felt like new connections were firing in my brain, not only because I was learning but also because the flow of my days was shifting too. I had to rethink and reorganise which, as you will know if you have ever had mental health issues, is the opposite of the steady routine these sort of unwellnesses often call for.

Okay sure. The routine still revolved around home (my favourite!) but it also involved reordering each day and flexing a bit of resilience muscle. There were other flexes too – sharing work with other students, getting feedback on my writing from them, being guided and corrected by a teacher. All VERY GOOD THINGS for someone who has been in a muffled bubble for several years, trying to reach for the future but feeling utterly, utterly bogged.

My unit finishes next week and I start another unit the week after.

I’m writing this because I wonder if there are others out there who might be wading the muffled bog of depression or breathing the teary fizz of anxiety at the moment (or both) who might also find that this study-sparked brain training benefits them too.

I am in no way exaggerating when I say that it has completely changed my life and gifted me so many excited, awestruck and happy moments.

It’s also flooded me with gratitude. Gratitude for having the opportunity to study, for the writers who have gone before me, for the classmates who take the time to read my work, for the author-y family DNA that I have inherited from my great-grandfather, for my kids who are so enthusiastic about my study efforts, for my teachers who are so passionate about their craft … and for myself. The self that took a punt on me.

x Pip

PS: It’s never too late. I am about to turn 51.

PPS: I work full time, so I study on weekends and in the evenings.


When Life is not Peachy

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Tara
    February 19, 2020 at 12:08 PM

    I too left a difficult relationship, leaving me a single parent to a fiesty and awesome 5yr old at the time (who’s about to turn 9). Which made my anxiety have a bloody field day. My ex partner decided to make this as difficult as humanly possible and my poor brain just felt so fried. Then, 2 1/2 years ago I decided it was time, in among the chaos, to enrol in uni via a uniprep course. I’m now 42 and halfway through my early childhood teaching degree. And passing, yay!! It has pushed me further than my anxious brain thought was possible, but it’s good for it. I love that it’s good for yours too. And I crochet, which has done wonders also. This post really resonated with me, I’m glad you wrote it 🙂

  • Reply
    Kerry
    February 17, 2020 at 9:13 AM

    Pip! This post was so good and so true! It’s so interesting to hear you talk about your experiences and how you perceive yourself. I had no idea you were a high school drop out but it never even mattered to me. You are someone I look up to, respect and view as HIGHLY successful. It’s interesting the stories we tell ourselves, isn’t it? I recentky started my yoga teacher training and I have to agree with you, learning new things is bloody awesome. It’s also kind of a bit scary… but that’s ok! ?

  • Reply
    Reannon Bowen
    February 16, 2020 at 5:17 PM

    Pip, this post made me teary. Teary because I’m just so happy to hear that you are doing well & have found a way to move forward. Teary because I’m always looking for woman my age ( I know we are 10 years apart but I still feel like we are of the same generation) who do things that are a bit scary/daunting & new. I’ve ALWAYS regretted not going to uni 20 odd years ago, & I didn’t go for some of the same reasons as you, and I’ve done various TAFE courses over the years but I feel like in my heart, I still want to do more study. I REALLY love learning. And finally, I felt teary because even though I know we aren’t real life friends, over the years I feel like I’ve gotten to know you through your blog but I had no idea that life wasn’t as peachy as it looked. I feel sad that things were so painful behind the bright, bubby exterior.
    I hope you know what an absolute inspiration you’ve been, & continue to be, for me over the last 10 or so years & how much I, & I’m sure many, many others, are grateful that you share your life with us xx

  • Reply
    kate
    February 16, 2020 at 3:35 PM

    Gosh Pip, this is so inspiring and thank you for sharing some of your story here.
    I’ve been thinking about and pondering study for several years now, usually held back by fear but also by feeling that I’m not worthy of the cost.
    You have given me a new perspective

  • Reply
    Lara Finlayson
    February 16, 2020 at 11:19 AM

    Pip, that’s SO very good to hear.

  • Reply
    Kate
    February 16, 2020 at 10:32 AM

    Pip, thank you for sharing your story and the experience of studying again as an adult. You describe really well that joyful feeling of new connections being made in your brain when you’re learning new things. I found it really empowering too – and it took away, once and for all, that lingering feeling of not being smart enough which I had from earlier study.

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