Oooh… Jackanory time, is it?
There’s a short answer and a long answer to this one. The short answer is that I have just started working part time in a warehouse (yay for working for people who think everybody working in their warehouse is a liar and a thief), and I intend to stay there until I start doing my resits back in Aberystwyth in the end of January (need to resit my major project, due to having had a minor breakdown in my final year).
As for the longer answer, well… I should probably preface this with something I mentioned in another recent thread: that I am autistic. I started suspecting that it was probably the case about three years ago, was referred for diagnosis about two years ago, and finally received my official diagnosis about a month or so ago.
I bring up my autism because it has coloured my entire life up until this point, whether I realised it at the time or not; from the bullying (real or perceived - it can be difficult for an autistic 10 year old to tell the difference between playground banter and actual meanness, but with some people it did get physical) that I received as a child to my struggles in some areas of education and later in finding work.
I left high school with 4 GCSEs at A*-C (A in Science, B in Maths, C in French and Drama), and went to the local sixth form to resit my English GCSE and, because they could only accept full time students, study a VCE (Vocational Certificate of Education, which was worth 4 GCSEs) in Business Studies. After I finished that, I got my first job - a casual job at the local hotel waiting tables for weddings and the like. It wasn’t that bad a job; I did some bar work (even though I was still only 17, making it technically illegal) and gave people their food. I only received £3 an hour, if memory serves, but it was some pocket money while I started my A levels.
It was while I was doing my AS levels that it was discovered that I had learning difficulties - I was diagnosed with dyspraxia (though the paperwork has since been lost), and I started getting 25% extra time in exams. This didn’t help much; in my three AS Levels (Computing, Theatre Studies and Psychology), I only achieved a D and two Es respectively, and then I dropped out of sixth form deciding that academia probably wasn’t for me, and decided to join the army. Those of you who have met me can probably tell that I am in no shape physically to be a soldier, and I wasn’t in much better shape back then. Given that autism is an automatic bar to entry into the armed forces, it might be for the best that I didn’t get in anyway - military life probably wouldn’t have suited me very well.
Around that time, I started working at the restaurant that I have since worked at on and off for nine years, and a year later I went to a different local college to study for a BTec National Diploma in IT. I passed, barely. I had two friends on this course; one who was diagnosed autistic as a child (we sometimes joked about him being so special that he had to go to a special school - I’m fairly sure he took it as a joke, though as it happens, he actually had gone to a special school), and one who was diagnosed with autism himself about a year ago. I suppose in hindsight, it’s rather telling that they both seemed perfectly normal to me ;). It was also around this time that I started doing some coding on a voluntary basis for a text based online RPG (a MUD) - largely just fixing stuff or very occasionally implementing a new feature, such as a unified chat system to replace the three separate ones that were in use previously. I learned more about C in that short period of time than any number of books could have taught me…
It was also around this time that I got into playing tabletop RPGs - specifically the Star Wars d20 Revised system, for those interested in such things. I enjoyed the game, though I enjoyed a couple of the people less so. Among other things, I still found it difficult to tell what was banter and what was actual meanness.
After finishing college, I went to university for the first time. I was 21 years old, and I had received an unconditional offer from Huddersfield University. It was here that I was introduced to the Java programming language (which has thankfully improved a great deal since then) and to RPG systems not based on D&D. I didn’t even last a whole year before dropping out. It was one module: professional studies. It was the only module that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject itself, the first year of a degree doesn’t count towards the final grade (provided you fail no more than one module), and I found it utterly boring. So I barely did any work for it. As a result, I failed that module - the only module which (unknown to me at the time) I absolutely had to pass in order to continue onto the second year. Sure, I had one other assignment for that module, but since I would have needed to get 110% of the marks for it to pass the module overall, I had clearly failed.
So I stopped showing up to lectures and practicals, I didn’t bother doing the exams, and I just went back home; scared to even tell anybody how utterly I had just f***ed up, though of course I eventually had to. I worked at the restaurant over the summer, keeping up the pretence that I was going back to university that October, and then I spent a year and a half unemployed until eventually I got my old job back there. Most people who know me are aware that I have had problems with depression, and while I don’t know precisely when it started, I know that my disastrous first attempt at university did not help matters. What very few people know is just how bad it got. By 2012, I had forgotten what not being depressed even felt like. I didn’t seek help, even though I almost certainly should have, and if I hadn’t met a certain Welsh lass on New Year’s Eve, I would never have have applied to go back to university; I would never have left that restaurant that by this point I utterly loathed working at and there is a very good chance that I would have killed myself by now.
It also didn’t help that all of this was happening over the backdrop of my granddad’s dementia - by the time I returned to university, we were locking the front door and hiding the key at all times to make sure he couldn’t sneak out of the house - he still succeeded a couple of times, and while he was usually found safe and sound by the local police, one time he was found floating unconscious in a river by someone walking their dog. He went into a nursing home not long after I went back to university because looking after him was making my nan ill, and as of two years ago he no longer recognises any of his family. This may be a somewhat controversial choice on my part, but I have not visited him since then. There seems little point to it; he doesn’t know who I am, and within minutes of my departure he would forget I was ever there. Everything that made him who he was is gone, and I prefer to remember him as he was. If I am completely honest, I sometimes think it might have been better had he died in that river. Then, at least, we could mourn his loss and move on.
Of course, just because I have been working on one of the underlying causes of my depression doesn’t mean that it just went away, even if it did lessen for a time. Depression is as much a physical illness as a mental one; it alters one’s brain chemistry and it has been shown to reduce intelligence over prolonged periods. The fact that I took so long to seek help, and the fact that that help wasn’t there when I needed it (in part because I lack the ability to easily describe my symptoms) has now led to a situation where I failed my final year - though thankfully I am allowed to resit for full marks instead of with a maximum of 40% - and I honestly have no idea what I’m going to do if I fail this one last chance at a degree.
Well, that took a turn for the depressing. Sorry about that, but I needed to get it off my chest. There is, at least, a more optimistic ending to this post: I have a better idea of the kind of help I actually need now, and I at least know why I have always been different from other people (and why they so often seemed so less accepting of that than I was). Also, I have a decent chance of succeeding in that degree (my previous marks mean that I am highly likely to get a 2.II overall), and my autism diagnosis gives me a good reason to give to employers as to why the result wasn’t better. As such, the future appears somewhat brighter now than it has done in a very long time.