Make the most of the time spent at on campus. This means going to the library in between lectures, using the printing facilities, researching books I can take out, speaking to tutors about my work and making notes for my assignments.
Utilise the evenings. I’ve tried reading and writing assignments during the day, and it doesn’t work well if my children are home. Sure, while they are at school I can but that time is usually spent doing housework, food shopping, appointments, delivering workshops, having meetings, or simply just having a moment to digest my workload and resist the feeling of being overwhelmed. I make notes in the daytime and get started as soon as my children go to bed. Pretty much like right now, while I’m typing this post. Hours of undisturbed typing. Divine.
Access online library. My university has a huge library and many of the books are also available to download online. This free and fabulous resource means I can access academic reads while at home, which helps loads when I’ve not been able to get to the library. For books that aren’t available online, I can reserve them so they’re available for me to collect when I do go in.
Discipline. I’ve got a uni friend who begins her assignments on the day we’ve been given it, and it is usually submitted weeks before the due date. Then you have me, Annika Spalding, Queen of Leaving Things ‘Til Last Minute, who will begin a few weeks before the due date. Either way, an element of discipline is required to get your work done. You’ll be tempted with invites from friends, Netflix, Social Media and much more, but you have to decide when it is time to tune out of life and tune into education.
Remember, you didn’t enroll just so you could fail the whole damn degree, did you? I know I didn’t. I’ve taken whole weeks away from social media, I logged out of everything in December and I’m doing the same from mid-April until June. I know my biggest distraction is the online world so it makes sense to remove it so I can focus.
Be kind to yourself. It’s quite the juggling game, some days you’ll be an expert at it and some days will be hard enough to make you cry. And the tiredness at the beginning of a new term? Oh my days. You will want to stay in bed forever. But it’s okay to have an afternoon off every now and then. It’s okay to cry into a bowl of popcorn while you tune into Netflix, because you spent the entire day in lectures and you’re exhausted.
Sometimes you’ll need to get up an hour earlier so you can do the housework before the kids get up for school, making it one less thing for you to do when you get home from your lectures. Maybe, like me, you have lectures all day and are too tired to cook, so you order a takeaway for dinner. Do it! I co-parent with my children’s dad and after being at school, childminders and their dad’s overnight, sometimes all my children want is a pajama day with no visitors. So we have them, as often as we can. Remember, your time at university will not last forever. It will feel like it is never-ending but it really is a short time and the challenging times will all be worth it. I believe that and have held onto that throughout.
My conclusion is this: Education has always been my key to freedom.
As a child, it kept me distracted from abuse.
As a teen, it gave me something to aspire for.
As an adult, it showed me who I am.
As a mum, not only is it helping me set an example to my children, it is also adding to my purpose and creating an avenue where I can provide and support us to thrive as a family.
Final word: Throughout this experience, I have had anxiety, depression and insomnia. In my first year, I would arrive tearful at lectures and avoid interaction with my friends, informing them via text that “I’m not okay and I can’t talk about it. I am not being rude. I’ll be okay soon.” They have always understood.
I’ve been too depressed to go to lectures, too drained to get out of bed. I’ve been exhausted but spent months unable to sleep without waking up every hour, barely sleeping at all. In my second year, I almost missed a deadline because of this and I decided I needed help with it. I referred myself to counselling, offered to all students on campus, and it was the best thing I ever did. After the first two sessions, I began sleeping again and had felt like something heavy had been released.
I have also published books, held events and facilitated workshops, maintained an online presence, launched a community interest company, coordinated community festivals, dated, been on holiday, lost friends, made new friends, fell in love, launched a podcast, held a sold-out book launch, attended school assemblies, survived the beginning of my third year, waiting for more counselling appointments to come through and now I’m in the last semester of my degree. Deadlines are looming and I’m feeling the pressure, but I’m feeling positive about my assignments and confident that I’ll end this degree fabulously.
It can be done.