This post has been written with the intent of gaining closure on a difficult but fulfilling journey of postgraduate study. Some details have been intentionally left out and it is not meant to cause offense to anyone in particular. This is purely a reflective piece that will hopefully provide others in difficult paths of their lives to power through the challenges and make it to their end goal somehow.
It’s been just over 24 hours since getting my hands on what can easily be called as the most expensive piece of paper for myself and my family. Tears fill my eyes as I look at it as it reads Masters in Disability Policy and Practice underneath my full name. Attested and earned with a great deal of pain, stress, hard work, and support, I still cannot find myself to have had the feeling of being a graduate (again) sink in.
You know it’s funny, because I started this journey of getting my Postgraduate degree in 2013 – yep, 4 bloomin’ years ago! And yep, it was meant to be a 2-year degree full-time (you’re good at Math, not to worry)! But, not many people apart from my close friends are aware that I actually started this journey in a completely different course. A course I thought was “so meant for me”. My best friend was doing the same course and every time she’d talk about it, I wanted to be in that course all the more. Also, there were family influences that made me gravitate towards this course. Unfortunately, after going through the interview process, succeeding in the interview, and being accepted into the course, I quickly learned that this was not what I had expected it to be.
Sure, I made some good friends and I did excel in some of the topics that truly caught my interest, most of them being around the anatomical side of things. However, everything that sounded so damn interesting in theory, I failed to reciprocate in execution at placement(s). I knew this was going to be a full-on-as-heck of a course, but I kept telling myself (and lying to myself, as I realized much later on) that I would get through this and have the distinguished title of being within the allied health industry. The truth was that I was never happy. Some of my peers made me feel insignificant. Some of the staff were not as helpful as I had envisioned. Some of my social groups at the time were toxic. It became a routine to have to resubmit assignments.
I knew from a very early age that I was a slow learner, but I had never racked up so many F’s before and it was so disappointing, so deflating for my self-esteem, and plain exhausting on physical, mental, and emotional levels. Some of my peers were lovely enough to help me better study and understand the concepts, but at the end of the day, I fell flat when it came to performing in the industry / workforce via placement.
I’m still not sure if I was the only one who failed in the cohort, but you simply cannot imagine the pure anguish and shame that was felt when I found out that I wouldn’t be graduating with my class. To make matters worse, I was also made to attend a week of Transition workshops at the end of my degree, where literally EVERYONE around me was talking about how they had interviews and jobs lined up for them. I suddenly felt like this floating ball of nothing. I didn’t feel alive anymore. The biggest blow was hearing of some snappy comments that were made of me at the graduation ball (which I didn’t attend, of course) – comments like “she wasn’t born to be a speech pathologist”, “she has issues”, “she was never going to be a part of us”, and “she wasn’t made for it anyway”(ouch!) were thrown around like confetti. Ironic, given the profession that’s all about caring for and helping individuals with specific types of disabilities, isn’t it?
I had 2 topics to complete this degree. It took me 3 attempts and 5x Fs to realize that this industry was indeed not for me. But the heart wanted what the heart wanted, hence why I went through this gruelling process of attempting the same two topics 3x each.
The first time – there were no excuses. I was in a bad place. I was in a bad frame of mind. And it literally affected my work, my study, and my life on the whole.
The second time – I gave it my 100% to excel in placement, had an incredible supervisor, and a great team. However, I fell short and wasn’t able to complete my placement. I withdrew from my other topic because I was initially just going to walk away and never look at this hellish course ever again.
Except there was a third and final time – what the heck was I thinking? In retrospect, I could’ve saved my parents the $18000 that contributed towards these 2 courses, but you know what? The experience of this 3rd time made me head into my current qualification so I cannot help but see it from the perspective that everything happened for a reason. I failed placement…AGAIN. I knew I was working extra hard, but to be pulled out of placement 1/2 way through the course was a bit disappointing and unfair. I wasn’t as lucky this time round with my clinical educator, but I saw it as a challenge that I THOUGHT I could face well. The placement itself, however, was so much fun and I know I connected with the clients who I worked with. But yeah, I didn’t make it through.
My supervisor at uni, however, helped me deal with this extremely difficult time by providing me with a couple of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) sessions. We haven’t kept in touch since, but that’s purely because I’m just not ready. In the moment, however, she was my rock, and I am forever grateful for that. She was also the same person who gave me an unofficial diagnosis of having a learning disability. Instead of being repulsed by that, however, it was kind of a huge relief in all honesty.
I sought out a bunch of mental health services throughout this time, because it’s the one thing we tend to neglect the most, but it’s the main thing that tends to affect our overall wellbeing in ways that are beyond our comprehension. That, coupled with the support of my friends and family are honestly the main reasons why I’m still here today. I cannot recommend these services enough – most of them are free and super easy to get to (if you’re based in Adelaide). They are also available for support online, so if you get anxious like me every time you leave the house, you can now get support right in the comfort of your own home! I’ve added a list of services (at the end of this post) that have greatly helped me, particularly in the last 4 years and I cannot recommend them enough!
Throughout that degree, I spent the 1st two years in a toxic relationship, but in the final 2 years, I was blessed to get into a much better and healthier relationship and an added layer of support from my family here. I found the transfer to my current degree to be so refreshing! There was a great mix of local and international students. I found it so much easier to understand my assignments and connect with my peers. I was able to effectively manage my time, enhance my learning, and feel accomplished with my hard work that I put into the semesters. The topics I chose were well supported by staff members who were not only knowledgeable in those specific areas of interest, but were always ready to provide support in any way possible. The level of support and interaction between staff and peers was admirable and exactly what ought to be expected for a postgraduate degree standard. The switch allowed me to not only think critically and analyse current information, but also potentially add to it and share new knowledge in a safe space, where learning was encouraged to the max! I have formed friendships with some truly remarkable people, who have not only made my final year at uni a memorable one, but have extended their time and company beyond the uni space to become great company and a source of continuum. That is something I will treasure for a long time to come, especially because studying abroad without much family around means you rely on the people around you to become your surrogate family!
While I have my friends and family to thank for getting me this far, it is important to acknowledge that the pain of failure still lingers and stings every now and then. I even saw the course coordinator of the former course on stage yesterday and couldn’t help but feel all this angst and frustration rush back like a raging waterfall. Luckily, I was able to focus my energy on being happy and grateful for FINALLY graduating with my postgraduate degree – one that brings me much more happiness and one that I can truly connect with on so many levels. Seeing my other topic and course coordinators of my current degree thoroughly helped with maintaining my composure throughout the Graduation ceremony as well.
So to sum up – am I mad at how things went over the last 4 years? No! Because you know what? Every single detail that went into making those 4 years what they have been has contributed in some way (small or big) towards me getting this far! There were highs and boy oh boy were there some lowest of lows! But, I’m still here… kicking goals. And while I’m uncertain of what the future holds for me, I want to do good in people’s lives – particularly those who have no one else to turn to – for support, for advocacy, and/or for collaborations. I am so thankful that I had took some time off, explored my other options of applying my knowledge and skillset in the field of allied health, volunteered overseas in Morocco and Jamaica, where I worked with children with and without disabilities, achieved a Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies, fought (really super duper extra) hard to get to my goal of helping people with and without disabilities.and finally received a Postgraduate degree that enables me to work with people with and without disabilities.
I am ready.
Against all odds.
Thanks for reading!
PS – please feel free to share your stories, especially if you felt “stuck” at any point in your life, and how you cho(o)se to overcome it. xx
PPS – if you are in need of some services for your mental wellbeing, these are some who helped me through my not-so-great times (I’m sure there are TONS more out there, but these were my go-to’s):