Monday 23 November 2020

My experience with temporary withdrawal

Linda talks about her decision to take a temporary­­ withdrawal during her Master’s.

 - Linda

I applied for a temporary withdrawal in April or May 2020. There were many small reasons that amalgamated and created a huge mess. I questioned my intentions for doing a masters as my main motivation to do so was get a distinction to override the 2:1 I received for my undergraduate. I feared I was not employable, so applying for jobs absolutely terrified me. I hadn’t really thought through what course to study, where and whether it was the right time for me. I was very confused and tired. I was severely neglecting my mental health and ended up horribly sleep deprived and depressed. Additionally, in January, my partner and I had split up. I wanted to compartmentalise my grief and sadness into one week, but it seeped out into the following months and most aspects of my life. My identity as a ‘good girlfriend’ was stripped from me and I overcompensated by reaffirming my identity in other areas. I collected yet another part-time job, I spent more time being a good friend socialising, and studied and studied and studied. Nothing could fill that gaping hole and with all the commitments, I ended up teetering on an edge.

When the pandemic hit, everything became infinitely more stressful. I had spent months training myself to keep home, studying and work separate. My bedroom was supposed to be a safe space from the world, I could not be productive there. Additionally, my degree was moved online, and I couldn’t see my family or friends. My brain just couldn’t handle all of the changes. The straw that broke the camel’s back came with my last assignment; I could not finish it so I was granted a five-day extension. I cried on most of those five days. I was so tired and desperate. My final piece was barely a first draft, I didn’t even have time to get it checked over by my supervisor. It hit me that I was experiencing pressure so immense that it was affecting my academic performance. With my lack of motivation, sleep deprivation and depression, I could see myself burning out completely and screwing up my dissertation and mental health further. I HAD to stop.

Stop! It felt like a weakness. I saw my temporary withdrawal as an admission that I was incompetent and not suited for a masters.  I was very worried about how people would perceive me. Some people were worried that I couldn’t cope with a masters and now, I had proved them right.

By June, I was not in education or employment which was a first for me. Every day felt insignificant, wasted away by going on walks, drawing and listening to audio books. Instead of being adult, I was ignoring the massive looming debt due to my decision to take time off. I had dwindled my student loan and had little means to afford rent for the next year. I needed money but I couldn’t be bothered to work. Occasionally, I would apply for jobs as another way of filling my day.  In the early stages of my temporary withdrawal in general though, I experienced a pervasive nothingness.

Eventually, each day became easier. My best friend had the idea of starting a joint art page on Instagram to share our art so drawing started to feel more purposeful. My friend and I started small giveaways, she would make bookmarks and I postcards, and we would send them out to friends and family. Initially, it was spurred by boredom, but soon creating and sending postcards became very rewarding. I was connecting with family, friends and meeting new people. People were appreciative of my postcards; they were a little happy thing in an otherwise grim situation. A friend and local reverend who owned a small business contacted me and offered small postcard commissions and so my postcards reached even further than I thought they would. Each day on my walks, I would call my dad and we would gossip about my siblings. I would venture further on each walk, exploring forests and admiring buildings and street art. This was especially exciting as a year prior to this, an unfortunate injury had drastically reduced my mobility. During July, I was working at a local charity where I supported people experiencing isolation. Life started to feel less heavy.

I no longer feel any shame for taking a temporary withdrawal. I now see that I have nothing left to prove to people. I don’t need a masters to show that I am good at research or a distinction to show that I am smart. I am not weak or pathetic for taking a break when I needed one. I did not waste my time drawing, socialising and walking. I have had the time and space to think. Maybe I was not informed going into my masters. However, I do not regret it. I do miss psychological research however and will eventually finish my masters.

Here are some of my drawings from lockdown and my temporary withdrawal. The bottom row shows five postcards. The middle three are ones I was commissioned for.

Visit Student Minds for further support and Student Space is here to help you through coronavirus. Explore online resources, access direct support via text, phone, web chat or email and find the support available at your place of study.

I am Linda. I did a BSc in Psychology at the University of Warwick and now I am studying a MSc in Psychological research and working part-time at a charity that tackles isolation in adults.

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