I spent the day at a PD workshop held by one of my supervisors on applying attachment theory to relationship counselling. The 6 other people there were all practicing psychologists, and sitting in a room and discussing people and attachment and relationships in that way was amazing. When the other women asked me what I planned to do, I confidently told them that (after my year off) I was going to apply to the doctoral program. It was lovely being in that environment, because even though I was the least experienced in terms of counselling experience (of which I have none), everyone listened when I spoke. With the exception of my supervisor, I actually knew the most about attachment theory; it seems crazy to me that people could be out there in the world with a limited knowledge of something that has completely changed the trajectory of my life.
I went home and wrote an email to my supervisor, thanking him again for his faith in me, for giving me the opportunity to attend the workshop, and also telling him how much his exposing me to attachment theory has changed my life. Then I was just relaxing and watching an episode of The Good Wife when my friend Alex messaged me to say that our final Honours marks were out. Our internet was being painfully slow and I was so keyed up I couldn’t stay sitting down, and then the screen loaded and all I could do was laugh. I got 92% for my thesis, and an average of 86% for the whole year. I think at that point my level of happiness was bordering on hysterical. It took me a good few hours to stop bouncing off the walls, and lying in bed that night I started to think about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed this year.
When I found out I got into Honours last December, deep down I felt it was a mistake. My marks weren’t high enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t good enough. My dog died in early January, and the relationship I found myself in (my first real relationship) by the time I started meeting with my supervisors and starting the whole thesis writing process was not really conducive to building confidence. I don’t blame that person for this (in fact, we’ve remained friends), because the way I was going about things made it impossible to know how I was feeling or what I wanted. Also I think we’re pretty fundamentally incompatible. So I week or so before starting Honours, we made a mutual decision to end the relationship. Being me though, any kind of break-up or romantic/dating relationship dissolution has very little impact. In comparison to everything else I was dealing/have dealt with, ceasing dating someone didn’t/doesn’t even register as a blip on my radar. Also, after 8 years of being on high dose anti-depressants, I had been off my meds for 2 or 3 months without any problems. Then out of nowhere I started having killer withdrawal symptoms. For those first few months of Honours, I was in a special kind of hell. When I went running, I had to stay in the park until the walking traffic light turned green and then sprint, because I couldn’t trust myself not to run into on-coming traffic. I had a panic attack at least three times a week, and felt like I was going to fall apart completely at any second. In those first few months, I also came out to my parents. They reacted badly, and didn’t speak to me for two months. I also attended the ashes scattering ceremony for my niece’s remains. The inquest into her death loomed in August.
At some point though, things started to change. I can’t even describe it or how exactly it happened, but it had a lot to do with my supervisors.
I had told them at the start of the year that I had clinical depression and was experiencing side-effects coming off my meds. I told them because I was worried I would have some kind of freak out mid-year, and I wanted to try to prepare them. Maybe I also wanted to give myself some kind of excuse, to pave the way for me inevitably dropping out. Once it was out (and they were lovely about it), then never mentioned it again. They didn’t make a point of asking me how I was or if I was back on my medication. It was as though the conversation had never taken place. That is, until I had a meeting with one of my supervisors about the second-last draft of my thesis. At the end of the meeting, he told me that he and my other supervisor had taken notice of how well I had handled everything that the year has thrown at me. I think that was another massive turning point, because not only had I not taken time to acknowledge that myself, but the idea that my supervisors were thinking that had never crossed my mind.
When we all went to the conference in Sydney to present out symposium, I was struck by completely normal all the amazing academics were. They certainly had their eccentricities, but they were so accessible. I guess in my mind I’d build up doing research as some completely unattainable thing, and saw people who did do it as god-like. Releasing that this wasn’t the case made me start to think seriously about doing my doctorate. At the conference dinner, I was able to chat to my supervisors over wine as though they were friends, and I was struck by how interested they were in all of us, and how genuinely proud they were when we presented.
When I woke up yesterday morning, I had an email waiting for my supervisor:
Many thanks for your very kind and generous email, it was very humbling to receive this. I’m glad that you enjoyed today and it appears in talking with people and with looking at the evaluations that things went down a treat — not bad for never having given this workshop before :o) I’m all about giving things a red-hot go :o)
It really was my pleasure to have you attend, and I appreciate the thanks, but you deserve it. I am glad that the things you’ve been exposed to, while confronting, have been helpful — our dream as therapists, researchers or teachers is to do even a little something that impacts on people’s lives for the better. So this is very pleasing.
Hilary, make no mistake, you are a very, very clever person, you are a very, very responsible person, and you have a very, very kind nature — you have all the hallmarks of being well suited to a doctoral program. Dealing with the challenges you have, and in the manner you have, speaks volumes of your character and who you are as a person, and don’t think that people like Marita and I don’t take notice — we do :o) So I am heartened to hear of your ambitions, it is a very big step for you to admit this to yourself and to admit to pursuing it… But to Marita and I, you are preaching to the converted, we knew what you were capable of before you did — we just needed you to see it — its sounds like you might just about be there.
See you tomorrow, and remember, I’m only ever an email away”
When I read this, I actually welled up; it is without a doubt the nicest letter I have ever received. It pretty much sums up all of my feelings about this year and what I have become (which is lucky, because I have lost the ability to express my feelings and experiences in a written narrative).