Going back to University as an early thirty something (31 actually) is a peculiar experience. Upon being accepted by your first choice of uni there is the sheer wonder that you got through that gruelling interview without saying something incriminating. There is the initial joy at the prospect of your freedom in not having a job for the next two years. The beautiful smelling wonder that is your new pencil case, the positive vibes coming from that packet of fresh highlighters. The blissful ignorance of what is around the corner.
Upon starting term there is the fear that your brain cells have been drowned in a 10-year-old vodka habit and thus no longer have the ability to retain new information. The sickening feeling of being 18 again and needing desperately to make friends ASAP, the sheer anxiety of multiple girl cliques rigidly forming on day one without you.
There is the gut churning notion that despite previous beliefs cemented in place after your final GCSE Biology exam back in the hazy summer of 2002, you will have to learn science all over again and then later be held accountable for any holes in your knowledge. You have forgotten very much what homeostasis is, let alone depolarisation. Something to do with melting ice caps and homeless bears?
Three weeks later there is the utter self-disgust that you really desperately do not want to go for a drink after lectures with your new colleagues because all you want to do is go home and make dinner because this is your new way to ‘unwind’ having realised that alcohol really fucks you up and is mostly boring (apart from on Birthdays and Xmas.) After eating an entire sack of roast potatoes you will sit in a darkened room and de-fug yourself of the absolute horror of hanging around with early twenty-somethings. HORROR. (I joke, they are mostly all amazing.) You seem to have lost all ability to listen in class for more than 30 minutes before mentally planning your escape route. You have a severe adverse internal reaction to anyone who begins chomping an apple next to you or has a recurrent sniff / sneeze / cough in lectures. You have less time for people who do not enunciate or project their voice in seminars. There is always the small possibility that you are going deaf.
You realise that you have lost all patience.
You are then really hard on yourself for having lost all of your patience.
Six months in, and you realise you are going to have to relax a little bit. You begin to own the fact that you are older and have lived (a bit) more than the early twenty somethings. You’re mostly not excited by Wetherspoons anymore and that’s OK (unless you have just finished a science exam.) You’re definitely not excited by Vodka Revolution anymore and that’s always been OK. You enjoy making risotto these days and you’re fine with it. You have more common sense than you did 10 years ago, and although you worry – you don’t sweat the cow shit so much. You have survived depression and you slay anxiety every damn day so you don’t really care that you are sitting alone at lunch; that your questions sound stupid, that you’ve just taken 10 of the most geeky nursing books on earth out of the library, or that someone has just noticed a squashed veggie burger in the external pocket of your bag that you were saving for later. You didn’t lose your nut in Fabric on Saturday and you’re proud of it. You don’t know what on Earth ‘Dua Lipa’ is and you don’t fucking care mate.
You just want to get on in your own way. There is a beauty in this. A sense of liberation. Not needing to fit in. It’s coming to terms with a new phase of life. You’re not an erratic drunken hamster on a wheel anymore. You have energy but you choose where to spend it. You’re on time to lectures because you actually want to learn this time. You think your lecturers are (mostly) really cool because they always have the answers to the hardest questions. You don’t flick peanuts at them like you used to. You love uni, but you have a life outside of it this time. Although you will absolutely take that 20% student discount at Apple for your sins. You just said ‘for your sins’ in public and you don’t care because your laptop is no longer from the Jurassic Era. For this you thank Steve Jobs, you thank him very much. Then you slide him into your enormous back pack alongside your geeky books. You take that squashed veggie burger out of your bag for all to see, and valiantly take a bite of what it feels like to be you and mostly OK with it.