Finishing finals – thoughts a few days on

Since my finals finished on Thursday, I’ve been feeling a lot better recently, less anxious, more optimistic and on the whole less “trapped”. I have been waiting to get out of Oxford for a long time, and now it feels like that time has finally arrived.

The last few days have been extremely busy. On Thursday I met a friend after my last exam for a drink, then crashed while watching the election. On Friday I went to celebrate another friend’s final exam before going to a pub for “one” pint at 6pm. Of course, I got home at 1am and another friend who was supposed to go home to London crashed on my sofa.

Yesterday I went to Eastleigh to visit my brother, sister-in-law and nieces, which was very relaxed. We went for a walk around Westminster which was really nice. I got back at 9pm then headed to a nightclub with another friend, as one of my coursemates was putting on a drum and bass night. Today is the first day I really have to myself, though I am meeting a different friend later.

There is a lot to get done over the next few weeks. Today I’ve started going through my belongings and tried to work out what I need to get rid of before I move out, as well as making a list of jobs that need to be done round the flat before we move out (defrosting the freezer, replacing a bit of grouting, things like that). I also have to sort out our final bills and deposits as I am the head tenant.

In many ways, however, this kind of stuff all seems so trivial compared with the stress of Oxford. I’ve moved so many times – the prospect of having to sort this kind of stuff out doesn’t really affect me any more. On the other hand I sometimes find myself randomly getting anxious, thinking about the possibility of having to do academic work again – and I then I remember it’s over. It’s strange that it’s only now that it’s over that I start to realize how much anxiety my course was causing me.


Finals are over!


My final two exams were on Thursday, the first a history paper in the morning followed by a Greek translation exam in the afternoon.

After the exam I was met by a friend who came to college and “trashed” me (threw glitter on me, and gave me the garland and crown. This is an Oxford tradition for the end of exams).

I had planned to go out an celebrate after the end of my exams, but soon realized that most of the other classicists still had exams, and that my flatmate, who finished yesterday, had absconded to Norway (his home country) until Monday – I found out when he texted me from Gatwick.

I also realized that I was completely exhausted, which is perhaps natural after 4.5 hours of exams. I didn’t even managed to stay up to watch the election results! Though I did manage to go and vote yesterday covered in glitter (and the Lib Dems have ousted the Tories in Oxford West), so I suppose it was worth it.

Right now, I have loads of stuff to sort out, starting with properly tidying my flat, getting in contact with friends I haven’t seen, contacting my brother (who I’m going to see tomorrow), and getting ready for my summer job.

I can’t believe it’s all finally over. The feeling of finally being about to leave Oxford is almost worth having studied here.

Finals diary, part 6: Nearly there

32 days until my finals are over, or just over a month to go.

This week has been good for me. I’ve managed to get a lot of revision done, but I’m starting to feel a little bit of fatigue with working all day every day. I’ve decided to take two days off this weekend just to give myself a little bit of breathing space to recover. I am fairly confident about how things will go, and now I almost feel a kind of impatience as I wait for things to finally be over.

Yesterday I went to Cheltenham to visit friends, which was a welcome break from Oxford. We visited a gallery in the morning, before cooking lunch together and then going for a walk in a Cotswolds village with a drink in a pub at the end. It was very relaxing and calm, and also was great to spend some time with people who are not under exam pressure at the minute.

I also got through the assessment stage of the British Council assistantship application. As far as I understand it, this means that I have a very strong chance of being allocated a post in Germany, but it is still not 100% certain, particularly because I will not be a third year languages student taking a year abroad. Nevertheless, I’m optimistic that it will work out, and the only thing I can do is wait and see.

Finals diary, part 5: Revision – and drinking

This week has been good. I’ve got into a good routine of getting up at 7-8 and going to the library, working until 6-7 and then going to the pub with friends (since everyone is back now). It has been pretty intense, but I’ve also been very motivated and have got loads done this week.

I also received my exam timetable this weekend (scary), and  got back one of the collections that I did last week (Cicero). I got 65 (a 2.i in the UK system, which is an acceptable mark), which I’m quite happy with, given that I didn’t get as much revision done during the vacation as I’d hoped to due to getting my thesis finished. I am still waiting to get the other one back, in archaeology, which I am a bit more worried about.

I have generally been pretty upbeat this week. It is a sharp change from the lingering depression that has been bothering me for the last few months. Maybe I am finally over my ex. Maybe it is because the end is in sight (less than six weeks to go now). Maybe because the weather is so much better. Maybe it’s because my flatmates are back and I’m no longer alone in the flat. Whatever is the reason, I almost can’t believe how much better I feel and how much more motivated I am. I even decided to pack in the fags again last weekend, and this is my sixth day without one. I was offered one on three occasions by three different people this week (which seems strangely symbolic), but refused. Maybe I will actually succeed this time?

I also found out on Thursday that I have been successful in the assessment stage of the British Council assistant-ship application. If all goes well I will find out where I am going in Germany in the next few weeks. However, it is still not 100%, as they prioritize giving places to students doing language degrees who are doing a year abroad, though in the email they sent me it was said that everyone has been accommodated in the last few years. I am pretty happy about this, and although the uncertainty is frustrating, I’m not too worried about what will happen if it doesn’t work out.

Finals diary, part 2: A slump

The optimism of my last post was perhaps premature: this week has not been so productive. Having sent my thesis to my supervisor I was sent back a long series of corrections to implement as well as a few extra reading suggestions. Getting through this has been more than a little bit stressful, but I’m almost there. I have more or less finished it: all that is left at the minute is to cut it down by 200 words to the word limit, and to proofread. Then it will need to be print, bound and submitted.

This has meant that I’ve hardly done any revision this week whatsoever. This is a bit of a disappointment, but I am really struggling to motivate myself at the minute. Today I slept until 11am and writing this blogpost is the most productive thing I’ve done today. I am trying to motivate myself enough to leave my flat and head to the library for a few hours in the evening, but getting myself ready to go has proved to be something of a struggle. The weather we had at the weekend was lovely, but unfortunately we are now back to slightly colder days and grey skys. The days are getting longer, at least.

There are a few things I will need to get through this week:

1. Have a read through of the prescribed Cicero texts in English so I have a good idea what happens in each of them.

2. Do some translation just to refresh my memory.

3. Review my tutorial essays and notes

4. Do 12 past papers for three options I particularly need to focus on

5. Get my thesis ready for submission

It is doable, but I am struggling at the minute with a kind of paralysing anxiety, which, in particular, is preventing from leaving the flat. I will overcome it – of course I will – and everything will be fine in the end, but it is troubling. I am consciously trying to avoid social media discussions of finals or revision since I find that it only seems to heighten the anxiety (and students have a habit of catastrophizing, and there can be a bit of competitiveness about “who’s the most stressed”. I want to avoid playing that game.)

I am still waiting to hear back from the British council about the job in Germany, but from what I can gather they usually let people know outcomes in the middle of April. Knowing the answer to that will take a lot of the stress off, as will having finally submitted my thesis. As for now, I suppose I just need to stop moping and get on with it.

UPDATE: perhaps as a result of the guilt induced by writing this post, I got myself to the library and finished editing and proofreading my thesis. It is now ready for submission, and I will print and have it bound tomorrow. 

The thing about smoking…

An update on my previous post, Reflections on Quitting Smoking: Love, Hate and a Confession

KODAK FUN SAVER Digital Camera

The thing about smoking…is that quitting is never that straightforward. It should be, of course: you just stop. You pack it in, throw out the ciggies/tobacco and go about your daily life simply without doing it.

But it isn’t that simple. Once nicotine has a hold on you, it holds tight. It gets into  your thoughts, your social interactions, your stress relief, your routines, even, to some extent, your identity.

The devil’s herb, cancer poles, death sticks – the health risks start to fade in your consciousness. Smoking becomes a comfort, a reassurance, something nice to take the edge off. It is almost a political statement, as if by ruining your lungs you are somehow sticking it to the man. Government health warnings (pure ideology!), which now completely cover packs of straights and rolling tobacco, at least, make it feel that way, as does the relegation of smokers to outside beer gardens and the sneers of passers-by.

The pleasures of smoking are rarely acknowledged, the sheer relaxation and comfort that comes with sitting on a café terrace with a coffee and cigarette and watching the world go by. The psychological reminders are everywhere: sitting at a pub while your friends roll their cigarettes, the balcony in your flat where you enjoyed many post-coital cigarettes with your ex, the bench in college where you got some respite from the library, the infinite places you spent your undergraduate years scouting out as a safe place to light up.

I cracked. I had a good run. A few weeks I managed, enduring the migraines and the anxiety and the disruption to my normal rhythm. In the end, with exams looming and a 10,000 word document which needed to be written, edited and formatted within an inch of its life, I was not strong enough. I have failed. It started with a 10 pack of players, that feint reassurance that “just one” would be enough, the addict’s delusion of self control, that it was merely a brief indulgence before I would be back on the straight and narrow. Then it was only two, only three, only four… then I gave in and bought myself a bag of amber leaf. The woman in the corner shop smiled faintly at me, as if she knew what was up. I was defeated.

I will try to quit again. After my exams, I swear. I promise. For real this time.

Reflections on the end of term – the end of my degree

On Monday I handed in the last tutorial work I will ever submit at Oxford, which consisted of two gobbets (commentaries) on extracts of Cicero’s Pro Marcello. My journey to this point has been a long and very difficult one, but I am glad to have reached it. All that is left for me now is to submit my thesis (which is on Roman numismatics) and sit my final exams (three in translation, one on Cicero’s oratory, two in Roman archaeology, and four in Roman and Hellenistic history).

There was a point, around three years ago, in March 2014, when I had given up any hope that I would ever reach this point. I came to Oxford very optimistic, happy to have received an offer and excited about the intellectual and social opportunities that lay before me. Then, living independently for the first time, I started to have crushing realizations about some of my childhood experiences, and thoughts would come to me overwhelmingly and unstoppably, and I felt a surging, terrifying anger, the kind of anger that would leave me physically shaking and unable to think, and which could be triggered by almost anything.

I struggled to make sense of things, and I felt terribly alone. I became alienated from my family, and moreover, I felt that students at Oxford were different to me in an irreconcilable way, and this impression was reinforced by a couple of hurtful experiences of class prejudice in my first year. My confidence was destroyed, and I had no faith that if I ventured further outward that I could find anything different.

It was hard for me to feel on top of the work with thoughts like these rushing through my mind, and by my second year, when I faced my first set of exams, it started to get much worse. I found myself sitting in my room, unable to think, unable to move, experiencing m surroundings as if I were sitting in a cinema. Then the strange thoughts started: I was guilty, terribly guilty – I had committed a terrible crime, and everyone was out to get me. These thoughts led to a series of events which ended with a brief period in hospital. As I was due to be discharged I was informed by a nurse that my college were not allowing me to return to my room, and that they would find me a B&B. After some argument on the phone by my social worker, I was allowed to return.

I was forced to take a year out of Oxford, after which I could return and sit my exams. I returned to Northern Ireland and managed to rent a room privately in a building which had once been a commune, now reduced to two elderly occupants, one of whom I am still in contact with. I read a lot of political literature at this time, as much of it was lying around the house, but otherwise lived as a hermit. I was frustrated by lengthy waiting lists to get any kind of help on the NHS. Despite what I had been told, I had to restart the process of referral which I had already undergone in England some time before from scratch.

At this point I decided to blow most of the money I had saved from my student grants on an 11-week trip in continental Europe, without travel insurance, without much prior planning, and without any kind of safety net. I was told time and time again how awful an idea this was: I did it anyway. I finished my trip with four weeks of manual labour on an archaeological site outside Naples. This was cathartic: something about being outside in the heat, working hard, with a friendly group of people who drank and played cards together almost every single evening which helped me to regulate the emotions I was feeling. I started to feel calmer, that I was on my way to something better, and felt my confidence restored.

I returned to Ireland motivated to finish my degree. I sat my first set of exams and got a 2.i, despite the disruption. At the start of my final year I was awarded an exhibition, that is, a £200 prize recognizing my academic work in the previous year. I got a summer job in Spain; the next summer I got a job in Oxford, and this summer I return there, with a promotion and a pay rise. When I left Oxford I saw a lifetime spent dealing with never ending misery stretching out before me, and the future seemed bleak. I worried seriously about becoming homeless; I thought my problems made me unemployable. As it stands I am excited to leave Oxford, and hopeful about what the future will bring.