March 30, 2020

Rinse and Repeat

I have decided recently that escapism via living in the past, watching the Disney streaming service and reading books about other worlds is my best coping strategy. Along with some Yoga and listening to Pat Divilly because he has a soothing voice.

Although this blog post was hard for me to revisit, it reminded me that I have been through a lot and came out the other end. We will all come out the other end of this crazy Pandemic better people and thankful for the little things in life, for they are the big things after all.

Autumn 2016 marked the time of the next set of exams and the first time I would get a whole 15 minutes extra time! Hazzah!

Let’s just say there’s nothing like a cold hard failure to motivate you to fix all the things that you know are holding you back. I rang my consultant’s secretary so many times we were on first name terms…she was friendly at first and then I think she had blocked my number…sorry Amanda. But by god I was desperate. It had already been decided that I had sleep apnoea at this point but the treatment of the CPAP machine still wasn’t available and this was two years later.

Around September time I was back with the sleep consultant again. It turned out that my original sleep study had gone missing – que further harassment (not literally just yano… lots of ringing and being a Karen basically) of hospital secretaries and I actually managed to track it down myself. Once it was found, my new sleep consultant studied the results again and he decided that my onset of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) of 6-7mins was more indicative of Narcolepsy than it was of Sleep Apnoea. The sleep clinic in NI was at full capacity and so I was referred to a hospital in Glasgow. I sat my exams though with no CPAP and no treatment, the only reprieve was 15 extra minutes. I honestly can’t remember if we had got as far as being referred to Glasgow at this point actually, it is all such a blur and my poor memory doesn’t help! The only thing I know for certain is that I was in limbo in terms of treatment.

I remember I sat this set of exams in Stranmillis (a teaching college in Belfast) and I wheeled my little suitcase into the exam room. The exams are open book but if you consider the amount of textbooks, accounting standards as well as past papers and your own notes & templates – there was a lotttt to bring to the exam. As I couldn’t drive I always found it easier to bring a wee suitcase instead. Some people stared. I assumed they were staring in awe at my cool study hack. Obviously.

I was quite optimistic about these exams, I had sought help from some kind friends who helped me with some of the areas I struggled with, I practiced exam papers in timed conditions. I did everything you were supposed to. On day 2 my nemesis exhaustion and poor concentration paid a visit. I wasn’t even half way through and I was literally spent. I was so tired and I remember feeling like my hand wouldn’t operate quick enough in line with my brain. The knowledge wouldn’t come out quick enough. I wasn’t making the connections between the information and applying my knowledge quick enough. It was all in slow motion and everything felt like a blur. But then my thoughts would swing back in the opposite direction. I had done my best with the exams and I felt like I had structured my answers well. Lightning couldn’t strike twice in one place surely…

The time rolled around again for results. Quite a bit had changed since the exam sitting. My relationship had ended and I can only describe what I was like at this time as an exhausted demon. I was angry and tired and hated life. Poor decisions were made, ones, which had permanent consequences, which I won’t discuss here. People would say ‘but what were you thinking?’ and really I just wasn’t thinking. I had succumbed to my own misery and everything was shit. Then the results came out.

I was so used to the disappointment that I didn’t even bother setting my alarm. I went out the night before to try and take my mind off what was to come and I awoke, still drunk probably and read my results with one eye open. I jolted awake as my stomach began to sank. It couldn’t be….but the Tax paper I was sure…and the FR was fine….I couldn’t believe it. I had failed them ALL again.

I remember texting my manager again and then just sleeping the entire day. I didn’t want to be awake and feel my feelings. I was embarrassed and disappointed and overwhelmed and numb all at the same time.

I awoke early the next morning, time to face the music again…my job was now on the line.I needed to tell them how my exams really went, they went far from ‘Ah yeah grand’ which I usually responded with when asked.

I can’t remember if this was the time I cried in the partner’s office as I struggled to explain why I had failed again. How embarrassing. For context, I am like Cameron Diaz in ‘The Holiday’. I don’t cry and I certainly don’t do it in front of other people so you have to realise that when I cry it’s BAD! If I’m crying you should be worried, that’s all I’m saying.

My manager already knew about my condition but I realised that I now had to explain this in a more formal environment. I would have to submit my firm’s internal extenuating circumstances form with medical evidence, which went to HR in Dublin. I was going to have to explain my condition and the impact it had on my exams. I would have to travel down to sit in front of the board (all of whom were senior members of staff, if not partners). I felt like I was left with no choice though, it was either this or be sacked from my job immediately.

The thing that upset me the most was just how close I was to passing. I was a few marks off making the ‘50’ pass mark. I was working as hard as I possibly could and it wasn’t working. I could see from my marks that they were the highest on the first exam day and then started dropping as the days went on. This was in line with how exhausted I was getting. By the fourth day, my marks remained in the 40s but on the lower bracket. It was infuriating. The institute allowed for the exams to be split in two but my firm didn’t. I decided to request this on my form as a solution and a very necessary step for the level of exhaustion I was experiencing. I took a breath in and clicked the send button.

It wasn’t long before I was sitting on the Enterprise to Dublin with my treatment timeline tucked under my arm. I knew that the people on the board would be taking time out of their busy schedule to have a meeting with me. They needed to understand my position in a quick, succinct and clear manner. There was no room for waffle and my treatment timeline was the quickest way to show them how long I had waited for treatment and I could chat them through my symptoms and how this affected my exams. I had set out the dates of my first GP appointment right up to my most current appointment with my sleep consultant. They were nice enough about it but one person expressed concern about the idea that I might sit the exams in 2 sets. This was against firm policy and they feared that this would ‘open the floodgates’ to claims from other people. As a law graduate I was very familiar with the phrase of ‘opening the floodgates’ and what it meant in a judgement. It meant that they didn’t want to deviate from policy. They didn’t want to make an exception for me for fear that other people could stand behind their decision and use it as weight for their own purposes in future. Which would in turn inconvenience them and disrupt their work environment.

When I think back to the exact moment that this phrase came out of their mouth, I get so angry at my response. Everything is in slow motion and it’s like in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when you are asked what you would say to friends if they criticised themselves in the manner you criticise yourself. It’s like looking at yourself through a glass window and desperately trying to bang the window and shout at yourself to stop what you are doing, to stop saying what you are about to say. If you were to say what needed to be said, you would have told them that you deserved to be accommodated regardless of a floodgate argument. That your condition is rare and there will not be many after you in these exact circumstances anyway. That sentencing you to re-sitting the four exams in succession would set you up for more inevitable failures. That you shouldn’t accept this offer and walk away right there and then.

But I didn’t say or do any of that.

I could see this person’s face change as they read my request, the doubt over their face whether they would grant my appeal or not. I felt sick as I knew that if they didn’t accept my appeal, I would be sacked from my job.

I told them that this request was a preference but that I would do the exams again in one sitting if that was my only option.

They shook my hand and I left the meeting room, it had gone well, but at what price?

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