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by Lauren Hislop Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning. 'You Failed.' Those two words reverberated through my head as I made my way home. After receiving such devastating news, I went to my friend’s house and rang mum. To this day I cannot fathom how she understood me, in between my uncontrollable sobs and slurred voice, I expressed my sorrow for letting her down. She assured me I hadn’t. But I was a failure! My mind flooded with memories of mum’s devotion, supporting me in my pursuit of a social work career and in an instant it was blown. My heart and soul had gone into this attempt at achieving my dreams and now all my endeavours proved to be futile; all that toil for nothing. My greatest desire was to have a successful career, believing social work to be the only path towards that goal and, in that moment, I felt all my prospects of achieving employment vanish. That weekend, while sipping cheap wine on my mum’s verandah with a friend, I experienced a gamut of emotions. In between sobs, there were moments of hysterical laughter so that our cheeks almost burst. We were reminiscing all the joyous times spent together and these light-hearted moments made the weekend bearable. A fortnight after receiving the news, I had a meeting with my course co-ordinator and lecturer to discuss my failure. It was an unnecessary evil. I was a contestant being ejected from the Big Brother house and they were commentators discussing my eviction. During the meeting, I maintained composure as if seated in a classroom. My coordinator asked what happened during placement. A jug of water and glasses sat between us on the table, a distraction from the awkwardness of the moment as I explained my extreme fatigue. I sat calmly as they officially announced my failure and that I wouldn’t be able to progress to third year. I nodded my head, taking a drink from the glass of water in front of me as they asked what I would do now? I smiled, announcing that I would have a break and, clearly relieved, my coordinator told me 'that was the easiest meeting of this nature I’ve ever attended. Most students are extremely distraught.' However, my cool, calm exterior melted away on the train ride home and I felt myself begin to unravel. Seeking refuge in my bedroom, I commenced howling; a monsoon of tears fell down my face. Weeping into my pillow became a daily ritual. I felt as though my world was ending and melancholy took hold. Growing up, there were peers and teachers who believed my aspirations to be too high. I was resolved to prove them wrong - people with disability could succeed in the career of their choice and yet I had confirmed all my critics’ beliefs; surely my failure would be attributed to my disability. My soul was crushed beyond redemption. Self-loathing and reprimand captured my thoughts as I was consumed with guilt, surrounded by a murky nothingness. I experienced immense emotional anguish, finding reprieve only when asleep. An unsteady gait had resulted in many falls during my life yet, this was the hardest fall of all. I was descending into a pit of despair, rapidly surrounded by opaque fog and unable to view the world clearly. I felt my life was over. My mental health had remained relatively intact up until now. However, depression ensnared me like a tsunami. I began to behave in extremely irrational ways, alienating myself from friends and, as a result, I spiralled deeper into despondency. My family, whilst supportive couldn’t understand my state. I had always been positive, and now my nature was one of utter despair. Sitting on my bed staring out my window, I could see time progressing as my world stood still. Photos on the wall of me, blissfully carefree with a crocked smile amongst my friends, were in dire contrast to the bleak and hopeless future I faced now. But my fighting spirit hovered in the background and I slowly became determined to return to the degree, to give work placement another try. In second semester, I commenced a new placement at Gosford Centrelink, five minutes from my mother’s house. I finally felt the stars re-aligning when I instantly warmed to my supervisor. Nadine had chestnut hair and emerald green eyes; she also went to the same high school a couple of years ahead of me. With achievable tasks and a nurturing environment, success appeared to be on the horizon. After a week or two I was asked to give a talk about disability in the workplace, to professionals currently supervising a social work student. I was thrilled to be involved, believing my previous work placement experience has resulted in the social work department wanting to make work placements more accessible. I arrived with my friend Shirley, a disability advocate who was one of the presenters. We were to meet my friend Justin, who was presenting as a third year social work student. However, we were ushered into a private room and I felt déjà vu, thinking it had to be about my performance in the current placement. What they conveyed to me was horrific - Justin had suicided and to this day I can’t recall what words we uttered. Justin was in my close group of friends, his death tore the group apart. The loss of Justin pushed me over the edge, I abandoned the degree and spent hours in my room sobbing uncontrollably. I went to a couple of recommended counsellors which didn’t work for me. Seeing in the New Year I was near breaking point, in sheer desperation I pulled a number for a psychiatrist from the phone book and asked my mother to call his office. Meeting this psychiatrist helped lift the veil of darkness impeding my outlook and the introduction of cognitive behavioural therapy allowed me to accept I had an illness. If I wanted to get better I had to become an active participant in my recovery so, during the year I caught up with old friends, travelling independently to Tasmania for the first time and my experiences there will always be cherished. The dark abyss was fading, light had started to seep through the curtains. I learned to live again and realised my entire worth wasn’t dictated by achievements; my character began to re-emerge. I learnt that relinquished goals could be replaced with new ones. I arrived at the conclusion that social work was neither the course for me nor the only path towards a meaningful vocation. I enrolled in Social Science majoring in Community Welfare, this degree offered opportunities for me to foster my interest in policy development. After taking a detour, I was finally back on course, reawakened with optimism for my future. I knew that if I was to fall again, I would rise from the ashes. I was ready for my second act.
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