I have never been the type to be stressed over good grades, after all I’ve always been my teachers’ favourite throughout my academic life. This was not because I was smart, but simply because I was above average in terms of working hard. Because of this, I can’t remember a single grade where I was not the teacher’s pet; and whenever awards were handed out, or when a school event needed an “A” student’s face … it was usually ME!
One of my greatest moments in life was in fourth grade, when I was called to present an essay I had written in front of hundreds of people. I believe that it was at this point that I fell in love with writing and public speaking, although I do neither one of those things today.
My undergraduate studies were no different from school — I picked right up from where I left off and even did way better, if I may say so myself! Out of the 26 subjects I was registered for, I passed 24 (!) with distinction. My fellow mates nicknamed me 100, and yes, I was that 100% student. Publicly, I was not fond of the name, but secretly, I loved the respect that it came with.
Fast forward to Master’s, did I not see FLAMES!!! I don’t know whether it was a change in environment — I moved from the rural Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in the Eastern Cape to the oh so metropolitan University of Johannesburg (UJ) — or if it was having my heart broken a month before that big move. The stress and pressure were just overwhelming. UJ is a very diverse university, proclaimed the epicenter of PAN-Africanism and with that comes students from various backgrounds, nationalities and status, and (the horror!)… I was met with other “teachers’ favourites”. These students had been awarded opportunities to come study in South Africa, as they were all top students in their respective countries, just as I was at WSU. This immense competition led to me doubting my capabilities and losing motivation and confidence. As a result, my productivity dropped. My supervisor was also not so easy to impress and as much as he believed in me, his support did not help much.
I had to find the means to deal with all the stress I was feeling, and unfortunately, I found myself running to the good ol’ bottle. Alcohol felt like my only way out; after all, everyone I was doing research with was indulging as well. These people also had their own problems, and even though we didn’t share our issues, it felt good drinking together. Before I knew it, a weekend of drinking turned into a few glasses during the week and eventually I was downing a full bottle in a day alone. Everyone knew that I loved my wine, but they didn’t realise just how much I was drinking. As justification for my drinking habit, I looked to the very public knowledge that most academics were alcoholics. I felt justified to indulge. However, I was falling behind in my work. I honestly don’t think that it was entirely because of the booze, but also a belief that I had lost my sense of thinking, which is key in my area of research – brilliant ideas need people who can think.
Although I couldn’t think straight, I don’t think I was depressed. This is because I did not have all the other symptoms associated with depression such as constant sadness, guilt, suicidal thoughts etc. Of course, there have been moments I felt like I was losing my mind, moments I felt numb and so agitated. I wanted this journey to be over so badly. But every time I thought of where I came from I pushed myself even harder. The transition from a small town to a big city is never easy and this is something most people don’t get. Despite my alcohol and women problems, I drew strength from the fact that I had a mother and siblings in the Eastern Cape who constantly looked up to me, that alone became my push factor. I managed to pass my Master’s degree cum laude!
I have now embarked on my PhD journey and as much as I have not found a proper solution to my problems, I am managing, and I strongly believe that my journey will continue as I continue to flourish as an academic. Let’s see where Chemistry and a creative outlet like blogging takes me this year…