It took me a long time to recover, but I gradually got back in to work. Financial pressures loomed as withdrawing from my PhD meant I lost my bursary, so I took on another part-time Lectureship at the University of Northampton in 2013. I only had a year left of my fixed-term contract at Leeds so I spent a year commuting between Leeds and Northampton. So in essence, for a year I lived on the M5. When my contract ended at Leeds I was fortunate to get an extension of my contract at Northampton to 0.8. I was delighted to have a 5 minute rather than 2-5 hour commute.
But it wasn’t long before old patterns started to emerge. By the start of 2015 I was working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week – on a 0.8 contract. I did not know anyone outside of work – I did not have time to make friends, and when I tried to take up Tae Kwon Do I found committing to two training sessions a week was unsustainable with my workload. In short, I had no life. I am not good at setting boundaries and I would always do more work if I could. I realised that I was not only desperately unhappy, but my mental health was declining yet again.
Then shortly before Easter 2015 I found out that the degree programme I taught on was closing. I could sense this was the time to make a change in my career, and my life, but I had no idea what else I could do. I went to university at 18 and had stayed there for the past 10 years. What other qualifications or skills did I have?
So I organised a ‘careers consultation’ – a phone call with my best friend and a glass of white wine. Being lucky enough to have insightful friends, after a long conversation we concluded:
- It was teaching, rather than research, that gave me the most fulfilment in my job, and
- That it was finally time for me to move back home to Devon and my family.
This was hard to come to terms with – being a researcher felt part of my identity, and letting go of that seemed unthinkable. Knowing I wanted to stay in Higher Education rather than go into teaching in schools I signed up to jobs.ac.uk alerts for non-academic roles at Universities in the South West. My hope was that I would get a glimpse of the kind of jobs that were out there in Higher Education. I really had no clue about the scope of Professional Services in Higher Education until I did this. It opened up a world of possibilities for me – admittedly I wasn’t going to go in to finance or manage the tennis programme, but all of a sudden the world had opened up to me a bit more. I wasn’t ready to make the move yet, but I started to feel like there was something for me to go to when I was ready.
Amongst all this possibility, the unthinkable happened. My beloved, wonderful Nan started to become unwell. It started out as a bad chest infection, but as she has always been so healthy, I stayed in my bubble in Northampton overworking and marking essays. Twice I had the opportunity to go to Devon for the weekend and see her, and twice I did not because there was more work to do. And then I got a phone call from my Dad. She had pneumonia and was expected to die that day. I got in my car and rushed to Devon, arriving at the hospital 45 minutes before she passed away. I held her hand as she left this world, but I never got the chance to speak to her again or feel her arms around me. Because I thought that writing student feedback was more important.
When Nan died something in me snapped. I realised how warped my priorities had become and I reacted by resigning from my job at Northampton. With no plan or job to go to. This was, of course, a knee jerk reaction to the loss of a loved one, and not a sensible idea. But I felt more than ever the need to be with my family.