An Unexpected Journey/Year Out

A view of Edinburgh from Scotts Monument
A view of Edinburgh from Scotts Monument

So in my mildly superstitious way I thought this year was off to a bad start when I had too much of a very sober headache to enjoy New Year’s Eve and within a few minutes of 2015 I had sloped off to sleep. However I think even without superstition I had begun to realise that my year was off to a bad start – my Nan had become very ill in the few months leading up to Christmas, and when I was down to visit her I received the devastating news that a close friend had died. Since finishing my exams in December I had woken up nearly every morning in a panic, convinced I was sitting an exam that day (yes, including Christmas Day). Then, just as this started fading out, a close friend came out about the violent abuse she had been receiving from her boyfriend that had just gone into custody and I spent every night somewhat terrified that I would be woken up by a call to tell me that she had gone too.

Needless to say that my second semester of the third year of my degree started in chaos. Very soon my amazing Personal Tutor/Director of Studies was suggesting suspending my degree until I got up on my feet again. I visited my GP who told me that I have an anxiety disorder – I’m not on any medication but have been attending regular Student Counselling sessions (that have helped a little) and finally, after much debate and discussion with those around me, I applied and was granted a suspension until 11th January 2016.

So there we go – another year delay until graduation.

The risk with these things is always the effects on ‘the CV’ – for the first time in my life I am not occupied full time in any official capacity, which is odd as someone that has worked full time every summer since I was 16 (and most weekends and holidays) in addition to working on other projects. It was kind of bewildering at first to wake up and realise that I didn’t have to go to a lecture of work or anything of the sort. To keep a sense of routine I was maintaining my involvement with Edinsolar, the university cricket club, and other aspects of university life though I will admit I let my active involvement within the Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative slide though whilst going through this but have since picked the pace back up!

People’s reactions to finding out about my situation reassured me a lot, a combination of sympathy from people who have been through the same or similar or have close friends or relatives who do – my situation isn’t uncommon among medical students for example – and excitement from those who are simply looking at it objectively – “so you get all the cool bits of uni without the lectures and exams?”.

Corner of The Meadows, Edinburgh in Spring 2015
Corner of The Meadows, Edinburgh in Spring 2015

It prompted me to look at this as an opportunity to do all the things that I had never previously given myself the time and space to do, such as learning to cook a roast dinner or make a rag rug. I have covered part of my bedroom wall with post-it-notes of these things so that I can take them down as I’ve done them and I’ve been asking friends for other ideas of notes to add. Perhaps this is a bit of a workaholic, typical me, approach to dealing with it all, distracting myself from the issues at hand and filling my time but it is being filled with things that I enjoy and I am being particularly careful to leave some time each week to ‘do nothing’ – to sit on the Links and look up at the sky or wander around the art galleries of Edinburgh.

My routine has predominantly filled itself up with 2 main projects so far – one being Edinsolar, the original founder and project manager Alex Van Grootel leaves Edinburgh this summer to go to MIT and so has handed the reins over to myself and Simon Vahr jointly (taking some of the pressure off) and as the new “Lead Engineer” I have been attending individual group meetings and those with faculty members and soon those with industry too, in order to progress.

Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh, in the snow
Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh, in the snow

The other project has been educating myself in computer science and programming. I have long had a sideline interest in the subject, attending Young Rewired State and joining CompSoc, but I had never made it a focus. However, with my new found time and in a bid to keep myself in the habits of education I have started completing the EdX CS50 course – the online version of Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science – and have set myself the post-it-note of finishing all the language courses on Codecademy. The lack of coursework and exams allowed me to attend the Smart Data Hack in February, Hack The Burgh in March and I have got tickets for the MLH Landing Hack this coming weekend as well as the terrifying but amazing looking Battlehack at the end of the month. With such a large cluster of hackathons I have decided to try and document the weekends and projects on the blog – hence the recent spate of write ups of those I’ve already attended.

I’m taking a year out but it should be good. If anyone has any other ideas or suggestions as to what I could or should be doing on this year out then feel free to get in touch. I didn’t plan this year out and it was caused by unfortunate personal circumstances, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the most of it now that it’s happening.

T.S.Eliot quote at Lime Street Station
At Platform 9 of Lime Street station

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