In primary school I got to run around every lunch time, playing football with the boys and racing through whole-class games of British Bulldog. Every school photo I was there in shorts, with bruises on my knees; evidence of my continual escapades. I also enjoyed learning enough to be doing reasonably well, I think. The things we learnt made sense to me; understanding how to read so I could enjoy fiction books, how to add up so I could figure out how to save up my 20p a week pocket money to sneak to the shops to buy bubble gum – ‘how uncouth!’ I can still hear my mother saying.
‘Big school’ felt like going from free-range to penned in. Suddenly I was in starchy clothing that was, at best, trousers, or at worst, – heaven forbid! – a skirt. At lunchtime there was no running around; I huddled with other girls by vending machines outside or slowly walked around the cube-shaped main building on the dull tarmac. As well a break time confusion, exams made less sense to me, too. Teachers would be amazed at how much I interacted in class, compared to the low scores I subsequently achieved in exams. I never felt ‘stupid’ as such but my best friend and sister always seemed to do better, so naturally I compared myself to those closest to me and perceived myself and ‘not so clever’.
Looking back I can now understand both my lack of motivation to learn and my lack of undersanding of how to learn. Why did I need to know what Z equaled, when only architects and mathematicians need that knowledge? Why was it important what happened in the 16th century when life is so different now? I could go off on a tangent about the school system but Edgar Khan does it so well, I will defer to him on this topic. I still have this lasting feeling of confusion about school that runs on a different track than the usual emotional confusion at that age.
To cut a long story short, I eventually figured out the how and why of learning and three years ago I was in my final year doing a Masters degree. A few months later I started experiencing severe headaches and tiredness, and a few months after that I realised I had a whole lot more learning to do around my own health, that wasn’t about eating well and exercising. In my egotistically state I thought I was was both pro at at these two things and also thought these were the only aspects I needed to focus on to be healthy and happy. I am lucky enough to have a good friend who is a long time migraine warrior and researches around this and other health topics for a job. She pretty much diagnosed me as having migraine and very likely saved me a lot of doctors appointments, so gave me an invaluable head start to my learning about migraine. A start I was able to continue at least in part thanks to my ‘senseless’ but high fortunate formal education.
Living on the boat, I thought I might learn less. Not working as much as I did before, my brain will go soft, right?! The bamboozlement of what ‘must’ be achieved in life is everywhere. Putting this both out of site and out of mind has been an uncomfortable journey at times, because it deviates so much from what has been drilled into us, without even realising it. I have slowed down enough to read books because I’m bored. This is a proper 12 carot gold luxury compared to fitting it in around work and health. Reading during a migraine is always too difficult for me as the words swirl around the page, and I was usually either at work or suffering (or both!) in the last couple of years.
It took me some time to understand how to learn. How many of us take time to understand how to learn about ourselves? Being given the time to read books that interest me – not just ones I ‘had’ to read – has given me a new zest for learning, despite working very little, nor being in formal education. I’ve not read books about migraine, but I’ve learnt about my health both in the books, and by taking time out of ‘life’. I’m free-ranging, wearing shorts whenever I want and have plenty of bruises to show for my more recent escapades. Slowing down, and taking time to learn what I really need to be happy, is becoming the best school I’ve ever been to.
I’m changing gear, for life on a boat
From caged hen, to mountain goat
I go off off, onto the water
Leaving behind, bricks and mortar
Expectations drift slowly behind
Inching onward to a healthier mind
Thank you for reading blog! Can you relate to something I’ve written? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and be sure to look out for another instalment in a week or few. Click on the subscribe button if you would like an email when a new blog goes up (every two weeks)