Marianne is 34 and still hasn’t graduated. This is her second degree course and she has a job as well. ‘It is lonely though, studying part time.’ Until recently she didn’t talk to anyone about her stress: ‘I always thought it was just a part of who I was.’
After two years at nautical college Marianne decided to give it up, because she didn’t see herself sailing her whole life. ‘I worked as a waitress for a while and then I started studying business economics, first in practical education and later on as a part time student.’ Marianne is now in the final stage of her studies and works in an administrative position at a bank.
Marianne: ‘When I study I always experience stress. Even when I’ve attended all the classes and taken down all the notes and completed all the assignments, there’s still that exam in which I need to prove myself.’
During exam time she feels very restless and she doesn’t sleep well. ‘I start to eat a lot of sweets. I’m a real emotional eater. Sometimes I go on a binge. I make sure I have lots of sweet things in the house, otherwise the stress becomes worse. It’s not even that I like it so much, I just need to have something to chew on. I often take chewing gum, to stop me from eating too many sweets.’
Marianne always takes the week before an exam off from work, to dive into the subject matter completely. ‘If I can shut out the world and concentrate fully on my studies, then I’m alright. I become very quiet during those times. The stress of studying makes me withdraw within myself. It’s a negative thing actually: I notice I am out of sorts. Luckily I live alone, so it doesn’t bother anyone. After an exam I’m always terribly relieved, whether I’ve passed or not.’
This study behaviour has become a habit over the years. ‘It’s very comfortable for me. It’s always the same pattern.’
‘People always say student life is such fun, but that isn’t entirely true. It is not a carefree life. Sometimes it is very hard work. Some people think going out is more important, but that has never been my point of view. I began my studies to learn something. Besides, I was already living in Amsterdam, so I didn’t have that urge to go out in the big city. I was slightly more mature than the others and I have other hobbies than going out.
On top of that, when you’re studying part time, you don’t have much contact with other students. You don’t really know anyone and there is no connection with anyone else. That affects your studies, of course. It’s very lonely to be in a group like that.’
‘I always told my parents I was doing really well, even when I wasn’t. They made it possible for me to study, so I think it’s important they have a positive image of me. Asking for help is not done in our family. Everybody talks the talk, but when it comes down to asking for help, they never do. That’s instilled in me. First you do what you can yourself and only at the very last moment do you ask for help from your GP or whoever else.’
Marianne doesn’t like to admit to her fellow students that she has been studying this long already. ‘When people ask me if I’m not too old to be studying, I tell them I took a break in the middle. By now my friends have adopted the attitude: it’s up to you.’
In your head
“I always felt the stress was my personal problem. That it was a part of me, worrying about certain things, and that nobody could help me with that. I didn’t want professional help of any kind: I wasn’t crazy! Professional help is for people with real problems, people who are severely ill. I tried to solve my problems myself by looking at every aspect of them. That usually didn’t result in anything. It just stays in your head.’
Persuaded by her employer, Marianne has been talking to a coach at her work for a while now, about both her study problems and her personal problems. ‘She has given me a number of tools and has taught me, for instance, that you can’t control everything and that sometimes you have to let go. You can’t study all the time, you have to take time out for yourself and relax as well.’
These tips have helped Marianne tremendously with her studies. ‘I always thought you only went to a psychologist for mental problems. I never realised he or she could also give you practical advice. You do have to find the right person, but once the connection is there, you build up a trusting relationship and it’s not so weird anymore.’
Marianne is still determined to graduate. ‘I already gave up one degree course, I’m not going to do that again. This time I will follow through, even if it takes another twenty years. The last mile is the longest one, but I’m not going to give up now.’