I can’t remember a time when I was as happy as I am right now.
Four years ago today, I drove to the chemist’s on Leonard’s Corner. While I was buying nicotine patches and a nicotine inhaler, the City Council tried to clamp my car and I saved it just in time. I was living in my friend’s house at the time. I had two final cigarettes on her balcony. I gave up so many times that I had given up on the idea of one last perfect cigarette. There is no last perfect cigarette. Then I gave up. One of the few things I was certain about me at the time was that I had no willpower. And yet, 4 years later, I haven’t had a single puff. It took me three years to stop wanting to have one. Now it’s fine.
The other thing that lasted four years was my PhD. And I have ranted and railed about my PhD enough in this blog. Today, I submitted the final hardbound copy. Having put off the corrections for three months, they barely took me one night to do. Like the rest of my PhD, the hardest part was not doing them. Doing your PhD is a lot easier than not doing it.
Submitting the PhD didn’t feel real. Today was my third time in Dublin since I got home from the Far East. It was the third time I brought my swimming gear with me. On both previous occasions, I chickened out. So this was my first visit to the pool in 2016.
I love water. I am a better person when I’m in water. As the water soothed my ankles and knees, as the indentations in my skin from my jeans and socks soaked off, I floated and splashed and suddenly I realised. No more guilt. I’ve been in third level education for 10 years. That’s 10 years of guilt for not studying harder. No more guilt. Joy. I felt my whole life opening out in front of me, a panorama of potential. No more guilt. I can do anything.
I had dinner with a friend and got the last train home. My niece is making her First Holy Communion tomorrow, and I would be disowned if I wasn’t there.
I opened my bag to get out my book. I had printed and bound an extra copy of my PhD for me and I decided to get it out and have a look at it before I read the book I’d brought with me. I started reading and was swept away. I read my own words for two hours.
It’s a long time since I’ve said this, but I love my PhD. As I read, I remembered something I hadn’t remembered in a long time. After the third of my first interviews for the PhD with my Boys back in 2012, I was a mess of excited nerves. I wasn’t one person any more. There were three more lives, young lives with fears and hopes and potential that were all felt sharply because of their age, and all these lives were living in my head. My chest pounded when I thought about it. I had the three interviews on my phone and I would listen to them on the bus or as I walked around town. I couldn’t understand why these young men trusted me, but they’d sat in badly-heated rooms and told me their whole life stories. It was raw. It was energising. It was art living in my brain.
It’s three years ago, and I remember this one moment very clearly. I was walking past Tesco Express on the Rathmines Road and tears just started rolling down my face. I still can’t explain it fully, but my PhD broke something in me and it was the first of many tearful days in 2012. I love my PhD. It took hold of my emotions, of my brain, of my identity and it made me a different person.
As I remembered that day, I felt exceedingly happy. Today is an important day. It’s not just that I stopped smoking four years ago, confounding 17 years of self-doubt. It’s not that I’m done with education and the PhD and am free from guilt and have a panorama of life before me. It’s not just that water heals me. It’s not just that my PhD made me a new person. It’s all of these things. I sat on the train, delighted with myself. I felt brave, messaging a friend I’d met earlier to apologise for not hugging him. Because everybody should get hugs today.
And everything’s coming together. I have enough online and part-time work lined up. The cottage in Leitrim will happen. I can’t diet in Cork, but I’ll try again in Macedonia. But I can walk. And I am going to walk from Dublin to Cork in August. And I’m going to make my dreams come true.
But now the train is nearly in Cork. It’s time to take the “Yes Equality” badge off and go back to my Cork self. But it’s only for another 2 weeks. I’m a very happy Connor.