NOTE TO SELF: You are growing and learning, it’s okay to fall but remember to get back up again.

by Thando Kubheka

With this piece, I am going to take you back to the very beginning and set the scene, it’s 2021, I am in my room preparing for the final exams of my undergraduate studies and I received an email that had me smiling for the rest of the day, it read: “Congratulations! You have been firmly admitted to the BMedScHons program at UCT in 2022.”

The day I arrived in Cape Town, from Joburg, was filled with so much anticipation, I had never experienced such a cocktail of emotions before, a mixture of excitement and joy laced with fear and anxiety. I got to my room at res and before doing anything else sat down and wrote down all the things that I was grateful for at that moment, little did I know that this would be an important grounding exercise for me throughout the year. This was followed up by me writing down my hopes and goals for the year on a blank A5 sheet. I put down a variety of things both academic, like
improving time management and asking as many questions as possible; and some personal things, like strengthening my relationships and working on my overall health through reading, journaling, and eating. I had placed this beautifully decorated sheet strategically on my wall so that it was the first thing that I saw when I woke every morning. I was fully prepared for the year ahead, or so I thought. The reality of what the honour’s year was to bring first hit me when I was faced with an excel spreadsheet titled “Student Year Planner 2022”, and I quickly realized that what I had ahead of me was a beast, truly going into the lion’s den and looked my little sheet and was filled with doubts, could I get through this? This question still looms over me as I write this.

As the real work began, I found it harder to stick to those goals I had written down. I could feel my mental health deteriorating exponentially, and with the people I love being so far away, I felt more alone than ever. For the first time it had got to me in such a way that I was unable to compartmentalize; separating my personal struggles and worries from my academic commitments/requirements became an incredibly difficult feat, and with this year being one that I
planned to find myself and determine whether this whole ‘being a scientist’ thing is really for me, you can imagine how heartbroken this made me feel because it made me think that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Nonetheless, I continued pushing forward and taking on each day and its lessons.

When the second half of the year started, I decided to revisit that list of goals I made and made the necessary adjustments that would allow me to be more flexible with the changes that come with this honour’s year. The old list is now stored away and now I wake up to see my new redesigned list of goals, it’s not as beautifully decorated but it is a better fit for the person I have grown to become. Despite the rocky beginning, this year has shown me just how resilient I am, I will not give up even when my world is literally shattering around me, which it has several times, and despite the pain and discomfort, I do believe that the struggles that I faced this year were necessary for me to truly
appreciate this trait in myself. I have also learned the importance of having a great support system, I had always thought this meant only my immediate family, but this year showed me that that support is through a variety of different people: from friends to lecturers to my incredible supervisors and lab colleagues who I truly appreciate for all their guidance and mentorship, and for handling me with such care and compassion.

I am going through the remaining months of this year, feeling immensely grateful for the lessons I have learned in and out of the classroom and lab. I’ve had the opportunity to learn many valuable lessons about myself and have met such amazing people who have shown me that what makes this life beautiful are those little moments in between the chaos, when you share a laugh with a friend, or when you have random dance parties as a mid-week pick-me-up to energize and relieve stress. So, with this last stretch, I want to allow myself to fall and get back up again, I want to open myself
up to more opportunities and forgive myself for the mistakes that I made while trying to figure things out because I am capable of achieving a lot more than I think or even believe sometimes.

And finally, thank you 2022 Honours year, you are truly a gift, I really see and appreciate that now.

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