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G EliotThis week marked the end of my first term in graduate school.  I have to admit that for the first weeks, my regular mantra was, “What made me think this was a good idea?”  I had not been in school full time for more than a quarter of a century and I was both nervous and excited at the prospect.  The full-time cohort had only a couple of students even close to my age; most of my classmates were young enough to be my kids.  The majority had just graduated with concurrent education degrees and were fully grounded in the theory and practice.  I had received my undergraduate degree in psychology in the late ‘80’s (when, as my own boys tell me regularly, “dinosaurs walked the earth”).  I worried that I wasn’t up to the challenge.  Maybe you can’t teach a middle-aged dog new tricks.

Fortunately, I was embraced by a community that was accepting, caring, and supportive.  Both the other students and the professors provided me with new insights and ideas, pushed me to stretch, learn, and grow.   I was able to structure my work around the topics that mattered most to me: mental illness and mental health.  I researched the positive impact that training in mindfulness has on teachers’ stress and also on their students’ behaviours.  I did an in-depth analysis on the current behavioural and pharmacological interventions for panic disorder.  I mapped the process of self-stigma elimination onto Mezirow’s transformative learning theory in order to better understand and support the process of moving from shame to empowerment.

Most importantly, I finally felt like I was following my passion.  So much of my life I have done what I thought I was supposed to do; I tried to be what I thought others expected me to be.  Please don’t misunderstand, I would not change the life I have led.  It has blessed me with great joys and all of the pain has contributed to the person that I am today.  And I like her.  But, like Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” This fork has taken me down an amazing path and I try every day to appreciate the sights, sounds, and feelings I am experiencing.

The next term starts in January and I am already excited to work with one of my instructors who is providing programming for individuals who are dealing with mental health challenges through a strengths-based approach to support recovery and well-being.  It incorporates all of the practices that I have used to maintain my own health from mindfulness to gratitude to self-compassion.

Tomorrow, I celebrate the successful completion of my term by catching a plane to Florida for a few days of sunshine (I hope) and leisure. Okay, so I am still the high school geek who has packed some of the readings for next term to begin while I am away.  But, instead of being about what I think is expected of me, this time it is all about the content that resonates with me and the anticipation of the incredible experiences ahead. George Eliot had it right: it’s never too late to be what you might have been.

About Susan Mifsud

Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.

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