Adapt and Overcome – Tiffany Maria Christopher-Ward

This is not only an important year for me; being my Year Abroad working for the British Council as an English Language Assistant in Andalusia, Spain: but it is also the year I make everything right.

For a long time, I have considered myself a disappointment, a failure, and I have chosen to share my story as part of the QMUL International Blog, not only to comfort and encourage anyone suffering from the same problems, but also to prove to myself that I can and will be at peace with the life I am living. And so, we must start at the beginning: for in order to adapt to my present I have learnt to overcome and accept my past.

I started reading BA Hispanic Studies at Queen Mary University of London in 2012 and by my second year I found myself in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. My whole world was destroyed, and I was no longer the enthusiastic, hard-working and inquisitive student. I was absent from classes and, most detrimentally, isolated from those who would have supported me. I decided to interrupt my studies at QMUL before sitting my end of year two exams and I have been in a vicious cycle of stagnation ever since. In 2015 I attempted to re-sit my second year with the hope to experience all that I had missed, but mentally I was not strong enough to be in London and face the exact routine, exams and coursework that reminded me of the abuse I had suffered. I did not attempt the last four pieces of coursework due nor did I take the final exams that I had failed to sit two years previously. I was unable to progress mentally, emotionally and physically and accordingly I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as anxiety and depression.

I sat another year out of attendance, and then another. Before deciding to take that final year out from my studies, I had already applied to the British Council in hope of continuing to my Year Abroad. With a desperate desire for change and progression, I decided to accept my placement with the British Council independent from my studies. The hope for a new environment and purpose led me to believe my mental difficulties could be cured simply by ‘skipping’ those end of year exams and progressing to an artificial year abroad of my own making. But it was to no avail. In Spain I was no longer facing a mental illness: I was facing mental illness with a language barrier, in a foreign country and in a new town where I did not know anyone nor how to get the help I needed, whilst starting a new job, with four pieces of coursework and an exam to prepare for.

Despite what I endured behind closed doors, and sometimes rather publicly, working for the British Council has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Professionally I felt secure and I succeeded in my role as Language Assistant at a wonderful primary school in Andalusia. With the support of the British Council, my host school and the staff of QMUL, after nine long months of mental suffering I finally felt well enough to adapt to my new life here and overcome the past that I held solely responsible for my feelings of inadequacy. All along it wasn’t the help of doctors and therapists that I needed, it was the belief and pride in myself that finally helped me to overcome the last stages of my journey and embark on a completely new one. This summer I sat my end of year exams, handed in my coursework, and finally felt at peace.

I am back in Spain now, preparing for October 1st when I start my official Year Abroad working with the British Council. I have been allocated a consecutive year at CEIP Ex Mari Orta: a school over-looking the sea and only two minutes walking distance from my apartment. I asked to be placed here for a consecutive year for I know familiarity is needed to continue on this momentum of re-self-discovery.  Starting again in an un-known foreign town and school would have been too much for me – there’s only so much any of us can handle at one time.  I think that in itself is the best advice I can ever give you.

Finally being brave enough to listen to my own voice and determine my own direction in life has made me see more clearly about my mental illness than I have ever done so before. My life has been consumed by anxiety and depression as a result of an abusive and violent relationship. It wasn’t my fault and it doesn’t define me: it isn’t who I am. This is my year to adapt and overcome the habits of depression and anxiety, as well as the hold that being categorised as having a mental illness has had over my life. I wish to share my story with all those willing to listen and to anyone suffering from a mental illness or find themselves struggling emotionally with their Year Abroad: we must remember that we are strong simply for surviving.







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