Going back to Uni: 5 Tips for the mature student

If someone had told me that in 2020, I’d be halfway into completing a FULLY FUNDED MSc. programme, I would’ve slapped them in the face and said ‘get behind me Satan’. Granted a lot of that statement would have been rooted in the negative lense that I saw my life through at that time, and a crippling inability to see the ways that Jesus was working things out in my life. Thankfully, things are slightly different now. When I first started working in research, I had been unemployed for about two months, when I went for my interview I had no idea what my bosses were going to ask me to do. I’d been away from academia for about 3 years and the practical aspects of my Honours degree that I thoroughly loved, were more than a little fuzzy. On that day, my mum told me to go in and just give it all I had. It was a huge boost to my self esteem then, and now as I think of how cute I looked on that day. I thought I was going in for an interview but praise God, they had actually decided that they wanted me onboard but needed to see me face to face. My plans after my Honours degree was to specialise as a haematologist. Now I’m building my professional life in HIV research, with an emphasis on early infant diagnosis, and I couldn’t be happier. So what are the traits you need to get to where I am? I’m glad you asked!

1. Believe in your sauce. When I decided that academia was for me, to say that I was nervous was an understatement. For the first few months at work, concepts that used to be familiar now felt foreign to my very much matured brain (I was 28 at the time). I am grateful that I had my lovely husband rooting for me all the way. He would listen to me telling him about concepts that were new to me too, and engage in conversation with me. He would also remind me that had I not been capable, they would have FOR SURE not hired me. This is something that I have had to remind myself of especially when I’m hit with a heavy dose of imposters syndrome. Believing in your own sauce doesn’t mean that you’re oblivious to the things you don’t know, or that you blag your way through things (in my industry blagging ain’t gonna get you anywhere). Believing in your own sauce means being aware of where your strengths lie and not being afraid to utilize them when needed.

2. Speak up. My bosses are ridiculously good researchers in the field of HIV. THe more publications I read and found out just how good they are, the more I started to feel like I didn’t have anything to offer. When I commenced my MSc. programme, the awe & admiration I have for my bosses, became crippling. I found myself saying yes or keeping quiet, even when I didn’t agree with a certain course of action. As I grew in confidence (and also had my husband speak to me on this), I realised that my voice was important too. It may not have carried as much wisdom and knowledge (yet) as my supervisors but the last thing they wanted was a parrot who regurgitated their ideas and was a yes (wo)man.

3. Don’t stop learning. This is one that I had no other choice but to do. I had no idea of how testing was conducted for HIV diagnosis. My understanding of it was elementary, and definitely not on the level of someone who wished to work in that field. I can’t tell you how many journals I’ve downloaded in recent months. How many terms I’ve gotten acquainted with, and how many more terms I still haven’t gotten acquainted with. Being aware of how much you still have to learn is important BUT unless you take action, you’re going to stay in the same place.

4. Be flexible and laugh… A LOT! In this journey of being a student, ESPECIALLY a more mature one at that, things will go wrong. Balancing being a great partner, daughter, employee, student, sister and aunt is tough work. I’ve dropped the ball countless times, and guess what you’re not immune to ball dropping. This isn’t a negative prophesy I swear! The reality of life as a student, especially in research is that you’ll drop the ball somewhere. Your supervisors will drop the ball somewhere. The Gantt chart mapping the expected timeline of various tasks will become something that mocks you, reminding you of how far behind you actually are. Sometimes I feel as though mine laughs at me every time I look at it. 🤔 Experiments will fail, your controls will invalidate specimen results and leave you in tears, you’ll save over recent versions of your thesis but you know what in the end it’ll all work out.

5. Don’t sell yourself short. When my supervisors told me that they’d be paying for my studies, I felt very much like what the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 41:14, I am but a worm, how do I even deserve this. It sounds extreme right? But isn’t that the trajectory our mind follows when we believe very little of ourselves? This point is very tightly tied to point 1, believe in your own sauce. Believe that you have something to offer, believe that you’re there for a reason. This can sometimes be a tough one to remember as your progression begins to grant you access to rooms more advanced and intelligent. HOWEVER, if at the core of you, you’ve built your self-esteem and value to be unattached to anyone or anything else, it may be difficult to remember but it won’t be impossible. You think Beyoncé cares about the people who don’t believe in her talent? You shouldn’t either. Show up, set the place on fire (with your talent, not literal fire), and then let your work speak for itself. Accept that you aren’t like anyone else, and that is your greatest gift. Stay in your lane and excel in your lane!

BONUS TIP: Get comfortable with your work being critiqued. This is the hardest one for me, and the one that the Lord continues to humble me through. The first iteration of my research protocol was horrible. The more that precious document bounced between my supervisors and I, the better it got. When I submitted it, I couldn’t believe how far it had come from that very sad first version. To get to the masterpiece that my protocol is, was a labor of love. I remember the first email where my supervisor had removed information that I had become personally attached to. I had to swallow my ego, cry at home…sometimes at work, to come to terms that the prerequisite for life in research is being comfortable with sometimes having your work critiqued. Sometimes your ideas will shine bright like a diamond, and other times those more experienced than you will offer a different angle that you perhaps hadn’t thought of. There is a time to defend your ideas, and there is a time to realise that maybe your idea isn’t as great as you thought it was.

P.s. Try keeping yourself in as much of a positive circle as you can. If I had married anyone else, I may truly have ended up setting things on fire… literally! 😂

Le Féminin

On this International Women’s Day (8th March 2020) I think of what the Duchess of Sussex said on her visit to Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham on the 6th March 2020, ‘you have your mother’s, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life, protect them.’ So often the directive for women empowerment is geared towards women. It’s time for this message of empowerment to shift towards men.

I live in South Africa, a country where being female has for many years felt like an extreme sport. Last year, University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana was brutally murdered and raped when she went to pick up a parcel at the post office. The fact that such a heinous crime was committed in broad daylight (around 14pm) in an area that many of us frequent, is what made her death even more shocking. Every rape in South Africa, to the women of this country, is more than just another statisitic. As women, we’re told not to walk alone late at night, we’re told not to wear revealing clothing, we’re told to have just the right level of sweetness combined with firmness when we’re catcalled. The message that we get is to be accommodating to men. What if men were taught to be feminists, advocating the rights of women without looking out for their own selfish gain.

I think of Jesus, so ahead of His time when He dared to speak to the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) during a period of time when speaking to women was taboo because of the second class citizens they were thought to be. A man who spoke to women the way He saw them; treasured, intelligent, valuable, and with as important of a role to play as man ever could. When Jesus rose from the dead, the first people to see Him were women. If it weren’t for the women in our lives who have made an impact, where would we be?

On this international women’s day, I hope that you are reminded of your strength and tenacity as a woman. I hope you are able to remember that regardless of how the world seeks to break you, it never will be able to extinguish the fiery flame in you. Happy international women’s day to all you lovely, strong, and breathtaking women.

C’est fort, une femme

Quand on nous blesse et nous accable, on n’se plaint pas

Quand on nous laisse, que tout l’monde part, on reste là

Avec les restes, on reconstruit, on est comme ça

C’est ça, une femme

Vitaa & Slimane- XY

Things to do under lockdown…

I was going to title this post ‘5 things to do under lockdown’ but this is just under five, and ‘4 things to do under lockdown’, doesn’t quite have the same ring. The alternative was ‘4 things to do while social distancing, but that’s quite the mouthful. So here we are with ‘things to do under lockdown.’

1. Get your nails did.

I’m not usually one to go the nail salon, mainly because of past experience with nail technicians who ask WAY too many questions with WAY too little knowledge of me. So I switched to press on nails. They’re cheap, easily replaced and as we practice social distancing, it’s the best way to keep your hands in tip top condition.

Nail colour is ‘Sand Tropez’ by Essie.

I bought the KISS long stiletto nails when I was in the U.K. from Boots, but it’s also available at Dischem and Clicks. I buy most of my toiletries from Dischem because for some odd reason, Clicks hike up the price of all their toiletries by like ZAR30, I’ve done the market research. At Dischem the nails retail for R149.95, while at Clicks they retail for R169… do the Math!

Kiss 100 Nails Long Stiletto

2. Learn a new skill, even if it’s as simple as making Dalgona coffee.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m not the biggest fan of coffee mainly because of how caffeine sensitive I am. I found this recipe on the Los Angeles Times after @milktpapi posted it on his feed. I knew I had to try it and it was a huge success. I’ve never really understood iced coffee but this was deliciousa! I substituted coconut sugar instead of regular sugar and used almond milk to make this completely vegan friendly.

3. Eat ice-cream!

This part is important because one does not simply go into lockdown without the necessary supplies and the new rule is that calories don’t count when you’re social distancing. If calories don’t count you have to go for the best and nothing is better than Häagen Dazs salted caramel. I had a pint for breakfast, nuff’ said folks!

4. Exercise

While it might seem tempting to stay in bed all day. The best thing we can do for ourselves right now is exercise. It boosts your immune system and also releases endorphins, which I’m sure you’ll agree, we all need right now! I did the above workout and not only did I work up a sweat but I had fun too!

So that’s my list of 4 things to do while social distancing. What’s on your list?

Fitness Reads: Jog On by Bella Mackie

I picked up this book on Sunday, the day of my flight back to South Africa after spending a glorious two weeks with my very yummy husband, look at him, he’s gorgeous.

No matter how many sleeping tablets I take (don’t take more than the recommended dosage), I never seem to fall asleep on the plane. My last journey, I read ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo.’ A book so beautifully written and in many ways descriptive of the journey many immigrants face when they move to Europe/North Americas. One of my goals this year is to read at the very minimum two non-academic books each month. My partner and I were in WH Smith when my attention was captured by the bright blue cover and title of the book. There are a lot of things I love about my husband, one of them being his accent and classic British slang that I try to implement in my South African/Congolese life. One of those phrases is ‘jog on’ If we’re picking favourite slang phrases, this is mine.

jog on

1. Literally, to run along at a slow and deliberate place.
2. By extension, to make progress slowly, deliberately, or patiently.
3. Go away; get lost; beat it. Primarily heard in UK.

I initially picked this book up as I was looking for motivation to spur me on in my running routine. New year, new me, am I right? And aside from CrossFit, there is no other sport I love more than running. Mackie writes with ease in a comforting and, relatable way. If you think this is a book purely about running, you’re wrong. The book makes me think of one of my favourite phrases by Nike head coach, Chris Bennett ‘this is about running, this isn’t about running.’ Mackie doesn’t claim to be an expert in running or mental health. The fact that she writes from her own experience is what makes this all the more beautiful and is what drew me in as a reader. She gives enough detail on the different mental health illnesses for the reader to have a better understanding of what it means to have a mental illness, as well as tools on how to be more supportive and understanding if you do have a partner that suffers with mental health. As a budding researcher, I appreciated that where she presented findings related to running and mental health, she cites those papers. Minor thing that most won’t care about but definitely did not go unnoticed for me.

I still don’t know why running was the tool I opted for in the midst of misery. I’d never done strenuous exercise before. But I had spent a lifetime holding at bay the need to run away – from my mind, from my negative thoughts; from the worries that built up and calcified, layer upon layer, until they were too strong to chip away at. Maybe the sudden urge to run was a physical manifestation of this desire to escape my own brain. I guess I just wanted to do it for real.

Bella Mackie

At 289 pages, it’s a very light and easy read! Overall I found the book inspiring and it’s reminded me of why I initially fell in love with running. It has also reminded me that this year, whatever levels of toxicity that I don’t want present in my life can ‘jog on’.

Bella Mackie is a freelance journalist and author of ‘Jog On’, a book about running and mental health

Arvo at Selfridges

I was 17 when I first stepped into Selfridges. Fresh faced and not as wise as I am now, I was a couple of weeks into my degree in London when I walked into the most magical place on Earth.

My first purchase was a paid of £80 thigh highs boots that I definitely did not need but they fulfilled every ‘Pretty Woman’ fantasy that I’d had about thigh high boots completing an outfit.

Selfridges was where I discovered French luxury makeup brand NARS. My love for NARS has remained along with other brands such as Charlotte Tilbury, Dior and Chanel. All of which I discovered at Selfridges. It’s my favourite place to do a spot of shopping when I really want to treat myself and I can’t wait for one day in the future, to have a girl that will love shopping at Selfridges as much as I do.

2020, Let’s Do This!

Hello beautiful people. It’s the start of a new year. I’m still on holiday so I am in a great mood. It’s not that I hate my job, in fact I consider myself extremely lucky to have such a healthy work environment, however more time with the love of my life is always welcome. I’ve had time to think about what I want from 2020 and each time I keep coming to one word: joy.

joy: ‘ a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. ‘

The past two years have been challenging for my family and I, ever since we lost my sister. However we have somehow learnt to live with the grief. We’ve learnt to function and find happiness in the midst of the pain. Last year was a great one for me. I have felt myself slipping further and further away from the cloud of despair that at one point felt permanent. Depression is like that, you forget what it’s like to be happy and while I credit my walk with God towards helping, I cannot deny or diminish the role that my wonderful husband played in the person I became last year. My goals for this year are simple: find joy in God and work tirelessly at being the best wife, and human to everyone in my life. I want to truly find joy in God, in life, fully being present in all aspects of life, taking pleasure in all that it has to offer, without feeling guilty about it.

2020 is the year of being unapologetically joyful!

Pregnant or Fat?

I’m going through a crappy period with my weight and it’s hard not to get down on myself, especially when everyone keeps asking if I’m pregnant 🤰🏽 I’m not, I’ve just gained weight. I’m on a solid reset plan that involves zero sugar and mostly veg. So far so good, BUT it’s tough. I looked at my body today and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. There’s the quiet voice from my bulimic days that sometimes taunts me. My plan is to see a nutritionist and find out how I can potentially do plant based eating alongside long distance running and CrossFit. Right now I am being as gentle as I can be with myself while on this new journey of bettering myself and shedding a few kilos. Choosing to go on a health kick during the festive season is probably not the best idea 🤦🏾‍♀️.

Wonderfully Made

My sister got so many cute shots of me fake-eating ice cream 🍦 that I MUST use them all. So here we go, adding some depth to a picture that does not have much to do with the content of this post. A couple of years ago, you would have had to pay me good money…who am I kidding? You’d be able to bribe me with ice-cream to wear my natural hair out in its unaltered texture. Fast forward to 2019 and I am on a journey of embracing who I am becoming, and I like that girl! In the black community, hair can be seen as a political statement. In fact if I had just one rand for each time my mom asked me when I’m doing my hair, I would have enough money for a new pair of Nike leggings, and maybe a sports bra in these trying financial times 😂 One of the things I have learnt through this ongoing natural hair journey is greater acceptance of not just my hair but all the features that make me, me. I used to hate my nose because I remember a friend once saying it looked like a teddy bear’s 🧸 nose, and I know this goes against popular verses in the Bible that speak about us being fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image (Psalm 139) and being uniquely formed in my mother’s womb. I did not believe that. It felt like God had done me dirty 😂 now I have a greater understanding of what He was thinking when He made me. Firstly I’m hilarious 😂, I’m also very strong, intelligent, witty, can eat ice-cream really quickly and also ready to kill for my loved ones, I guess that means I’m protective of my family, and not a serial killer 😂

Be proud of who you are and how you have gotten to where you are today. The caveat of course is if you had to kill, steal and betray to get to where you are because then not only should you make the jailhouse your home 😂 but pray that the LORD washes your sins away (p.s. forgiveness does not always equate to absolution of punishment, one day I’ll write on that). I have been through enough grimy situations to know that life does not always reflect the beauty of God, but I have also been through enough grimy situations to know that there is always a purpose to most of what happens in life.

You are wonderfully made. You are badass, beautiful, strong, breathtaking, ridiculously funny and smart. Don’t believe it yet? Keep repeating it to yourself until your physical life wakes up to who you are, to who you’ve always been spiritually! Happpppy Mondaaay!!!!

I will give thanks and praise to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my souls knows it very well

Psalm 139:14 (Amplified version)

My prayer for you today is that your soul would begin to know and believe that you are wonderfully made!

Start Again

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.

Francis Scott Fitzgerald

When Everything Looks Okay, But Isn’t

From the outset, I had already decided that 2017 would be amazing and it already is! My prayer for you today and for your 2017 is that God would pull you closer into Him, no matter what you have been through, I pray that He would restore joy, internal and external peace, as well as a heart of gratitude; whether that be through you hitting numerous clean & jerk PR’s (I’m hinting for myself to God here,) or through new promotions at work, may His love usher in so much goodness that it absolutely takes your breath away and all you’ll be able to say is “thank you, God that was totally you!”

No, it’s not a typo. I know we’re in 2019. This is an excerpt of a post I wrote two years ago.

I had a bit of a brain lapse at work and (God forgive me,) I went on my blog and started reading some of my blog posts. Listen if you can’t stand to read your own blog posts, then you my friend are doing something wrong. I landed on one that I had written when I bought my Metcon 3s on which I had scrawled on either side of them, Colossians 3:23 and Hebrews 12:11, pasted below.

‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,’

‘No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.’

At the end of this blogpost, I wrote about how my expectation for 2017, that it would be an amazing year. Prior to 2017, I had been heavily depressed and life did not fill me with joy. I partook in things but I got no joy from them. It was almost as though I was existing. My sister Nadège, my sunflower 🌻 , was instrumental in getting me out of that deep depression. I have often written that depression is like sticky tar, you can wipe it off you i.e. learn to manage it, but it always leaves a little bit of a residue. My sister understood this better than anyone else did. Coming from an African family, we were often taught to be strong and carry on. My sister made it her mission to remind me that I was not made to just survive, I needed to thrive.

I know these words have become rather popular this week with the release of the documentary covering the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s trip to South Africa, however Jesus said it first: ‘The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, until it overflows]’ John 10:10 (AMP) Paraphrased you could read it as ‘depression comes to steal, kill and destroy my life. Jesus fills me with strength and hope so that I may enjoy life to the full, and overflow with joy’. This does not negate the need for therapy and/or medication that one may need in order to manage anxiety and/or depression. In fact, I think it is foolish that there are STILL so many Christians that will say to someone who is battling depression to pray harder. I have heard that one before, and I cannot even tell y’all how much more it made me want to break that person’s jaw à la OG’s threats from Basketball Wives (it’s a trash show I know).

2017 was not a great year. It was the year that my sister passed away and as I write this blogpost, the second last week that she would be with us, I find myself battling to write what she meant to me. I find myself tearing up and crying as much as I did the day that she passed. When my sister passed away, it felt as if air had been knocked out of my lungs. My older sisters have always been my sounding boards and I never thought the day would come where I would have one less older sister. The pain is raw, at times crippling and always unbelievable. I have all our last messages saved and I message her frequently each time foolishly believing that I will see ‘Ya Dena is typing…’ I find myself haunted by questions of what more I could have done to reach out to her for those periods when she went off the radar for a day or two. I ask myself if I could have better spotted that she was sick and done something sooner.

I ask myself if I will ever find the acceptance my family is still so desperately searching for since her death. It doesn’t feel like we will. This past month has been difficult. I find myself always sitting on the periphery of breaking down. I find myself faced with things that remind me of her and the illness that took her everywhere I go. The reminders are on my phone when I get tagged as my sister, when I’m at home recounting memories and I realise that she will never be able to take part in new ones I make. The reminders at work are in everything I do because it is so heavily tied in to what took her from us so soon.

The sweetest girl ever!

On the surface, I look like I’m okay right. I’m smiling, glowing (all thanks to my highlighter and NOT the 2 hours of sleep that I’ve been getting). Inside I feel as though I am crumbling. I miss her so much, it is a pain that only those who have lost a loved one dear to them, will be able to comprehend. She was wonderful, and I shall always carry the memory of her with me.

What to do when things look okay but are not okay:

  1. Talk to someone. I tend to bottle things up until I explode. It is not healthy and I am working to change it. I want to thank my darling fiancé for being my safe place to come home to. He was the first person I spoke to when my sister passed and I am grateful for his beautiful spirit that knows mine so well.
  2. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. This one ties in with the first point. Sometime this week on Twitter, I posted that I had been struggling with my mental health and to my surprise Lovette Jallow reached out, and she even gave me a suggestion on what to ask from my doctor to help with the zero hours of sleep that I have been getting. Don’t get me wrong, I am transparent with my fiancé about how I’m doing mentally but there is a liberation I felt with being vulnerable on Twitter as I believe it was the catalyst I needed in order to make that contact again with my therapist.
  3. Keep calm… try to keep calm. It may feel like the world is going to end, or is ending but I have survived many dark storms to know that this too shall pass. I have also learnt that if it doesn’t pass, there are things that I can do to better manage my mental state of mind, which leads me to point four.
  4. Exercise and eat as healthily as you can. You do yourself a lot more damage if your diet is as crappy as you feel. Treats are okay in moderation but make sure that you are giving your body what it needs to physically function at an optimal level, exercise to release endorphins and be patient with yourself.

To anyone dealing with bereavement, I am sending you mega hugs right now. Things will never get back to normal and that is completely okay. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Understand that everyone deals with grief differently. Don’t be ashamed of needing to take time out if you need it. Life may not always feel beautiful, in fact, sometimes you’ll want to punch life in the face. In those moments remember that the person you have lost is always there with you, loving you as hard in heaven, as they did on earth.