Thursday, 10 September 2009

On Being Obedient

That looks really strange that title! Me? Obedient? Although I do what I can to fit into society and would, I hope, be unlikely to get an ASBO, I’m usually about as obedient as a cat – i.e. not very!

It was therefore quite a shock to most who attended my wedding to the Wonderspouse that I promised to OBEY him! Yes, I really did. Although we got married in a relatively modern United Reformed Church (yes, we did get married in church, however extraordinary that now seems), we had the “traditional” marriage words from 16somethingorother: having and holding, better for worse, richer for poorer (still waiting for the richer bit!), etc etc. and yes, we had the bit where I said I’d obey him.

Fortunately for me, he hasn’t held me to the obedience bit too much – he’s a wise enough man to know that if he tries too hard to control me then I’ll become very unhappy – we’re both creatures who need our own personal space, just like the cats need their own places to sleep. Quite a household of independent creatures here!

However, from time to time the obedience clause is invoked. Usually it happens when I’m still footling about hanging out washing or looking for a CD or some similar activity and am clearly exhausted and he’ll say “Come on, sit down, have a rest and drink your tea – you promised to obey me!” It’s not exactly heavy tactics, but it has reduced the number of cold cups of tea that end up down the sink because I’ve forgotten to drink them!

This week he’s been urging me to obey him again! I’ve been ill. Not seriously ill, not mentally ill (although my mood has dipped because my usual exercise regime has gone wrong), but just the sort of boring “sore throat, cold, cough, slightly queasy feeling” ill that everyone gets from time to time. I’m pretty useless at being ill, or, as he puts it “You’re a nightmare when you’re ill”, and I find it very hard to switch off and “relax”. I’m just not really a “putting my feet up” sort of a person.

However, this week has been worse than usual, partly because the house REALLY needs cleaning, but mainly because I’m in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year for my current OU maths course. I have one assignment now a week overdue (for which the revised deadline is tomorrow) and another due next Friday (which cannot be extended). There is also an exam looming in October.

Early this year, when I started the course, I had my usual high hopes for a top-grade pass for the course. My first TMA (tutor marked assignment) came back with a perfect 100, which seemed like a good start, and all other marks were 95 and above until the one I had to complete after a month off for a depressive episode in June/July, which weighed in at a lowly 85. Oh well, I thought, if I work extra hard I can make it up!

However, that hasn’t really worked. Time quite literally ran out for the next assignment – I was only able to submit 12 marks worth of work and came away with a mark of just 11. One really bad assignment is just about coverable, but I’m now so far behind that it’s now certain that there will be at least two bad assignments (if not 3). This means that the top-grade pass for this course will no longer be possible, even if I do really well in the exam (which is, of course, not a foregone conclusion). Me being me, I’m starting to stress about the whole business. I want to do it all perfectly. I don’t want to hand in rubbish work, I don’t want to get a low mark. I want to try to get a first for my degree overall. The dreaded perfectionism creeps in!

So I try to work harder. I make more effort to sit at my desk and study. And, guess what happens – the harder I push, the less I get done. And I am surprised. Goodness knows why I’m surprised, this exact thing happened in the final weeks of my doomed doctorate when I was trying desperately hard to complete a chapter at the beginning of my third year in order to convince my funding body and supervisor that my money should continue. I got up at 8 every morning (sounds like a lie-in now), sat at my desk at 9, and tried to write. And failed.

In the years since then I’ve learnt that this method does not work for me. My mind is no more likely to obey me than it is to obey anyone else. However, this “sit at your desk, shut up, and get on with your work” thing is so ingrained in me from years of school and helpful advice that I keep doing it. Apparently I’ve not actually learnt anything in the 15 or so years since my doctoral thesis dried up like a river that flows into the desert, never to reach the sea.

However, last night and this morning I’ve finally had to accept that I can’t do it all. I’ve spent the last 3 days sitting at my desk watching limits and functions swim before my eyes, coughing until I ache, sucking on an inhaler and swigging Benylin straight from the bottle, before eventually giving up, playing on twitter all day and giving myself RSI as well! It is time to stop. Now I must attend to the practicalities of contacting my tutor (will I never get over feeling as though I’m telling her the cat ate my homework?), and working out what the best strategy is to get the best pass I can for the course (even though it will not be a top grade and, in all likelihood, will not end up counting towards my final degree result anyway). Damage limitation!

Furthermore, the Wonderspouse is telling me to obey him again. This time his orders are “Stop worrying about everything!” and “Don’t beat yourself up!”

I’m going to try very hard to be an obedient wife. I did promise.


  1. I want to make 100% clear that the obeying bit had NOTHING to do with me. Please don't get pitchforks out

  2. My sister could have almost written your post a few years ago. She was doing her OU Maths, heavily pregnant and still working full time. She is also a perfectionist and couldn't bear handing in work she didn't feel 100% about. Unfortunately with everything that was going on she had to compromise and just do what she could. That year she got a 1st for her modules, had a healthy baby girl and decided to quit her job... it was tough but she got there - and I know you will too!!!

  3. Yes my dear Agnieszkas Shoes! I KNOW you didn't ask me for obedience. It would have been a terrible shame to spoil the original words simply on a point of principle though, wouldn't it?

    Helen - hugely well done to your sister! It's great to know there are other perfectionists out there who have managed to compromise as well as succeed. It's really encouraging to hear such success stories - if other people have done it, then maybe I can too! And you became an auntie into the bargain :)

  4. United Reformed? I always thought you were Anglo-Catholics.

  5. @iamamro - it's much more complicated than that!

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