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During lockdown, Megan decided that it was time to realise her true potential

Lockdown Stories: Megan Sprous

Megan Sprous quit her job as a Prison Custody Officer to take up a Batchelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing. But was a degree during lockdown worth it?

I got my letter of acceptance from Nottingham Trent University in the January as we went into the first lockdown in the March of 2020. I was still working at my old job as a Prisoner Custody Officer, but with the courts shut, and the entire country at a halt, there wasn’t much need for prison transport. I had left education at eighteen, I’d never really believed before that academia had suited me. Working at least part time since the age of sixteen, I suddenly found myself going from at least forty-five hours a week to barely eight. I’d never had so much free time to myself, I didn’t know how to spend my days. The weather was warming up, and I was privileged enough to have a garden to sit out in – something a lot of people weren’t fortunate enough to have. I would spend my time joyously working on something I didn’t have the time to focus on before: my writing.

My time of bliss was shrouded in doubt; going to university was a big risk for me. I would be leaving a stable job, with a steady income, and entering a world I had left half a decade ago. I was terrified, and several nights would be spent wondering if what I was doing was the right decision. Several times I’d been on the edge of rejecting all of my offers, happy enough to know that I’d been accepted without actually deciding to go. I’d played it safe for a lot of my life and deciding to stay where I had security and a guaranteed income seemed, some days, the smarter move.

Eventually, the country started to wake from its enforced slumber, the crime rates started to increase, and the courts began to fill up once more. I began to realise that my time in the sun was ending. I’d spent the last few months putting my energy and my thought into something that I loved - that I had actual passion for. My time in isolation had shown me what it would be like to focus all of my time into my writing. The thought of returning to my normality, to sitting on the back of a prison van, putting up with abuse, threats, and rowdy prisoners for barely over minimum wage left a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. The inside of the monotone van never seemed so… monotone. It made me realise I loathed my job. It made me realise that there was nothing about that job I truly enjoyed. It made me realise that I wasn’t allowing myself to live up to my true potential. It made me realise that anything I could do to get myself out of that job and into a career where I could thrive would be worth the risk.

I accepted the offer at Nottingham Trent University to study Creative Writing. I quit my job late September and prepared myself mentally to go back into education. I had lots of stressful dreams about quitting the course and having to return to my old job. But I was ready for this adventure, to meet new people and to discover who I could really be.

Of course, things weren’t typical, the pandemic was still in full throttle. I had met most of my course mates online over the summer. We formed a group chat and dubbed ourselves the “Creative Bastards.” We ate out to help out, we started our social gatherings earlier to avoid the 10.pm curfew, we followed the Rule of Six and sat in parks eating our picnics, careful to be two metres apart.

It wasn’t the start to university that we had envisioned. We were dampened by the loss of closeness, by the need to be vigilant and aware of the world around us. We felt robbed of the carefree university life others had enjoyed. But we had each other, and we worked well with what we had.

The majority of my first year was online. The whole country had a mental health crisis, and I was no exception. It was becoming difficult to separate work life from home life and concentrating for my deadlines was a struggle. I wasn’t the only one, there were a few of us that found it difficult to cope with working online, knowing there wasn’t any other option. So, we studied together online. We set up shifts, made sure there was always someone online to work with. Silent study sessions were more comforting knowing that we weren’t truly isolated in our isolation. Had I known then what I know now; had I known the way lockdown would affect me, had I known what my experience would be like, I would still choose to go to university.

Here, I feel free to be myself. I’m working and thriving around likeminded people who love me for who I am, who I choose to be. I don’t have to censor myself, and I don’t have to fear ridicule. It’s stressful, but it’s a wonderfully cathartic stress. A stress where I know I’m going to get something worthwhile out of it.

I’m not the person now that I was at the start of 2020. She was a depressed woman in her early twenties who had no direction in life and never believed she could achieve her dreams. University has filled me with a confidence I never knew I was capable of. It has changed me completely; from the way I dress, to having the courage to read my work aloud at a launch event. I’m proud of who I’ve become, and I’m excited to see where I’m headed.

Lockdown was awful. It impacted so many millions of lives, it shook society and community spirit to its core. But if it hadn’t been for lockdown, I might not have realised there was more to my life than my stressful, unfulfilling, dead-end job.

'Degrees of Isolation' is based on the experiences of University students who were interviewed between 2020 and 2022’.

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