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Study Burnout?

I’ve decided to sit myself down at my desk.
(Well… at a kind of surface)
To have a meeting with myself about why I’m not doing my work.
I am the student and the adult and the person who has had to dish out all the money for all these studies over the years. I am both frustrated with myself and in need of guidance.

It’s weird.


I’m on my 12th OU module

I was 30 when I took my 1st course. I am now 42. (I stopped studying for 4 years when child No.3 was born.)

Although I have completed 11 modules successfully, I dropped out of 6 (4 of those were only short courses) before I knew in which direction I wanted to head.

I have stuck at and passed every single assignment and every single module in the last three years despite the grief of losing a parent and my son suffering from a head injury.

I now have a BA, and if I finish this current module, I will have a BA honours.

I’m already 3 assignments into a 6-assignment module.

The final 3 assignments are in Feb, March and April. Plus 1 end-of-course assignment (instead of an examination) in May.


I have stopped opening my books.

I am worryingly behind with my reading.

I like what I have been reading but I don’t want to do the work bit.

I keep thinking, ‘Maybe tomorrow’ … ‘Maybe later…’ … ‘Maybe I don’t want to do this at all…’

I should have started work on the next assignment but I’m in no position to and I have no inclination to.

Why have I stopped?

What if I drop out? It’s no big deal is it?

If I drop out of this course I will not complete my honours degree. I will have spent A. Lot.
of money on a course I didn’t finish. I will have sniffed at but not touched the finish line.

The regrets may build over the years. The me in the future will be cross with the me of now.

What am I doing?

I know I can do it.
So why am I not?

I don’t know.

The student’s not talking to me.
I can only assume she has some sort of burnout.

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kathryn #

    Rachel, I can’t urge to enough to carry on with this. It isn’t surprising considering all you explain that you have been through but please, do not give up! You have done superbly well so far. Life can be rubbish can’t it? Yep! Sometimes we don’t have enough time to sweep out those yucky bits sufficiently to move on … if you could go out into your beautifull surroundings, somewhere where only the wild things can hear you and shout at them, long and hard, about all you need to say … it might not help but you’ll feel a hell’uv a lot better 😉 I’m sure you’ll find mojo again soon.


  2. I have done the same thing with writing Rach. I’ve suffered the very same thing for about 18 months. I use any excuse to get out of it, even five minutes after giving myself a severe talking to. There’s always tomorrow… Later… I’ll just have a coffee and anwser this funny tweet first. You should certainly finish the course if you can though, BA Honours is a fabulous acheivment.
    Might be just the fact that you know you’re nearing the end of it and it’s been such a big part of your life for so long.

    Best of luck which ever way you decide.


  3. I also wondered if perhaps you were having a wobble because you’re so near the end of it and subconsciously slightly fearing the end of it, perhaps because you’re not sure what’s next?

    It has been a long road so study burnout is understandable! The OU is all about flexible study; is there the possibility of taking a break of a few months before resuming your studies?

    Maybe you don’t need to take such a drastic step.
    Have you tried chatting to others in a similar situation to yourself;
    Chatting to other writers about how they get themselves going again;
    or, commitments permitting, could you take yourself away for a weekend, overnight or even just an afternoon(!) on something of a writer’s retreat?

    If the thought of writing is too much, then try doing something completely different, something new to you. Might help to reinvigorate?

    Not sure if any of this is at all helpful but I hope you make it to the honours one way or another!


  4. Get on with it, we’re almost there. Maybe treat yourself to a substitution for tma 5 or 6 if your overall grade won’t suffer? That’s my plan and I’m looking forward to it. Come on Rachel, pull your finger out and get it done woman.


  5. I think you have to return to why you started studying in the first place.

    When I studied, it wasn’t to get the piece of paper at the end of it (although, of course, that was wonderful), it was to stretch my head and my thoughts, and move my mind to different places. You have done that, without the piece of paper. You don’t NEED the piece of paper. If you finish the six assignments, then that’s fabulous, but if even you don’t, you’ve still succeeded.

    Don’t force yourself to study. Walk away and do something you enjoy, you might find that a few days away from it (and from being cross with yourself) might just make you want to learn again. But even if it doesn’t, you have achieved so much and you have spent your money very wisely. We’re brainwashed into thinking it’s the pieces of paper that count. I honestly don’t think there’s anything less important.

    Be proud.


    • Thanks Jo. (Have written lengthier reply below)


  6. Sounds like you’ve been running a marathon, Rachel, and apparently (I say “apparently” because I’ve never actually tried to run a marathon!) it’s the last few miles that are the hardest (Sounds obvious now I read that back!). You’re almost there, but the hardest bit is still ahead – you’re muscles are killing you, you’re running out of energy, you’re mind’s telling you to give up! I believe it’s called ‘hitting the wall’ or (more amusingly) ‘bonking’! It might not be the best analogy, but try googling it, there’s some good advice out there on how to break through the wall which could apply to study too – the need for refreshment, refueling, focus through visualisation and even distraction.

    Eleven years is a long time to study, even with a break for number three, and you’ve had a lot to cope with on top of your studies. You’ve done an amazing job, and you’re an inspiration! Dropping out is probably no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but you’ll probably come to regret it in the long run. Just imagine how great you’ll feel accepting that BA hons degree in what amounts to just a few months’ time!

    You’ve got loads of people rooting for you! Any time you need some cheer-leading, you only have to ask!

    Give me an R! Give me an A! Give me a C! Give me a H! Give me a E! Give me a L!

    Gooooooooooo … RACHEL!


  7. You’ve got lots of really positive and helpful comments here. I just wanted to say I am also studying with the OU but am nowhere near the stage you are at. Like you however I am also doing this with the eternal juggle of life going on around me. In order to get back on board I found that a couple of things really helped. Firstly I acknowledge that this really was something that I wanted to continue to do. Secondly I got myself back into bit by bit – although I was behind I just had to give myself permission to be OK with not throwing lots of time at this that I couldn’t afford. Thirdly I took a really good look at the times I was studying and realised that they were just wrong for me. If I’m honest I still struggle, but I do feel a little bit better about it and my determination became stronger when I gave myself permission to forgive myself for being so behind. Good luck to you. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, whatever that may be for you. Great comments and suggestions to your blog though – food for thought.


    • (I’ve written a mass reply to you all after Anouska’s comment)


  8. I try making little deals with myself to get back in to a routine. One section then I’ll make a cup of tea, that kind of thing. Even one page moves you on a bit and I find I often do a few more. Hope that helps! Claire x


    • Thanks, Claire. (I’ve written a lengthier reply further down)


  9. My humble vote? Do it.

    How about storing a bottle of your favourite wine in the fridge, turning off Twitter and the blog and doing the reading and studying to finish the module you’ve started, then promise yourself a break and a lovely, luxuriant blog/flash/tweet fest with a party, cake and people-time straight after?

    I’ve never achieved any big project without running up against the GRIND; that period when you just think, ah, knickers to it — my Uni dissertation being one of them. I went through a phase of not being able to look at the file, let alone focus on its contents. I think you read my blog post on my Uni exams. Remember, the module doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be finished.

    What Joanna says above is true, about learning and bits of paper, but if you complete it now, you’ll be giving yourself the choice, later, of whether to use it or not. Choice is a wonderful thing. (Goes well with wine.)


  10. There’s some great points on here already.

    I think that you set out to prove something to yourself and others and from your blog posts, I think you achieved 99% of that when you got your B.A. The Hons bit is just the last 1% and isn’t the reason why you put yourself through all this and it needs a disproportionate amount of effort when you just want to have a break from studying and move onto something new in life. 11 years is a long grind.
    I think Martha’s point is a good one though. If you do it now and complete the Hons, you need never pick up a textbook again and it won’t matter a jot. Coming back to it sometime later would be much harder.
    I think the marathon analogy is a very good one but if you want a different one, think of it like an encore at a concert. You’ve done all the hard work, played a great set and won the crowd over but they just want one last song to round it off and make it the evening perfect. It’s never obligatory but it just seems a shame if an artist doesn’t do one.


    • Thanks, Pete. (Scroll down for lengthier reply )


  11. Anouska Huggins #

    Please don’t give up now! I did the same course last year, and I have to say out of 7 OU courses it was the most difficult one I did. I’m not sure why exactly (I blamed my terrifyingly articulate and pedantic tutor, my grandmother’s illness and subsequent passing, the day job, and study fatigue), but every TMA was a battle involving tantrums (mine), tears (my husband’s) and extended deadlines (everyone begrudged by my tutor). I was two months behind schedule at one point, my marks veered from some of the worst to some of the best in my OU career.

    I think, to be honest, it’s just a really tough course (it seemed to have the biggest drop out rate I’ve seen), but ultimately a satisfying one. I appreciated it once it had finished, once the pressure was off, and things had time to sink in. It made me think very differently about art, literature and writing and I discovered a love of writers that I wouldn’t have otherwised encountered. I took a week off work, at the end, to complete the EMA and surprisingly really enjoyed it!

    And you’re only 4 months away from completing your Hons Degree. You can put up with anything for 4 tiny months. And you’ve got the amazing Pat Barker, the 50s beat poets and all sorts of wonderful writers coming up. So, just focus on the end point, get your head down and get it done. You owe it to yourself and that lovely polyester (I have no idea if it’s polyester, I don’t actually graduate until September, but it looks like it might crackle gently as you march up to that stage!)gown when you stand up to graduate.

    Good luck Rachael, I know you can do it, and if you need to bounce off any ideas for your TMAs, etc, just give me a shout.

    Noosh xxxxx


  12. Thanks, Kathy, Trevor, Rachel, Jenny, Jo, Nat, Jacqueline, Claire, Martha, Pete, Noosh!
    I really appreciate how all of you have taken time to put your own take on things.
    As Kathy says – it’s partly about loss of Mojo, and as Trevor and Rachel say, there’s the nearing the end feeling that is scary but I think – as Nat points out – it also can bring a feeling of exhaustion. The final hurdle. The last push. It’s like childbirth!
    As Jo says, I don’t NEED this result. Grades and bits of paper were never why I started adult learning in the first place. Really. But what I do WANT is the information and thought processes that this particular module are giving me. It’s literature and discussion around literature and the creative people whose writings have influenced all of us. It is interesting and valuable to how my life is panning out. So I think it’s the constant testing that’s wearing/stressing me out.
    I didn’t set out to prove anything to anyone. To be honest, when I first started studying with the OU I didn’t think I was clever enough for a degree. But when I saw that there was an opportunity to get a degree whilst learning things I was choosing to learn anyway, I did set myself a new goal.

    I have all the course materials. All the information that I am finding relevant, intriguing and informative is here whether I complete the course or not. But I guess there’s a chance I may never get around to picking them up and reading them again if I no longer have the pressure of a course calendar to follow.

    I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Plenty of you are suffering/have suffered from flaky mojo syndrome.
    I have to: pull my finger out, shout at wildlife (I was swearing at my camera on the burrows the other day when someone came around the corner of a dune and stared at me in terror!), remind myself why I’m doing it, Google ‘bonking’ (are you sure, Nat?), forgive myself for being behind, reward myself with tea, stop blogging (whoops!), finish without worrying about being perfect, tell Pete to bugger off (- he just told me to say that on Twitter), and look forward to a disgusting graduation gown.

    It is a tough course (in terms of assignments and quantity of reading) but it is very interesting. It is relevant to me. I must keep going.

    Thanks, all. You’re all wonderful. R xxxxxxxxxxx


  13. I’m at my desk for the rest of the day if you need a study friend! Two chapters of catch-up then a short TMA to do 😦


  14. It took me 10 years to gain my B.Sc. and now am moving on to Hons. How strange that you should reach the block stage at this time of year. For me it’s always June/July. As for picking up books physically? Why not join those of us who revel in using pdf?
    Cannot remember when I last read an OU book from cover to cover. That’s the joy of pdf and the search facility.
    Wondering what this ‘tough’ course is that’s foxing you?
    I hated SD226, survived U316 and am now heading into the science project. My bugbear is they have allocated me to a tutor in Galway! Imagine the cost of phone calls???


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