A little can mean a lot

As an update to my recent posts about my sofa and the assistance from the Disabled Student’s Allowance, I thought I’d post something less light-hearted than my usual posts. I am not doing this in a woe is me style or in a bouncy, excited look how lucky I am way. I am doing this in the hope that someone else going through some of the things I am going through can be reassured that there are people that can and, hopefully will, help you.

The charity that I approached enabled me to sit comfortably in my living room and, for the first time, to have a brand new sofa. I love it now that I have worn it in and am looking forward to my first overnight guest so I can get use out of the sofa bed. As I now have a smaller sofa than I used to, I have now got space to put my dining table in the living room rather than down in my bedroom. I have really missed being able to eat at a table and it’s ideal for my revision as I am closer to the kitchen cupboards and the kettle. I have still got a little bit of rearranging to do but am leaving that until after my exam.

So, some stuff at home is getting sorted and so is university. I haven’t had the best attendance in the last term so I’ve missed a lot and have had to apply for concessions from the exam board as a result. Mostly, it was my own fault, I was struggling and took too long asking for help. I realise this now of course, which I’d noticed at the time! Anyway, I have had my meeting with a disability advisor at university who has taken into account everything written in my DSA report and what i was telling her and together, we have written my individual learning plan. This plan applies to all lectures, seminars and other learning activities. Unfortunately, this year’s exam instructions have been written too late for this year. However, from next year, I am going to be allowed extra time and will be taking my exams in a smaller room. I’ve said to anyone that will listen that knowing I am about to receive all the help that it makes everything seem less scary. It is a relief to know that I am being taken seriously and that both the DSA funding body and the University are going to do everything in the power to keep me attending and get me through my degree. Being believed is a huge thing when you are suffering with a mental health problem and particularly depression. You can see people thinking that you are faking it and a lot of people don’t understand how you can be depressed but laugh at jokes or have fun. 

The university have arranged for me to have a mentor, I am meeting her for the first time next week and she has an awesome name, Sarah, of course! I am being funded for an hour a week, term time. I don’t know yet exactly what happens with this, I’ve never had a mentor before. 

In addition to this and my ILP, I am getting a fair amount of equipment and software which I was tentatively told on the phone this week. I am getting software that will read any documents scanned into it out loud to me, software that will type up my spoken words, a new laptop, laptop stand, keyboard and mouse, recording device and a few other bits and bobs that I can’t recall right now. I had never, in a million years expected that I would be eligible for help like that. I am still blown away by it and am not sure I really believe it even though I have been reassured by others that I am. I can’t wait for the confirmation letter to arrive! Once it does, I know for sure then that the equipment and other support will be well and truly in place by the start of the next academic year and it has fuelled my enthusiasm for getting back into it more than I would have believed. 

The moral of this long ramble is don’t be afraid to ask help. You may need to do a little bit of work to find out who can help you but believe me, it is worth it. I was considering giving up my studies as I felt unable to cope with everything but now I know that although it won’t be easy instantly, I have enough support in place to make the journey easier than it felt. If you are feeling like you are paddling round in a bucket of porridge, get help as soon as you can. Don’t ignore it like I did, those feelings can overwhelm you to the extent you don’t realise what is wrong until it’s affected your life in a major way. You’re not alone, according to Mind 1 in 6 workers is dealing with a mental health problem. 

Oh, if you’re wondering where my Atos update is, they cancelled my appointment as they were running late. Luckily, I was only just putting my shoes on to leave when they called, 5 minutes later and I would have been on my way!

Update to Disabled Students Allowance

My final report from the assessor has been sent to me and one of the disabled student advisers at University. I won’t bore you with all the details included in the report but suffice it to say that the equipment and software suggested is a lot and will be well used by me and is making me feel a lot more positive about my future at University. 

As a first step, I have already got an appointment arranged with one of the support officers and my mentor. These will both happen by the end of the month, I can’t believe just how quickly this is all being put in place! In addition to all this support and the equipment, I will have a specific learning plan and potentially special instructions for my exams, too late for this year but well in place for next year. I can also put this all into the request I have made for concessions for my exam and the work I have missed due to a decline in my mental health in the last term, the support that is being put into place now should mean I can reduce non-attendance over the rest of my time there. 

If you are reading this and struggling with your studies and maybe even thinking of giving it all up, please don’t. Speak to your disability advisor or student support office and tell them what’s happening, I promise they will help you. You don’t have to suffer (struggle) in silence but you do need to start the process of getting help yourself, I did and it’s looking like being the best thing I’ve done for myself recently. 

Don’t be embarrassed

When I moved into my little flat last January, I had very little in the way of “big stuff” for a flat. I had a bed, single mattress, vacuum cleaner, clothes and not much else. A friend lent me a washing machine and microwave and also let me relieve her of a corner sofa as she had a new one on order. I bought a fridge freezer and bingo, I was sorted. I bought other bits and pieces as I needed them, always cheaply as I am on benefits so don’t have huge amounts of spare cash to throw around.
Not that long ago, I managed to damage the seat on the sofa and am now in the position where I need to buy a new one as it is uncomfortable to sit on and I am sinking deeper into it! I sat down for several weeks and looked into any way that I could save money to buy one, even a secondhand one or, at a push, an armchair but every option was way beyond my budget.

I could have let myself get really down about this, a few months ago I probably would have done but now, I decided that I would investigate how to get it. A crisis loan is out of the question as I was told by the lady at the jobcentre that they have been stopped. I refuse to go to somewhere like Brighthouse or take out a payday loan so I took to the internet.

I found a website on one of my searches that could be used to search for charities and other organisations that would help someone in my situation. I emailed an application form to a charity and waited. Within a few days, they sent me a letter and advised me to get prices for a sofa and send them in. I got back on the internet and into the shops and sent off my request to the charity. It’s funny how nerve-wracking the waiting can be for something like this. I had a brief glimmer of hope but would they allow me to buy the sofa I wanted or would I have to go back to searching for one that they approved of? As luck would have it, I needn’t have worried, my request was approved and I am hoping to be able to order my sofa next week.

The moral of this is if you need something like this, there probably is someone out there who will be able to help but the key is to not be embarrassed about asking. If you had said to me 2 years ago that I would be getting money from a charity to buy a new sofa I would have laughed but, here I am now, excited about the chance to get a new sofa and proud of myself for asking for help. This is key, not everyone can access this sort of help, I know but if you don’t ask you don’t get.

Oh and if you come to see me over the next few months, please be kind to my sofa.

I’m fundraising!

Just a quick reminder for you all, cheeky aren’t I?

Things that pop into my head

Today I have signed up for a memory walk for The Alzheimer’s Society. Alzheimers and other forms of dementia are horribly debilitating for the individual sufferer but also affects their friends and family. My great aunt died of a heart attack in 2005, shortly after being diagnosed with alzheimers. She was fairly lucky in that she was able to still recognise family members as she hadn’t been dealing with the condition for very long time, others are not so lucky. 

My godmother is suffering from another form of dementia and is in a secure home. This is extremely difficult for her family as she was always such a vibrant character. It was with this in mind that I decided to sign up for the walk. Well, that and the fact that I am unable to run and a walk sounded easier! I am planning to train for it, I would…

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Student Finance (England) and disabled students

Lots of people don’t have an exactly positive view of Student Finance as there are quite a few hoops that students and their parents or partners have to jump through during an application. I am not in a position to comment on their performance or otherwise on that side of things as I live alone and am a part time student so I don’t get the same funding. As a part time student I only receive funding for my course fees. 

As I have a long term mental health condition, I have also recently been advised that I am eligible for DSA (Disabled Students Allowances). These allowances can cover all sorts of things, some of which I had never even considered until my assessment. Every student who applies for DSA has to undertake an assessment after receiving a letter of eligibility and my assessment was yesterday. This is entirely different to the assessment that Atos do on behalf of the DWP (I’ve got that in a couple of weeks) they are not there to say whether you are fit or unfit for university. Instead, they are there to investigate and suggest resources that enable you to continue at university and to help you with your studies. 

My assessor was really friendly and easy to talk to which I guess makes his job easy! He managed to winkle all sorts of information out of me that I hadn’t expected and his understanding of my learning style was better than my own which makes me laugh. 

As a result of the questions that he asked and the answers I gave, the following has been recommended for me; software that will read out any text imported into it, software that enables me to record presentations over the original powerpoint slides and play it back, a dictaphone to record lectures, voice to text software, access to a mentor on a weekly or fortnightly basis and a laptop and training for all the new software. This is above and beyond anything that I had considered I might have suggested, particularly all the software and the new laptop! I will also have access to a fund for consumables as I tend to study at home rather than in the library. I left the assessment feeling a little numb to be honest but hopeful as well. I have struggled a little with the work, in particular keeping my mind on the reading and I know for sure that having my PC read to me will make it easier for me to deal with as I have a fair bit of reading to do. I am not sure that it will necessarily improve my marks but it will certainly improve my motivation and, hopefully, my concentration. I just wish I had applied earlier than I did as I might have already had these things in place. The moral of that tale is that if you feel you should apply for DSA do so, if you are eligible for it, Student Finance will write to you and tell you and then you have the assessment. Once that happens, you then wait for the report which is sent to you and Student Finance and a member of the student support staff as well if you want. Then you just have to wait for Student Finance to make their decision as to whether or not you receive the recommended resources but I am assured that this is a fairly quick decision. 

In addition to feeling “looked after” in a way that I hadn’t experienced prior to this, it was also nice being open with my feelings and difficulties without them making a snap judgement of me; the assessor actively listens and encourages you to give as much information as you feel comfortable with. I am now really looking forward to starting the new academic year in September, just got to get my pesky exam out of the way first!