Time to change and time to talk

Some of you who know me well will know that I am being treated for depression and anxiety, both mental health issues. I also have a slipped disc in my neck but that’s less of an issue to some point. Before you stop reading, this is not a pity post, far from it. 

My mental health problems started around the time I separated from my (now ex) husband, not that it was all because of that, I was also having a tough time at work. The combination of these two events took their toll on me and when I went to the GP after a few weeks of having a cold/virus I broke down in tears and gabbled my problems at him prompting him to sign me off work and prescribe anti depressants. Fast forward a year, I am divorced, living in a small but cosy flat, fostering a cat via a charity and studying Criminal Justice Studies part time at the University of Kent. Life is pretty good, I am in a new relationship with a previous partner however, I am still being treated for depression and beginning to struggle again. It takes me ages to recognise it this time and I eventually admit defeat and hide at home rather than going into University. Weeks become months and I miss a whole term. I eventually go to my GP who increases my medication and I am now on an even keel. This does take a bit of time but I do manage to sit the only exam I had for the year (and I pass!) and I start looking forward to the new academic year. Around this time, I also receive confirmation of my disabled students allowance which you can read about here. This helped shift my mood a lot and I started enjoying life a lot more. It seems a bit wrong to say that as someone who is depressed I shouldn’t be enjoying life, right? Wrong, just because my brain is a little bonkers at the moment doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun or even laugh at a great (or terrible) joke. 

For the last few months, I have been following Time to Change on twitter and they have a campaign called Time to talk. The campaign is all about encouraging people to talk about mental health. I was born in the 70s when this was a hugely taboo subject and, having seen the looks of pity in some people’s eyes, I struggle to talk about it at times too. It is not easy to tell even your closest friends or family that your head is messed up, you’re starting to struggle again or you are just plain exhausted, fed up and worried you’ll never be yourself again. Luckily, I can talk to my mum and friends but try not to do that too much after all, who wants to hear me whinge all the time? 

Does a conversation with someone who has depression have to be about depression? Nope, call me and tell me what you had for breakfast or what you watched on telly last night. Send me a text or post a joke on my facebook wall, I will probably laugh and repost it or, if you follow me on twitter, tweet a cute kitten picture, I love those! 

As important as it is to start a conversation about your mental health issues, it is just as important to start a conversation with someone who has a mental health issue. In addition to this, look at the time to talk campaign and mention it to 1 other person and ask them to do the same. The further we get the word out there, the better. 

A small confession

In an earlier post I wrote about my exam, I mentioned that my attendance at Uni had been horrendous due to my mental health declining. I’m going to confess now something that only my mum and close friends know, I haven’t been in to any lectures etc in Uni since January, I just couldn’t face it. I did keep everyone who needed to know informed but just couldn’t get my butt out the door and onto the bus. In fact, I struggled going out at all, often staying in for days at a time with just a quick trip to the supermarket or local garage. I am not proud of this, I still need to recognise all the signs I guess and get help rather than hide under the duvet.

I have had an amazing about of support from friends and family and the University as well. Now I have all the equipment I need to help with my studies as well as a mentor who is brilliant, I am genuinely looking forward to starting the new academic year.

Surprisingly, I passed my exam which when you consider I missed an entire term of lectures is pretty amazing! I don’t advocate it as a study option though so don’t follow my lead.

Yesterday, I got confirmation that I can retake a module which I missed. I had a module that was only the length of the term I failed to attend. There is a cost implication but Student Finance have got me covered with that.

I eventually sought further help for myself and have now been told that the community mental health team are referring me to the psychological therapies team for treatment. Thankfully, they haven’t recommended mucking about with my medication which I am pleased about as it’s taken almost 2 years to get it steady.

I now have all of the back up and support that I need to get back to my studies, I am planning on improving on last year’s results and with all the stuff I have been given, I now believe it is possible. I still have to deal with the appeal against my benefit being stopped but at least I can do that now without worrying whether or not I will be accepted back at Uni in September.

The moral of this long and rambling post is that if you feel like your world is collapsing in on you, get help quickly, I didn’t but I know not that I should have done. Luckily, everything turned out OK but it might not have done and then that would have had an even worse effect on the way I was feeling. I look forward to the day when I am less broken, I can’t even think about being “fixed” as that feels an eternity away.

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!

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!