2015 is/was tough

I can’t believe how long it is since I posted!

Tonight, I am on control duty for SERV Kent and, as I was logging an earlier call, I realised that it will soon be a new year. Now, I am not stupid, I realise January and 2016 happen in a few weeks but seeing January 2016 pop up on the calendar made me realise just how close a few weeks seems.

This set me to thinking about 2015 up until now. It has been tough but also fun; sad but also happy. At the beginning of the year, the new neighbours showed just how noisy 2 skinny girls can be. I’ll gloss over the neighbours a bit as legally, there are things I can’t say and morally, things I won’t. They’re beyond noisy, music, fighting, all sorts. Some of the other neighbours and I have been forced to call the police on several occasions and, thanks to all the stress, lack of sleep etc, I gave up on uni for the rest of the last academic year. It’s been a tough ride with them and isn’t yet finished. And that is all I have to say about that.

At the beginning of the year, my lovely step nan died which was really sad (that sounds so lame!) I felt hugely guilty about being happy to reconnect with various members of the family at her funeral but that is what happens. I loved her so much but hadn’t really been able to put it into words with her, I hope she knew.

A couple of months later, I was made head controller with SERV Kent, a massive honour and responsibility which at the time, was a much needed boost. I hadn’t realised just how much work went on behind the scenes but I attacked it as I always do with new learning curves and am thoroughly enjoying it.

Then, in the summer, something that I had been thinking about a for a while got given a sudden push, I dumped my boyfriend. He had been there for me in the days after I filed for divorce which was great but our relationship never developed which was not so great. My only (and I mean only) regret is that I didn’t tell him face to face. I couldn’t, not because I didn’t want to but because he didn’t turn up to see me when he said he would which was becoming a regular occurrence. I am no longer a notch on someone’s bedpost (sorry to my family for that sentence!) I had spent a long time, several months, now I look back, feeling less than important to him but hadn’t had the courage to do anything about it for way too long. The speed with which the musings about it became an action hit me like a truck but, thankfully, I didn’t fall apart over him, far from it. That tells me it was absolutely the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I actually smiled when I met with my university mentor and told her what I had done, I genuinely feel like a huge weight has been lifted and even admitting that doesn’t make me feel sad.

I am back at uni, my attendance thanks to ongoing lack of sleep hasn’t been anywhere near great but I am doing OK. My first essay got submitted on time and, despite me convincing myself that it was the worst one I had ever written, I got a mark of 62% which I am so proud (and a little suspicious) of. It made me remember that I can do it, that I really do deserve to be at university and that I actually do have a reasonable amount of intelligence in my brain! All those doubts will come back in a day or two, I’m waiting on the mark from my second essay and a plank would be able to tell me that was nowhere near as good as the first!

I sent my mum a text telling her my essay mark for what I described to her as a crap essay and her reply made me giggle:

“You clearly have superior and higher goals than your lecturers. Well done”

Thanks mum and, I think you’re right. In case she’s reading this, yep, I said you were right! I am unbelievably hard on myself when it comes to my studies, I constantly berate my own work and abilities and this absolutely needs to stop…now! Ah, who am I kidding? I will probably never stop it but will do my best to be less hard on myself.

So, a tough year but also, in a weird way, one of the best I’ve had in a long time. That reads weirdly, even to me. How can a tough year be a good one? Because I am still managing to function, I am coping with all the crap being flung at me by others as well as by myself. And, get this, I AM strong. Until today, I had never believed that but now I do and I will remind myself of that every time I feel like just giving up and hiding under the duvet forever. I expect I will still fall every once in a while but I know that I won’t stay down for long and that every trial that gets thrown at me from now on will lead to me getting even stronger.

I hadn’t planned on such a long post, it just turned out that way so I will end it with this:

2016, bring it on, I am ready for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long time….

I have been pretty useless at this blogging malarkey recently, I know! I have been suffering from major pain in my neck, shoulders and head thanks to a couple of slipped discs that I have obviously “twanged” somehow. Anyway, fabby painkillers from my GP and catching up on some sleep which the pain made disappear (along with my appetite!) and I am feeling a lot better. My shoulder is still causing some grief but I am seeing my physiotherapist soon so that’s not too bad I guess. 

Tomorrow, I am going on a trip to the Old Bailey with several fellow students from my Uni. I am stupidly excited which is why I haven’t gone to bed yet despite an early start as I am too excited! So, watch this space on Friday, I will attempt to write as much of the visit up as I can.

Getting back to study

I have been on summer break from Uni since 17th June, 9 weeks so far and my first lecture of the next academic year is on 30th September, just 6 weeks more to go! I am not going to say I am bored exactly but I am keen to get back to studying. I have read the details online of one of my modules and bought the required text book as I am really looking forward to starting it. It amuses me to think that I am excited and keen to get “back to school” when 30 years ago I would have been dreading the end of the school holidays. I am desparately hoping that this doesn’t mean I am becoming a proper adult, I don’t feel old enough for that yet. 

The year I am about to embark on is actually the other half of the first year although I am classed as a returning student so all future blogs I write about my studies will refer to stages instead, much easier to keep track of! I will spend 2 years at each stage as a part time student so no counting is involved. I am in stage 1 at the moment and, luckily in some ways, the marks that are achieved in this stage don’t go toward the degree classification. However, I do wonder that knowing this may make me take my foot of the gas sometimes. I am going to do my utmost not to let that happen this year and to start working as hard as I know I can but without breaking my brain anymore than it is already. 

I have had my disabled student allowances agreed for the next year, as I already have the equipment, it is just a case of them agreeing the additional incidentals that I will receive. And, once Student Finance England and my University have sorted their communication problems over my course code and the funding for my fees approved, I will be a very happy bunny. 

If you are older than the average school leaver attending University and are wondering whether you should obtain a degree, I would say if you can, go for it. Be aware though that part time students only get their fees paid, no additional grants or loans are available. Don’t let that put you off though, if you can work it financially and are determind to do it, do it. I have done a fair few things I would never had done if I wasn’t at Uni, such as attending a wine reception at the House of Commons and taking on an active voluntary role with SERV Kent, I didn’t feel useful enough before. Following your heart’s desire doesn’t have to be something that only the young can do anymore, I am doing it and enjoying it more day by day. 

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.

My equipment has arrived

Yesterday was DSA day. That is, the day when all my equipment was delivered. I was over excited and was ensconced on the sofa 10 minutes before the earliest time they were likely to arrive. The 2 hour window came and went so I called to make sure they hadn’t forgotten me although I suspected the driver had got stuck in traffic, which he had! The delivery of everything went really smoothly, the engineer was a fellow cat lover so showed a lot of attention to Pete the cat who had to inspect everything as it was coming out the box. He soon mooched off when he realised none of it was edible!

So, I am now the proud owner of a brand new laptop with Windows 8 on which I am slowly getting used to. I have a headset to use with Dragon which I had great fun playing with. I also have a digital voice recorder (or dictaphone for us oldies) which terrifies me but I am sure once I have read the manual that is at least 3 times the size of the recorder I’ll soon have it sussed.

I am now hugely enthusiastic about starting back in September as I have all the support that I need and that makes me determined to do my absolute best going forward. So thank you Student Finance and University of Kent, I really do appreciate your support.

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. 

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! 

Reflecting

A year ago my life was all over the place. I was newly divorced, the marital home (which I was still living in) had been sold and I’d been signed off work with depression. I didn’t know where I was going to live, how I was going to afford it or what my future at work held for me. It was all too scary I tried to ignore it which, of course, didn’t work!

Now, I have a little rented place of my own which I am far more comfortable in than I ever was in the marital home. I am at university, something I never thought I’d achieve.
But, more importantly and somewhat sad is that I can count my true friends on one hand. I’m not that sad about it though as the friends I have are the ones I’m keeping a very tight hold of 🙂