Dear Student Finance

Why do I have to fill in a full application form including my nationality and address for the 3 years prior to starting my course when I have already given you this information (hint I’m required to notify you if I change my nationality and the address I lived in 04-07 is still the one for those years)?
Why make me struggle through the piles of paperwork when I’m tired and stressed already?
Why do I have to sign a ‘loan declaration’ when I’m not applying for a loan just a payment for my mentor..? Are you going to hound me to pay back money that was supposed to be supporting me?
Why do I have to send all the paperwork through to the uni again when I (and they) are required to notify you if I drop out?
Why is it so damn difficult? Is this designed to just make me give up?
Yours sincerely
A tearful, anxious, stressed and confused student

DSA worries

It turns out that I should have re-applied for my disabled student allowance at the beginning of the academic year. Apparently you have to fill in their forms every year but no one told me.

So although I failed to keep any of my receipts and am too embarassed to ask for any extra assistance, because my university provided me with a mentor I have had to fill in a new application – though this only became apparent when they applied to the govt for their reimbursement and was the 1st I knew about it.
According to my disability support liasion I don’t need to have new Dr’s evidence, which came as both a relief and a surprise. A relief because a certifying letter from the Dr is expensive and time-consuming (approx £30 and 2 weeks – despite being attached to a uni the health centre even charge for letters for extenuating circs at their own uni!!!) and a surprise because of the current government’s attitude to disability (i.e. prove it umpteen times and we still probably dont think you deserve DLA, ATOS I’m looking at you!).

I’m worried.
I’m terrified they’ll decide I’m not entitled, that the university will ask me to pay for the mentoring services (which I only took because I thought they were funded). I’m terrified they are right. That I am a malingering fool, after all I’m not on meds at the moment.
I’m not very good at asking for money or support. In all my years as a PG and despite being allocated a fund every year I have never claimed money back from the university, for conferences or photocopying. I have never complained at the difficulties and costs associated with returning library books as a distance learner or the extreme panic any form of admin not explicitly emailed to me has caused. I accept both that travel is required and expensive and that I made the choice to live away (to stay with my partner, support network and job) and that standard PG resources are all campus based and even that all disabilty resources are campus based – but I feel like maybe just maybe there should be/have been someone to support me through the financial issues and the DSA forms and checked up that I was getting help. Am I asking too much? Am I just jaded?

University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day

Today the University Mental Health Advisers Network has encouraged universities across the UK to hold a series of events to promote good mental health.

My University has suggested a 5-a-day plan for maintaining/improving wellbeing. These are:

  • connect with the people around you
  • do something active
  • take notice of the world
  • learn something new
  • give to others

The idea is to suggest positive things individuals (and especially students) can do to improve their own wellbeing – with the theory not only that prevention is better than cure but also that although efforts to destigmatise often attempt to promote dialogue a lot of effort is put into recognising symptoms and promoting equality it starts from a notion of right and wrong mental states rather than a continuum of health, the former of which van lead of course to reinforcing a sense of internal stigmatisation. I think that, of course, awareness goes hand-in-hand with positive activity and steps that encourage students to look after themselves and each other can only be lauded.

My only real quibble is that as a distance-learner I can’t assess how the day has gone or actively partake in any of the events.

As part of this national day I have had a chance to look at the documents published by UMHAN which include suggestions for improving access to HE for people with mental health difficulties, improving reporting of mental health disabilities and engaging with support from the DSA scheme and frameworks for institutional support. And I have to say I’m impressed, I’m especially impressed with their section of guidance for students and I look forward to seeing the suggestions and guidelines more widely publicised

Japanese Drinking & Photocopiers

So what now in my merry world?

Well Sunday was the meeting of my drinking club, or as someone nicknamed it Alcoholics Proud, and the theme was Japan.
We drank sake and plum brandy and ate sushi, we drank Shochu and Japanese whiskey and cocktails with a Japanese twist. It was a pleasant night of alcohol and gentle chatter. Say what you like about us drunks but we do like chatting about alcohol, the methods of making it, the ways of serving it and the ways of incorporating it into our lives.  Incidentally Japan is definitely on my list of places to visit, though I wish I could go back 200 years or so (and as a man).
Also this week Sleepy left the hospital (on which more later – probably after I have actually had a chance to see him) and I went down to my campus. I needed to sign off my mentoring sessions as per DSA funding regs – incidentally I did get them to pay for paper and internet cost for the last year (woo money c. £200), if only I could get a chair to support my shoulder too.  Also I went to the library – which would have been successful except for arguments with the copy machines, suffice to say there was no photocopying or scanning for byghan today but books returned and books checked out. (I’d tell you what but you probably don’t give a damn).
Incidentally I might consider taking more train journeys as incentives to sit and write on my thesis. Would you believe that because of editing despite all the improvements I have made to No.4 I still only have 10,000 words? Godsdammit! I think the editing is worth it, but I really need to put pen to paper so to speak and get more of my opinions down. I will beat the procrastination monster.l

In other news, I am 5 days clear of Prozac (and a few days short of upping my mirtazapine) and feeling … well great/shit tbh. Sex drive currently nil (body image is totally screwed), sleep pattern still elusive, body hurting like crazy, and totally obsessing about self harm (though physically I have it under control, thanks to fresh scars still hurting) but on the up-side … on the upside I have feelings and they aren’t all misanthropic..
In some ways I haven’t so much noticed that I have stopped fluoxetine as feel grumpy that mirtazapine seems to have stopped working. I’d like to say I’m sure that prozac made some difference but I can’t say it with conviction.. it has always felt like an ineffectual holder. I noticed citalopram, I noticed mirtazapine but fluoxetine I just took.

So here’s to another day gone and sleep beckoning.


Mindfulness & Mentoring

I haven’t really talked about my Mindfulness course or the DSA mentoring scheme here yet.

The mentoring is arranged and paid for by the governement under current guidelines for support for depressed students. I think most people either meet up with someone or get phone calls. Since I am a distance-learning student meeting -up is out and since I am utterly phobic about talking on the phone we elected to do it by email every other week. This has some positive and negative aspects. We don’t really cover very much, but on the other hand I can think out my answers and reword them if I feel that I’m not making sense and re-read responses so I don’t forget them as much. I can re-read previous sessions and remind myself about hints and tips and I can just re-read as I try to reply.

So far we have mostly been covering perfectionism and procrastination; both of these inter-related things are big issues for me. Basically though my plans boil down to trying to set smaller realistic goals. Physically I have to write some lists and and time myself. I need to try and let other people give me some (positive) perspective on my tasks and commit to my choices even though the consequences might not be perfect..

So this leads me to mindfulness (bear with me on this).

After 3 different therapists leading me through variations on counselling and CBT, it was suggested that I try Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. Luckily for me this is supported by the local NHS although I did wait some months for the 8 week course. It is recommended for those with long-standing recurrent depression to help minimise relapses.

The theory is to teach you to be aware of your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations; notice changes and accept things as they are without being (self-)judgmental. Practically it involves meditative-style exercises, physical and mental. These encourage you to practice paying attention and bringing focus to certain things (like breathing) but also to notice when you drift off and bringing yourself back and to recognise physical sensations that go with emotions or emotions that go with physical sensations.

I am hoping to:

  • Improve my concentration (by noticing my mind wandering)
  • Become better at noticing my physical limits and paying attention to pain and fatigue rather than trying to pretend its not there or getting upset
  • Learn to acknowledge things as they actually are and develop a level of acceptance (partially by noticing expectations and learning to relax, reduce or make them more realistic)

Ideally these things will counter some of the perfectionism and stop me from constantly exhausting and berating myself. The trick is commiting to doing the practices long-term and accepting that they are not a ‘cure’.

Its a lot of stuff to be honest and I think I am really pushing myself but like fluoxetine I won’t know unless I try.

Right, Kitchen floor to clean and minimum of 30 mins thesis-writing to do.

Computer Training

So yesterday morning I had round two of my DSA related training. The lovely (hyperactive) lady who did it last time was back to recap what we had covered last time and show me a couple more tricks.
So to summarise I have learnt:

  • To use Mindview to create mindmaps and timelines.
    • Incl. colours, links, relation-lines, Icons etc
  • To use ReadWrite Gold as a note-taking/writing tool.
    • Incl. gathering references, converting files between formats and using speech-making/playback tools
  • To use MSword and Vista more effectively.

I am vaguely miffed that ReadWrite only works with Microsoft products because thats not usually how I work so the whole thing confused me a little. I have to convert things into word files and gather via IE but the real trick is going to be integrating things into my writing practice so that I am achieveing more. I am hoping that being able to collect references and texts into pdfs and summary forms will prove more organised rather than an extended form of procrastination.

So far the Mindview has actually been helpful, whilst I was worried that I had just spent a whole lot of time arranging my sources in a pretty diagram for my own amusement – actually a quick visual aide-memoire has saved me sifting through notes several times this week.

I also got a new dictionary/thesaurus tool which might actually be advanced enough to be useful. With regard to writing 100,000 odd words it doesn’t do to get too repetitive and even with a reasonable size vocabulary you don’t have to be very tired before the words fade away. Now all I need is to find a dictionary/spellchecker that doesn’t panic when I use theoretical terms – of course a spellchecker for my latin and greek would be fantastic too. I guess maybe thats why classicists can still be compulsive about checking things – there is no one else to do it for you, no automated cheat.. Well if there is I really want someone to tell me about it!

So hopefully a new stage is born in my writing….

New Toys

Today I spent several hours being shown how to use some new software. I have been given some shiny toys by the Government as part of the disabled student allowance to help me with my work. I am hoping that they will help me better organise my thoughts and my notes and that I will be able to resist using them to procrastinate.

On that subject: collecting and collating data into spreadsheets to form business plans is really very time-consuming. Are they really sure I have to have lots of paperwork before they will give me vast swathes of money? I have a whole load of market research to do, and to come up with realistic projected sales figures. eek. But tomorrow I go look at the pub… could be rubbish and then I should quit that idea for the time being while I am still ahead.

Oh well. At least I have been pseudo-productive today.

More on the software after I have used it for some actual research tomorrow.