Monday, 14 August 2017

7 Years Hard Work and Now I Have A Degree!!

This post has been a while in the making, although I posted it on my study blog a few weeks ago, I failed to copy it across to here, so here's an updated version.

Seven years ago I embarked on what I knew would be a challenge, perhaps if I'd known just how tough a challenge it was going to turn into I wouldn't have taken those first steps, but I did.
In 2010 I signed up to do a degree in Computing and Information Technology with The Open University.

Having only gained a single 'B' grade GCSE during secondary school, due to poor health, I wanted to prove to myself (and others) that despite being unwell, I could get an education, much like anyone else. Sure it might take longer, but it could be done. And so I began with a single 30 credit module, M150, Data, Computing and Information in October 2010. I really enjoyed the Javascript and programming aspect of it, however I also realised it wasn't something I could pursue with my health the way it was. Although back then I was in better health than I am now, the stress of getting code to work and debugging it manually was making my health worse and so I realised programming courses would have to be avoided.

In February 2011 I started T175 Networked Living, it was a required module for a computing degree, and on it's final presentation. As I was managing M150 so well I figured a few months overlap would be fine. However it turned out two 30 credit modules is an awful lot of work when you have an illness such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis! And so I had a minor relapse, nothing major but the amount of things I could manage reduced as symptoms increased a little. But I managed, enjoying and completing both modules despite some extra illness to contend with.

It was at this point I made the decision to diversify into a second subject; too many of the computing modules were about programming which I knew I wouldn't be able to manage, and so I changed my degree to a BSc (honours) in Computing & Information Technology and Business. Beginning with B120 An Introduction to Business Studies another 30 credit module in October 2011. Another enjoyable module, however I did learn that personally I didn't enjoy studying business as much as I.T.

In May 2012 I began DB123 You and Your Money: Personal Finance in Context (30 credits). This coincided with the end of B120, however it was much more manageable than the overlap I'd encountered with M150 and T175. I learned so much on this module which was relevant to me personally as well as in an unfamiliar business context. It was a really enjoyable module, with the exception of learning about pensions which was just very complicated to understand! By the end of 2012 I had passed both B120 and DB123.

January 2013 things became a lot more challenging; I'd applied for Disabled Students Allowance and received the training for specialist software just as my next module, my first Level 2 and 60 credit one, began, and I was suffering from a severe throat infection. Under doctors orders to rest, I ploughed on reading my module materials, completing the two training sessions and starting my first assignment of T215 Communication and Information Technologies.  As a result I suffered a significant relapse, which left me studying from my bed, only able to be on the computer for short periods of time (which considering the module involved working with audio and video files, creating and editing them, made things extra difficult!). Despite this I managed a Grade 2 Pass, with good assignment scores throughout the module and on the End of Module Assessment too.

And so with 180 credits under my belt, I had reached the halfway point! Something to celebrate, although not too much as that could leave me unable to continue. In October 2013 I began B203 Business Functions in Context. I'd read it was a module with a large workload, and difficult to manage. Little did I know just how difficult that workload would be, with everything else life through at me in the 9 months that followed. On beginning the module I knew it was going to be a tough one, the materials were more advanced and took more time to read and understand, some was dry and staying awake whilst reading it was a challenge. But I persevered, and managed reasonably well for the first few months. Personal circumstances early in 2014 left my health on the rocks with more dips in ability, and in May 2014 when my Gramps passed away I suffered a major relapse.

It was at this point I had a crisis of confidence, I came incredibly close to quitting entirely. With the funeral, my grief, and the relapse which left me struggling with the simplest of tasks, I just didn't see how I could possibly sit an exam, pass it and go on to get my degree. Some amazing friends and family rallied round and managed to convince me I'd come so far I ought to continue. They were right. I sat my exam at home, with additional arrangements such as rest breaks and extra time, and with the encouragement of my tutor submitted a special circumstances form because the bereavement had affected my ability to revise for the exam. Somehow, and I really don't know how, I passed. Only just but it was a pass. If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember my post about being disappointed, but I rallied and realised I'd passed in what would have been tough circumstances without my health being so awful. A wonderful study buddy in the form of a stuff toy dog called Brian also entered my life at this point, which you can read about here.

I had the summer off to rest and recover a little, slowly building up energy again and doing a few fun things before the new academic year began in October 2014. This marked the beginning of my first Level 3 module, 30 credits, T320 E-Business Technologies Foundations and Practice. A module which saw me have a desk and actually manage to work at it for a time! I loved this module, the practical side especially, despite it being some programming which at times left my health flaring up again, it was incredibly fulfilling; that sense of achievement when the code finally works is amazing! I even managed a weekend away in Skegness while doing this module, something I couldn't have dreamed of the previous year! However things turned more difficult after that weekend away in March, as in the April my Nan passed away. I really don't know how I did it, but somehow I continued with my End of Module Assessment despite my grief, another relapse, and her funeral. This time I didn't submit special circustances, and miraculously I still achieved a distinction grade pass!

I had June to January off, resting, decorating the living room and generally enjoying life a little. My health improved during this time, but come January I picked up a load of viruses and my health plummeted again. February 2016 marked the beginning of my final I.T. module, and penultimate one of my degree: 30 credits, TM470 The Comptuing and I.T. Project. That was another tough module, finding an acceptable project and then completing it while reporting about the management of it. It was completing different to my other modules and more a case of learning project management than anything else. That's not to say once I started it I didn't enjoy it - I did. The first few months of coming up with a project, defining the goals and actually getting started were some of the toughest, especially as my health wasn't playing ball during that time. But as the module progressed, and my health slowly improved again I enjoyed it. In December 2016 I received my results; a Grade 2 Pass, which I was very pleased with.

Three months prior to the results of TM470 coming out I began my final module: B301 Making Sense of Strategy. A 60 credit Level 3 module, with a reputation of being very tough. And the first few months I found it was; my tutor marked harshly and focused on how difficult the course was to pass. The theory was difficult to get my head around, and the core component of critical thinking had been made a lot more complicated than it actually was. With a change of tutor around December, things imoroved immensely - the module suddenly became passable. Critical thinking was explained in such a way I could actually understand what was required in my assignments and thus improve my marks. I can't explain how much difference having a positive tutor made. I was a nervous wreck about the exam, with my last one having gone so badly, I revised hard and did my utter best to pass it. Sat at home with extra time and rest breaks again, I felt it had gone fairly well and I was confident in most of my answers.

Results came out last Tuesday (July 18th) and I got 55% on the exam. Not the greatest score ever, however the grade boundaries had been lowered quite significantly and so overall I achieved a Grade 2 Pass!

This means, at the end of this 7 year journey, which has involved many moments of self-doubt, questions of why the hell am I doing this to myself,  and a lot of ups and downs with my health, I am graduating with a BSc (honours) in Computing & Information Technology and Business, Upper Second Class.


Yes, despite thinking it was beyond me, I have actually got a 2.1!!! 

To say I am over the moon is an understatement. I still don't think it has quite sunk in yet, despite the balloon, cards and gifts my friends and family have lovingly given me. This achievement is marred by the knowledge some very special people are no longer here to see the completion of what I satrted. And there is also the disappointment that I am simply not well enough to attend a degree ceremony, but I have had some celebrations at home, with family and friends, as well as an online party for some of my friends who are unwell like me, so they could be part of the celebrations. I've got a mortar board and my best friend took some photos of me wearing it, with the scroll tube The Open University kindly sent when I requested a copy of the directory you would receive at a degree ceremony. Alongside some with my parents too. Hopefully I will have copies of those soon so I can display them with pride.

No matter what life throws at you it is perfectly possiby to achieve your dreams, I know at times I thought this was an impossible dream for me but here I am. Despite some significant relapses, difficult times and almost giving up, I have done it, I have achieved my dream! I have no idea what the future holds for me, I don't know if I'm going to be able to find a job which I can manage with my health as it is, but I'm going to give it a damn good try! To some this may now be old news, but I felt I needed to include it on this blog before I move on to newer things.

Monday, 10 July 2017

It's been a while...

How a few months have flown past! I've been busy finishing university, writing assignments, revising for and sitting my (hopefully) final exam, and am now (im)patiently waiting for the results to see if (a) I've passed and (b) what class of degree I have achieved!

Post exam I've been a little unwell and feeling rather low. Slowly recovering physically but I'm still feeling rather lost - the question of what next? keeps arising. I want to get a job but finding one that is suitable; part-time, flexible hours, from home, that I can fit around patches of illness isn't going to be an easy task and I really don't know where to start with that one. So instead I'm focused on waiting for my results, having a bit of a break sorting things out that have been rather neglected while I study.

For example I am scanning into the computer all my university notes, in order to reduce the number of books and lever arch files that need storing - some cds or a dvd or a pen drive will be easier to store than 18 lever arch files! I'll still have books and notebooks to store but at least it will reduce it's size a little. I'm also in the process of planning redecoration of my bedroom. Anything to keep my mind off the wait for results while trying to regain as much energy as possible.

Results are due out in the coming weeks, so watch this space for news of that! I'll also try and write a little more often as things improve and I find things to write about; if theres anything you'd like to read about feel free to leave a comment and let me know! If I can write about it, I will.

Friday, 12 May 2017

A Day in My Life...May 12th 2017

As is now tradition on International ME Awareness Day in this post I shall share what it's  like to live a day in my life, I'm writing it with a pounding headache so you'll have to forgive any mistakes!
I wake at around 8:30am, lying assessing the pain levels for the day. I slowly peel back the duvet and move my legs to the floor so I'm sitting on the edge of the bed, there I stay for a few minutes making sure I don't get dizzy, before putting my slippers on and gathering a few bits ready to make my way down the stairs, slowly but steadily holding onto the rail. 
 I get my breakfast, and take my morning painkillers. Then make my way back up the stairs again to get some clothes for the day. I have a short rest before heading to the bathroom to get washed and dressed. I then sit with a cup of tea for half hour or so.
I get my study materials out ready to commence a short study period. Spreading them out across the sofa and on a little table as I'm unable to sit at my desk for long. After about two hours (sometimes less) I stop, having had some rest breaks in between. I get my lunch and have a bit of a rest before watching an hour of TV. Another rest follows, before doing another activity; sometimes knitting, or something else not as intense as study, occasionally though it will be another short study session.
Come 4pm I'm starting to feel fatigued and have another rest, before getting up to help cook dinner, either by sitting reading the recipe off or sitting on my perching stool by the hob actually helping with the cooking.
By 7pm it's time to curl up on the sofa in my pyjamas. I might watch a single TV show. I have a hot drink and come 10pm I get ready for bed, take some painkillers and begin the journey up the wooden hill (stairs) to bed. I write in my journal, then find the most comfortable position and wait for sleep to claim me.
As with previous years post this is just an average day. Some days are worse, some are better. I adjust my activity levels and the aids I use accordingly. But this is the amount of activity I can handle with no negative effects on my health. Anything more and I pay the next day.
Looking back on last year's post it's great to be able to see I've made progress, the stairs aren't as much of an everyday struggle as they were 12 months ago. Life still isn't easy but it's  good to look back and see how far I've come.
Some things haven't changed since last time though, so I shall quote from my post back then:
"...when people visit I always put on a brave face, an act so they don't see just how bad the ME is. I don't do this for my sake, but to protect them from the truth. There are some who see the 'real' me now but it's taken a few years for me to 'drop the act' for them. And if they themselves are having troubles or stresses the 'act' of being better than I am and not letting on how bad I really am comes back to protect them. I don't want to add to their worries."