Friends close to me can vouch for the fact that I never ask for help when things are getting bad for me. I tend to bottle things up and let my own mind ruminate on the problems until I can come up with an answer myself. This, so far, has tended to work for me as I feel that I am solely responsible for my actions and I can’t blame anyone else if the outcome wasn’t what I felt it should be. Though, after a while of doing this it becomes very hard to ask for help on things that I can’t come up with the answer on my own.
The tiredness that I have felt over the last couple of weeks has been horrendous. One day last week it took all the energy I had just to focus on getting up, dressed, consume caffeine and get to uni. Any lectures I had that day were to be dealt with when I walked in the room, there was no forward planning that day. Sadly I couldn’t make it through the day and had to go home at lunch.
The only way I feel I can explain what is going on is that there is a big brick wall in front of me with the words “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”. I can’t seem to get past this brick wall and even when I took a brick out it magically reappeared with cement stronger than it was before. So when peers, tutors and senior tutors praise me for the outstanding effort I gave last year (even winning an award for this effort) I just don’t see it. Praise doesn’t come naturally when directed at me, so when it comes I simply shrug it off.
So when I was writing out my absence form for the lecture I missed, due to needed more sleep, I was surprised when I wrote the words “I’m Struggling.” There was no conscious thought behind why I wrote it, I just did. Without any second thoughts I handed it in and thought that was that. That was until I received an email off the senior tutor calling me in to offer further support and advice.
Was my subconscious trying to tell me that this is something that I can’t do alone; that I do actually need to talk to someone about what was going on regarding my studies and other emotional aspects.
While talking with my senior tutor I explained that I don’t know why I put those words, and that I struggle asking for help. She gave me the advice of taking one step at a time, ask one module convenor for help and see how that goes. Then, when I have the confidence, ask another module convenor for help and so on. She was so supportive and understanding of everything that I told her. This made me realise that there are people there to help as and when needed, and that these people aren’t scary or won’t look down on me for approaching them about this. They were genuinely there for me.
I still have some way to go with more appointments over the next week or so to get myself back on track. But with all the will in the world, I know that I will make it through these difficulties by being strong enough to ask for help.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you acknowledge you need help and that you want to make changes in your life. If you need help, find someone you can trust or feel comfortable approaching and see how it goes. It’s better to ask than to struggle on not knowing whether you’re coming or going.
It’s coming to that time of year where the nights draw in and the days are ever shorter. For some this can bring more than sadness that the summer is over, it can bring along a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), otherwise known as the winter blues.
My own experience of SAD does not follow your typical autumn to spring routine; it has hit me in February for the last few years. The first signs of my depression starting is when the motivation and concentration start to disappear; where I find myself staring at the laptop not knowing what I’m meant to be doing for hours on end. While I know that there is a ‘to do list’ up to my eye balls, I don’t seem to be able to find the right form of energy to read what I have written down let alone complete any task I have.
Then there is the anger and frustration that appears from nowhere; even the littlest of things annoy me. The poor teaspoon that jumps out of my hand and on to the floor gets a right telling off. Though what I don’t understand is how I can become too tired and lethargic to argue with this poor teaspoon, even when it has committed the ultimate crime of leaping to the floor without permission.
Sadly, I tend to hold these feelings in when I’m ill, I don’t like to burden people with my problems. Last year though, during my first year at university, I realised that I couldn’t hold them in and deal with it on my own; I had to talk to someone or it would have felt I could not continue with my course anymore, that the university dream was over. The thought of failing my first year at university when I worked so hard to get there was too strong to ignore.
Nightline were my saviours last February as they were there at the end of the phone just listening to me and allowing me to ‘sound off’ with them. While they didn’t tell me what to do to resolve my issues, they allowed me to come to my own conclusions of what steps I needed to take. I could now see that I needed help and the university had the resources to do this. While anxiety provoking this was, I spoke with my Disability Officer and support was set in place almost immediately. I don’t think I would have taken this step if it wasn’t for Nightline reassuring me that it is ok to ask for help.
SAD can affect anyone at any time in their lives, with or without an underlying mental health condition, though it can be easily maintained without the use of medication. The illness typically starts from autumn continuing in to spring, where the levels of sunlight are at their lowest.
We can talk about the chemicals in the brain which cause SAD; the increase in melatonin causing sleepiness and the fall in serotonin which brings about the depression. There are many signs you can look out for, you might recognise some of them in yourself.
Lethargy or tiredness
Sleeping in lectures is a typically student thing to do, but are you feeling more tired than normal? Does walking up the stairs feel more like walking up a mountain?
Are you struggling to get up in the mornings, or are you going straight back to bed after lectures have finished? Do you find yourself staring at the flashing light on the fire alarm on the ceiling for hours before you finally drop off to sleep?
Decrease or increase in appetite
Are you skipping meals or over indulging in naughty foods like chocolate and crisps?
Anxiety or anger
Do you become overly worried when hunting in your purse to find money for your caffeine fix? Do you find that you could easily throw your note pad at your lecturer – for no reason whatsoever?
Does your cold last longer than usual, maybe longer than a fortnight? Are your colds persistent and keep coming back for repeated visits?
Do you feel as though there is no reason to get up in the mornings, or find there is no point in taking care of your appearance?
While reading these symptoms can appear scary, it is important to remember that SAD is manageable; with or without medical interventions. Your university will have a Disability Officer and a disability support team if you need academic support and you can always talk your concerns over with your GP. Though here are some things that you can do to help keep SAD at bay and not allow it to affect your studies:
This is easier than you think. Simply find a quiet spot, sit with your eyes closed and concentrate on your breath and your breath alone. Five or ten minutes usually does the trick.
It’s important to keep active; walks, even on dark and horrible days, can help boost your physical activity and get you away from your text books.
Why not try your walking during the day? This allows you to absorb the good UV rays from the sun which helps boost vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin.
Yes, you’ve heard it all before, but make sure your intake of fruit and veg are topped up over the winter months as they contain proteins, vitamins and minerals which help boost your immune system. Sadly, that’s bad news for the takeaways but also good news for your wallet.
My personal favourite. Sometimes things can seem to be getting on top of you, so having your favourite perfume with you and regularly smelling it with deep breathes can ground you, allowing you to bring back focus to the task at hand.
And the most important tip I can give you: Talk.
Talking may seem an obvious choice when going through any form of depression or mental illness, though it can also be scary to do. Research has shown that by talking about your problems can help reduce anxiety and allow you to find a solution to the problems at hand. Even if you talk with a friend about the basics of what’s affecting you it can be relieving to know that you don’t have it all bottled up in your head any more.
Of course another option would be to talk to Nightline, like I was able to do, where you don’t have to disclose any personal information about who you are, what you’re studying or anything that you may feel uncomfortable in sharing. They are there to listen and simply be there for you; kind of like holding your hand when times get tough. Give them a ring and see how supportive they can be when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Though please remember, that if things are getting really tough for you that talking to your GP is important. They can guide you to other forms of treatment that may be beneficial through your SAD, or any mental health condition.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists have a detailed leaflet about Seasonal Affective Disorder if you want to have a look further, which can be found here.
If you are not a student, please talk to someone. People like Samaritans, Sane or Rethink. There maybe a local helpine to you, please search online to find this local numbers.
- Beat the Winter Blues: Tips to Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder (writeitgreen.wordpress.com)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD (stigmahurtseveryone.wordpress.com)
I had a moment at the weekend where I believe I reached hypomania and crashed severely into depression, which left me simply doing nothing over the weekend in an attempt to recuperate. Though it didn’t stop the thoughts of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing at uni’ and ‘I don’t know how to study’. So the first port of call on Monday morning was to ring my disability support team and ask for an appointment to see my disability advisor. I was so glad I was able to get an appointment today to talk things through.
We went over several topics about taking control of my studies and finding ways that work for me. Though the topic I want to share with you is objectives; as in that second slide in a power point presentation that tells you what you are going to learn in that lecture.
While I went into this session very much ‘bleurgh blah boo, what?’ she actually understood what I was talking about and where I needed help. I didn’t know what help I needed when I walked in, so I found it rather comforting that she understood my ‘blahs’ and ‘bleurghs’. I feel that I have taken on loads here, something that will take me through the degree and help tremendously. Though, I do wish that someone had made me aware of the importance of the objectives slide and how to take notes.
She asked me why I don’t take advantage of this slide because it’s more important than you initially think. My response was that in previous education we were not given the slides prior to the lecture and that the objectives slide only ever seemed to appear when Ofsted were coming for a visit. So I never really thought the slide was that important; so here’s what she told me.
The objectives slide tells you what you are going to discuss in the lecture and by the end of it, if you rephrase the statements into questions, you should be able to answer all of the statements. Here’s an example of one of my ‘objectives’ where she questioned my knowledge.
While in my head I feel I know what all of these mean, it was when she questioned me about them that I froze, had to think and then what I was saying didn’t make much sense. Her advice for this was to make sure that I understand what the question is being asked means and that I understand what I am answering. It reminded me of that picture floating around from Einstein that if you can’t fully explain something to others then you don’t fully understand it.
She then went on to talk about preparing for the lecture and how to take notes. If you are able to make sure you have the slides ready prior to the lecture so that you can run over what is being discussed. I was under the impression that turning up to the lecture with the slides was organised.
Turns out that the best thing to do is to run through the slides, compare them with the objectives, identify which slides refer to which objective and if there is something you are unsure of then you know which slide to pay attention to in the lecture and prepare any questions that you may have. While this may sound a reasonable way to look at the slides, it is something that I have never been taught before. Which considering I have been back into education for the last three years it was never brought to my attention that this was good practice in note taking.
Then she asked to see the previous notes that I had taken in lectures to see how I was actually doing it. After what she said about knowing your objectives before hand I did feel a little embarrassed to see my attempts at note taking.
What have I actually learnt here? I have simply regurgitated not only what was said in the lecture, but what was written down on the slide. The way she explained it to me was that I didn’t actually know how to take notes and by doing this menial task of rewriting what I saw ‘made me feel as though I was doing something’. Which is true; I know what was said and what was written but I don’t actually understand what I being discussed.
By going through the slides prior to the lecture you can see where more understanding is needed and even to the point of getting a book out of the library prior to the lecture to give some basic knowledge of what is being talked about.
While I do feel a little embarrassed in sharing my lack of understanding of the objectives slide and how to take notes, I do hope that there are some people out there that can relate to my experiences and take note of what I have learnt today.
It is still early on in the academic year, so it is not too late to change the style of note taking and preparing for lectures. It is something I know that I am going to change straight away, as I don’t want to be regurgitating information and not really understanding it.
- Student Tips 1: Scheduling (traceypallett.wordpress.com)
- Stop Taking Notes And Pay Attention (synergytutoring.wordpress.com)
- University Life: Part 4 Study Tips & Tricks (meganthinks.com)
- Teaching Note Taking, a Skill Necessary for Understanding (daniellagher.wordpress.com)
For the last few hours I have been feeling strange but not able to put my finger on why. All I want to do is lay in bed and sleep, kind of like I want the day to end and so I can start again. Like I have had one rough ride of a day and I wish I could start over, but I haven’t had a rough day. Today was the best I’ve had in a few weeks. So why am I feeling this way?
The feelings started a couple of hours after I got home from uni. It is like my body is trying to jump out of my skin and run away from me. There’s the anxious tingling you get in your chest when your about to have a panic attack, but it’s all over and not isolated to my chest. When I prop my knees up to read a book they don’t want to stay in place because they hurt, they want to be somewhere else.
The only way I can possibly describe it is my body is telling me I’m depressed. Though how can that be, depression is an emotion. Surely I should be feeling emotionally depressed? Surely I should be crying?
My medication has been an emotion blocker since I started taking it. While I say to friends I don’t feel emotions anymore they are quick to tell me that I do feel emotions because I show it. It’s something that I agree to disagree with, I don’t realise that I feel emotions… if I do, that is. So when my body is shouting at me I know there’s something wrong.
It was only when someone pointed out to me that I’m back at uni doing ‘intellectually draining’ work that I realised that maybe that is the cause of this ‘feeling’. Maybe this week of back to back lectures has really taken its toll on me and that I need a break. Yesterday was a full on day on relearning ideas that I knew previously, whereas today was lectures of things I never knew before being thrown at me a million miles an hour. Though in my head how can I justify having a break on the first week back?
I already feel overwhelmed at the pace the course is going, at the level of knowledge I know need to attain. I really don’t want to have a panic attack over this, or worse still allow the depression to sink in and swallow me this early in the academic year.
I can’t justify having a weekend off just yet, so maybe if I schedule in just a couple hours of study a day and the rest watching trashy tv program’s I can get away with it. Please, oh please, don’t let this be depression.
So today was a big day in my little world. It was the day where I travelled to somewhere I’d never been before and spoke with people I’d only spoke to over the phone. They knew things about me, but I didn’t know things about them. I was anxious and nervous and scared all rolled into one. Today was the day that I wished would hurry up and stay away from so long – but it arrived, it was here.
As I’m sure some of my readers know I have recently started my second year at university with a mental health condition. This comes anxieties and stresses that play on my mind and cause me to go into over drive. While I felt all these feelings in year one, they still tend to linger for this new start too. I am aware that the tips I share with you will be beneficial to all students, mental health condition or not, so please take what you will from these blogs.
Though, this year is different in the sense that I have my DSA and intend to take full advantage of it. So much so I had my first DSA one to one session on the second day of starting. I am determined to learn as many study tips as possible to make studying easier than the first year. Plus, I feel that these tips I learn can be beneficial to many others.
On a side note, DSA (or Disabled Students Allowance) is the means to get extra help and support for people with disabilities when entering higher education. You can get one to one study/disability support, extra time in exams, a laptop full of great programmes to aid studying and extra print credit for printing of reams of lectures notes prior to the lecture. It is important that you fill in your DSA claim as soon as possible as it does take some time to process and ideally you want the help and support there straight away. Here is my example of what happened to me when I didn’t get my claim in straight away.
For the first tip that I’m going to share with you is scheduling, which does sound boring but as I’ve found out myself it is so helpful. Of course when you start a new course you are going to put your lectures in to a calendar and think that’s organised and leave it at that. While knowing that my timetable can change at 9am of the day of lectures that are rescheduled, I thought I was organised adding all of them to my calendar up to the end of October. Though when my one to one advisor saw what I had done a look of shock came over her face.
I didn’t quite understand why she was shocked until she explained this to me. By adding the lectures to a calendar you know where you are meant to be and what you are meant to be learning. Which is good, but you aren’t aware of the free time you have between lectures. It is this free time where you can plan to type up notes, plan to look for books in the library or plan to speak with a tutor about any concerns you have.
She showed me this way of writing a schedule, which does look over the top but she is right. You can see where the spaces in time are and you can plan to do extra things. It does take some getting used to as in sticking with it, but when you try it out for one day you can see the benefits of it and work with it for a second day, then a third.
While this method does take more time to set up you can see that you have things scheduled in there that you may not have thought about. Yes, not all of you want to add a slot for ironing and would rather be in a pub or something but can tell you all that having that hour away from studying, ok doing the ironing, was so refreshing and helped me get back in my stride for studying later in the evening.
As you can see there are lines under certain things in this example. They are there to show you the sort of things that are important when scheduling.
The blue lines represent things that are an every day occurrence that can be easily transferred from one day to the next. While they can be played around with, time wise, they are things that must be done. Especially waking up, eating and down time.
My one to one lady was impressed that I allocated enough time to wake up in the mornings and that I had down time at night. For the mornings I am aware of myself and how long it takes to ‘wake up’ to a state of being functional with my brain actually ticking over; plus how many coffees I need before I leave the flat. With the downtime I have been able to recognise how sitting in front of the laptop or iPad can drain me while waking my up further which prevents me from getting to sleep. So even if it’s down time reading a text book (if emergencies arise) then that is better for you than back lit screens. Here’s an interesting article in this topic which contains links to an actual study carried out.
The green lines represent travelling time. This is something that we all have to do but we don’t actually schedule it in anywhere. Depending on how long your travelling is you could even slip in a bit of studying or relaxation with music or a non-text book. Remember to put this in to your schedule as it may take a big chuck of time up that you weren’t previously aware of.
The red line represents the actual lectures. These obviously will change from day to day, so it is important to make sure you update your schedule everyday and check your timetable for any changes that may have happened while you were busy sleeping – it can happen. It may be worth putting on you schedule the lecture topic, lecturer, room number and make note if there are any hand out’s that you need to print off before hand.