Living Life, Within the Limits of Chronic Illness

Category: Goals Page 2 of 4

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 improved 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 started. 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 possibly 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.

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2017, A New Year, Old Plans

I’m sorry for being so quiet in 2016. Unsurprisingly solid study from February onwards saw managing anything other than study a little difficult and so unfortunately this blog had to take a back seat, hence the lateness of this post!

I did however achieve one of my big goals which I think I set back in 2014; on Sunday 18th December 2016 I finally made it to the church carol service! I had to use my wheelchair, and the volume level was a struggle but I did it! And I’m immensely proud of myself.

For 2017 I have a few more plans I’d like to achieve:

• Pass B301 and thus get my degree!
• Graduate from The Open University (Ceremonies are optional but I really want to attend one, just depends where and when I can book one)
• Meet some of the great friends I’ve made online through university and M.E. groups
• Walk up the road to the corner shop (or even better the tearoom!)
• Go to the church carol service again
• Redecorate my bedroom
• Start thinking about what I’m going to do post-degree

Anyway I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas & New Year, here’s to 2017 bringing great things for us all.

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2016: Bring It On!

Overall 2015 has been a good year, I’ve achieved things I never imagined. Sure there’s been some pretty terrible lows but I’ve got through them.

This past year I have:

  • Managed a weekend away, the first in I can’t remember how long!
  • Decorated the living room, it took me the best of of seven months but who counted?!
  • Strengthened my muscles, as a consequence of decorating, walking has become easier as I’ve built up the muscles while standing painting for short periods.
  • Not only passed, but got a distinction in my Open University module!
  • Baked cakes and cookies.
  • Prepared my own meals, some in bulk so they can be frozen and reheated when required.
  • Been out for a few hours each day for five days in a row without any major setbacks.
  • Spent a day as a Princess and raised £225 plus £40.75 GiftAid for Invest in ME

And that’s just the things which stand out!

For 2016 things will be a bit different. In February I begin 16 months of solid study to complete my degree. Between February and September I shall be studying at least 10 hours a week. This means most other activities will have to be put on hold as I try and complete the final two modules of my degree (Don’t worry they’re not running simultaneously! But I won’t be getting a break between modules.).

I hope to continue building up my walking so I can manage that walk up the local corner shop on crutches and I definitely plan on being involved in Team Princess again if I can. I think for everything else I’ll have to see how things go and base decisions on how well I’m doing as the year progresses. I’m not going to rule anything out since I can’t predict the future. A trip to meet some friends I’ve made online would be wonderful if it is possible. Delving into the world of dating would be another step towards doing something ‘normal’ for a person my age but I’m not sure I’ll have the energy while studying so much or the courage to go for it. We wait and see.

In the meantime I wish every reader a Very Happy New Year! I hope it brings better health and happiness to each and every one of you.

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Project Walking: A New Type of Physio

For the last few months Project Walking has been put on the back burner, I was either spending almost all of my energy on university work, coping with the loss of a loved one or simply just too poorly to attempt it. But I’m happy to say things are now on the up and I’m feeling a lot better than I have been.

Another reason things ground to a halt on Project Walking, was because the Wii Fit has been packed away while the living room is decorated. As this was my main form of building the strength back up in my legs, I’ve had to have a rethink of how to do this while the living room is being done up.

Now I’m well enough to start building the strength back up in my legs again, I’ve established a new physio routine. Decorating. An hour or two every other day is spent helping with the decorating going up and down some steps, standing and stretching and when I start getting tired or increased pain I stop. Not only does this help me with strengthening my legs (and therefore hopefully my ability to walk further) but it also means I’m helping out, doing something useful. And at the end of most days there is a little more of the room painted; which I can say I did.

Obviously there are some restrictions to when this exercise can be done; because it involves using steps it can’t be done when there’s no one else in the house. It also depends on the day, if I don’t feel too good I don’t do it. And often a days rest is needed in between decorating days; not so much because I’ve overdone it but to make sure I don’t overdo it and give my legs a chance to recover a bit. I don’t want to push it too far too soon.

It may sound a bit of an odd way to build up my muscles and I don’t want people thinking I’m well because of what I’m managing. I’m still moderately affected by M.E. The days I do decorating I don’t do much else, the majority of the afternoon is spent resting (or dozing). But I know if I want to get back to walking up the road I need to work on my leg muscles, and if I can help my family out along the way it’s a bonus. I depend on them so much it’s nice to be able to give a little something back, even if it is a slow process. And so far it seems to be working; I still struggle to get up the stairs some nights, but it is slowly getting a bit easier. Now that’s something positive to focus on!

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