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Mania

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 27 May 2022, 11:53

I have just blogged about my recent depression but now I want to tell you about mania, as I guess most people don’t really understand what it is like.

I consider hypo-mania, that is, low grade mania, a normal part of my every day life. When I am hypomanic, I have constant racing thoughts in my head, like a dialogue with myself (just to be clear, I’m not hearing voices; I’ve never had auditory hallucinations). I have a heightened awareness of my surroundings, of colour and noise, and it is often an enjoyable experience, though the discourse can cause anxiety when you replay conversations and mistakes from 30 years ago.

It is hard to say when hypomania tips into mania, I think it is when I start feeling tipsy and my thoughts become more grandiose. My internal discourse contains grand speeches where I share my words of wisdom with the world and everyone hangs on my every word. I see myself as charming and engaging, with my eyes twinkling like diamonds (and I can understand how someone with psychosis might be deluded enough to imagine they are diamonds). I am excitable, wanting to engage with the world, to run down paths with my arms outstretched. I am lucky that I have a lot of insight and control when in a manic state so I don’t do anything to embarrass myself in public; this is how I manage to continue as high functioning within society. I’m also lucky to have seldom experienced psychosis, though I understand and appreciate the thin line between reality and delusion in mental illness.

I can tell my moods from my shopping habits; I told my GP when my depression started by looking at my PayPal account. When I am manic, I shop more and buy frivolous items or several pairs of identical shoes in different colours. This morning I started browsing for colourful tops for my summer holiday, yellows and corals. My Mad March Mania is very late this year.

If you want to read a book about experiencing bipolar disorder, I recommend Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, an autobiography of a manic depressive written by an academic expert on manic depression. I don’t agree with everything she says from a medical perspective but her descriptions of her emotional states and behaviour were very recognisable to me, as well as the vulnerability of academics/medical professionals declaring their mental illness.

Annie


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Depression

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 23 Sep 2022, 12:08

I haven’t blogged for a while as I have had a major bout of depression and didn’t want it to be a distraction for my students (though I did record it in my research journal). But EMAs are done so it is time to talk about it.

I always have a bout of depression in February and have recorded about it previously in my blog. Like many people with bipolar disorder, I also get seasonal affective disorder and this usually means a couple of weeks when I am down followed by a seasonal burst of mania in March (mad March amongst manic depressives is a common phenomenon). But this year my depression hit the same week as war broke out in Ukraine and I already had a sort of post-pandemic malaise. Consequently, my depression was deeper than normal and accompanied by a severe worsening of my generalised anxiety, ranging from being convinced that my office floor would give way due to the heavy shelves, to an overwhelming fear of my sons being sent to war and our world being destroyed by imminent nuclear strikes. For the first time in over 20 years, I made contact with my GP to discuss my mental health. The GP clearly knew less than me about mental health and appropriate treatments (she spoke to a psychiatrist who recommended fluoxetine, which the GP didn’t know was Prozac. Prozac is not an appropriate medication for someone who has mania). I still haven’t got an appointment to see the psychiatrist. But I also contacted NHS psychological and wellbeing services who were quick to assess me for low grade CBT, which I will start next week.

My depression lasted nearly 3 months and has gradually improved over the last few weeks. During that time, I have kept up with a heavy marking load and teaching commitments but this has meant increased tiredness and my research has been a bit neglected, though obviously the practice part of my action research has continued. I had wanted to start data analysis in February but that was not possible with my mental state which continued into March and April, when I also had my methodology chapter assignment and NVivo training to do. April is, of course, an intensive marking month. So here I am in May, familiarising myself with my transcripts ready to start coding next week.

I have felt ‘normal’ for a couple of weeks now, though normal is a somewhat loose concept for a manic depressive. 

Annie


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Getting back into a routine

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 17 Sep 2021, 13:45

I always find it exciting when new academic year beckons, and not just because of the interesting students I will be meeting and the new challenges ahead. I also look forward to getting back into a routine again.

I have high functioning bipolar disorder and hypo-mania is pretty much part of my daily life experience. I manage my bipolar disorder and the inevitable ups and downs using cognitive behavioural techniques and an organised routine is very important to me as it helps to manage expectations and brings much needed structure to the day. Like most associate lecturers I am not employed by the university over the summer, at least not until the new contract comes in, and my teaching responsibilities are mainly in term-time. My doctorate also has term-based deadlines, though there is plenty of reading to do over the summer. As much as I love having a nice long break from the day job from mid-June to mid-September, I can sometimes feel unsettled and disorientated with the lack of structure to my day. Obviously, my doctorate is helpful at the moment for giving me something to focus on but I decided that I needed to establish a firm routine early before the new term starts to help the transition back to work.

So, on the first of September I got back at my desk and organised myself. As I have some tight deadlines this year (it’s my research data collection this year, alongside my usual teaching, and I also have draft chapters of my thesis to write) I gave myself writing deadlines and planned ahead with my studies. This has really paid off; I am back to my regular routine of a walk in the morning then at my desk at 9.30 to check the emails before setting into the day’s work. It’s been very productive due to the lack of interruptions; I’ve re-drafted two thesis chapters, done my annual admin and research planning, as well as some mentoring work and writing teaching resources. Getting all this done early has made me feel more confident and relaxed about the new term starting and I’ve also been able to reflect on what I want to achieve in the year ahead. It’s going to be a great year.

Annie


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When marking is beautiful

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:44

I have just finished prepping my first assignment marking for K220 Death, dying and bereavement and it has brought back the memory of last year's marking when I felt so privileged to read my students' reflections on their own experiences. Last year it was a very moving and beautiful experience (some accounts had me in tears) so I am very much looking forward to marking this year's submissions.

Now, back to my own, far less beautiful, assignment writing for my prof doc.

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My research proposal

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:42

One of the tasks on the Prof doc programme was to write 300-500 describing your proposal. So here it is!

My research proposal has a working title of ‘How can students with mental health challenges be empowered to become independent learners within the technology-enhanced learning environment?’. It is emancipatory action research; emancipatory because it has an aim of giving a voice to a disadvantaged group, and action research because it will be undertaken as part of my work as an Associate Lecturer with the Open University.  The subject has a personal interest for me as I have bipolar disorder and have a strong sense of empathy for my students who are studying whilst experiencing mental health challenges.

Technology-enhanced learning has the potential to make distance learning more accessible to students with mental health challenges as it offers a flexible format where the student has control over their social engagement and schedule. Consequently, more Open University students disclose mental health challenges than any other UK university (The Open University, 2018). But research by Richardson (2015) shows that students with mental health challenges are less likely to complete and pass modules than non-disabled students, though they attain just as good grades when they do pass.  Distance learning can be isolating and people with mental health challenges may need extra support to maintain their studying progress and reach their goals. Developing the skills to become independent learners can empower students to take control of their learning, build self-confidence and achieve their potential.

Using a flexible and participatory voice-led approach within an emancipatory action research framework, my research will use case study interviews to investigate the learning experiences of students with mental health challenges, alongside individual study skills support which includes positive reflection. It will be collaborative, encouraging participation in decision making and seeking negotiated meanings, whilst empowering participants to take control of their learning and influence teaching with the aim of developing an inclusive distance learning approach which is beneficial for those with mental health challenges and potentially other students within the university.

I will use interpretative phenomenological analysis to interpret my results. This is a qualitative approach which examines and interprets how the individual makes sense of lived experience and is particularly helpful in examining complex and personal perspectives which are highly subjective. I will encourage students to review transcripts and my subsequent analysis, enabling them to participate in the research process as a form of transformatory critique to question knowledge and inform practice.

Whilst research into the technology-enhanced learning environment is a dynamic field, there is little research into how those with mental health challenges respond to and develop within this environment. By developing greater understanding of their learning needs, this research can influence educational policy and practice within the university, and in the wider academic sphere, so that module development and delivery is more inclusive and retention improved. As emancipatory action research, this research has application at grass roots level, providing the opportunity for students with mental health challenges to be empowered through participation whilst building on skills for independent learning.

The Open University (2018) ‘The OU has the highest number of students declaring a mental health condition in the UK’, University News, The Open University, Milton Keynes [Online] Available at: https://ounews.co/around-ou/university-news/the-ou-has-the-highest-number-of-students-declaring-a-mental-health-condition-in-the-uk/ (Accessed 14th October 2019)

Richardson, J. (2015) ‘Academic attainment in students with mental health difficulties in Distance Education’, International Journal of Mental Health, vol. 44, no. 3, pp.231-240. [Online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00207411.2015.1035084 (Accessed 29th November 2018)


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Starting professional doctorate studies

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:43

Most OU modules start this week so it is always busy for an Associate Lecturer in the first few weeks of October but this year was extra busy for me as I started my Professional Doctorate in Education. Don't know what this is? Well, it is basically a part time doctorate for people in professional practice. Unlike most doctorates which are done at the beginning of a career, a professional doctorate is done later in a career within your own work environment. The OU offers a Professional Doctorate programme in Education or Health and Social Care  http://wels.open.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research/edd

The year 1 residential was last weekend and what an intensive time it was. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow students (it's a distance learning course so meeting others is a valuable experience) and to share ideas and interests, but it was a helpful approach to cementing identity at the beginning of doctoral studies. I was able to explore what it means to be a research professional, reflect on the ethics of research and learn more about critical review of literature. I saw a research project in action which had many similarities to my own. The library session was immensely useful; I may be an AL but it was very helpful to have one to one assistance from a librarian and to learn about relevant software to aid my studies.

Now I'm off on my research journey. I am lucky in that I have a firm structure to work within: 3 days of OU work punctuated by two days for study, an obvious necessity for a manic depressive who needs to plan her schedule clearly to avoid stress. There will be some overlap though as I am doing action research. My current working title is 'How can Students with Mental Health Challenges be Empowered to become Independent Learners within the Technology-enhanced Learning Environment?' but more on that another time.

Now to start my Researching professional development Plan.

Annie


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Time out

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:08

Well, I've just finished the marking marathon of November so thought it might be a good time to reflect on how I am getting on with my increased workload.

October is a month of welcoming and signposting, phoning students and getting to grips with module structures; a busy but enjoyable time as you meet new people and learn new things. November is a different beast - virtually every module has an assignment due in November which needs marking.  Marking is by far the most labour-intensive parts of an associate lecturer's role and also one of the most important. Not only is it part of a student's continuous assessment, it is also one of the main ways ALs use to communicate with students and advise them of their progress. So it is important to do it properly, hence the time consuming nature.  In my case I had 4 lots of assignments over a 3 week period from the end of October. I'm now on a week's break from marking before more 3 lots of assignments submitted over 2 weeks. It's a bit hectic!

Of course, by break I don't mean a rest; I have 3 tutorials to plan and deliver in the next 2 weeks as well as as the usual emails, forums, admin and telephone calls as well as staying up to date with the 3 new modules I'm teaching. But it does mean the pressure is off and I can relax and take stock. Being a great believer in the connection between physical and mental health I'm also using this week to detox and take some mental health walks.

So, on reflection, how has the last month gone? Well, I got all the assignments back on time. The first ones were returned very early due to my increased hours allowing for more efficient timetabling. My last lot only just got back in time but that's how they fitted in the bigger picture so that's okay. I paced myself well; I decided in the end not to fill whole days with marking but break my days up which will have implications how I manage this period next year when I hope to be studying a PhD alongside my teaching. 

Most importantly, my bipolar disorder seems to be under control with no adverse effects from the increased hours. I am neither more manic nor more depressed than usual, despite being tired by the end of the last marking period. The last lot of marking was a slog and I had to give myself several pep talks but it worked. I am approaching my work this week with a positive mental attitude and am also keen to get back to work on my research proposal tomorrow. So all in all a win.

Annie

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