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Half term

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 11:59

My ability to write an assignment would improve tremendously if there wasn't a 15 year old downstairs shouting at his computer/friends.

It has just started to pour down too, and my cabin fever (due to broken toe) fills me with the impossible desire to go for a walk in the rain. Though I'm less enamoured of the fact that the storm appears to be interrupting my internet access.

Oh well, back to work.

Annie

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Stress, anxiety and depression

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 3 Dec 2021, 13:47

Unless you are someone with a mental illness, it can be difficult to comprehend how stress, anxiety and depression are so intricately linked and why it is so difficult to manage.

Yesterday morning I received a phone call to tell me that a close family relative was seriously ill in hospital. I am very experienced at dealing with anxiety-inducing situations so set about limiting my risks. I contacted my husband so he was aware, fulfilled my duties in contacting further relatives and then looked at my workload. I decided that my marking workload was manageable for the day and that clearing it would be a good move in case I needed to take a break. I kept my evening appointment and informed my manager of my situation. A phone call from another relative late in the evening informed me that the situation was much improved and was no longer as serious as first thought. A win-win for me, you might think, with improved outcome for said relative and mental health well managed.

Except today I have depression. Only mild depression, my bipolar disorder tends to swing its extremes more in the other direction. But depression, none the less, and clearly a response to yesterday. Luckily I am in a situation where I work flexibly so I can take a step back from work temporarily if I wish; other people have a much difficult time without family and work support. But it does make me reflect on the fact that even good management of stresses won't necessarily prevent a poor mental health response. 

A well meaning friend recently said to me that mental health was caused by society and that what is needed was to support people to change behaviours (they also mentioned trusting in God and I pointed out that my mental health has never negatively impacted on my faith, and perhaps the church might approach Christians who have experienced mental health challenges to learn from them about keeping faith when times are hard). But, much as I believe that society does impact on mental health and that behaviour change is important (my doctoral research looks at motivational support for people with mental health challenges), there is a risk in blaming the person here. Behavioural approaches are very helpful, in my experience, but the mental illness is still there and needs managing; it doesn't go away. I can get by without medication as I have an unusually supportive and flexible lifestyle but for many people this isn't a possibility and I think people often underestimate the impact of daily stresses, from minor work or home challenges to the big issues of loneliness. Things build up and even a small thing can trigger a major response. One of my main stressors is conflict as I have social anxiety.

Onwards and upwards. I start the day by giving thanks for the health of my brother and now I'm going to spend some time reading some papers for my literature review.

Annie

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Back to work - what a relief!

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:00

Back at work this week, doesn’t time fly? Whilst it is great to have a couple of weeks off (though I did manage to do a bit of checking emails and mark a few stray essays), I do like going back to the usual routine of work and study. Structure plays a big part in my management of my bipolar disorder and several weeks of family visits, parties and general social interaction, coupled with a disrupted routine, are always unsettling for me.

A nice week back as well, with no marking or tutorials, and just planning and admin to do. This has given me the opportunity to get stuck in with my doctorate studies so I’ve completed the module 3 work on reviewing literature and formally started my literature review for my research. Two days of searching and I have 15 articles/theses/books, half of which I already had! I knew the subject of mental health in distance education was poorly investigated but I had hoped for a bit more. The key issue was separating out generic articles on supporting health and wellbeing in higher education from those concerning students with established mental health challenges within distance education, the latter being the area I am interested in. Now I need to get to work on summarising these articles, identifying themes and then going forward to the next round of searching. I need to look further into motivational support for students with mental health challenges but suspect I will need to look more generically at motivational support in distance education.

Annie


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Prof Doc review – the story so far

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:41

Well, it has been a quick 2 months! I’ve done a residential weekend, two modules of study, two seminar forums and submitted a 500-word assignment on context and ethics. I admit the writing was a huge slog but I’m loving the doctorate programme; it’s such a great opportunity to explore a subject I'm passionate about.

So, what are the key things I’m taking from my studies so far?

The module on developing as a researching professional has given me the idea to write a chapter in my thesis on my own reflections as a researcher with mental health challenges, adding my own perspective to the student voices.

Looking at the context of my research has enabled me to reflect more on who else is involved in my research and at what stage. I have established contact with several stakeholders, and this has helped me to identify potential issues and priorities within my proposal and enabled me to clarify key issues within it, as well as opening opportunities to share my work with my colleagues. The chat with a member of the Learning Analytics Department has enhanced my perspective on the importance of data analytics in my research, and the resources available to support me.

The ethics section of the module has highlighted the need to communicate my research to my colleagues and answer any questions they may have as their students may be participants; I had previously focused my attention on ethics just in relation to participants and the research community. I have started to address this via forums and meetings.

I’m using this month to catch up on some reading, update my development plan and get to know some referencing tools ready for the literature review module in the new year. Scary but exciting.

Annie


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The delicate art of prevarication

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:01

What is it with starting something? I have several important bits of work to get done in the next 10 days but it can be such a struggle to start something. I need to set myself some small, achievable goals. So, aim to get 4 essays marked this afternoon, for instance, or write 500 words of my assignment today.

Now, which do I want to avoid most, the marking or the assignment? smile

Annie

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Reflection on the first month of the Prof Doc

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

This assignment is harder to complete than I thought, and not necessarily due to the content. November is a busy time for ALs, virtually all modules have assignments due then and it is a tough schedule to work with, despite planning ahead and only working part time.

In spite of this, I have really enjoyed this term. It has reinforced my identity as a researcher within my own field and helped me to clarify what I want to achieve from my research, enabling me to develop my ideas on how to achieve this. The professional framework plan has provided me with a structure in which to develop goals within a manageable timeframe.

The discussion on macro context made me explore further into the government’s influence on higher education provision. Obviously, I was aware of the impact of politics on curriculum from my Master in Ed studies but I hadn’t looked specifically at mental health. I was surprised that meso was considered a neglected context, as my meso context is a central part of my proposal, and this made me reflect more on how the OU is a very different environment to other places of higher education and how working for the OU reinforces my own values in education and forms its own ‘bubble’. I thought writing about the micro context would be easier, it is, after all, where I spend my working life. But in many ways this makes it more challenging as I realised a lot of what I do is not tangible. But that, obviously, is one of the reasons why I am doing my research.

Completing this assignment will feel like a firm step on the path to achieving my doctorate and it is good to get into the writing early.


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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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Down the rabbit hole

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

Last week I was completing the module on the context of research. What a rabbit hole the macro section turned out to be! I was aware of my need to discuss government frameworks and policy in my research, most specifically the emphasis on value for money and student outcomes but actually trawling through government websites trying to find it seems an endless task. I did find some useful documents on government aims, though these were usually on higher education as a whole rather than distance learning. But there were a few helpful ones on mental health provision and I was especially pleased to find a reference to the social model of disability as that will link well to my discussion on the context of disability in society. That was something I found missing in the module materials on context, that as well as professional and government frameworks there might also be societal ones. I intend to put my research into the experiences of students with mental health challenges within the emerging emancipatory model of disability and it was useful to note how government policy was influenced by disability theory.

I was also surprised to read that many education researchers neglect the meso context and I wonder if it because they consider their work environment to be a generic situation. Working for the OU means that I see my higher education institution as very different to others available, in structure, ethos and cohort. Perhaps it is because its values are very much apparent, even in its name, and in alignment with my own that I have a strong sense of identity with it? This ‘institutional bias’ will be something for me to stay aware of in my research.

Annie

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Anxiety in context

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

I had a mammogram yesterday, just a routine call up because I am 50. The leaflet that arrived with my appointment was very detailed about the pros and cons of screening, as a part of the informed consent. I found it an interesting read as we explore the ethics of screening as part of K219 'Critical issues in health and wellbeing'. My husband was quick to ask how I felt about going for screening and whether I wanted to.

But I have no anxiety at all about health screening. My anxiety in my bipolar disorder is caused by unfamiliar environments and I've worked in health and social care, practice and teaching, for over 30 years. There is nothing unfamiliar about anything health related, I live and breathe it. I have no fear of dentists either, I see being jabbed with needles in the mouth as a parallel with me having spent years jabbing needles in people's eyes. 

But, obviously, many people with mental health challenges do find screening a cause for anxiety. This is because people's experiences of disability and mental illness are individual and contextual. This is one of the criticisms of the social model of disability, that it sees disability in the form of barriers that society creates but neglects the individual and how they see the world. And it's the reason why I'm a fan of a more emancipatory approach, which promotes voice and participation. The social model is very useful for breaking down barriers, especially physical ones, but its time to empower disabled people to take control and this can only be done by respecting their individual needs.

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A time to rest

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:03

Yesterday I decided not to study despite having a free afternoon. My doctorate was beginning to take over my every thought and my experience of hypomania tells me that I need to take a break. So I spent the afternoon on my spinning wheel instead 😊

Oh, and it was my 20th wedding anniversary so we went out and had a lovely dinner at Trinity. Where I may possibly have discussed my research with my husband. But I let him chat about work too.

Feeling much clearer in thought today. Rests are an important part of maintaining resilience.

Annie


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Deciding on a cohort to study

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:34

I’m very much an aural learner; as a student I compose essays in my head while out walking (this is probably helped by the hypomanic experience of continuous mental discourse) and I struggle with visual learning. No mind maps or pictures for me, I write my plans out in a very linear way. When teaching practical tasks I mirror this by breaking them down into simple stages which are clearly explained. So, I went for a walk this morning and cleared a dilemma about my research cohort which has been bugging me.

I decided originally to use my K219 cohort as my participant group. This was mainly because it has a high number of students with declared disabilities but also because K219 offers an opportunity to support students who are just starting out at level 2 and are developing their independent learning at a post-foundation level on a more generic health related module rather than a specialised one.

But a few weeks ago, I started getting a few quibbles. If I target K219 students, I may have to recruit students from other tutor groups. We use group tuition on K219 and tutors know each other well so I would hope this would not throw up too many conflicts. But it does mean that I might be researching students whose full data I cannot access. The analytics database used in the university helps me to identify students who are falling behind and is a key tool in targeting students for support. Recruiting from other tutor groups means I will miss out on this data. I also don’t want to confuse students about who to approach for learning support.

I started considering using my other modules for recruitment. This would mean I could use available data to be responsive to students and fits in well with my action research aims. But it throws up its own issues; it will be more complicated as I will need to liaise across several module teams and a very large tutor cohort. It introduces students from a more diverse group; this might be beneficial in gathering more varied data but might also lead to fewer applicable conclusions. It all seemed far too ‘messy’.

So today I went for a walk and decided to embrace the issues raised by recruiting K219 students. My analytics data base provides an overall module picture and this can be using for targeting motivational support for students not in my tutor group. My own students will get individually targeted support. This comparison can form part of the analysis, as will the difference between own tutor and alternative tutor providing motivational support. It might draw up interesting discussion about who needs to provide motivational support to students with mental health challenges and how personal it needs to be in practice. I will need to be clear in my research information that I will be providing motivational support in the form of interventions but that students need to contact their own tutor for module support.

This has also made me think about other issues, such as personally addressed emails. I already send out weekly emails as a group email to my students with generic addressing of ‘Dear students’, these will continue and will also be sent to non-tutor group participants. The additional motivational emails will be personally addressed, allowing a comparison of student response to these approaches. I’ve also developing ideas on motivational presentations in the online tutorial room, including one targeting mental health while studying. My research data will focus on the interviews I have with students exploring what has been helpful in developing their independent learning.

Making a firm decision on my cohort allows me to step forward and plan my interventions with a target group in mind and a useful stepping stone on my research journey.

Annie


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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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Revelations in literature searching

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

During the Prof doc residential weekend I was able to attend a couple of sessions with a librarian which I found really helpful. I've been an AL for 12 years and during this time I have taught students how to do literature searches and completed my own for my history degree and master's research. But it was nice to sit down with an expert and explore the functionality of the library and the other resources available for research studies.

The session introduced me to time saving software for storing articles and referencing. I'm very much a creature of habit and am actually very good at manually referencing but it was time to up my game and I have now downloaded Mendeley as a tool for citations. An organised and easily accessed storage system for articles will make my literature searching so much easier for my doctorate.

The other bonus for the session is that I found an article which fits in perfectly with my research. It is 'Barriers to learning online experienced by students with a mental health disability' (McManus et al, 2017). A lovely article because it is so rare to find academic studies which are so close to my own (distance learning and mental health disability being a niche combination, unfortunately, that's why I'm doing my research) yet from an different perspective. This article focuses on identifying barriers whereas I want to overcome barriers and empower students so it gives a good background for my own research to build on. It also considers the social model of disability and its critics which is relevant to my own philosophical approach to disability. As the first article in my literature search it is an encouraging start.

So, tomorrow afternoon's work is to critically review the article.

Annie

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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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Death cafe

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:46

Last summer I attended a Death cafe run by the Quakers at the Greenbelt Festival and ever since it has been my ambition to hold one at my free church. Death cafes are referred to in K220 Death, dying and bereavement, one of the modules I teach on. They are an opportunity to have a frank discussion about death in an informal environment, they are not a counselling session or necessarily an information event, but open discussion to encourage reflection on our perspectives and needs. The Anglican church has a similar programme called GraveTalk, which I have purchased the resources for.

So I was really pleased last Sunday to have a discussion with our minister about grieving and the need for churches to serve their congregation in facilitating discussions about dying. He is really keen that we explore mechanisms to do this and I discussed death cafes with him. My church has a scheme where members of the congregation can submit ideas for small groups that they can run for a term, these might be anything from a bible study to a knitting group. I now have this idea for the autumn of hosting a 5 week course which will be a sort of Christian death cafe, with frank discussion, a short biblical perspective and prayer. Currently my outline is looking like an introductory week, death, dying, grieving and resurrection. I'm now thinking about who to ask to co-lead with me and have a couple of ideas.


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March mania

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:04

Having blogged about the February blues a month ago I thought I'd speak about the antidote now. For whilst February is a dark month for me, March is an altogether different thing. You see, there is a recognised rise in hypomania amongst people with bipolar disorder in March.

This shouldn't be surprising as many people with bipolar disorder also have seasonal affective disorder. But I think it goes beyond just having longer days with more sun. March is full of bright new things; the flowers are out, the blossom is on the trees, the birds are singing, the days are warmer... and people prone to mania tend to react to stimuli. I love March, I love walking in the sun and looking at nature in bud all around me. I find walking both a grounding experience and a joyful one. My love of March is matched by my love of September, 6 months later, when the seasons again go through a dramatic change.

The clocks will change tomorrow and British Summertime begins. Rejoice!


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The joys of working from home

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:05

For the last few weeks my neighbours have been having building work done. Not too noisy though, I've been able to get my marking done (marking is impossible with noise and distraction!). But on Sunday they told me that Monday and Tuesday would be very noisy as their fireplace and bathroom would be ripped out. I still have some marking to get done but had to write off these two days. Oh well, I still have Wednesday, I thought.

Today their builders are quieter, just some light hammering and plastering. Unfortunately the neighbours the other side have chosen today to get new windows fitted...

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An unusual book through my door...

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:45

*Warning - sensitive discussion on death*

One dark evening in December, I received a book through my letterbox called 'Stiff - The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers'. Now, some people might find that a creepy book to get posted through your door but luckily I knew who had posted it. I had recently struck up a conversation with a local ex-councillor who wants to set up a community meeting to discuss advance directives (where you set out what treatment you would like in the event of not having the capacity to decide for yourself during serious or terminal illness). I am interested in death cafes so we had a meeting to discuss it. Hence she thought I might enjoy a book about cadavers.

She was right, my reading taste is determinedly non-fiction and I teach K220 'Death, dying and bereavement' so the book was up my street. All the same, it wasn't the sort of book I would usually buy as I avoid what sounds like sensationalist literature. But I actually found it very interesting. Some of the discussion was familiar to me such as medical dissection and forensic science. Other sections weren't (the contribution of cadavers to car crash legislation, for instance). But what was most fascinating was my emotional reaction to the discussion - I didn't have one. Well, not until we got to the chapter on organ transplants.

Let me explain. I was a nurse for twenty years and during that time I cared for many dying people at various stages of their lives, including directly after they died. Whilst I am a very empathetic carer and would often cry with patients and relatives, I have no fear of dead bodies nor am I squeamish. I can also separate out the concept of a dying person and a lifeless cadaver - I held my mother's hand as she died and I visited my father in the mortuary. So most of the subject matter did not produce an emotional reaction in me other than interest in the detail given. But the chapter on organ transplantation was different; I was filled with immense sadness and wanted to cry. This is because the person involved had a beating heart and pink skin, she had the obvious visual features of a living person - she looked like an unconscious patient and was cared for as such. But she was brain dead and in that grey area between life and death and soon someone would be mourning her loss. This was interesting for me as I had never seen transplant surgery from the perspective of the donor before, only the mourners and the organ recipients. It was worth reading the book just for this new level of empathy.

Annie

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Managing lows

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 3 Dec 2021, 13:47

I openly discuss my bipolar disorder so it sometimes comes up in tutorials when we are discussing health theory or disability. Recently I was discussing the concept of 'curing' in a K219 tutorial and one of the examples being discussed was mental health so I gave my personal opinion. I enjoy the positive reactions I get from students when I discuss my mental health, students are very encouraging on the need to reduce stigma and often come out with their own experiences. Someone mentioned how mental illness can creep up on you and I acknowledged this, pointing out I often don't realise I'm manic until well into an episode, partly because it is enjoyable, and the need to have a confidant who is able to recognise and discuss it with you. A student then said 'What about the lows?' and I realised that I very seldom discuss the lows.

I don't have lows very often, my bipolar mainly features hypomania and I seldom have deep lows since the first ones I experienced when I was first diagnosed 20 years ago. Manic depressives are often diagnosed during a depressive episode, mania can be enjoyable but depression isn't. McKeon (1995) suggests that the first depressive episode is often triggered by emotional stress switching on a genetic mechanism. Mine was triggered by my father becoming seriously ill and almost dying. 

I discussed my mental illness at a church meeting this week and my husband said that he could detect my mood swings and we then worked together on strategies to manage them. Later I challenged him on this; he actually identifies my manic periods but not my depressive ones. Mania is a very public thing, it is outward in its appearance, but depression is quite private and inward. I can't always tell I'm depressed myself until well into a period, it creeps up on you as noted earlier but it is also difficult to tell what normal is if your moods are usually abnormal. 

I've had marking over the last few weeks and I've been prevaricating over it. Now, finding displacement activities to avoid marking is quite normal, I'm sure, for most ALs. But it was when I was crying at the thought of it that I realised that I was depressed not just avoiding work. Recognising it meant I could develop strategies to manage it. Firstly, giving myself very small goals, perhaps 2 papers to do,  to make it manageable. I often find if I set myself to mark 2 papers I actually mark 4 as starting is often the hardest thing and once I'm into an activity it provides a welcome distraction from my emotions. I also prepare myself mentally, physically and spiritually. I make sure I go for two walks a day and get some fresh air and exercise. I eat healthily and take vitamins. I meditate and say a prayer before working (non-religious people might consider an activity such as writing down some positive things to be thankful for and some short term, achievable goals). I take regular breaks and have a cup of tea.

So, why I am I writing this? Well, in my experience, students with mental health challenges often face similar struggles when writing an assignment; it becomes a big wall that seems impossible to get over. As ALs we need to recognise these hurdles are real issues and work with our students to overcome them. Acknowledgement and empathy is the first priority alongside open channels of communication so that students can voice their fears and anxieties; this does much to reduce the burden. Work with students to come up with achievable goals over a period of time, perhaps just listing key points at first, then developing a plan for an essay, then tackling a paragraph a day so it does not become overwhelming. Plan ahead to the next assignment so that they are prepared in advance. Encourage them to look after their physical health too, to take regular breaks and get some rest. Most of all, let them know that you value them and you are on their side, even if their decision is to take a break from their studies. 

Most importantly, listen to their voice so you can empower and support them to achieve their potential in whatever way they can.


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It's done!

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:46

I've finally submitted my application for doctoral research. And i don't even feel anxious about it (that may well change!), just an overwhelming feeling that this is the right time and what I need to do. It helps that it is a subject that I feel passionate about - students with mental health challenges. I feel very happy to take this next step on my journey.

And it's just occurred to me that I am sharing my 50th birthday with the OU this year. What a good year for both of us.

Annie

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Reflecting on 2018

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 3 Dec 2021, 13:47

2018 was a turning point for me. It was the 20 year anniversary of my diagnosis with bipolar disorder, the year my life was turned upside down and which led me to give up my dream job as a university lecturer, move away from London and start again.

So, in 2018 the time was right to reclaim my academic career at the age of 49. I doubled my working hours from 13 to 26 and took on higher modules to teach. I became more active in the university online community, starting my blog and generally contributing more in forums and community discussions. I also became more vocal about health issues outside the university, giving a talk to my church about mental health (which has led to a higher profile of the needs of disabled members) and I’m in discussion with community leaders about starting a local death café. I planned and wrote a research proposal for a doctorate which I hope will benefit students with mental health challenges.

I used a year off from study to reflect on what I learnt on the Masters in Education and put new ideas into practice, including improving how I maintain dialogue with students via email and the PT3 form. I recommend the Masters programme to other ALs, I learnt so much from it, especially about conducting research and transforming practice, though it was very hard work.

2019? I want to write more about the experience of living with bipolar disorder and start my doctorate research. I know I go on about my future studies but I find studying truly exciting as I came from a working class background and never went to college; my life has been changed by the Open University in many ways.

Have a happy new year

Annie


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New blog post

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:47

Last week I finished writing up my research proposal for my Doctorate application. This is a big milestone for me as it represents something that that I once would not have a imagined I could achieve.

I left school after my O' levels to go on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) scheme in a care home. But this wasn't the career I wanted as a child; I'd always wanted to be an English teacher. But such a job was completely out of reach for someone from a rough council estate in Luton. Whilst I wanted to be a teacher it was something I knew was out of my league, it was an impossible dream. I didn't know anyone who worked in a professional job; my father worked in a dairy factory, my mother was a canteen cook, and all my family worked in either factories, shops or child care. I didn't know anyone with a degree and my friends and boyfriend went on to do apprenticeships, even the ones with A' levels. Besides, my parents wanted me to get a job and pay rent so it was the YTS scheme for me. I lacked the social and cultural capital (key concepts in KE322) to make my dream come true.

So how did I get here, a middle class academic working in Cambridge? Well, even on the YTS I was discerning on what I wanted to do and requested elderly care not child care as I felt that would offer more opportunities. And it was in a small private residential home that I was empowered to change my life. The home was owned by a lovely pair of best friends, a nurse and a home economist who had previous taught teenage mums, who saw in me a potential for reaching higher. Their support and influence provided the social and cultural capital to successfully apply for nurse training in my local hospital. My nursing qualifications then enabled me to move to London, opening myself up to new world views. In the language of Goodhart (2017), also from KE322, I moved from being a 'Somewhere' to an 'Anywhere' person. Moving to London offered me a wider scope for developing as a professional but also introduced me to a wider range of people from different classes, especially when I started attending a large city church. Meanwhile I started an Open University module on research methodology, which then led to a degree. Having friends with Doctorates normalised academia in my life (back to social and cultural capital again) and I knew I wanted to teach nursing (my bipolar mania also contributed to my professional progress but that is a different story). I now teach health and social care undergraduates, live in in a city which has twice the number of graduates than the national average and my son attends the top state sixth form college in the country. How life has changed.

I now straddle two universes; the middle class world where I live and the working class world where I came from. When I did my Masters in Education I found the alien language frustrating and wrote on a bit of paper by my computer 'Academic language exists to disempower the working classes'. It has got easier over the years to bridge the cognitive divide but I still have a deep empathy for students who enter this new world with its of unfamiliar language and rules. My research will look at one of the groups who have more hurdles to overcome than most, those with mental health challenges, and I am excited for the opportunities this research might bring for empowering this group of students, just as I was empowered as a young girl to reach outside my socio-cultural boundaries.

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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Home working

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:09

This week I thought I'd reflect on home working in relation to hours "worked". Associate Lecturers are appointed to modules with specific hours allocated so there can be a natural tendency to measure your own workload as hours working at specific activities rather than an overall picture, especially if you only teach one or two modules. This means that your focus on work is very different to in a traditional work place. Let me explain.

When I taught two modules I was employed for 13 hours a week. Obviously I need to keep in contact regularly with my students and update forums, and there were sudden periods of intense marking or preparing for a tutorial. With so few hours it made sense to think of my time in hours.

But now I teach four modules for 26 hours and this approach no longer seems appropriate. For one thing, my hours now fit neatly in to 3 full days with occasional weekend or evening tutorials. I don't need to measure hours. But it also has reminds me why home workers can often end up working more intense hours than those in the office. You see, when you allocate yourself hours at home you are very exact, you stop measuring them when you leave your desk for a cup of tea or a reflective walk. Your hours are tightly packed with work in a way which isn't reflected in most work places. I've worked as a lecturer in a bricks and mortar university, there you would converse with your colleagues on arrival, walk to the library to read a journal, take tea with colleagues and attend meetings alongside your teaching commitments. All of which would be part of your normal working hours. Yet as a home worker you feel the need to justify every minute of your time because you are not being supervised.

Routine is very important to my mental equilibrium and I allocate my week's activities in advance. But I'm only just realising that working 3 full days a week gives me more freedom to relax about work. I will still keep a list of my tasks and hours completed as these are useful for reviewing workload. But from now on I'm going to see my hours as full days, cups of tea and all, and recognise that those breaks from work where I decide to take a walk to reflect on what I am doing are just as much of my working week as those in which I am marking assignments and giving tutorials.

Annie

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Reflections on a funeral

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:09

I teach on K220 'Death, dying and bereavement' and shared this reflection on my tutor group forum today for discussion and thought I'd pop it up here as my weekly offering.

"I went to the funeral of an elderly relative yesterday, my husband's grandmother who died at the grand old age of 98. I thought I'd note down a few of my observations. These need to be seen in the social context; my husband's family are evangelical Christians of an Anglican background. My in-laws are theologians, my mother in law (whose mother had died) is a well known preacher who used to do Thought for the Day on Radio 4.

It was a small grouping, mainly family. This reflects her age, she was the youngest of 10 children and the last to die (this was brought up during the talk about her life and resonated with me as I am the youngest of 8), her friends had died and she spent the last year or so in a care home. 

The coffin being carried down the aisle and the order of service reminded me of a wedding service. One of the hymns was an old one based on Psalm 23 which my own mother had at her wedding and funeral.

There were no tears and lots of laughs. This reflects not only her age and that her death was long expected but also that evangelical funerals tend to be celebrations of end of the old life and the coming of the new.

I realised I had never been to a graveside burial; my family are cremated. I pondered this with my husband and suggested this might be a class thing as my family are working class and his are middle class and cremation is cheaper than burial. But he had a more intriguing reason in that my family were non-conformists (my parents were Baptists). I am a historian as well as a nurse and this makes sense as from the seventeenth century non-conformist were not allowed to be buried in Church of England graveyards and were given their own burial grounds. This separation of burial from church could mean it is easier for them to make the move to cremation, which was promoted in the nineteenth century. My own parents were cremated and their ashes scattered in a favourite river spot. I don't have any particular preference for what happens to my body, I have no particular urge for anyone to sit and mourn at my graveside so perhaps I will also find a place to be scattered in the wind.

Anyway, I thought I'd share my reflections. Feel free to share your experiences of funerals."

Annie


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