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Reflecting on my new timetable

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

Well, I'm a month into my new increased schedule and I thought I'd have a reflection on how it is going.

I'm surprised how smoothly the new routine has fitted into my life. I'm not having any problems arranging my work and I have noticed several improvements as well as noted a few areas where my homelife is having to adapt.

Firstly, my initial fears that I wouldn't be able to switch off on my days off has proved unfounded. After the first few weeks of constantly checking emails and forums I have settled down and can switch off. Not only has it not increased my mania but I've had a few days where I'm not hypomanic (unusual for me as I'm I have high functioning bipolar disorder so hypomania is a prominent feature of my life). Obviously, due to the nature of OU tutoring I do have to sometimes teach or speak to students during my downtime but I am balancing this well.

Some things have actually improved. When I only worked 13 hours a week teaching 2 modules I always found marking weeks hit and miss as they took up 12-15 hours of time and did not slot naturally into my life, leading to prevarication. But now I work 26 hours I can schedule these better and have days available for marking; for the first time have actually managed to mark straight away after the submission date. This improved scheduling is very important as, obviously, I also have far more marking to do but I do feel more efficient. We will see how this progresses as marking and teaching increases.

The impact on my home life is interesting. Being an early bird, I'm making an effort to sit down to work before my night owl husband leaves for his work. This gives me a visible presence as a working person which can be missing from home working and I'm noticing him acknowledging this in his attitude at home. He's also leaving earlier for work rather than rolling in late and staying late (he owns his own business)!

My children are old enough not to disrupt me at work too much but dinner has definitely got later and less fancier (I love cooking). But I still have days off to get things done.

So, all in all a positive change. I looked at it again in a month to see if 4 lots of marking have changed my opinion!

Annie

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Oh, my eyes!

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:48

One thing I didn't anticipate when taking on more hours was the effect on my eyes of the increased screen time. As a trained ophthalmic nurse perhaps this should have been obvious to me, especially as I know from previous experience that I sometimes get dry eyes doing my eMarking. But it took me by surprise and it is something I definitely need to address, especially as all my module materials are online and I'm going to be spending a lot of time staring at the screen. I'm glad that I've settled on my work days being Monday, Wednesday and Friday as this at least means I will get breaks in between (though Tuesday is my study day so will require some pc work).

So I need to make an action plan to minimise effects. I know the main problem with staring at a screen is dry eyes from not blinking so I'm going to buy some artificial tears as I know they have worked previously. I also need to get up and take regular breaks away from the screen (always good for me anyway). Next time I get my glasses updated I might get some extra screen coating too. I might also experiment with screen lighting and shading.

So, time for a break.

Annie

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Happy mania

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:49

This afternoon, I went for a walk across a nature reserve in the blustery wind and it was wonderful, I felt so alive and part of the landscape. I could feel the wind around me and was filled with joy to experience the wonderful world we live in. I have 'happy mania'.

One of the main consequences of self-managing my bipolar disorder is that my normal mental state is one of mild hypomania. Whilst this has some drawbacks, including potential lack of concentration and slow processing of information, it is also a wonderfully creative place to be. A bipolar friend describes my normal state as 'happy mania' and professes her jealousy of it.

You see, whilst my 'happy mania' can hamper my ability to comprehend if it gets out of control, it expresses itself in an enormous capacity to feel. When I was a child my mother used to say I had second sight; that I could feel atmospheres and read situations. Later in life, when my father had respiratory failure and my mother had to make that difficult decision for the ambulance men not to resuscitate him, it was me she asked afterwards if it had been the right decision (it was). I can still read people like books and I genuinely like people and find them interesting, even those I vehemently disagree with. My empathy shows in quirky ways, like unconsciously changing my accent according to who I speak to. What my happy mania gives me is a heightened perception of what is around me and for that I am glad; it's a feature not a bug. 

Nature has a great capacity to bring healing to those with mental health challenges and I recommend daily walking as a means of escaping the stresses of everyday life. You might not come home as buzzing as me but the exercise will do you good and you might find some spiritual solace.

have a great weekend

Annie

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New blog post

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:49

I recently decided to increase my work hours. It was something I had wanted to do for a while and this year finally presented an opportunity for me to apply for several appropriate modules. I had a firm idea of the number of hours I wanted to do and was lucky enough to get offered modules that met this requirement; in fact, I had to turn two modules down.

So why did I want to increase my hours? Well, the most straightforward answer was that I had time on my hands. My children are now teenagers so I need to be around less for them and I wasn’t studying last year so I was bored. I needed something more challenging to do with my life, which brings me on to my main reason for taking on more work; I wanted a career again. I now had the time and opportunity to make a serious career in academia, I was applying for a Doctorate and the time was right to make a big step forward.

I also hoped that increasing my workload would provide more structure to my life. Only working a few hours a week can create a feeling of being disconnected but by increasing my hours I could formalise my days. This isn’t just important for getting my own work done and managing my own haphazard mental processes but also also ensures my new workload is recognised at home. Like many work-at-home parents, most of my work is hidden. My family need to know that I have work to do, that I can’t just drop everything to pop to the shops for them. So, by having firm perimeters my status at home changes. If I want to successfully build my career my work must be visible at home as well as among colleagues.

To do this I have given myself 3 full working days plus the necessary flexibility for the odd evening or weekend tutorial to make up my hours. I also have a day set aside for study; this year it is used for background reading and small projects, next year it will be part of my PhD timetable. I’m only 2 weeks into it but I can see how it will be effective in organising my time and I feel purposeful. What I hadn’t anticipated is the difficulty switching off in between work days, I have a constant urge to check my work email and forums. As someone prone to hypo-mania this probably isn’t surprising but I’m hoping this will settle down as I get used to the pattern and as my students settle into their modules – routine is the key. But yesterday (my day off, otherwise known as the day I do the housework) I managed to switch off completely. I will keep monitoring how I am keeping to my timetable as the academic year progresses and the workload varies from week to week.

Annie


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Don't shoot - I'm disabled

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:11
I had intended my first blog of the academic year to be about the trials and tribulations of being an AL, preparing for new modules and incoming students and then having your pc die a sudden death during an online meeting on the first day back (agonising enough for anyone but especially for a manic depressive who keeps her anxiety at bay by having an impeccably structured life unhindered by nasty surprises). But today I read an article on the BBC was website which moved me deeply and I felt I had to write on that instead.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-45739335 This article is both shocking and very, very sad. These people who died were unarmed and not committing any crime; one was naked in his shower. What they all have in common is lack of communication, some of them had learning difficulties or mental health challenges which meant they did not understand the commands they were given, one of them was deaf. 

Hey, wait, let me back track a little. It wasn't these communication difficulties which caused their deaths but the poor communication skills of the police.

This is not a blog on guns or police policy in the US, I value my sanity far too much for those discussions. But these police officers seemed to go into situations using aggression from the outset, shouting at the person even in the situations when they knew the person was disabled. Were they not taught any communications skills during their training? Do they act like this in their everyday lives? Do they not know anyone disabled: do they fear them or think them sub-human?

I've had bipolar disorder for 20 years and know lots of other people with the same condition. If someone is in a manic state, aggression will just heighten it and stress can be a big trigger. Manic depressives can also have problems processing instruction so even if they are listening to you they still might not have the foggiest what you want them to do. Similar issues happen with other mental health issues. But this goes far beyond disability, it seems that some people in authority think aggression is an acceptable way to carry out their job and that challenges can be met with violence. There needs to be far greater education on understanding the needs and experiences of people with disabilities, especially mental health and learning disabilities, and the communication skills needed to communicate effectively with them. But these are skills which will benefit all people, they are basic rules for engaging others in all walks of life in a respectful way. We need to resist a culture which thinks 'shoot first, ask questions later'. A little empathy will go a long way

Annie

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Unsettled

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:50

Like many people with bipolar disorder, I have a problem with anxiety. Stress is a major trigger for bipolar disorder and my main method of controlling my stress, and consequent anxiety, is to meticulously plan my life. I don’t like surprises and I try to limit my exposure to them. Friends know not to turn up randomly on my doorstep and I plan my work diary efficiently with achievable goals. And this all has a positive effect on my working life as it means I am able to meet deadlines and have the time and space to manage any extra issues that crop up; phoning worried students, covering for colleagues, etc. I live a very organised life.

But it does mean sudden, unplanned changes to my routine make me anxious. Perhaps in some ways the method I use to combat anxiety can also cause it and today is a fine example.

We’ve been planning to get a new drive for several months but pinning builders down has been difficult. But suddenly we had an offer to do it today so we snapped it up.

Today I had planned to spend the whole day working (I work part time). I would spend the morning doing admin, sending weekly emails to my students, planning a tutorial, updating forums. This afternoon I would do marking. This was all in my diary. But my day has been unsettled and I cannot get my head around my work. The builders aren’t that noisy, I’ve heard far worse. But they seem to insist on the occasional social interaction which involves discussion which I don’t necessarily know the answers to (and numerous requests for tea). They also keep telling me things which they say my husband agreed but I am not so sure. To make matters worse, they cut through the internet cable first thing (I am currently borrowing the neighbour’s wifi, with their permission) so I have no landline and no way of phoning my husband, who has since reassured me via email that he will try to work from home this afternoon. But I need to feel settled to work properly and at present I am on edge. I know there’s no point in marking this afternoon.

My usual daily routine involves an afternoon walk and that would do my mind the world of good but I don’t want to go outside and speak to the builders. I suppose I could sneak out the back but what if they need me for something while I’m gone? More anxieties raise their ugly head.

The marking will get done this evening when the builders are gone, the world is quieter and all is well again. But I do know the next time we have builders that I’m going to plan to spend the day at a museum or gallery instead.

Annie


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Cloudy with sunny intervals

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:13

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for some time now, partly prompted by the debates about equity and diversity in education studied in my recently completed Masters. It was always clear to me what my main focus would be as it is a subject close to my heart. But my personal knowledge of the field also meant that I needed time to think about my approach, as it is a subject that makes some people uncomfortable.

An example of this would be at a recent seminar when we were asked to find out more about our neighbour. I enthusiastically discussed my disability, my management of it and my passion to be an advocate for others like me who were less able to have a voice. By being open and frank about my experience I could empower others to speak out and remove the stigma associated with it. But when we fed back to the main group, my new friend did not name my disability, it was my ‘sensitive issue’. And this has been my experience on many occasions, no matter how frank and open I am and the permissions I give to discuss my disability, others are still reluctant to call it for what it is. It is a ‘personal difficulty’ or a ‘time of difficulty’. I’m sure you’ve guessed what I am referring to, it is my mental illness; I have bipolar disorder.

It is hard for someone who has never experienced mental illness to imagine what it is like and the unknown can create fear or misunderstandings or incomprehension. Likewise empathetic people don’t want to say the wrong thing, to offend or upset someone. Or fear they might breach a confidence (something perhaps we are even more sensitive to in my own field of health and social care). And these are all valid explanations. But they are also the reason that I want to be open about who I am, so that others can have an insight into what life is like with bipolar disorder and to encourage other manic depressives to speak out.

Culture and upbringing have a big influence here. I was brought up in a working class family where disability was visible and cared for within the family. My mother had poor mobility and my twin brother was born partially sighted and attended a school for the blind. My happy childhood memories are of visually impaired children charging around on horseback. I grew up with a very positive perspective on disability, and especially visual impairment, which eventually led me into specialising in ophthalmic nursing (where patients would comment on my very natural and relaxed approach to guiding). When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was supporting newly registered blind and partially sighted people to come to terms with their blindness so had a practical knowledge of identity and disability.

But not everyone feels this way or has these experiences. In the summer I attended a Christian festival with a reputation for inclusivity. The Sunday morning communion was entirely presented by disabled people and was a joyful experience for me. But when I turned to a close friend and asked him what he thought about it, I was amazed to hear him say that he found it very negative. Momentarily shocked into silence (which doesn’t happen often) I asked why and found he was sad that so many people had to live with these problems. In K213 Health and illness we look at the research of Blaxter (2010) into lay people’s understandings of health and illness and his responses are similar to how she found other highly educated, well off young men view health, focussing on absence of disease and physical fitness.

Our culture and experiences construct our perspectives so divergence of opinion is to be expected. If attitudes towards mental illness are to change there needs to be a cultural shift away from stigma, shame and silence. I want to use my voice to embolden others to share their stories so that there is a wider understanding of the lives of those with mental illness. As an Associate Lecturer I particular want students’ voices to be heard so that we can have a greater understanding of their needs and facilitate them in a way which maximises their potential, and next year I hope to start doctorate study to research into the experience of distance education in those with mental illness. By looking at how it experienced now I hope to develop an understanding of how education should be delivered in the future.

Annie

(The discussions in this blog are my personal opinions and not necessarily the views of The Open University. I’m a reflective practitioner so they might not necessarily stay my opinions either smile )


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