The University Diaries : My First Full Week

Dear Diary,

It's Friday and I've survived my first full week of lectures, by the skin of my teeth. The level of stress and exhaustion I feel is beyond anything I could have ever anticipated. The same could be said of the terrifying problems I've had with my student loans. Most definitely, that has been the final straw this week.

Monday's are my longest day. I guess that's both a blessing and a curse. I don't have to be in lectures until 11am so that's a huge plus point. It all starts with Molecular Biology, followed by Human Physiology and then a 2 hour break before Cognition in Clinical Contexts. Pretty varied!

I have also come to realise that 90% of the material in these modules I have already covered, been tested on and passed with the OU. It's quite reassuring, especially when I am able to write notes on whatever my memory happens to spit out at that particular moment. I've retained a lot more than I realised. But one could argue that studying for 12+ hours a day for weeks on end would do that.

I'm finding lecture theaters such bizarre places to be. They're so vast - much like the campus - and it's very scary walking into them. Attendance usually tops 250/300 at the moment. Holy crap.

During a catch-up with my occupational therapist she said she just couldn't picture me being in a room with that many people when a matter of months ago at the hospital being with 10 was a real test of my tolerance.

I still stay near the doors. So In the 'Chichester' building I am nearer the front row so I can be one of the first out and escape the crush, or in the posh 'Jubilee' I am at the very back row as we come in from a level up - if that makes any sense!?

I'm making friends and it's really weird! After so long of not really having friends I've got to really wing it when it comes to talking and following conversations and all that other normal stuff. I think that's the hardest part of university so far to be honest. The talking! It's very tiring. Well, that and all the walking and getting lost. Hopefully next week I won't be making the same mistakes over and over again. Some buildings are just really hard to find!

By Thursday I was at breaking point. Being over-tired always makes things worse but when you add pain and money issues into the mix, it's not great. There has been a huge drama with my student loan - and now Halifax - and I just can't cope anymore. There have been lots of tears.

The Student Loan Company were supposed to pay me last Thursday but failed to as Sussex didn't tell them I was there. Ok. Honest mistake and an easy fix.When my money failed to appear a second time I felt like the world was going to end. To cut a long story short, my account was checked for fraud and subsequently cleared and money was once again sent out. Hopefully I will see it Monday or Tuesday. If not, I'm fucked.

I have been so exhausted that I'm making ridiculously stupid mistakes, like forgetting to pay my Halifax credit card. I genuinely forgot, but the penalty was bone crushing. It's not 0% anymore. From one honest mistake. There is £2500 on that card and the rate is 21%. If I can't plead with them into showing me mercy I really don't know what I'll do. I'm absolutely terrified.

I'm so drained in every single way that I'm already failing to meet minor deadlines. This is where CFS is definitely making itself known again. I just can't do anything anymore. Reading journal articles is just above and beyond what my brain can do now. I missed my 9am Friday lecture because I simply couldn't move without wanting to cry or puke.

This month has been absolutely insane. It's a miracle I'm coping as well as I am. The urges to use alcohol or drugs are very much present but for now, at least, I'm still 15(?) months sober. If it gets much worse I will ask my new doctor if I can go back on acamprosate - that's the drug that is meant to help ease cravings for alcohol.

I guess that's about all I can say for now... Hopefully now I have a set schedule I will be a much better blogger and back on Twitter talking to you all! It's been a very lonely month.

University of Sussex : My Welcome Week : Medical Neuroscience Induction and Fresher's Fair!

Today we're going to cast our minds back to last Wednesday, 18th September. My last induction and freshers event before lectures start! Oh gosh.

So. By now I am somewhat familiar with the routine of getting the bus and walking into campus. What still catches me out is finding certain buildings. The John Maynard Smith is one of those buildings. I left with plenty of time but didn't anticipate getting quite so confused. I have no idea what I would have done if the green-shirted helpers weren't around to point me in the right direction!!

I hate rushing, absolutely hate it. Thankfully I found the building just before everyone was called through into the lecture theatre. There really aren't many of us at all!!  The first thing I found myself asking is why must all my lectures be in buildings which need a lot of steps to get to. I always arrive gasping for air and it's really awkward.

The induction followed the same pattern as all the others. We were greeted by the course convener, an ex-Sussex undergraduate who showed us a delightful picture of him in the early 90's wearing a painfully awful, yet hilarious, jumper.

In the moments before he started speaking, I heard a strange noise coming from my bag. I had an emergency can of Relentless stashed away, and the can had somehow acquired a hole and was peeing everywhere. Oh my god. I wasn't on the end of a row so I couldn't run to a bin. Oh shit. What to do? Shotgun or ask the guy at the end to run to the bin for me!? I opted for option two, scarlet with embarrassment. Thankfully they were nice enough about it and I spent the next hour using my bag as a sponge to soak up the puddles that had formed. Oh my GOD. Why me?!

That wasn't even the last of my humiliation for the day.

We were given the standard health and safety talk, complete with some gory pictures which was pretty cool, and also informed about assessments, handing in work and mitigating circumstances. I'm not a fan of this handing coursework into an office lark. I've been spoilt with the OU and emailing in my work, and now there's an office to find and forms to do?! Gah.

Towards the end of our hour-long induction, tutors were piling in to the back of the room like vultures ready to pick off their prey to torture for the next three years. Our handbook had a sheet that told us who we were assigned to, but now we were able to put a face to a name - if we hadn't already utilized google or the staff directory!

My academic adviser is Dr. Jeremy Niven. He had a checked shirt on so I definitely wasn't going to forget who to aim for at the end of the induction! There were three other students assigned to him, so we had a very small 'tutor group'.

Remember me talking about the annoying guy who played on his phone the entire induction on Monday? He was in my group. Ugh. Brilliant.

We were taken to his office, which is tucked away in a corner and I have next-to-no chance of finding again on my own! For the next 30 minutes or so we tried to get to know each other by introducing ourselves, explaining our academic background and why we chose medical neuroscience. It was so, so hard not to let my anxieties get hold of me. I could feel the sweat, my hands were tingling and I'm pretty sure I stammered a bit. A bit later on in our awkward chat we had to try and explain what aspect of medical neuroscience we were most interested in. What a question to try and answer!! I settled on long-term effects of anxiety disorders on the brain, and psychiatric interventions to prevent or reverse these changes. The reality is I have oh so many questions and I just love the intoxicating paradox of the brain and/or mind learning about itself.

Guess who was on his phone during the meeting? Yep. So rude. I don't know what's happened to people...

Then we were given homework. Nooooooo!!! We have to give a 5 minute powerpoint presentation and produce a 1000 word essay. I need to have a title by Wednesday and it's not as easy as I thought... Bugger.

After the meeting I was pretty tired and intended to go straight home, but as soon as I got nearer to the centre of campus I remembered Fresher's Fair! Today was the clubs and societies. It was noisy. It was busy. I froze for a minute and had to decide whether or not to turn and run or plough through and embrace the chaos.

I held my breath and walked into the storm of people. It was hard to know where to look, what to listen for and in general it was just sensory overload. But it did get easier. It was cool talking to the people running the stands, particularly the Time to Change team! It's so awesome that they were there, and that the Student Union has signed the pledge. I signed up for quite a few societies, and hope to have some new blogging opportunities coming in the near future!

One of my definite favourites from the stalls was the LGBT society, who had these amazing stickers: "Some people are gay. Get over it." Just amazing! I really wanted one but they ran out!! I got a flyer/postcard though. Yay!

I also spotted a familiar face in the crowd which was a total surprise and huge relief! She gave me a huge hug which was so sweet, and we wandered around the stalls together - before she realised that she had missed 40 minutes of her induction! Oh no! I quickly briefed her on what happened in my induction and that she didn't miss anything totally vital, as it was in our handbooks, but she should head there and meet her adviser. That was definitely the most important part of today!

I headed to the bus stop after she left. By now I was feeling low blood sugar kicking in and desperately needed to sit down! I knew I'd never make it up the hill home feeling like this so I went into the SU shop and got a chocolate flapjack and a diet coke. Yum.

By the time I got home it was almost 4pm. My evening consisted of absolute nothingness and preparing for my first ever lecture the following day. Thankfully it was at midday so I would be able to get a solid 9-10 hours sleep! Time sleeping is time that cannot be spent panicking.

I love sleep.

I hate iOS 7. It's lost my pictures and videos!! :( Hopefully it's an easy fix because I definitely haven't deleted them. Hopefully they're in the ether of the internet on this 'cloud' or whatever the hell it is.

Next time: My first ever lecture!


University of Sussex : My Welcome Week : How would you spend a day off?

It's Tuesday 17th September and by some miracle I have a free day! My body is in total shock and all I want to do is sleep, but there are more pressing issues that need addressing today. My hair is in dire need of re-colouring! I can't meet all these new people with such faded hair. It was mid to late July I believe when I first stepped through the doors of MySalonLooks in Hove, so my next visit was well overdue.

Damien coloured my hair the first time around, so it felt right to carry on with him. I'm pretty loyal my hairdresser once I find someone I click with! If I hadn't found MySalonLooks I'd travel back to Worthing to see my old hairdresser.

Anyway. I booked my appointment online which means 50% off, just like that! I mean, wow. These guys are very talented and don't come cheap so that's a real gift right there. You have to book your cut and colour separately, which worked out great as I didn't want any scissor action this time around. I didn't have to be there until 2pm either so no rushing around half-asleep for once!

The only downer to my day was the British weather sticking it's middle finger up at everyone. It was absolutely tipping it down!!! Not the ideal situation when you're getting your hair done and relying on public transport, which I am still getting to grips with! There is a stop right outside the salon but knowing which goddamn bus to get is confusing. In the end I guessed. I also got to take my Radley umbrella out which I guess was an added bonus. I love Radley!

I might not have had to venture to the university campus today, but it was still a pretty large portion of my day. While my dye was doing it's thing I was very kindly allowed to use the iPad to do some free catch up on my student homepage - where all my course details and information was really starting to flood in. I had a read of a sample paper for my science skills module and realised I have some serious maths revision to do. While my boyfriend is a maths graduate, he's an awful teacher, but he's made me promise to let him try again before I go to the university or his dad - a private maths tutor - for extra help. My boyfriend tried to tutor me for my GCSE re-take and just confused me more, but apparently more complex maths is easier? No, I don't get it either.

I bloody hate maths. I might be a scientist of-sorts but my world definitely operates within the realm of the alphabet. All I can do is pray that further on in my course there is little-to-no maths so my grade doesn't get obliterated by my incompetence.

Back to the hair: It looks awesome again. I love autumn and winter purely because I can get back to the really intense reds that just don't survive in the summer. Students: You have no excuse now. It's 50% off and amazing. Go. Go. GO!
Before - faded :(

After! I can't get over how long my hair has gotten either! It's a bugger to get red hair to come out well on camera, but the picture to the right just about catches it. How much did this cost? £25. I am not kidding.


Now to something I failed to mention yesterday: While I was embarking on operation find the bus stop, I stumbled across the Student Union Shop! It had to happen: I bought the traditional hoodie and t-shirt. I swear it's like an unwritten law of freshers/first-years. You have to have one. The trouble with the hoodies available, is that the range is rather extensive and they're all so cosy and soft! I can see myself building up a little collection... There is a gorgeous fleece-lined 'zoodie' I'm definitely going to buy when I have some money ready for the inevitable cold snap.

I also bought a cute little pin which sits on my current bag of choice, my faithful polka-dot Cath Kidston cross-body. I also spotted an embossed red folder which I figured would be an ideal way to house all of my university related filing.

[ I've just upgraded my iPhone to the new iOS and can't upload new pictures as yet, but I will show you my "freshers haul" as soon as I can get whatever the problem is sorted... bloody iPhones. ]

So that was my day off! I got my hair coloured, came back home and tried to do as little as possible! Energy is at a real premium at the moment, and with my appetite vanishing into the ether thanks to all the stress and anxiety it's pretty hard to keep going. I'm trying to taper down on my medication so I don't feel as physically restricted; when I'm walking from the bus stop to Jubilee I just can't get enough air into my lungs. It's a horrible feeling to be walking up sets of steps gasping and sweating while others are breezing on past.

I am starting to feel slightly isolated by not being able to attend night events but there just isn't enough strength in me for it. I honestly really, really do not know how people do it.

C'est la vie...

Next time: Medical Neuroscience subject induction and Freshers Fair: Clubs and Societies!


University of Sussex : My Welcome Week : School of Life Science Induction, plus Ben and Jerry's!

Today's post takes us back to Monday 16th September and having to wake up at 8am. That's something else that is going to take a lot of adjusting to! 

The School of Life Sciences includes a lot of different disciplines; from Biomedical to Ecology, Neuroscience and Chemistry! Some modules we will all be together but I think they're pretty few and far between.

Our programme of 'events' for the day lasts from 10am to 12.30pm, and are based in 3 separate buildings. Hm. I guess it's a good way to familiarise yourself with your surroundings, but my feet and ankles are growing increasingly more painful by the day!!

I left home at 9.30am and managed to power-walk my way to the Jubilee building just as everyone was walking into the lecture theater. There was more than enough space for everyone, so I sat at the very back row - with a lady who had a service dog in training with her! So cute!!! :)

This was the first time I became painfully aware of the age gap between myself and others at this school. The most potent example, that still makes me cross, was that during the address by Professor Lawrence Pearl - the head of the school - a guy of no more than 20 was playing tetris on his iPad or texting on his phone the entire time. I wanted to smack him around the back of the head and get him to pay attention!

What I loved about Professor Pearls talk was that his passion and love of science was still very much present, and I could definitely relate to his observation of scientists being like curious children constantly asking why. His encouragement of interacting with fellow students of other disciplines was also pretty hilarious... "god forbid, the social sciences!!" Haha!

Prior to this, we were welcomed by Professor Michael Farthing who holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University. Yikes. As a trained medic, his talk focused on health and well-being, explaining the dangers of drugs and alcohol, plus his absolute disgust for smoking!

Next on our agenda was a short walk to our next lecture theater for 'Getting started at Sussex for undergraduate'. On this walk, thankfully, I was spotted by a girl I briefly spoke to at the mature students induction. Oh the relief!! She is a biochemist so we don't share much lecture time but she's a lovely girl who even let me sit with her; anxiety levels were definitely starting to ease off!

This hour was related to the library and careers service. They had powerpoint presentations to try and inform us, but oh my word, they were so painfully poor that all they probably did was serve as a break from trying to absorb what we were being told and just enjoy the train wreck infront of us!

My friend and I were also talked into asking a question from a colour coded cue card in exchange for freebies. I believe my question was "Can I talk in the Library?"... We didn't have to stand or face the lecture theatre so it was pretty painless. That hour went pretty quickly, no doubt because of the powerpoint laughs!

Our final location was a short walk away and just a 15 minute introduction to the 'Sussex Signpost' service. I'll be honest, buy this point I was so tired I didn't really take much in! A lot of other people looked pretty knackered too. It was made just that much harder by more rude teenagers sat behind us whispering and giggling the entire time. It was so annoying! When did people get so rude?! Grr.

That took us up to 12.30pm. Our induction was over but we still had a couple of jobs to do: collect our degree pack and student cards! It was a lot of walking, talking, and general stuff that makes me tired quickly.
It was pretty cool though. Having my student ID made it just that much more official and real... I'm a student! I have a card to prove it!! Two actually, my NUS Extra card was waiting for me when I got home.

We had a look at the stands in the meeting room downstairs and bagged a few cool freebies; including a UV Pen from Sussex Police and a rape alarm - which I will 100% be using to prank the boyfriend with at some point. I also got a couple of stress balls, and Lily has already laid claim to one. She absolutely loves chasing it around the house and kicking it with her back feet! She even goes to sleep with it at the moment.

This brings me to our best friends: Ben and Jerry. They need our help, and I think it's only right we give them a minute of our time after all the hard times and good times they've got us through. You know I'm right. As we know, there is legislation in place to protect the welfare chickens and pigs but absolutely nothing for our hardworking dairy cows. Obviously this needs to change and you can read the full proposal being taken to the EU *here*. The campaign is heavily supported, but still needs more signatures to take to parliament.

"We did a bit of dairy detective work, commissioning some European research in the industry, and we found…

Widespread health problems

  • Painful illnesses such as mastitis or lameness
  • Infertility
  • Low life expectancy

Frequent injuries and poor diet

  • Uncomfortable cows, at time injured because their housing is cramped &/or poorly designed

Lack of access to pastures

  • Meaning they can’t roam freely & express themselves in their beautiful bovine ways"
Taken from: 

It's super easy to sign the petition and help to make a difference. There are 200,353 signatures at the time of writing but more are always needed. All you need to do is click *this link* and boom, you're done! The folks who work for this campaign haven't asked me to do this, it's something I thought you should know about and would like to help with. 

So that was my Monday! Getting the bus is still pretty stressful but I'm getting the hang of it. What really sucks about going home is the hill up to my house! I have no idea when that will stop feeling like torture. What I also don't understand is how people have the energy to have an induction like today, then go out drinking all night?! Hell, even if you're not drinking... where is that energy coming from? I want some!

All I do when I get home is put my PJs on - regardless of what time it is, I love my PJs - take my make-up off and am basically unable to move for the rest of the evening. Every muscle hurts, I can feel a cold brewing and my head is just completely gone. I'm at the stage where I'm too tired to be anxious or panic, everything is a haze and from time to time I just cry for a bit. 

So..... Yeah.... I'm a really boring fresher to be honest! Sorry about that...

Next time: Hair dye, the university uniform, and a mid-week review.


University of Sussex : My Welcome Week : Off-Campus On-Campus Social

Welcome to day two of my welcome week at what will be my second home, The University of Sussex! 

I know I'm a few days behind with these updates so bare with me ;) 

Today's story is from Sunday 15th September, and begins with me being absolutely broken from the previous day. I could have stayed in bed all day, and really wanted to, but once again I have to get dressed and be sociable. This is going to take a lot of getting used to...

The previous day I had visited my mum, and borrowed her posh steam mop with the hope that it would at least start to deal with the horrible stench that is still hanging in the kitchen from that maggot-infested fridge. I swear to god nothing worked, so being the scientist of the house, I figured maybe steam would kill off the foul-smelling bacteria or whatever it is! Apparently you're only meant to steam 'sealed' wood flooring. What the hell does that mean?! But it didn't really matter. There was something evil in this kitchen and it needs to be cleaned within an inch of it's life. Repeatedly.

It was so much fun!! I'm totally getting one. The floors look so much better and it definitely helped my stress level simmer down slightly. Pretty sad that steaming the floors clean is what soothes me but there we are. Lily didn't appreciate having damp paws but it's her own daft fault for not wanting to stay in the bedroom!

I had to return it to her the next day because OxO is an old man and keeps having accidents at night. Bless him. If he knew how to bark or make his daft noises louder he might get let out when he's asking. He definitely would have tried, but he's just a very quiet boy.

So. Back to grotty Worthing we went. We dropped everything back at Mum's then headed to the MIL's house. She invited us for lunch as the boyfriend's sister and her boyfriend were staying the weekend. Student's don't refuse free food, so I agreed to go. A couple of years ago I would have been near tears at the thought of doing something like this, and probably still backed out. It blows my mind how much more I am able to do now. It's still hard, don't get me wrong, but I can do it.

I took my laptop along and tried to make the most of having a broadband connection before we sat down for a late lunch of roast beef. It was yum. However, the weather was taking a nasty turn and my general policy about crap weather is one of avoidance.

It is at this point in the story that one of many 'new things' happen. To kick us off, I have been talking with on Facebook and texting a very lovely girl, who was struggling with anxieties and I just tried to be something of a supportive shoulder to lean on. She came all the way from Italy the previous day and was placed into a horrible student house. I haven't seen it myself, but from what she's said, it sounds like an absolute disgrace. Students of Sussex University, hell, anyone, deserves better than what they have to put up with. I really, really hope that the Student Union will do their thing and get them some help very quickly!

Anyway. The weather was crap. I texted her and asked if she really wanted to brave the wind and rain on her second day, to which she said much to my amusement that this is what she thought England was like! Hahaha!!! What a lovely image to have as a nation. She said she felt really uneasy in her house so I agreed to meet her and we'd go on the bus together to the campus, as she'd not done the journey before!

So. It was a bit of a race against time! We left Worthing just after 5pm and aquaplaned most of the way to Brighton along the A27. It dawned on me during the trip that buses must run less often on a Sunday, so I grabbed my phone and checked the Brighton and Hove Bus app - very handy, if confusing to operate! Our bus was at 5.50pm so I had literally 5 minutes to change my top, shoes and brush my teeth before flying out the door again.

I had hoped to see my Facebook friend at the bus stop already or coming down the road towards me within moments. Nope. I had given directions but perhaps they weren't clear enough. I heard my phone go off and already knew what it was going to tell me! My friend was lost. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Thankfully, I sort-of knew where she was and said to her that I'd come find her, so off I went on a 5 minute power-walk. I got to where she was, and I use that word with emphasis, because she wasn't there anymore. She was at the bus stop at Sainsburys! My 5 minute power-walk was cut down to an impressive 3 minutes, and by the time I got to Sainsburys I felt like I was going to collapse.

I looked like hell. I couldn't breathe. I was sweating. But my friend was there and she was in one piece. So that was a relief. By this time it was just gone 6pm, so the Off-Campus On-Campus social had already started. By some minor miracle, another university bus was due in 3 minutes so we wouldn't be very late. Phew.

I like to think that we built up a rapport very quickly, because we certainly weren't stuck for conversation! I try to text her everyday to see how she's getting on. She's doing a different subject to me but that doesn't mean we can't travel together and so on... I'm being quite ambiguous on purpose so I don't violate her privacy. 

The Off-Campus On-Campus social is an hour long meet-up for freshers who aren't living in halls. It was easy enough to find; the meeting house has multi-coloured windows and was apparently designed to resemble a candle.

In keeping with my no BS policy, I shall give my honest opinion here: It sucked. There were around 100 people crammed into a pretty small room which had tables with flyers surrounding it. There were no drinks provided, or any little plastic cups for the water machine thing in the entrance hallway. I mean, really. You expect people to talk for an hour and not need a drink? We were so thirsty when we got there after our bonus walking... Very poor effort.

The 'ice-breaker' was a game of person-related bingo where you had to go around and find people who ticked the relevant box. I played this game in college. It was painful then and it was just not going to happen this time around! My friend had the same opinion so we avoided the rep handing out said bingo 'cards', browsed the flyers and left!

The age range was definitely in the 18-21 category. I didn't see anyone who looked like they were a more 'mature' student. Personally, I felt suffocated in that room and could feel my anxiety levels getting to a point where I needed to be by an open door. My friend didn't like the noise! Not too long after we parked ourselves on a stone table a lady appeared who had come to collect her daughter, who was 18 and had to be kicked into going to the social.

We spoke to her for a good 20 minutes about various university related topics, and I tried to impart what little wisdom I have on anxiety as a teenager to try to reassure her that her daughter would be very well looked after here and the support services seem to leave nothing unchecked. My initial concerns were that she seemed to be placing an immense amount of pressure on herself, and that she felt unworthy of a place at Sussex. Oh how that one kicked me in the stomach. The perfect storm for eating disorders to make their presence known.

University halls are a breeding ground for eating disorders of all types, as well as drug and alcohol problems. This 18 year old girl was going to be living at home and commuting. Her mum was a professional dancer prior to re-training as an accountant. That eased my worries. Dancers, ex-dancers, teachers, we know the signs.

I guess a part of me felt the need to almost try and offer as much information as possible about managing anxiety and backward thought patterns as it was when I was 18 that my anorexia became much more severe. Thankfully, the girl in question didn't drink, much to her mum's relief!

That led us onto a mutual hatred of the way students have access to lethal amounts of alcohol, are actively encouraged to binge-drink and are served alcohol when they are clearly drunk. I hate it. HATE IT. Not only is it dangerous, irresponsible and morally wrong; but you are adding to the level of people in their early twenties with alcohol problems. I could really expand on this now but I have a special blog post in mind just for this topic, and I'd like to try and do some research.

As you can probably tell by now, my Facebook friend and I were having a much more productive and social time talking to someones mum than our student counterparts! That has to be an age thing...

By the time 7pm rolled around, the rain had pretty much stopped and mother and daughter had been reunited. She even came out with a boy which made me want to hug her with pride! Just before this her mum asked me if I'd go see how she was getting on, and she was with a group of people, looking scared and nervously chewing her jacket but she stuck it out! Awesome girl.

We left shortly after them and located a bus stop. Everything looks different in the dark and it's very disorientating!! We then had a conversation that went something along the lines of this:

Friend: "So, you don't smoke..?"
Me: "No."
Friend: "You don't drink...?"
Me: "Er, nope...."
Friend: "You're pretty straight-edge aren't you! Do you eat junk-food??"
Me: "From time to time..!"

I then had to try and explain my quiet life and it did leave me feeling a bit like a loser but I was open about how I used to drink but became dependent and have now stopped. There is absolutely no way I could study at this level and use alcohol. My friend agreed that it's not something she plans to do much of, not just because it takes a couple of days to recover!

I was curious how she was going to find the food over here, as the Italian diet is absolutely incredible. Hopefully we'll find some good greengrocers and deli's. We parted ways at Sainsburys, after I'd made sure she knew how to get home!

As I was walking up the horrible hill home, it hit me that although the 'social event' was a total bust, the evening out had actually been pretty successful. It was certainly thought provoking, and led me to some conclusions.

I can't deny what my life is, why it has to be this way, or who I am.... what I am. If people ask me a question I will tell them the answer. If that means 'owning up' to having mental illness, being a recovering alcoholic, recovering drug-addict, recovering anorexic, so be it. All of those horrible things have led me to one of the most amazing educational institutions in the country.

I'm not ashamed of these conditions I live with. It's no different to diabetes or coping with migraines. If people feel awkward, that's their problem. It's up to us, the portion of the population who have been forced to suffer in silence, to start to use their voice. If we don't talk, the awkwardness, ignorance and judgement will never go away.

Over the next three years, I really hope I can work with the Students Union and their links with the Time to Change campaign. I'm even entertaining the idea of being a Student Representative.

So that's what happened on my second day of My Welcome Week!

Next time: The School of Life Science Induction Day... *cue dramatic music*


University of Sussex : My Welcome Week : Mature Student Induction

Welcome to the University of Sussex!!

13th in the UK. 34th in Europe. 110th in the WORLD. 
6th in the UK for Anatomy and Physiology.

My first time back to the campus since my interview in the John Maynard Smith building back in April 2012; that itself is a day I won't forget in a hurry but it was a different kind of fear! It was a grey, wet day. Much like early September weather!

Just to clarify, the reason I didn't join the 2012 cohort was because of a mountain of benefit and housing drama, and I was risking losing my home. This was during the big changeover to the new 'ESA' system and no two agencies knew what to do. Income support would tell me one thing and Housing Benefit would say another. Absolute nightmare and I had no choice but to defer. Their suggestion of applying and seeing how the benefit system reacted just wasn't an option.

But here we are. Here I am. Twenty-six years old and embarking on a three year degree programme. Definitely a mature student, with some sort of useful experience thanks to my two years with the Open University. Nevertheless, I am full of fears, concerns, nausea and general irrational worries that Generalised Anxiety Disorder loves to throw my way.

I knew before I started that I wasn't by any means alone in these feelings, and the few hours I spent with fellow mature students certainly confirmed that. It might be a really crappy feeling to be stuck with, but it's normal and the university made it clear that they understood and were ready and waiting to help.

So. Saturday 14th September. 11am. That is when my journey with the University of Sussex began. Well, slightly before I guess, as I had to get the bus by myself to campus. This might be a nothing event for some, but I have only lived in Brighton 10 days and my knowledge of buses and local geography isn't exactly up to scratch. I knew there was a 'university bus', and didn't have to wait long at all for the 25 to roll around the corner. It's a £2 single ticket to the campus, reasonable, but I am waiting for my student loan to appear so I can get an annual ticket of some description.

The journey didn't take long enough in my opinion, within 10 minutes I was staring the huge concrete 'University of Sussex' landmark in the face. Oh god. I wasn't going to panic and run away. Hell no. Mental illness has taken too much from me. I've got this far, this was my goal, no way was it going to grab me now. So. I took a deep breath, found my girl balls, manned the hell up and got off the bus.

Sweating. Heart pounding despite a severe dose of anxiety medication. In case you were curious, you can still experience palpitations on the maximum dose of a beta blocker.

The walk through campus was surreal. It was quiet, but for not even 11am I think that will always be the case! There were helpful, happy green t-shirted people on hand ready to point you in the right direction. The volume of buildings and pathways was quite overwhelming, but not oh-my-god-the-sky-is-falling-on-me terrifying. I did like that the buildings were clearly named, and the signposts certainly helped too! Plus the traditional 'just follow someone and see what happens' worked a treat.

The Mature Student Induction was held in the Jubilee Building. It's incredibly posh, and does stick out against the 60's brickwork of it's neighbors... Haha! I was greeted by a lovely student rep, who guided me to the area with the free tea, coffee and biscuits. We had to register and were given a sticker with our first name, school and subject. I was relieved it wasn't one of those painfully awkward "Hello, my name is" variations.

There were about 50 people there, already in little pockets, chatting away. Oh hell. Noisy. Strange people. Scary. Scary. Scary. I found a table in a corner removed from the crowd and tried to calm myself down. The same lady that greeted me at the door came and spoke to me for a little while before we were called through to the lecture theater which was really lovely.

My school, Life Sciences, didn't have many other attendees. In fact, I found just one other person and that was during our second tea break!

Side note: We were SPOILT. Only us mature folk get free refreshments! The coffee was gorgeous and was certainly popular. There were baskets of yummy biscuits and we could just dive in! Epic. At the end of the induction, lunch was provided but sadly I couldn't stay for that. I had to go to Worthing to get more supplies to deal with my pain in the backside house.

We had three presentations to attend: A welcome from the academic registrar, a presentation on the Student Union by president Kelly McBride and her co-workers and Careers, employability and study success. We were also told in brief about the Student Life Center. I believe the lady who was due to give a more informed presentation was unwell with morning sickness - boo, but yay for babies!!

It was a lot of information to take on-board. I left at 1.30pm with quite a headache and feeling somewhat dazed by the whole experience. There was also a feeling of inspiration, confidence and some sort of 'calm', knowing I'd got the first induction out of the way without major incident. So quite a mixed bag really!!

I got the train from Falmer - which is actually very easy to find! - to my Mum's house and had lovely cuddles with my big boy, OxO, before heading back out again in search of repair materials. My mum seemed to be very proud that finally someone in our family tree is going to university and going to follow an academic path rather than one of factory or shop work. Hooray for First Generation Scholars!

Next time: My first 'social' event, including crap weather, getting lost and reassuring a mum of a 18 year old daughter! Yikes!!!

The calm before - and after - the storm?

Hi everyone!!!! :)

I'm able to sit down for a little while now and update you on the latest in the absolute drama that this move has been, and what's going on now. But first, I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me through this! I know this blog has become a ghost town the past few weeks and I absolutely hate it, but I promise promise promise it is going to change very soon!

I'm still stuck with a crappy dongle, and that in itself makes using the internet like I need/want to very hard. It's just not a blogger friendly piece of gadgetry. Sure, it does it's job in that I can access the internet but I have to be careful not to choose sites that suck up the allowance. It's a PAYG dongle, and I've already had to top it up once, following my other blog entries! There's not long left to go though, we're still looking at Wednesday 18th for broadband to be installed. It's bloody torture!

In terms of the house, it looks like a house now and not a storage unit. The major problems are being dealt with, so hopefully by the end of next week our door will be fixed, I will have curtains up and this god awful blue wall in the study papered over. We have a washing machine coming next Tuesday. You should see the amount of laundry that is just piling up, taunting me because I can't do anything about it!! I don't know where the nearest laundrette is and to be honest, I don't fancy carrying it up this hill I live on.

I did a mini house tour on Instagram, so if you missed it on Twitter just click the link in the sidebar and check out my new house! I like to think of it as a sort of 'before' shot... I have something of an idea of what I want to do with furnishings and generally turning this blank canvas into something I would be proud of. I get such a buzz from decorating... Creative outlets are definitely good for me.

Lily is doing great. I think she's settled as much as she knows that this is our new home. A few days ago she was very restless and I think she was basically asking to go home, but we got through it and she's calmed right down again. She's loving the space to run around! The only thing she's not used to is the hallways. Every time she see's me or the boyfriend walking from say the study down into the living room, she will turn sideways and get her fluff on. It's so funny!!! Of course, we always reassure her and tell her she's being a silly fluff, and within seconds she's deflated. Cats are so weird.

She's been left alone in the house twice now. Once for just over 30 minutes when we went to Sainsburys, and yesterday she had a few hours to herself while me and the boyfriend went out for dinner to celebrate his 27th birthday. We went to Brown's and it was really lovely. I highly recommend them! She did just fine. To our surprise, she'd demolished most of her dinner, used her toilet and seemed to have just been chilling out in the bedroom! She wasn't upset or hoarse when we got back, so I feel a lot better about popping out now. She'll never really be alone for more than a few hours anyway.

In university related news: I finally got my timetable and schedule of inductions. The first one is tomorrow and it's for the mature students. Oh. My. God. How did it get here?! Seriously. For so long it was ages and ages away, and now it's basically punching me in the face... For the next couple of weeks, there is either a induction, lecture or freshers event. Where I'm going to find the energy from I just don't know!! I think this first half-term is going to be basically sponsored by Monster and/or Relentless.

On Monday there is an introduction to the school I will be studying at - Life Sciences. I also get to collect my ID card and finalize my student loans so they can make their way into my bank account and save me from overdraft fees. My specific subject introduction - Medical Neuroscience - isn't until Wednesday. I'm really looking forward to that one, and by a stroke of luck and hour after that is finished there is an information session on the mental health support services. By then I hope not to be a nervous wreck but at this point in time I really don't know what's going to happen... and that suuuuuuuuuuucks.

My first actual lecture is on Thursday next week at 12pm. Molecular Biology. I'm familiar enough with it that I understood what the subject overview was saying to me, and what we would be covering. Thank god I kept my OU textbooks. I think I can find revision materials in my S104 'Life' book, and maybe a couple of SK277 books...

We still don't have a solid reading list, which is almost painful now. I don't want to go into a lecture being the asshole that's unprepared. I've been missed off a lot of mailing lists so I'm already playing catch up. Yesterday I spent most of the day organising inductions against any work we were having done at the house.

So that's about it... Thank you again for sticking with me and I look forward to sharing my freshers week at Sussex University with you all!!! :)

Lots of love


Lloyds Pharmacy Review : Talk to a private GP *

We all know how hard it is to get an appointment with our GP's, especially if you want or need to see a specific doctor. The typical wait can be as long as 3 weeks which is hardly ideal if you're anxious about the appointment, and gives ample space for Dr. Google to do his thing!

However; using the internet to solve our medical troubles doesn't have to be a cardinal sin anymore. Enter Lloyds Pharmacy and their 'Talk to a private GP' service.

"Join over 500,000 patients who’ve used our online doctor service to obtain prescription only medicines and postal testing kits without the need to see a doctor face to face.

Choose same day ‘click & collect’ from our 1,600 pharmacies or Royal Mail Special Delivery when ordering your medicines.

Our doctors are UK registered and work in our London office. Our service is registered with the Care Quality Commission."

There are three services on offer. You can talk to a GP via Skype, email or on the phone. Great! There are six GP's on staff for this service, each with their own specialty. You can meet them *here*. I love their introductions, it makes for a more personal touch and you feel you're not talking to a total stranger. There are also some brilliant videos you can watch *here* about common medical concerns and how to use asthma equipment. There are a variety of clinics and services you can access with this service too!

I'm not terribly sure how widespread this service is across the NHS, but my old GP surgery offered a telephone consultation service which was absolutely fantastic. However, as I'm of the anxious variety and tend to stammer when talking to new people I figured in this instance I would be able to communicate my concerns clearer via email. 

This service was founded in 2002 by Dr Thom Van Every, a UK trained doctor specialising in sexual health.  The service was originally called DrThom.

While working at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in London Dr Van Every observed that patients seeking help for sexual health problems found the process embarrassing and inconvenient. He suspected many patients were so put off going to the doctor that they weren't seeking any help at all.
As a result Dr Van Every set about replacing traditional face-to-face care with remote and online medical services to make it easier for patients to receive the care they needed whatever their problem.
In 2006 DrThom became the first ever online organisation to register with the government regulator of heathcare - the Care Quality Commission."

So how does it work? First you need to create an account with the service. It takes less than 5 minutes and all you'll need is your current medications and payment card. There is no paypal service, sadly, but the service is secure. Once your account is created you will have the three consultation options at your disposal.

Skype Consultation - £20
"Want to speak to a doctor and have access to Skype? Use this convenient service to speak to one of our London based doctors via Skype from the comfort of your own home or mobile telephone.
Simply click on the link below, complete the medical questionnaire and one of our doctors will Skype you at your chosen time.
Appointments are available Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 5.30pm and last for up to 15 minutes"

 Telephone Consultation - £20
"Something on your mind but too busy to get to the doctor? Don't want to speak to a doctor face to face? Book a confidential appointment and one of our private doctors will telephone you at your chosen time.
Telephone appointments last up to 15 minutes.
Appointments available Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5.30pm."

Email Consultation - £15
"If you have a problem with your health that you would like to discuss with a doctor but do not want to see a GP face to face or speak with a doctor on the telephone, use this service to send a confidential question to our doctors. Simply click on the link below, fill in our questionnaire with as much information about your ailment as possible and await a response.
One of our doctors will respond to your query within one working day. Just log back in to your patient record to read their response and advice.
Our doctors are able to respond Mondays to Fridays between 9.30am and 5.30pm."
Payment is taken in advance, and is refunded if the GP is unable to answer your question. I have had two questions rejected and both would be considered 'mental health' concerns, so this is something to bare in mind. My first question focused on mood and hallucinations, and the second was about grief. 

While I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why these type of questions are not suited for this service, it does make me wonder why there isn't something available. Surely those with mental health concerns are most likely to use an email consultation service to address their concerns. It is incredibly scary to take that first step to accessing treatment, and an email service seems almost ideal. Of course, I can see the ethical concerns of patient safety and the need for observational assessments that a face-to-face appointment would allow for. 

I think in terms of the initial appointment when presenting with mental health concerns, it is more seeking validation that there is a genuine problem like depression rather than 'the blues' which you just need to 'get over'.... or whatever choice phrase or comment has been thrown your way prior to seeking help from a GP.

Unless my specific questions were just too psychiatric in nature to be answered, from personal experience, I don't see why the standardized questionnaires for depression and anxiety cannot be utilized. Even if the maximum scores are reached, this knowledge should be enough to encourage the patient to contact their local GP service. In fact, having the scores to hand will perhaps trigger a more immediate appointment. But that's just me and my opinion. I'm sure there's a mountain of red tape behind why this isn't possible!
Back to the consultation. Seeing as I wasn't getting anywhere with mental health questions, I decided to see if a more 'typical' GP question would yield anything helpful. A few days ago I noticed what looked like eczema making a comeback on my arms and scalp. I had it as a child and vaguely recall my doctor attributing it to stress and anxiety, so I decided to see what would come of asking if eczema could be triggered by stress. I believe my question was uploaded at around midday. At 5.36pm I got a reply, and a text alert informing me of this.

"Dr G Taguri GMC:6129350 says...

Yes stress can make eczema worse. It may also be the physical work of moving such as cleaning, using lots of water and products and the dust. The most important treatment for eczema is emollients. So make sure you are using a gentle shower wash (such as Oilatum) and not soap and also moisturising with a good moisturiser such as E45 or Aveeno. If it is still not better then you may need to see your GP for some steroid cream.

Thank you for using this service."

Solid advice and useful information. I do remember confusion around E45 or hydro-cortisone cream in my earlier years, but I think that was just my mother not paying attention. Oh, and in case you were wondering, emollients is just a posh word for non-cosmetic moisturising cream.

I didn't know that the physical side of moving could aggravate the condition, but I was very careful when using cleaning products and always doubled up on non-latex gloves. I guess there's only so much you can do, aside from paying someone to do the backbreaking cleaning for you!

Thankfully E45 is very cheap OTC and available pretty much everywhere so I will definitely pick some up the next time I'm able to. 

On the whole, I have mixed feelings about this service but as a mental health blogger I am coming at this with a slight bias. But it is indeed possible I am among a group of people wishing for something that isn't practically possible within the rules of the healthcare system we live in, and that's fair enough.

For general medical concerns that are pretty straight-forward, I'd say this is an ideal way to get the issue dealt with swiftly. Sometimes parting with £15 or £20 plus the cost of a prescription - £7.65 - is worth it if something been troubling you for some time or you just can't face the wait at your usual surgery. For those 'embarrassing' problems that GP's have seen hundreds of times over in their careers, this is great.

While my reply from the GP seemed short, it was concise and to the point so there's no information overload which can sometimes happen in appointments! Let's not forget that a telephone or Skype consultation gives you up to 15 minutes, which is practically double the 'target' GPs have in their NHS clinics. Shame on the government for putting that kind of pressure on doctors, but that's another rant. 

Would I recommend this service? Absolutely. In certain situations the extra consultation time can be invaluable and the swift resolution of minor ailments or those awkward questions is something everyone can agree is nothing shy of fabulous. 
They even have a blog! Give it a click and have a read of the brilliant posts by the talented GPs! :)

Checking in, at last!!!!


:) :) :)

Oh my GOD. This move has been nothing but drama, but after 5 very intense days of cleaning, packing, unpacking, swearing and shouting, I'm able to come and say hello to you all!

Our move started at 8am on Wednesday 4th and didn't stop until almost midnight. We weren't able to sign contracts and get our keys until 1pm. Within 30 minutes of getting into our house, I was screaming down the phone to the letting agency. A fridge had been dumped in our kitchen, in place of the nearly brand new one we were supposed to be using. That had been taken by the previous tenant. In it's place was the most REPULSIVE, DISGUSTING, FOUL SMELLING thing you would ever come across. There was rotten food, maggots, other bugs and the smell filled the house. Naturally, I hit the freaking roof and demanded a replacement. The letting agency sent a woman to clean the fridge. I opened it for her and she nearly puked. Ha. We had a brand new fridge freezer delivered within hours. Good.

We had a washing machine on order and ready to be delivered that day too, but there was one waiting for us. Weird, we thought, as we directly asked the previous tenant if it was hers and whether she'd be taking it with her. It was also dumped from the same house as the washing machine. It was well over 10 years old and wasn't plumbed in. It was included in the inventory we got with our tenancy agreement. Well, a washing machine was. We are currently at a deadlock over who's going to foot the bill for a replacement, as I gave them no choice but to remove the filthy old one from my kitchen.

To be honest, at this point I'm willing to just call it square and me and the boyfriend will pay for a brand new machine and the letting agency can send their plumber to fit it in for us.

We also have problems with our front door, windows, lights and water pressure but these are being dealt with next week hopefully. I believe tomorrow we have an electrician coming so that's a good start...


Lily has been absolutely amazing. She's taken to her new home really well and absolutely loves the space. Once the garden is secured she can start exploring even more! At the moment she's at the stage of going to the back of the house to check things out then shouting for mummy because she needs to check I'm still around. Silly girl. She loves watching the new people and birds outside.

We've been so, so busy trying to sort everything out that I've had absolutely no time until now to come online properly. I'm using a dongle because Sky don't seem to install broadband the same time as their TV, very irritating. Thankfully Argos came to the rescue with this £20 Vodafone dongle which is PAYG.

This is absolutely exhausting. I've broken every single nail. My skin is disgusting. There isn't a part of my body that isn't painful. I can feel tears brewing but they just won't come. It's just...... really overwhelming.

On the up-side, I'm fully registered with Sussex University and due to start on 16th. It's really lame, but I loved that you could sort out your council tax exemption during the process! Every little helps. I have so many change of addresses still to do, and deal with EDF. Funnnnn.

My girl room is nearly put together. I have permission to decorate so next on my list is to get some wallpapering done! I can't stand bare painted walls.

Hopefully next week I'll be able to come online more and start reconnecting with the outside world! I've really, really missed talking to you all. I cannot thank you enough for sticking with me through this quiet patch, it means the world to me! 

Sadly, it's time for me to get back to unpacking.....

Lots of love!!! <3
Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.


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