Step into my shoes: Growing up with chronic illness

Imagine being eight, going through a phase of constantly spraining your ankles in PE, your teachers not believing your in pain when you ask to sit out half way through for the 3rd week in a row. That started it, the belief that no one believes you, everyone thinks your a fraud. There can’t be something that wrong because if there was people would believe you.

Being nine and spraining more ankles and a wrist. Being told you can’t go horse-riding because you have an injury, albeit minor. That started the feeling that you should hide the pain because you didn’t want to miss out on the fun. Horse-riding was a passion at the time and the pain wasn’t that bad. For pain that wasn’t always going to be there when you rode it was worth pushing through.

Imagine being 11, running around in the playground getting a pain in your lower right abdomen. A pain that unknown to you at the time would plague the rest of your life. You’re scared, but feel unable to open up to your parents about it. You reach 12 and it gets worse. Your dad somehow reads your texts and says your telling your friends you feel unwell for attention. You ask to sit out of PE because the pain is beyond excruciating your scared you’ll die. The teacher doesn’t believe you. You try to play basketball despite, standing out hand on your lower right abdomen, leaning against the wall whenever possible. Because that teacher didn’t believe you, you don’t go to the medical room in the next class. You think they to won’t believe you. You internalise it even more. Hide the symptoms from parents and teachers even more.

More and more goes wrong with your body. Dizziness. Going from once being fit to struggling to walk up the stairs to your English class without feeling like you’ll pass out. Your knees hurt and you stop horse-riding. Between the abdominal pain and the knee pain from having feet in the stirrups it’s just too much.

At 14 you take ibuprofen into school, taking it every three hours instead of every four. Even then the abdominal pain rarely eases up.

The teachers think you don’t try hard enough. You should be getting better grades. But how from the ages of 11-16 do you pay attention in class when you are scared for your health but feel you have no where to turn. When the nausea and abdominal pain is distracting at best and excruciating at worst. When you are depressed, self harming and develop anorexia because you feel like no one understands you. No one is there for you and no one listens to you.

Doing your best isn’t killing yourself. It’s not pushing yourself unreasonably. It’s simply doing your best.

Maybe I should have been getting straight A’s but my circumstances meant I didn’t.

At 16 you develop ME, but it comes on so subtly. You start getting worse at climbing, cycling two minutes down the road makes your legs feel heavy and weak when previously you could easily do the entire paper round. The sore throat comes on and it never leaves, you feel tired and start falling asleep at 2pm over the summer holidays or fall asleep at 8pm in the middle of watching criminal minds. You’ve been busy. It’s nothing. You start college, the nausea gets worse, you feel tired but everyone’s tired. It’s nothing. That is until the dizziness and heart palpitations start, the fatigue hitting you like a ton of bricks at the beginning of second year. (Although not as bad as I am now). The doctors don’t know what’s wrong. They record a sitting heart rate of 135bpm but say you are just underweight. Hilariously you then relapse into anorexia, fall into an exercise addiction and push through injuries. You feel the PEM (albeit mild compared to todays PEM it was significant at the time). The what is now known as ME gets better but your abdomen and all those organs decide not to be okay. You lose weight after gaining back to a healthy weight. In pain. Nauseous. Bloated The doctor says It’s just stress.

That’s just a snapshot of life with chronic illness. We really need to start believing our young people. Really making our young people aware that we are there to listen and help. Not just stick to the standard “faking it, growing pains, stress, weight” reasons for symptoms out of the ordinary. I know had I been believed and had I felt loved and able to speak about my symptoms from the outset I would be a more confident person now. I wouldn’t have spent so much time so scared, thinking about what could be wrong with me and maybe I then would have got better grades.

The month of both excitement and tears

June feels like it’s flown by. I think that’s because I just haven’t stopped and if I have stopped it’s been because I’ve been so unwell that I’ve been unable to even watch TV.

June started with me with my family and ended with me back up north due to flat stuff. Moving out is not fun. But we move (Literally in 4 weeks from the day this will be posted). I definitely miss being home. Although my chronic illnesses are a lot worse and my family just don’t get it I’m finding it’s too quiet working from home on my own. I’m bored, not because I don’t have enough to do but because I need that stimulation of people (and dogs around). But the health benefits are certainly worth it. Lots of exciting law things happened this month. I got a video interview for my dream law firm (and then got rejected but we move).

I also got an interview for a scholarship I need which is at the end of July. The pressure is on because I need it but I’m excited. I also took part in Legal Cheeks virtual vacation scheme which helped me massively in determining what I want for career and in providing me with a network.

I really hope my luck in terms of interviews continues and I get some more interviews for my outstanding applications. If I don’t that’s also fine as I’m aware many firms have paused recruitment and it’s a difficult year. There is always next year.

My stomach eased up after I moved back to my apartment as it’s meant I can eat more flexibly and in a way that works for my body. My bladder on the other hand. I’ve spent the last week on antibiotics for a UTI that may or may not be there. It’s helped reduce the spasms but it’s still causing significant problems, especially if I dare drink more than one cup of coffee a day. I am at the moment whilst I’m trying to pursue law, trying to work my full time job and trying to sort out a job for August (I’m resigning it will be official by the time this is published).

My mum and nan are putting an awful lot of pressure on me about my decision. I’m leaving because I’m simply not well enough. I need to get my health back so although I’m looking for an ideally part time role my interest in something full time is limited to something of the dream job category. It will only be 5 months come resigning until I start my LPC so I reason if nothing I’m well enough for is available I will manage living with my parents and worst comes to worst just doing general CV bolstering activities.

There’s only so long you can push yourself for and although I am getting out of this ME flare, I think, Maybe that’s the adrenaline speaking, I need to place myself in the best position to excel in my LPC and go on to have a long career in law. I also need to recondition and doing that whilst working isn’t going well right now.

Passing out when trying to sit up after a laying down workout isn’t fun!

So that was June! How was the month for you?

Lots of learning, subluxations and theatre.

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It’s time for another week in the life. I’m definitely considering two posts a week so I can do more of these but still write the awareness raising, life lesson and inspirational posts.

Anyway lets begin.

Monday was a work day. That 9-5 life. The cases were certainly better than they had been over the last few weeks but not great so I got 22 grants. Not enough but I’m not defining myself by my work stats or any other type of grade or number. 22 is so much better than the 10 I’d been scraping! I went home after work, ate food and tried to work on a family specific training contract application.

Tuesday I started shadowing some of the harder cases although I don’t think I quite braved taking the mouse myself then! The “red cases” like the red boulder problems I’d love to be stable on by the end of 2020 are such a huge step up! Lots of cognitive power and stress and disappointment. But I definitely appreciated a chance to learn something new and to give my wrists and fingers a break from standard desk based tasks as my joints have been struggling this week. I climbed in the evening and not gonna lie it wasn’t the best session and it was hard to not feel deflated but I did what I said I would and took it easy! I flashed the new set V1s and 2-3s of the day and started projecting some “swirly’s” which I feel in my soul so hopefully I’ll have a chance to get back to them. I also did an advanced footwork class and did my first ever roof move (on a v7 to practice heel hooks). I also very much realised my core needs work and that is part of why I’m still struggling with overhangs despite my technique on them improving. But hey, after being largely bed bound for so long what can I expect?

Wednesday, I was running on not much sleep. I’ve been struggling with sleep this week. With a combination of nausea, pain and noise from the pub next door it has been hard! Anywho. I felt super ill when I woke up in the morning and the coughing fit I had caused my right ovary to act up for the rest of the day. However my energy improved throughout the day and despite my joints feeling dreadful I went climbing (yes again). There’s a womens group on, on a Wednesday night which I like going to as the people are nice, most of them are better than be and give me useful tips which allow me to be the best me and it gets me trying new things on the wall without feeling silly. This Wednesday especially was incredible. It was quite chill, we spent a while just catching up and chatting before warming up. There were some new people there and it was the first session after Christmas so a lot to catch up on! Not gonna lie, I didn’t do the 10 squat jumps we were meant to as my body just couldn’t. I would have collapsed. (Just a warning sign to the ME flare that later ensued. I accomplished two v2-3s that I had been struggling with, due to fear more than anything else and realised that actually if I commit, I can do those big moves. They look scarier than they feel! I also resent a v2-3 in a more technical and much easier way as well as getting another v3-4 with some help and support from the more experienced members of the group. That’s what? 7 v3-4 problems I’ve now accomplished. Mostly slabby but it’s start to reaching my goals despite chronic illness. My muscles were struggling hard on Wednesday. Those little legs of mine were just not okay. I think this is why I fell of a V1 that I have yet to conquer (at a low height) and partially dislocated my elbow because I was a tit and put my arm down. I (yes am a tit) and continued climbing on it, so to this day. My elbow is still not 100%. But anywho. Good session and I came out of it feeling so positive and uplifted and it just reminded me of why I love this sport so so much.

Thursday was another learning at work day. I think it was Thursday that I really started to find my confidence with these red cases. In the afternoon the ME flare ensued so I got home and binged spinning out, curled up on the sofa. I couldn’t sleep that night cause the pressure in the back of my head and the dizziness so another not enough sleep night but such is life.

Friday was an interesting one. Even more confidence on those reds although I was feeling so unwell in the afternoon that I was just like “no. I can’t.” Honestly the pressure in the back of my head and the dizziness resulting meant that I was close to going home sick because I had visions of another car park incident. Hilariously enough. I didn’t and then (more Hannah may or may not be a tit) I went climbing. Because of my elbow I took myself to awesome walls as being on an auto belay would minimise the chances of making it worse (no high impact falls. Just low impact collapsing in a heap when it gets you down). This was my first time on a rope and colourful holds for 5 years or so. MADNESS. But it was great (although exhausting). I think I just completely forgot how to rope climb at the beginning of the session so I was using my arms too much which lead to v quick “shit I’m done”. Nevertheless, I ended up staying for two hours and I don’t think I’ve ever worked that hard. I’m not exactly sore from it but at the time it felt harder than any climbing I’ve done for years! I flashed numerous 5s. There were 2 I couldn’t do, but I think because I was so tired by the time I tried them. I also on sighted a 6a and 6a+. For a first rope session in a while I think that’s something to be proud of. I very sloppily got up most of a 6b, that I probably could have done in two parts but I tried numerous times and got more solid at what I could do however couldn’t find a way around my lack of quad strength and the fact that I couldn’t push to much on the wall with my right arm due to my elbow. If I go back before a reset it’s a project I’m definitely coming back to. I also tried two 6b+s which I know I can do all the moves of in my soul but stamina and the unique difficulties I have with balance, struggling to feel my hands and feet on the wall as well as stability and power meant they just were not happening. I for whatever reason undercrimped? Is that a thing. I realised today that maybe that hold was meant for a toe hook so might try that if I go back to it. It was a good session but bloody exhausting. I am definitely a boulderer. I don’t know when that conversion happened. (Think I could also be a lead climber tho cause my issue with top rope is the rope gets in your way sometimes!) I realised if I am going to do the whole competitive paraclimbing thing there is a lot of work to do! Although it probably is better to compete this year as a practice run for when I’m hopefully stronger and have a chance of doing well so…. paraclimbing nationals at the end of the feb may indeed happen.

Saturday was HAMILTON! It was incredible. I mean it’s Hamilton of course it was. I really liked the Eliza who was on (don’t know whose cast right now in the west end soz). I mean I literally cried at burn. And then the tears just continued. If you know, You know. I also really loved Jefferson! He was great fun. And King George always is. My collarbones wearnt’t in place all day and my neck was feeling unstable but it was so worth it! Isn’t Hamilton always?

Today, I finished spinning out and asides from trying to make sure I have semi order in my flat I’m really trying to rest. I can barely stand up so not hard. But also is.

I hope you all had a good week! I will be back with another post next week.

2019 in review

2019. What was that? 2019 was a year of many many tears but also so much joy and triumph. It was also something of a blur. The fact that we are now at the end of 2019 is incredible and honestly I haven’t taken enough time this year to just stop and breathe and reflect. Hence why Christmas has been full of binging Netflix and youtube because I just don’t have the energy and I am very much feeling like I need a cognitive break. (I.e a break from applications and all that fun stuff).

2019 was a year of many, many, many rejections. From grad schemes, from law jobs. I think the year actually started with me making a youtube video about being rejected from the faststream. It now has more views than I could have imagined it to get. There were tears but actually it was a necessary rejection to get. And I think it has prepared me for when I get that far with a training contract application. Which hopefully 2020 will bring!

I had to deal with some of the worst pain flares in my life but also had managed to get my pain under more control than ever. It was months of tapering up medication, which made me really anxious and paranoid. I would spend nights awake writing my dissertation because it felt more productive than laying in bed, in the dark – having panic attacks.

Why my medication did that to me when I was tapering up but it doesn’t now, I have no idea but it lead to a v off sleep pattern and meant that come exams I had to completely retrain my body – as all of my exams were morning exams.

Despite all this – the stress, tears, pain and anxiety. I seemed to find more balance in 2019 – especially through studying than ever before. Yes I still studied ridiculous hours more days than not and it got me more than what I wanted but I started trying to run again and although it caused me to crash for a week at a time and aggravated my ankles it gave me a necessary break from the stress of revision and dissertation work.

2019 was also a year of theatre. I must have gone 10 times in 2019 and I saw some amazing shows, I also not only went to my first west end first preview (come from away) but also went to my first west end opening night (&Juliet). Theatre is something that will be left behind a little in 2020 just because of where I live and because if my body can hack it I want to really dedicate myself to climbing. These theatre trips were unforgettable experiences and I definitely recommend &Juliet because it was the most fun theatre trip I’ve had of 2019. I think come from away is the best musical I saw in the year though and I saw it twice! Play wise, I only saw two – mousetrap and the curious incident of the dog in the night-time and highly recommend both of them depending on what you want, although I think curious incident gets the edge.

Everything from final exam on was blissful, and incredible but also challenging in both expected and unexpected ways.

I struggled with not having a job, although I had the offer for my current job by then and was just waiting for it to start. What a wait that was. That struggle lead me to take on a job which I wasn’t well enough to do. I don’t know what I was thinking or whether I just convinced myself I was well enough. I must have because otherwise I wouldn’t have taken it.

It lasted two weeks and I was blissfully happy although I knew my body was struggling by the end of the first week. I stupidly pushed on, scared that if I didn’t my body would give up. Hilariously despite all the adrenaline in the world, a week later my body then did give up. The job ended in me on the carpark floor for two hours. I can’t thank the people who ignored the stubborn me, weakly saying not to phone 111 and did so anyway enough. Or the people who stayed by my side for the whole two hours. I also can’t thank the person who came to the hospital with me (even though it was her job). Although I knew it was just the terrifying realities of ME, having people there made such a difference and showed me that there is humanity in this world.

This experience, and the aftermath also taught me about the importance of pacing. Now I do still push and crash. But I am slowly learning to pace enough to not crash like that again. Or atleast I think I am.

Over the summer (before this event) I went to Berlin on my own and graduated top of my class. Winning four academic awards. Berlin was blissful until the end where I experienced a trauma that although nothing happened – has taken a while to get over and it’s still not something I feel comfortable talking about. Graduation was completely unexpected. I never expected to do so well. I went in for a first and I exceeded all expectations.

I went to London for law events, went to my first pride and started my first office job. Although I could hardly walk around the house for two weeks, I was really living my best life.

Between August and November I worked full time and lived with my fam. I was kind of working in family law and honestly I miss it. Although it was quite a boring job and there wasn’t much work to be done, I miss family law. Or maybe it’s just law I miss. I’m not sure. It also taught me that you need to be hella emotionally strong to work in family law, and I did know that before but I didn’t really understand how much until I was dealing with it every day.

In November I moved to the other end of the country, which has been a rollercoaster and a half even within the same day sometimes. I’ve realised how much energy living with my family takes from me – which sounds bad but it’s the extra stimulation. I went through 50 shades of stress and tears with wifi, work, doctors and medication. But I also started climbing again as I’m sure my last few posts would have you gather.

I have no new climbing snaps but I have done so much more than I ever thought I would. I started like “lets just do greens” on my first session back. Inevitably ended up realising many of them were too easy and challenged myself a little more. (Like up to V1). By my second session I had got a few V2s and potentially a V3. The year ended with me getting my first V4 in 3-4 years. I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again. I sincerely lack muscle. So it’s not as easy for me as it was 3-4 years ago. And certainly not as it was back when I was 16 and could do pullups on four finger crimps.

Technique really is all I have. Although I think the strength is building and will build as 2020 goes on. My first bouldering session of 2020 will be anti-style V1s. I.e the V1 oranges in the gym that are still up when I go and that I can’t do yet. Now these are V1s that are as anti-style as we can get. Often combining many anti-styles as I’ve not just been working slabby slabs! I’ve been doing a much wider variety of problem since coming back into the sport.

It will be a mentally challenging session, what with worrying that people in the gym think I’m useless. I tend to crumble under pressure. It’s not good. My best moments in climbing are never seen. But it is a necessary step to becoming a more well rounded boulderer. My goal for 2020 is to be back up to the V5s but to be more consistent with them. Now absolute anti-style V5s may be a stretch but a consistent good variety of V5s is what I’m aiming for and maybe we’ll surpass that.

That’s all I have to say for now. I hope you all have an enjoyable, productive and transformative 2020. There will be challenges, as in every year but none that cannot be faced.

Being true to yourself never goes out of style

photo-of-woman-looking-at-the-mirror-774866.jpgHad to take a Legally Blonde quote for this one.

Living with a Chronic Illness is tough, being LGBT+ can also be tough. Having a job as a stopgap to hopefully bigger and better things – also tough. Life is tough.  And there are many situations you may encounter in life where you feel you need to not be yourself. Where you feel you should pretend to be someone your not or downright lie as to why you want to take x day off. (As the mother suggests and does often).

Maybe there’s a bit of Hufflepuff in me, but I value honesty and integrity. I don’t want to be living a lie and I want the freedom to post about events I’ve attended on social media without having to worry about who’s seen it.

I used to try and pretend to be someone I’m not, fit myself into that perfect mould that people told me to be. Attempting to conform with that on application forms, contemplating the mould in the decisions I made in life and when I was a lot younger, pretending to be someone I’m not to make and maintain friendships.

My advice is don’t. Also don’t lie. Chances are you’ll get found out eventually.

I’ve got a lot further when I’ve been honest. When I’ve shown my genuine passion and interests.

I’ve also got myself into very bad situations from not disclosing my disability and as a result having to push myself more than my body was capable of. This caused a decline I haven’t come back from in 2017 and over the summer it caused some psychological trauma from being on a carpark floor in front of colleagues for two hours and having to go to A&E. It also caused me to be unable to walk for two weeks and drop attacks that I am only just getting some control over.

Never had this made being true to myself ring so true.

I have also found that I am a lot happier when I am being true to myself. In whatever way that may mean. It also helps me to create a narrative I can use throughout my training contract applications and soon LPC applications (I’ve heard this helps).

So yes be true to yourself. In all parts of life. Now this doesn’t mean sharing everything and anything. There’s a lot I don’t share. I don’t share the details of my illness in anywhere near as much depth as I feel them, for example. It just means being honest, and not pretending to be someone your not.

 

 

How to write a first class law dissertation.

 

So this weeks post is going to be a law post instead of a chronic illness post. And more specifically a post for law students who are either currently trying to write their dissertation or want to get a head start on the whole process.  Now my only qualification is that I myself got that magical first and in doing so I saw that there were few blog posts dedicated to legal dissertations.  So what I want to do here is give the graduates perspective on getting a first in your dissertation.

The first place to start is with choosing your topic and more specifically the question that you want to answer. The number one most important thing here is to make sure that you are passionate about what you want to write about. As much as you can anyway, as at least with my university you need to write three proposals and the uni gives you one. If that’s the case then spend a lot of time thinking about the three proposals you put down. Ensure that you can really see yourself spending a year working on any one of them. Passion makes the whole thing so much easier – I found that I actually wanted to work on my dissertation and enjoyed doing so because the topic was so me.

When choosing a topic you also need to do your research and I mean proper research not just reading the relevant textbook chapter or lecture notes but actually start looking into journal articles and case law. You need to look out for whether there is enough but also to make sure that there is a gap in the scholarship and the law for your dissertation. It also helps if your topic is current.

Don’t be shy. Ask for help. Be that friends, family, professors. Sometimes just talking out your ideas really helps. I also mention this because from my knowledge it is common for people to need to refine their questions and if your supervisor says this do not get disheartened and work with them. Easier said than done I know. I wasn’t asked to refine my question and I didn’t refine my question but I can imagine it feels a bit like falling at the first hurdle. But you haven’t fallen and you have got this.

But Hannah, my problem isn’t my topic. I have my topic, I have my question. I just don’t know how or where to start. 

I definitely relate to not knowing where to start. It can all be so overwhelming but I’m going to share some planning and writing tips that should help you get over that block. Although it’s important to remember that we all work differently and ultimately you need to do what works for you.

Firstly it’s necessary to make a brief and flexible plan, utilising your initial research. Essentially, write down each overarching concept, idea or argument that you want to cover. This will really help you break your dissertation down into chapters and sub-headings within those chapters. This and be done in mind map format or in a word document or you can handwrite it and stick it upon your wall/place it at the front of your dissertation folder, on your desk or whatever works for you.

I had a mind map, I had random scribbles in my notebook whilst I tried to work it all out in my mind, but for this I used a word document, as then I could add research to it as I went along either by writing in my own words, copying and pasting or just “see y at line 34.” This really helped me keep my research, which there was a lot of, organised and help see the links, as well as where I maybe needed to do some more research, and what that research needed to consist of. It is so essential that you keep your research organised in whatever way that works for you and your dissertation.

Set a schedule, set deadlines. Be that “I’m going to work on my dissertation on a Wednesday,” or something else.  That will definitely help you get from the overwhelmed stress procrastination block and mean you don’t leave it all to the last minute.

So what do I do now I’ve started?

Immerse yourself into your topic, but if you need to take time out that’s okay to. It’s a marathon not a sprint and wellbeing is a key component to success.

Use your supervisor to your advantage. Use them way more than I did. You are not a burden it is quite literally their job and if you have a good supervisor they can be a real helping hand.

Keep a notebook or a section of a notes app or both with you at all times for those random thoughts. Most of them will be useless but some will be gold.

Make use of a wide variety of sources for your research, don’t just look at legal journals, books, cases and legislation.  Use videos, podcasts, or even journals from other disciplines if these may be relevent. This can definitely help with motivation as well as give content that is laking in the legal resources.

Keep challenging yourself to go deeper, get others to challenge you. Writing a first class dissertation isn’t easy for most of us and I certainly submitted it knowing that that piece of work was reflective of the top end of my academic ability at that time. To add on to this believe in yourself. A first is not out of reach.

Proof-readers are essential. Especially if your chronically ill and suffer from brain fog. Once you’ve spent that long on something an extra pair of eyes or two are useful to let you know when you’ve made a typo, when something doesn’t make sense, is repetitive or where there’s a grammatial error.

Finally, make it original. Come up with an original solution, an original justifiation. Add a bit of personality to it. Some level of originality is needed for a first and adding a bit of personality to it will help keep your examiner interested.

This is longer than I wanted it to be but to close, you can do this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I graduated top of my class… and here’s what I’ve learnt.

 

It feels like it’s been a really long time since I last wrote a post despite only being a couple of weeks.

This is going to be a bit of an odd one but because it A level results day tomorrow, an important one for multiple reasons.

As the title says, I graduated top of my class. An achievement I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Especially because I went into university feeling v out of depth after royally messing up my A2s. I was incredible as an AS student and excelled in law and psychology, also had a bit of a knack for business.

Fast-forward to A2 results day, I achieved C’s and D’s, meaning I ended up with 3B’s. Not that 3Bs is bad. But I was meant to go to a Russell Group. At the time, it was disastrous and to tell you the truth it affected me for far too long.

See, what I didn’t realise then was that grades are not the be all and end all of life. One bad day in that exam hall doesn’t make or break you. Yes it may put a few extra obstacles in the way for certain industries. I know it means I am unlikely to obtain a training contract with a magic circle firm.

BUT NO MATTER WHAT THOSE GRADES YOU CAN BE SUCCESSFULL IN YOUR OWN RIGHT.

And I hope that me graduating top of my class, despite essentially being near the bottom of my class when I entered uni (based on A level grades) shows that.

On a more serious note graduating top of my class and winning a grand total of four academic awards took a lot from me. And I want to let all my fellow perfectionists out there that life is not all about grades and academic awards.

I was in a bizarre position entering third year where my ME was so severe that I couldn’t engage in extra curricular activities due to the amount of walking involved to get to one. Due to the upright time it would require. And I think that pushed me to do so well. Because at the beginning of third year, all I could do was my degree. I could lay in bed and stare at a screen – it was the thing that kept purpose in my life and once I started to improve I was so deep in achieving my goal – to be the best I could be. To get a first that although I allocated more time away from the degree or complete rest purely because I had more hours in the day and was less liable to complete and utter, complete non-functional crashing, it still took a substantial amount of my time.

If I was healthy. I wouldn’t have done that. I would have been more engaged in Drama society, in volunteering or a job and I would have ended up with an average degree.

And that is okay! For three reasons.

  1. There is more to life than grades
  2. Employers value experience more than you being top of your class and winning four academic awards. (Trust me. Yes I have two provisional job offers but no legal work experience or training contract in sight)
  3. MENTAL HEALTH (and physical health) IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR GRADES.

The third one being in capitals because it is the most important. I am fortunate that my mental health was for the most part positive in my final year of university, my ME improved and I got more of a handle on the suspected endo monster than ever before.  But there was a lot of stress, there were tears. There were stress runs away from my dissertation even though those runs caused excruciating chest pains, felt like dragging my legs through cement whilst they were being weighed down with lead weights and inevitably caused a bedbound day 48 hours later. My sleep pattern was for the most part non-existent until I realised all of my exams were in the morning because ME/CFS sleep issues + pain + stress = han in too much pain to sleep, up until 4am frantically writing and reading about gestational bonding and whether that is a valid argument for the unenforceability of surrogacy arrangements. I partially dislocated joints in every exam, sat one exam whilst on antibiotics and another whilst having a bit of an endo flare.

I did this all because I genuinely wanted it, because I had nothing else, because I’m a workaholic and more importantly I love law. It created a perfect storm.

But just because I did it doesn’t mean you should, or you’ve failed. And I hope this goes to show that one bad academic year doesn’t mean you’re doomed for failure for the rest of your life. I also hope I’ve reminded you that self care is so important and more important than any grade could be.

As a perfectionist that’s difficult to accept, I know. The only reason I’m not doing 24/7 LSAT prep at this point is because I know if my brains not working it won’t be productive. Because However much I want Stanford and however much I am trying to get there, not getting in and not getting the scholarship I require is not the end of the world. The same goes for everything in life. Just because your not the best it doesn’t mean your not enough. Or you’ve failed in some way!

You are enough!

 

How to get a first in family law

Disclaimer: it goes without saying that this is not an exhaustive list and my only qualification to write about this is getting a first in family law. I am also going to try and avoid too much generalised advice and just let you know what I wish I knew before taking the module.  So let’s get started. 

  1. You need to consider the wider context – policy considerations, likely effect on the child, the political climate etc. Really consider this in essay questions and if you’re planning on thinking out of the box, problem questions too!
  2. Take a psycho-social approach to the law – You will likely have a lot of studies thrown at you in lectures or put on your reading list about things like the importance of contact with both parents, the impact and prevalence of domestic violence, the reaction of the criminal justice system to domestic violence and various other areas you will  cover throughout the course. It can be difficult to know how to utilise these and what the purpose of them is at the beginning because these are things that are not featured in many other law modules. But use them! Use them to back up a point, use them to help explain why the law is the way it is and if you have coursework critique them.
  3. The Welfare of the child is paramount – The welfare principle comes up time and time again in family law. Know S1 Children Act 1989 off by heart. Just do it. Even if you can use statute books in the exam. In revision notes make note of when it applies and which parts apply to help avoid confusion.
  4. Feminism – Feminist perspectives to the law are prevalent and easily applicable to the entirety of family law. If you have coursework spend some time discussing this where relevant and think about it for exam essays.
  5. Utilise a variety of resources – It can get confusing, but fortunately family law is well resourced. If you need to use a website meant for parents going through disputes just to get the bare bones then that’s okay. You can build up from that to get the knowledge base necessary for a first. Understanding is however key. You can know all the statute and case law but if you don’t know the reasoning behind it or implications of it you won’t get a first.
  6. Human rights – More specifically consider A8 ECHR and the implications that has on the law in that topic – could one argue A8 implications as a reason for reform?
  7. Case facts  – Okay I guess this is a more general one. They can be useful for essays to analyse whether the decision was a just one or to outright say how unjust the decision was but don’t get too bogged down with them. In problems remember that in many areas of family law each case is decided on it’s own facts. So don’t justify your conclusion based on a similar case. Stick to principles from the cases and apply them.

If you keep these in mind, they will definitely help you succeed in this module. Family law can get very overwhelming but it is certainly doable and it was probably my favourite module in final year.

If anyone wants advice relating to other modules you may take in law school leave a comment! And if anyone has more family law advice please feel free to comment!

From 2:2 to 1st

Passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law, and of life – Elle Woods

Earlier this week I received my overall degree classification and my final year module results. And well… the title says it all. I got a first. Very much feeling like Elle Woods right now despite perfectionist me trying to get me down because some people get higher firsts. Yes I need to learn to be easier on myself. I am mentally and physically unwell and a first is more than enough! But anyway, in light of the progress I have made throughout my degree I thought I’d discuss a little bit of my journey and give a few useful tips getting the undergraduate degree you deserve. This will be aimed at law students but a lot of it will apply to many disciplines.

So a came out of first year with a 2:2 – albeit a high one because my strengths lie in exams. And back in the day there was a huge difference between exam me and coursework me. Now that difference is only marginal – but still there. Exams are my strength. For some coursework is there strength. There are a few tips that arise from this point.

  1. If you know your better at coursework before going to uni select a uni that offers a lot of coursework for your course – I think for my uni it was 60/40 for my class. Which is quite high for a law degree. If exams are your strength then maybe select a more exam based.
  2. If you don’t have this luxury – which I know I didn’t, then find it in your first year and really play to it. Take exam based modules if you have the choice or if coursework is your strength, take coursework based modules.
  3. Work on closing that gap – ask your lecturers what they are looking for, what you need to improve. Read books around your course in the holidays and refer back during the year and make sure you are away of the mark scheme at your institution and what it asks of you.

In first year I was a very busy gal. Yes I worked hard with my degree and I wanted to do my best but I was also doing a lot of other things and dealing with some terrifying and debilitating health issues which I will not discuss because just thinking back to the levels of pelvic pain and myriad of other symptoms is too much.  In my first year I had two jobs, spent 6-15 hours a week doing drama related activities, debated, attended poetry society and catholic society. I did a short course in advocacy, spent maybe a little too much time in the pub, had movie nights with my friends and went to the gym 3-6 times a week.

I was for the first time ever truly living my life – maybe as a distraction from the worry about my fertility levels and also because I very much like to seize the day if the opportunity to do so arises. Hilariously, I also applied to switch to theatre and got accepted. I made pro and con lists and couldn’t decide. But the day before I had to make a decision the judgement on the Charlie Gard case was handed down and it captured me.

It was then that I knew.

I was going to persist with the study and hopefully one day, the practice of law. That is still the case. I’m planning on working for a year because I need a break and then going on to do the BPTC. I would also like to go into law academically at some point because, just like Elle Woods, I learnt to love law.

2nd year I started off trying to be as busy as I was in 1st year, despite my chronic fatigue having got worse over the summer and still very much being symptomatic with suspected endometriosis and dealing with fibromyalgia – which I think I developed towards the end of my first year.

I was on two committees, had a job, dabbled in model UN and the climbing society. I also walked to and from uni.  So it was no wonder that despite working really hard that in my first piece of coursework I only got a 53. (And it was trusts law which I really did not understand, didn’t even answer the question – as I realised once I got feedback.)

All the meanwhile I was getting progressively more ill so I cut back. I had my degree, my committee responsibilities, many GP appointments, transvaginal ultrasounds, gynaecology appointments and blood tests and that was about it.

And what happened? I took that feedback from the 53 and on the next piece of coursework (EU law) I got 73. And it wasn’t a fluke. I got 73 in my land coursework and 68 in my tort coursework.

Admittedly this was not all sunshine and rainbows. My mental health in 2nd year was appalling because of the pill I was on at the time. Cerazette I hate you. I started self harming again, attempted suicide. But hey atleast I got good grades.

Going into exams I was determined to keep this up. So me and my concentrate revision guides and Q&A’s got to work.

Just want to put a disclaimer here – do not rely on revision guides too heavily. They are useful to supplement your own work and  resources, to clarify areas you don’t understand and to improve exam technique. 

And my exam results were as follows

  • Tort: 74
  • Trusts: 77
  • Land: 76
  • EU: 69

Not too shabby at all and certainly more than I expected.

So after summer we go into third year. This year the workload was higher as we had a dissertation on top of the 4 modules. But we had choice over our modules and our dissertation topics.

Now I got really unwell with my ME/CFS and suspected POTS over summer so third year, gonna be honest. I only had my degree. But this is not be saying that you should have no life to do well. I was in a unique situation. Of being pretty much bedbound, and not very functional even in bed at the end of the summer but being too stubborn to take a year out. And I did have some life – just not as much of a life.

I spent time talking to my flat mates, had 7 theatre trips and other things happened.

But for the most part is was study, rest, attend medical appointments and apply for grad schemes (+ the interviews I had associated with that).

My health has honestly been a laughing matter this past year. I’ve managed to improve my ME/CFS drastically although I’m still probably on the mild/moderate borderline. My nausea is no where near as bad as it was in first term. But my joints are horrendous (Yay HSD), my fibro pain got a lot worse and I spent 2 months working my way up to the maximum dose of gabapentin. Which helps. But it made me really anxious and paranoid which I just deal with tbh, my mental health is still a lot better than it was in 2nd year.  Suspected endo and suspected POTS are much less of an issue but my skin is causing all sorts of issues.

But there we go. Life goes on.

I would say I learnt to love law in 2nd year but in my 3rd year I really developed that passion for law. Which I think can make everything more frustrating because suddenly it matters so much more. I absolutely chose the right modules.

It’s that passion that I believe really helped drive my success and allowed me to work the hours that I worked, despite so much going on health wise. It was no longer about just getting the grades because I need the grades. I was, for the first time, doing my degree for me and only me and because of that I wanted to do the best I possibly could.

In terms of revision it was a lot of recall, a lot of colour. I made PowerPoints for essay plans and colour coded problem answers. It was extra research where I felt it was needed or where I was just genuinely interested and it was tactical emails to lecturers, asking specific questions on things that were likely to be relevant to the exam that I needed clarifying. I asked about the structures expected of us and clarifications on the operation of specific parts of statute, sentencing guidelines and case law. It is also important to not underestimate the benefit of talking with your peer group about specific topics within your modules. And in relation to coursework lots of research and thinking. Thinking about the question, the wider context and the merits of the research itself. Again talking to your peers and getting people to proofread is helpful here.

So third year finishes and results are as follows

Coursework

  • Children and the Law: 73
  • Evidence: 73
  • Sentencing: 73

I was a consistent bunny.

Dissertation

  • 80

Exams

  • Children and the Law: 75
  • Evidence: 73
  • Sentencing: 75
  • Family: 86

I was a successful gal. In terms of academic achievement anyway. Not much else. But we have provisional job offers, we’re waiting to hear back from interviews and I’m meeting with someone about some volunteering on Monday.

I also want to note that I am not naturally intelligent and I really struggle with reading comprehension. I never expected these results and it was REALLY hard! Now I’ve finished discussing the journey I’ll end this post with useful tips and try and link a few useful resources.

  1. You need to peak at the right time! Third year is the most weighted year at most uni’s – don’t burn yourself out! Pace yourself. Take first year to get involved in all the things.
  2. If you don’t understand ask for help.
  3. Look after yourself. You won’t reach your full potential otherwise. This means trying to sleep atleast 7 hours a night, taking time to calm down. Go for a 10 minute run, do some yoga or pilates. Try to eat a balanced diet.
  4. Don’t become too isolated!
  5. Switch up your study space.
  6. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Extra research is a must – if you can go beyond the reading list that is even better – but you do not need to read everything on the reading list. If it says it’s optional, it means optional. Utilise them for coursework, seminar preparations  or when looking at specific exam questions.
  8. Attendance is key. Especially seminars but I also found it necessary to attend lectures as I focus more in a lecture than when just listening to the recording in bed.
  9. You do you. Comparison is the thief of joy. Please do not succumb to it. I know it is hard, I know law school is a breeding ground for comparison but you will save your self a lot of tears if you don’t succumb to it.
  10. Your lecturers will try to psych you out. Which makes sense. If you want to be a lawyer you need a thick skin. Be prepared!
  11. And finally, enjoy it!

Resources for law students:

And I am sure there are many other nuggets that you may find and I have found along the way. I just wanted to pinpoint the main and more universal resources.

Hope this was helpful and if anyone reading has useful tips and/or resources please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Learning to accept that things take time

Patience is a virtue

I don’t know who said that originally, but it is something that is always said. Especially to someone whom does not have patience as one of their strengths.

I am not a patient person. I expect everything to happen instantly, fall into place instantly, be instant.

But that’s not life, that’s not reality. Not for the most of us. Reality is you don’t finish your degree and bam start work. Security checks take time, DBS checks take time. Hey, the start date may not be for a while.

Things take time, and that’s okay! Don’t feel bad for things you can’t control and don’t let anyone make you feel that way.

I’m currently in this awful place of waiting. Waiting for a temporary job to start – providing I get the references and DBS. A job that I’m not actually well enough to do but I just need something so desperately and it’s something enjoyable that I would happily volunteer to do. Waiting to hear back from a graduate scheme that I’m really passionate about, which starts in October.  Waiting to hear back for a paralegal position and waiting for security checks for another provisional offer. (Although haven’t been given anything to sign yet and that ones all v vague as to start date). And the all important waiting for the module results.

And that’s okay. It’s stressful and it’s difficult but that’s okay.

In times like this you just need to take each day as it comes and seize the day! Really just appreciate the life you’re in and find opportunities for yourself. Spend time doing the things you enjoy and see what happens.

I find that makes it a lot more enjoyable and stops you falling into that – watching an entire season of friends in a day trap. Although, I do like to watch it whilst I’m doing other things.

If you have some savings take a short holiday – somewhere not too far away. I’m going away next week and honestly now praying someone doesn’t just email me like “here’s a job, start now.” Because I have plans for those four days.

A welcome break. An adventure. Call it what you will. I like to call it a bit of both.

My first time solo travelling. Yes I’ve caught planes alone and stayed in a different city alone, but never have I been to a country, where I can’t speak the language alone.

Plan your future. I feel uncertainty gives you a lot of time to think. Like me knowing that in my head and my heart I’m a barrister so if I’m going to self fund a vocational training course it should the BPTC. Not that I’d turn down an opportunity to become a solicitor. Maybe I should have thought of this last year and applied deferred but oh well. We’re thinking this year. Actually I’m thinking I might seriously go for it – once I have a stableish living city. An end of the country would be helpful right now.

Then I can train as a Barrister and go into academia later. I don’t know what money with because we all know I’ll end up trying the whole legal aid bar thing.

I quite clearly have big plans which, hopefully I’ll have the spoons to put into place. To set the wheels in motion and make it happen.

And, what I’m saying is it’s okay to take it slower for a while. It’s necessary actually. Especially if your suffering from chronic and/or mental illnesses.

It’s okay to not have it all figured out. And maybe, just maybe. If you take time out, take it slower – you’ll see new things, appreciate simpler things and realise new things.

So maybe, patience really is a virtue.