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!

 

Post-Graduation depression

I guess this is a follow on from my post exam depression post and quick disclaimer – technically speaking I haven’t graduated yet, I graduate next week. But for all meaningful purposes – I have finished my final year at uni and am currently waiting for two provisional offers to manifest and stressing because I like to catastrophise and prepare for the worst – mentally.

Meanwhile I see everyone else getting on in life and doing amazing things.

And I feel a little lost. I feel like I’m not good enough –  I’m not trying hard enough. Hilariously today I’m pretty much bed bound due to my CFS. I can’t adrenaline my way through job applications. The research required for the training contract application that needs to be accomplished for the week is too much for my cognitive fatigue right now.  I feel like I’m not allowed to rest because I haven’t got THE job yet. As if not having THE job defines me as unsuccessful in comparison with everyone else.

Suddenly everyone is thrown into the real world – competing for that lucrative job. Because I have two provisional offers I’m not aggressively applying for admin assistant roles until September. I feel bad for that. I feel bad for putting my time and energy into training contracts and mini pupillages for that long term plan. (Essentially ideally I’d be a barrister but a solicitor would be the more secure way and I want that security. I am also not in a financially privileged position. I couldn’t work much throughout my degree due to illness. So a training contract and later becoming a solicitor advocate is more realistic).

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because my parents have always told me I can’t. They’ve never encouraged me or nurtured my ambition so I believe I shouldn’t have it….

And my parents and ambition nurturing is another blog post entirely, but I think that’s where it comes from.

It’s difficult managing the post graduate unemployed life. When you have limited funds and no income it can be hard to justify going travelling or paying £600 for that 3 day summer school that sounds really interesting if Job 1 doesn’t manifest. Both things I am contemplating. But volunteer abroad programmes are expensive (my travels would have to add to my CV).

It’s no wonder research shows over 40% of graduates suffer with feelings of depression. Because it is difficult. People expect things of you, you feel useless, like your somehow wasting time.

It is at this time that looking after mental health becomes so important. If you have chronic illness – don’t feel bad for resting when you need to. It is at this time that it is your responsibility and no one else’s to ensure you are well enough to be as productive of a member of society as is possible and realistic for you. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t fulfil peoples requests from you. If they give you shit about it – they don’t understand and unfortunately for some people (i.e my family) no amount of trying will make them understand. Take time for yourself  – do things you enjoy. Go on  a little holiday. Remember that this is only a temporary phase and that it will all work out in the end. Everything happens for a reason. God has a plan. Whatever it is that helps you get through.

You will be okay, you will get through this uncertain period. Yes it’s difficult but many of us feel the same. If social media is harmful avoid it – or just avoid certain platforms and remember that there is always someone to talk to.

ALWAYS.

My experience with imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome has been talked about quite a lot over the last year. Having learnt about it, and listened to many others talk about their experiences through it via YouTube I thought it was about time that I discuss my experience with imposter syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome is characterized by the conviction that you don’t deserve your success. It is the feeling that you’re not as intelligent, creative or talented as other people seem to believe you are. It is the suspicion that your achievements are down to luck, good timing or just being in the right place at the right time. And it is accompanied by the fear that, one day, you’ll be exposed as a fraud.

I definitely relate to this. I have incredibly low self esteem and when things go right, I feel as though a mistake has been made. I feel like it was just luck, good timing or that it was in reality something incredibly easy and any idiot could have done it. I am not good at seeing my own achievements as a success and I’m scared that one day everyone will realise how useless I really am, or that they already know that. Understandably, this can make life incredibly difficult to deal with.

In some cases imposter syndrome can be debilitating. Although it’s not a formal clinical diagnosis.

Personally, if I get good grades I think they’re wrong. If I win academic awards I think a mistake has been made. If I get a job, I question whether I’m really good enough and whether the employer has made a mistake.

I check my final year grades every single day because I still can’t believe it’s true…

For my first two years at university imposter syndrome really effected me. Not to the point that it was debilitating but enough to be something weighing my mental state down. I got into my admittedly not great uni (In terms of league tables but I couldn’t imagine having gone anywhere else) with BBB at A level and a further BC at AS. With a couple of resits thrown into that mix too. The offer I received was ABB. Yes I know I was only one grade off but I just had that feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there, that everyone else had it all together and was so much better than me. This was especially true when compounded by low grades in my first year. (I got 2:2s in all my coursework).

I still felt the same in second year, even though my grades had improved. Like I just wasn’t enough. Like everyone else was so much better than me.

It’s difficult, it’s reality.

To my understanding many people go to through this, so people do understand. It is also possible to overcome.

If anyone else reading this feels the same or similar then please comment! And any tips for overcoming imposter syndrome would be much appreciated.

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.