A year in the life of a student parent

 

Coursework graded, exams completed, official end of academic year reached, and thus my first year of university comes to an end.

So it feels like a good time to reflect back on the last year and all that has brought me to where I am now. A year of ups and downs, huge changes and adaptions, new friendships and old, and a lot of hard work.

It seems like a different lifetime now, but this time a year ago I was just finishing my access course. I had not long split from my husband, escaping years of mental abuse and finding my own two feet, whilst comforting my children through all the change. Despite this, I still completed the course with full distinctions and held 5 separate offers from universities. The world was my oyster, I even had an offer from Southampton for an inclusive masters.

It took me a long time to decide on what to do next, I had originally had my sights set on Exeter. But over time, for a variety of reasons, I eventually settled on Plymouth, originally planning to commute so not having to move or change the kids routines. However it quickly became clear that this would not be as viable as I hoped. Wrap around care wasn’t available for the long hours I needed and all the driving back and forth was taking its toll (and cost!). So I moved, in the first week of term, to our new home and new life.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Yes it was hard work, the actual move was riddled with problems and trials, settling in took forever and my work suffered at times, but I wouldn’t change it. I love our home and everything is now in place. I am also close to my mum now, who I just owe so much to. She is my best friend and my rock, I love her more than words can express.

University has been a rollercoaster of emotions and learning curves. One of my first fears was making friends, I have never been very good at this anyway and as a mature student to boot I was terrified. But I have been so lucky and have the most amazing group of friends now, a group of people I am truly blessed to know.

Learning to study self sufficiently and around children has been hard, and I think my first year has suffered for it. This couple with all the changes and with my condition on top, I have had a lot to contend with. However I am hoping I can take these experiences and go forward into the next few years better.

In truth I could probably write several posts about the experiences of the last year so I wont go into great detail anymore before I bore you all to tears!

I have learned so much, and experienced a great many things, from helping set up a mature students society and becoming their treasurer, to becoming course rep, which has been a great pleasure and one I hope to continue. I am now also a course ambassador, promoting the course at open days and am soon to train to be an access PALs mentor.

In reality I have achieved a lot, despite being a single mum, despite my battles against fibromyalgia, and I guess I should give myself some credit.

But yeah that will probably never happen! xxx

First Year Home Stretch

 

Tuesday morning I handed in the final piece of coursework for the first year of my degree.

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My pretty Lab Book – the last thing submitted for marking!

 

It feels weird not having any more work to complete! But now comes the home stretch of exams eek! After not performing as well as I wanted in the January exams, the thought of the next couple of weeks fills me with complete dread. And whilst I am feeling a bit better prepared than last semester, it can be a real struggle to fit time in to do proper studying around children (who are going through a non sleeping phase….joy) and other commitments. Thankfully those around me have been really understanding and supportive.

It has been a really hard time though, I’ve struggled with fibro flare ups and my mental health has taken a massive dive. But hopefully soon it will have all been worth it and I will be a third of the way through a degree despite all the obstacles that stand against me.

So I will leave it short and sweet today as I have a mammoth group study session booked and will see you again on the other side! xx

Why I chose Plymouth Uni

 

So, it’s early 2016 and I have smashed my access course! I am set to receive full distinctions throughout my subjects, meeting conditions for all five offers that I hold.

So how do I choose where to go? How do I decide where the next 3, 5, maybe more years of my life are going to be spent?

Of course, it’s obvious where my decision led, sitting here writing this post from beautiful Plymouth, but how did I come to this conclusion? What were the reasons I ultimately came to be where I am now?

I decided the best way to answer these questions would be by giving you MY top 5 reasons for choosing Plymouth University.

Reason 1 – The City

I used to view Plymouth as a concrete place, one I visited occasionally for shopping or the cinema.

I was very wrong!

The Hoe is a stunning area. Somewhere you can sit and watch the world go by. Panoramic views of an endless sea. Ships docking and sailing. Smeaton’s tower, a bright and colourful structure infusing the landscape.

Just around the corner is the Barbican, with its array of quirky shops and fantastic eateries. Various events are held here throughout the year, bringing life and entertainment to the area. Epic.

There are many other hidden gems and interesting things to see around the city, but I won’t spoil the surprise. Adventure in discovery is half the fun!

 

Reason 2 – Surrounding areas

As well as the sights and sounds of the immediate city, Dartmoor and Cornwall are both just a stone’s throw away. Both bringing vast beautiful countryside to explore, interesting villages to visit and plenty of quirky hidden gems. I particularly recommend a visit to Hidden Valley Discovery Park!

 

Reason 3 – Open Days

I visited Plymouth many times before I finally settled on the University. The open days were always so welcoming and very informative. Staff and students alike were so friendly, and I just loved the atmosphere from the offset.

If I can recommend anything before you make your decision, it’s visit and attend open days, more than one if you can, to truly get a feel for the place you are seeing.

 

Reason 4 – The Course

One of the main reasons for picking your university is the course, and this can play a large part in visiting open days, as you can get a feel for the staff and facilities you will encounter. In the end, Plymouth had the edge for me as the course was slightly different than others offered elsewhere.

 

Reason 5 – Family

Ultimately for me a lot of my decision involved family. I have ties to the navy and Cornwall, so Plymouth was an ideal base nearby. I felt the city offered the best fresh start for me and my two young children with the opportunities, not just for myself but for them as well. It is a decision I have not once regretted and honestly, I just love it here!

 

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A pirate’s life for me

One of my favourite weekends of the year has now come and gone.

Every year on the first bank holiday in May you will discover hoards of pirates descending upon the small fishing town of Brixham, in Devon. A huge festival of fun and frolics, the world famous Brixham Pirate Festival is something that really shouldn’t be missed!

For the last nine years I have been attending every festival, getting more involved and more piratey with each passing occasion and I love every minute. I have performed plays, entered competitions and for the last couple of years helped run a fundraising stall with the South Devon Players (the theatre company I am part of).

Drench a wench, fight a pirate and name a teddy were just a few of things we had running on our stall and there was so much else to see at the festival too.
Bands playing throughout the weekend, entertainment for the children, mead and gear to buy and all sorts of food and festivities to be had.

I truly urge you to come down and see us next year! In the mean time you can visit Brixham and experience our love of pirates on a smaller scale with Pirate Thursdays! running throughout the summer holidays x

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Caged freedom

A few days ago I wrote a blog post in my head, whilst lying in bed fighting through a terrible pain flare. I had a flow of words and feelings and no way of putting them to paper. It was frustrating.

Those are the days I hate, the days of incapacity. My mind fires at a million rates but I am confined to the broken body I am trapped within. Too tired or in too much pain to move, or worse both.

There is some light though. Last week I went for an assessment of needs through student finance, in order to provide me with equipment to help my studies. I was amazed and humbled by the options open to me! I still can’t quite believe it and the changes that it will bring to my life. So maybe those days won’t be quite so dark in the future and I won’t be so trapped by my condition. Only time will tell.

 

Flares, fears and fighting through

It’s been a hard few weeks. I have dealt with massive flare ups in both fatigue and pain, alongside a full moon and werewolf children!

Sometimes I can forget just how much bad flares can knock me back, especially if I have had fairly long periods of better days (I’m not going crazy here, when I say better there is still some degree of pain/fatigue, but I have learnt to deal with these over the years to my point of normal or even good).

Since becoming a single mum I haven’t had so many of the bigger ones to have learnt the best ways of coping, so it is still very much a learning curve and one that will probably take some time. But as long as my children are fed, clean, warm and happy then that is all that really matters.

I had a week where the washing up and the laundry piled up and it drove me crazy, but I have to make that decision. The decision to spend my spoons (see spoon theory) on things that really matter, like my children and keeping them safe and well and relaxing on other areas.

Luckily, whilst we have started new subjects, there are no assignments due in for quite some time. And as long as I attend practicals I can catch up later when I am more well.

There are times when I wonder if I will be able to make it through. I want to pursue a medical degree after this one and I wonder if I am mad. That this is bad enough. But whats the point of giving up? If I have that sort of negative attitude I may as well not bother, and what kind of life will I end up with then? So I fight. I fight for myself, that I can make something of myself, I can achieve what ever I dream. I fight for my children, to provide them with a better life, to show them what you can achieve and to never give up.

Maybe I won’t make it? That is a reality I may have to face, with a condition that could get worse (or better) or stay the same, who knows. But you know what? I ain’t going down easy!!

Spellbound

Its been a few weeks since I last wrote, time flies like that these days. Life as a single mum and student certainly keeps me busy! So of course I choose to add to that by partaking in some dramatics on top 🙂

Last weekend was amazing. I spent one day (all day) filming a Harry Potter fan film and it was great fun! We got soaked, and I sprained my wrist and stones got everywhere but it was just brilliant. So much fun. I have never been filmed before so that was an experience and as such I also filmed some short clips on my Instagram to try and get used to being on camera, I guess they are mini vlogs? I may do more in future, so I guess watch that space?

The next day was more rehearsals for the show I am in, a steampunk adaptation of Jack the Ripper which is due to be shown throughout July. Great fun with some amazing people and it is coming along fantastically.

Finally submitted the dreaded portfolio module, so glad it is over but will have to wait and see what mark comes of it. (scary)

So yeah pretty busy, life is good though, new and exciting things all around and great things happening. For once I am pretty happy and its certainly a weird feeling! Hope it lasts 🙂

Valentine, half term and random scrawling

This week has been a tough one, for many reasons but also a bit of reflective joy. It’s half term which is always a bit of a mad one when you have kids, but unfortunately uni doesn’t stop for half terms so that makes it extra hard, especially as a single parent.

Some mad searching a few weeks ago finally landed me upon a holiday club run on the other side of town so hastily booked it was. Worried about finding the place and how the kids would take to it were certainly top of my mind. I have only been driving for a little over a year so new places especially in a city full of big scary roundabouts, terrifies me.

We got there relatively unscathed and the kids loved it, so much the biggest didn’t want to leave! So the rest of the week went well and it got easier driving to and from as I got used to the route a little more each time. Crisis adverted.

Of course it was also valentines day this week, which is always a *joy* when you’re a singleton. No flowers or cards here just Chinese for one and some NowTV for me lol.

It does however mark just over a year since I left my abusive relationship and the journey I have had since. I have become stronger, wiser and starting to find myself again. It is really hard to come away from mental abuse, it has taken me a long time to trust my own thoughts again after being convinced by someone things are in your head and that you are in the wrong when you aren’t. To rebuild my life away from that place has taken time and is still an ongoing process. The best thing I did was move away from the area, closer to family and a proper support network. My mum is my world and I truly don’t know where I would be without her.

So yeah its been an up and down week, but I thought I would finish with another one of my old dug out poems from many moons ago. It’s simply called “words” and in some ways seems fitting.

 

 

Words

Words are an expression of our deepest soul
A community in language, speaking our lives
A single word can lead to eternal happiness, or eternal pain
Words have the power to change lives,
As well as rebuild
Everything from a gentle lullaby to a torrent of abuse
All consist of the same base….Words
Nothing can compare to their power
Nothing can escape their will
And nothing can stop there being, a last…
Word.

Once lost, now found

I finally got around to sorting out my office….well its still work in process really, but at least now it is usable!

The office became a dumping ground when I moved for anything to be unpacked later or things without a place etc. Not only was it unusable but it got to the point when I couldn’t even get in it to print something out! But now it’s sorted, yey!

Whilst on this epic mission of clearance and sortage I came across a load of my old writing. I used to write a lot, stories, poems, songs. These days I haven’t had the time or muse to produce much but it is nice to come across a selection of my past efforts.

I may post some of it from time to time, if I feel anything is half decent (not toooooo cringe worthy lol). It may inspire me again!

For now I will leave you with a short poem I wrote last year as part of a random bit of my course.

 

HOME

“Home is a strange place really.
It’s not where you stay
It’s not where you live.
Home is safe, warm and loving.
Home is special, and cannot be replaced.

It isn’t a house, a street or a country
It isn’t a nationality or necessarily where you belong.
Home is inside, somewhere close.
Where you feel safe and loved.

Home is in you and the people you care about.

It cannot be built
It cannot be made
It cannot be chosen by another.”

Ripper

It’s been a long time since I acted in anything (other than life haw haw).

I used to belong to a wonderful group called the South Devon Players and have remained close friends with them over the years. So when the auditions for their latest show, based on the history of Jack the Ripper, came up I decided to try out for a small part and take the dive back into the wonderful world of theatre.

The script is amazing and a credit to my wonderful friend who wrote it, so much talent radiates from her, she truly is an inspiration.

I am very excited to say I got a part and am very much looking forward to getting my teeth into it as soon as possible. With rehearsals starting straight away, it certainly will be a challenge for me!

I only hope the juggling of being a single mum, a full time uni degree, my condition and now this isn’t more than I can chew, but then I never was one to take the easy road!

I will post more updates as and when, and of course details of where the show can be seen as soon as they are available, so watch this space!