Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Lecturer Lectures

Today I stumbled upon an article for The Telegraph, where a lecturer slates modern students for using 'Extenuating Circumstances' as a 'sick note', or in other words, an excuse which is not justified. Here is the link to the aforementioned article:

I cannot explain the anger and disappointment that I felt when reading this article. It is unacceptable that an educational 'professional' should disrespect students in such a way.

I would venture to guess that Mr Fischer has not experienced any of these circumstances that he condemns as not 'reasonable', namely 'Asperger's, autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia.' I come to this judgement, because if he did know anything about how they affect a person's ability to function daily, let alone handle high pressure situations such as exams, then he would not make such a controversial comment. I accept that I may be a little biased in this view, as I myself am a recipient of special considerations due to anxiety and depression, and in my first year I was granted deferrals of exams because of bereavement. However, one thing I want to make very clear, is that I have never used my disability to manipulate my deadlines or results, contrary to Mr Fischer's allegation 'students who had some "disorder" [were] extraordinarily able in using their disability to their advantage.' To an extent, I agree with Mr Fischer here, as I do not feel that my problems are serious enough that they affect the majority of my work, and my command of English. Yet, his flippant referral to 'some "disorder"' really does show off a great ignorance. Whilst I accept my problems are not as debilitating, this may not be the same for others. It may be true that anxiety or depression may not affect one's ability to write a sentence, but it affects what that sentence may be, and Mr Fischer especially should know, as a lecturer of English, that what you say is of vital importance. A mental disorder can severely affect a person's way of thinking, for example blocking creative flow, and what is produced from this state may be completely different to what would be written when of a clear head.

Perhaps even more disturbing is Mr Fischer's dismissal of universities as institutions that should offer support for their students. He claims 'it's their job to set a high standard, and it's the students' to reach it, whatever their difficulties.' Universities are extremely high pressure environments, and have no structure to support that is ridiculous. In fact, it may be important to consider whether these disorders that he dismisses may be a result of the stress caused by university rather than excuses.

I can understand Mr Fischer's frustration to an extent, where he feels that students are given an easier ride when they are undeserving. Whilst I know people who do definitely deserve extenuating circumstances, I also know people who have been granted allowances when they should not have. However, I still think that Mr Fischer's argument is very small-minded, and his anger is misdirected.  He seems to idolise the past as a time where 'reasonable adjustment' was minimal, assuming that this was a result of better guidelines and better students. Despite clearly identifying changes in the system, he seems to ignore other factors. For example, how many more students now attend university, and how so many more people have the confidence to apply. Perhaps the reason why a disorder like autism was not previously accepted as extenuating circumstances, was that those who have autism never felt like they would have the chance to go to university. As well as this, in the past, a lot of mental illnesses were not named or properly diagnosed, and this lack of awareness could also easily account for their absence from 'reasonable adjustment.'

Either way, times are changing. Instead of berating students for increasingly using extenuating circumstances, we should be cheering their efforts to continue with their studies despite whatever problems they are facing. The fact that more people have the confidence in themselves to attend university and get a degree is an amazing thing, and we should celebrate that.

I suggest Mr Fischer should focus on his teaching; the fact that his students don't know what makes up a sentence doesn't speak highly of his methods.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Too Hot to Trot?

Yet another example where a school are more concerned about 'reputation' rather than the mental and physical health of their students.

The school pass off the exclusions given to the students by saying that it was for 'defiant' behaviour, but in this case, the students are being defiant against rules which are potentially endangering their health. Why shouldn't others be 'defiant' if what they are doing is fighting back against pointless rules that have negative results. There is absolutely no reason why these rules should be imposed in the first place - what does it matter if a student doesn't wear their blazer around the school? Even for the purposes of the institution's reputation it is pointless, as no members of the public would see them. I'm sure a school would argue that prospective students and their parents may be looking around. But I imagine they would rather see calm and happy students at ease rather than students appearing uncomfortable and ill, and I know that I would be both shocked and angry that a school was treating their pupils in such a way.

Attitudes of schools need to change. They need to see past their concerns of ranking and 'reputation' and realise a good school is one with happy students who feel that they are supported and respected in their learning.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Commend or Command?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw that one of my friends had shared this article with a heart emoji, implying that she was moved by its content.

I agree that the main message of the piece is incredibly important - people should be able to wear whatever they want, no matter what their gender or sexuality, and uniform can often be a barrier to this. But unfortunately, in this particular instance, the message is hidden beneath a school's selfish focus on reputation and thus a lack of understanding of what today's society is all about (freedom to be whoever you want, however you want).

Whilst it is great that this boy was commended for wearing a skirt to school - though as the article goes on, this becomes more questionable and more likely to be an excuse after the event to save face - it should not be a revolutionary event. The fact that people still think it is shows how we all have a long way to go before people really can be who they want without judgement or standards. It is sad that the boy felt the need to take trousers along with him in case he needed to change because of comments from his teachers or peers. Society often prides itself on its modern acceptance of how people choose to identify, but perhaps this is all talk.

Or perhaps this issue is much more contained. I know from experience that universities offer the open space, free of judgement, that schools do not. It doesn't matter how you look, or how you identify, you always know that you are of value whoever you are. So why are schools so different? The answer is: they don't have to be, they choose to be. This is something I am very passionate about. There is no way that a school or educational institution can make any attempt to teach their students about how appearances do not matter, when they are enforcing the opposite message in their dress codes. Uniforms are an oppressive form that contain identity and dictate who and what it is 'acceptable' to be. The boy thought he was breaking the rules when he wore a skirt to school - this thought should not have even been put in his head. Of course, schools may try and fob this off by claiming that their rules are gender-neutral, and that it is not specified that boys cannot wear skirts, and thus should not feel that they are not allowed. But then why did he feel he was doing something wrong? Having a dress code is telling people what they 'should' look like, when in reality they should be able to dress however they please. Whilst it is true that not all schools do have uniforms, there are likely to be rules of some kind dictating how their pupils should dress, which again questions how they can promote free identity when they are restricting it.

What is most disturbing about this article, is how the claims of commending the boy seem to come from this specific school in an effort to save their reputation. It is mentioned that the boy changed his trousers during the day, implying that this was an action forced upon him by the staff. But here is the comment from the head-teacher that is incredibly shocking:

'This school has worked very hard to gain a reputation as a school that supports student individuality and by people posting statements on social media that are completely false, my reputation nearly went up in smoke.'

Not only does this perfectly summarise the ignorance of schools in thinking they promote 'individuality', but confirms that their only real concern is their status and reputation. Personally, I think this headmaster's comments are despicable, and quite frankly, the school's reputation should 'go up in smoke,' if they even had one for promoting individuality, which it appears they does not. It should not take negative comments for the school to embrace, and for some reason feel the need to publicise, the expression of a person's identity. All it does, is highlight how they were not given the chance to do so in the first place. So long as schools have a uniform or dress policy, they are not promoting freedom of identity, but are potentially damaging their students by telling them how they 'should' be. The entire concept of 'what is acceptable' is incredibly dangerous, and seems to impose rules on identity and appearance that should not be present.

I come back to my original point; I agree that a boy wearing a skirt to school is commendable, but portraying it as a wondrous occurrence only cements the incorrect idea that it is an anomaly, and potentially then is not right. No one considers women wearing trousers as out of the ordinary, so there is no reason why men wearing skirts should be either. If I walked into university tomorrow, and a male student walked past in a skirt, I wouldn't bat an eyelid, but more importantly, I know that no one else would either. We all know that a person's appearance is a way of expressing who they are, and what it is to be comfortable in their own skin. Of course, appearances are only one part of our identity, yet it is perhaps the part that many feel the most pressure to be content with.

So how do schools reckon they can encourage their students to be whoever they want, and that identity is a free choice, when imposing a set of 'rules' to restrict it, and creating false ideas of 'what is acceptable?'

Answer: they won't.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Love Yourself

Here I am, spending my evening the same way every student does - procrastinating - when I come across a rather questionable video on my Facebook news feed. It shows a couple of women putting tape around their necks, to pull their skin tighter in an effort to look younger and thinner. I was shocked that women were resorting to ridiculous measures for something that makes hardly any difference to their appearance. For curiosity's sake, I clicked on the video which provided me with the link to the product. Here is the link for anyone who is interested.

The first words I saw were 'sixty is the new sexy.' This disgusted me on so many levels, that I felt compelled to write this post. I was incredibly surprised to see it described as a 'medical grade tape', seeming to suggest that medical professionals would encourage the use of this product. All I can ask, is why on earth would someone use this product, let alone create it.

It is bad enough that there is so much pressure amongst young people regarding their appearance. They are told they have to look a certain way, and if they do not, then they look wrong. Of course this is not the case. As someone who was not happy with her looks at a younger age, I can relate to the desire to improve your appearance. I went to an all girls school, and was constantly surrounded by girls who I deemed prettier than me, and who got attention from boys. At a Year 8 disco, I was told by one of my friends that a boy had referred to me as 'ugly.' From that point, I decided to give up with my appearance, in the hope that I would grow out of it. I'm not sure if I did, or I learned to love how I look, but now I am happy with my appearance, and do not care if other people are not.

There is always that idea that you have to look good to be attractive and get attention from others. I am not going to lie, being asked out a few times towards the beginning of university did give me a confidence boost in regards to appearance. For some reason, my logic was that by liking me, they must find me attractive, and therefore my looks must not be that bad. Yet, this was one of the reasons I did not want to date any of them. I didn't want someone to like me straight away based on my looks, I wanted them to like me after they'd got to know me, and my personality. Luckily, I have found such a person. I know he appreciates my looks, but I also know that he wouldn't care if my looks changed. I could shave my hair off, I could dye my skin purple, and I know he'd still love me. I wouldn't care about my appearance either, because I know that he and others love me for who I am rather than how I look. Thankfully, now I do too. I am thankful to that boy who called me 'ugly,' as because of that, I realised I had a cracking personality and that was worth way more than a pretty face. As long as I appreciate myself, that is all that matters. I do still dress up and wear make up when I go out, but I do it for me, not for anyone else.

It is despicable that society, possibly even medical professionals, are encouraging women to change their appearance. In the case of this product, it goes beyond outrageous. They are sending the message that the natural process of ageing should be stopped, and that it makes you unattractive. Whilst their selling point may be that it's an alternative to cosmetic surgery, and therefore harmless and a great deal cheaper, it reinforces exactly the same message, but on a more extreme level. According to them, it is not good enough to be yourself, and you should do something as ridiculous as put a bit of tape on your neck to attempt to combat the inevitable force of nature and age. Apparently, everyone should have flawless skin, with no sagging or wrinkles, and they should strive for this appearance at all points in life.

The video of the product in use shows both a younger and older lady using the tape to pull in the skin around her neck. Not only does this emphasise existing pressure on young people to critique their looks, but also creates this pressure amongst older people. Yes, there is the existence of anti-aging products, and people do have cosmetic surgery to reduce wrinkles and saggy skin. But never has attention been so blatantly drawn to these supposed issues of aging. I have always accepted that I will grow old - after all, it is part of life, and it happens to everyone. So why are we being told this is wrong? Why are we prioritising pathetic beauty products and treatments over nature and health? This product should not exist, and the fact that it does, shows just how distorted our society has become.

I will say this in the plainest terms I can. Appearances should not matter. Love yourself for who you are, and not how you look. Everyone is beautiful. Aging is a beautiful process, and we should embrace it, not try to stop it. As a society, we need to change, and the change starts here.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Freshers Fear: Part 2

University is one of the biggest steps in life, which makes it hard for everyone, but perhaps even more so for those with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Here are a few tips to help make the transition into university as easy and beneficial as possible!

1) Register with your university's mental health services. This can be a serious help. I registered with mine when I registered as a student in the summer before university, and it made me feel so much more comfortable to know that I already had people who knew my problems and could help me. Together we worked out a system for exams - in Year 13 exams were a real problem for me, and I didn't want to take that chance again, as it really affected my academic ability. I was allowed to do exams in a room by myself with extra time and rest breaks should I need them. This massively improved my confidence for my exams, as I knew that I would be in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

2) Tell someone about your problems. If you have at least one friend who knows that you are struggling, this can take the weight off your shoulders. I made sure to tell my flatmates when I moved in, as I suspected that my anxiety would be at its worst in the proceeding days. They then knew the signs of when something was wrong, and when I might need support. As well as this, from talking about it, I have met other people with similar problems who understand how hard it can be, and we have worked through the hard times together.

3)  Don't hide away. You might feel safest holed up in your bedroom, but resist the temptation to do this all of the time, otherwise it will become a habit that is very hard to break. Even if it is just a quiet night in with a friend or two, it's great to socialise, and you will feel so much better for it! It's horrible to feel like you're missing out on things because your anxiety or depression is holding you back. Perhaps start in situations that are in your comfort zone, and then work on pushing yourself beyond this.

4) Don't push yourself too hard. Don't feel like you have to experience everything, just take it one step at a time. Small victories are the key. Accomplishing a goal can feel so good, but then can sometimes give you the confidence to agree to something that you are actually not comfortable with. You don't have to push yourself all the time - it's still ok to have a night on your own, watching your favourite film.

5) Don't give up. Setbacks can ruin your confidence and get you down. But give yourself a few days to recover, then pick yourself up and try again. You will not regret it. There may be times when you want to go home and never come back to university. Yet, with patience and determination, you will get through it. If you want it enough, you can do it.

Be strong. I believe in you!

Freshers Fear: Part 1

For many, the time for university is fast approaching. I remember exactly how I felt at this time last year as I was preparing to make the big move 150 miles across the country; excited but also terrified. So for those who are wondering what to expect, I have some words of wisdom for you, from an old second year, to a fresh-faced first year.

1) Everyone is nervous. Honestly. Why wouldn't you be, moving away from everything you've ever known to a new life of uncertainties. You're essentially thrown in the deep end. But you are not alone  - this shared fear will allow you to bond with your new flatmates and friends. Besides, you'll get lost in the excitement before you know it.

2) Set down the rules right from the beginning. You have probably heard a lot of students moaning about how their flatmates steal their milk, but it is a real problem. Of course, if someone takes a bit of your milk on a one-off occasion, it's not really an issue. But when you have your flatmates taking food that you have spent your money on, it does get very tiresome. If you have any alcohol or food that you don't want to be eaten, hide it in your room. (This is obviously within reason - unfortunately I could not hide my ice cream in my room, and could therefore not save it from the hands of my greedy flatmate - twice). Also, this doesn't just apply to food. Living with other students means sharing, so make sure that you let people know if you have issues with them using your cooking stuff. In a perfect world, they would ask you first and then wash it up afterwards. Yet, we are not in a perfect world. There is nothing more annoying than coming home from lectures to make dinner, only to find the pan you wanted is in the sink covered in mould.

3) Even if you don't like drinking or clubbing, go to pre-drinks if it is convenient. When I first moved to university, I struggled with anxiety and avoided alcohol until I was settled. Yet, a flat in my block held a pre-drinks party during the first or second night in freshers week, where I was able to meet my neighbours and become great friends with them. Having had conversations with other blocks, I have found that none were as close as we were, often going out together in groups from the block, or even just popping downstairs for a chat. By going to pre-drinks over the year, I have met some of my best friends, whom otherwise I would not have had the fortune to meet. If you prefer the sober life, the chances are not everyone at pre-drinks will be drinking alcohol.

4) Don't go overboard in freshers week. I know there is the eagerness to go out and meet new people, but this doesn't mean you have to go out clubbing every night. Besides, there are plenty of other ways to meet people, for example societies, lectures, seminars etc. So much happens in a year at university, that you might not even remain friends with those people you met on those initial drunken nights out in bars.

5) Try new things. This is what university is all about. You have a new home and a new lifestyle - why not have some new interests or hobbies to go with it? Push yourself beyond your limits, and you might discover something that you love.

6) Go beyond the university. Explore the city. Quite often, campus universities are out of the city. Personally, I only went into the city a couple of times in first year, leaving all of the exploring until after exams. I honestly wish I had done this sooner, and taken advantage of the places that were nearby - remember, that you will be likely to move into a house in a different area for second year.

7) Remember that you are at university to study. Too many people get caught up in the student stereotype of clubbing and drinking all the time, because first year doesn't count towards the final grade, and only 40% or thereabouts is needed to pass. However, first year is the perfect chance to perfect your work and writing style, and get used to the referencing guides before you get proper marks - make all the mistakes in first year so that by the time second year starts, you already have a pretty good idea how to write a stonking great essay.

8) Make the most of the university services. I made sure that I was known to the mental health services before I arrived in September, just so I had that comfort blanket there should I need the support. You'd be surprised what services your university will offer - make sure to have a look before you go. Don't be ashamed of using academic writing services or asking for help from lecturers - it will allow you to get the most out of your university experience. Don't let that mountain of student debt be for nothing.

9) Don't forget those people back at home. Make sure to check in with your parents every now and then, and keep in touch with your friends from school. University can be a good test to show who your real friends are - it is perfectly normal to not have much contact with friends from home during term time, but once you're back home for the holidays, the friends who really care about you will stand out, eager to your next meet up.

And finally, a slightly sillier one...

10) Invest in slippers - trust me, you never know what is on the floor. (Also just as a side note, NEVER go barefoot into the bathroom, especially if you are sharing a bathroom, and there are boys involved).

Happy moving! Good luck!

P.S. Freshers Flu is NOT a myth.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Me, Myself and My Anxiety

Imagine your biggest fear. The feeling of your heart racing, hot flushes as you start to sweat. You try to think clearly but the panic takes over. You don't know what to do. Your body tells you to get as far away as possible, yet somehow you find it hard to move.

So what is your biggest fear? Heights? Spiders? Clowns? Of course, you would only feel scared when confronted with this terrifying situation. But what if you have multiple fears? What if your biggest fear is leaving the house? Typically, leaving the house is a very ordinary occurrence, with minimal risk or danger involved. All you have to do is get up and walk out of the door.

Try telling your body that. The thought of going outside has you rooted to the spot, wanting to hide away in a dark corner and never come out. Your mind goes one step further. 'Why stop at being scared of the outside world?' it says. 'Why not also be scared of seeing your friends? Why not also be scared of eating?'

Anyone suffering from this kind of anxiety must not have any kind of life, right?


I'm sure everyone's heard all about the mental torture that comes with mental illness, or perhaps you've even experienced it. Yet, does anyone stop to look at the positives that can come from such a unpredictable disorder?

There is no way that I would be the person I am today without my anxiety. Many feel that they have lost themselves to their illness, wishing for the return of that younger version without a care in the world. Personally, I disagree. I would never trade my current self for that shy girl who hid her nose in books.

There's nothing like a great view to make you smile
My anxiety has given me understanding and compassion. Not only can I relate to those who suffer from similar problems, but I can help them through it, and always be a supporting shoulder to lean on if they need it. It has made me appreciate the finer things in life, like a quiet evening in with friends, or something as simple as sitting peacefully on the grass by the lake. Once you remember how beautiful life can be, you will want to do everything to keep it that way, for yourself and others around you too.

My anxiety has made me cross personal boundaries that I probably never would have crossed when having good mental health. Despite having never been one for going out in the evenings, there was no chance that I was going to miss out on the uni experience - it may have taken me a month or two, but I practically dragged myself out to club. And guess what? I loved every minute of it! (I have definitely been clubbing a lot more than I ever thought I would).

My anxiety has taught me how to get by on my own. Although it is my body that lets me down, I know that I will always bounce back. Personally, I find it hard to rely on people, so I have worked out my own coping mechanisms, that are sure to get me back on my feet ASAP. It has helped me understand my own mind, so that I can put these measures in place as soon as I feel the anxiety coming on. As much as I want to fight my anxiety and live without any worries, some times are harder than others, and self-care needs to come first.

My second home
My anxiety has made me realise that I can have anything that I want if I try hard enough. That barrier holding me back just makes me all the more determined to break through, making every success feel a thousand times better. After a morning of anxiety, managing a walk to the shops feels like I've won a medal. This was nothing compared to the accomplishment of leaving home to go to university. The next step is to graduate, and get a career that I love (once I've worked out what that is!).

My anxiety has made me want to push myself to continue doing what I enjoy. After a summer of being dependent on my mother, needing her to walk me to school to make it in for my exams, to move away to university seemed like the extreme opposite. In reality, it was the first major step to surviving on my own, and rediscovering all of the things that my anxiety stopped me from doing, like eating out and socialising.

My anxiety has taught me to make things happen for myself. Without the determination that I have developed from this disorder, I would never have applied for volunteering in my local theatre, or have been so persistent in my summer job search. I wouldn't have gone out and met the best friends I could hope for, and made great memories together.

My anxiety has taught me to hold onto the good things. I finally had the fortune to meet a guy who cared about me as much as I cared about him, and there was no way I was going to let him go. There were so many points where I could have given up, and let him walk out of my life, but the idea of our future together encourages me to fight back my demons and try my best for him.

My anxiety has made me who I am. And I wouldn't change myself for the world.