Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A Busy Couple Of Hours

I got a better night's sleep last night thanks to a little blue pill.  I got myself up and into the bathroom at a reasonable hour with the intention of heading off to the library again today.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going back into the bedroom, climbed into bed and dropped off to sleep again.  Oh well, I was only making up for what I missed over the weekend.

By the time that I got up the sky had clouded over and it started to pour with rain, so walking to the library didn't seem like a good idea.  Never mind, I thought, I can do some work on the essay that I have already written, tidying it up and making sure that it fits in the word count.  I knew that it was a bit over the required count, but there was a hint of repetition in it, so if I removed that I should be okay.  Two and a half hours later I still haven't started doing any work on the essay.

I switched the computer on, had a look to see which of my favourite blogs had been updated, and sat down to read them.  Then I found that there were a couple of comments to my posts, so I moderated those.  Next port of call was the OU website so that I could see whether there was anything new there.  There was, so I read all the new stuff (well some of it anyway) and then marked everything as read.  More comments had come in on my blog.  Then there were new blogs to read.  Before I knew where I was the middle of the day had disappeared and it is heading towards time to consider what I am going to have for dinner tonight.  There's nothing much in the fridge so it's either going to have to be something out of the freezer or I am going to have to go out to do some shopping.  Decisions, decisions.

But the first thing that I must do is to sit down with the books and get on with some studying.  I can't face the essay at the moment, so I think that I will put the TMA on hold for today.  Instead I shall wrap myself up warm, put my feet up and do some reading.  I'm well ahead of the course calendar at the moment, and I want to make sure that I stay that way.  So even if I only spend an hour working on it this afternoon, I am maintaining the momentum that I have built up with this course.

For new students to the OU that can be the most difficult task.  It is daunting starting to study after what can be a significant time since school.  Many OU students have never studied at this level before and panic about whether they are going to be able to cope.  The answer is to find a time and a place that is your time, your study time.  Some people decide that they will spend a certain period every evening studying.  This is the favourite strategy of those that work full-time.  Others will choose a couple of evenings a week and make up the rest of the time at weekends.  And those that don't work can study whenever they want to.

When I worked, I was very strict with myself and did a couple hours each evening Monday to Thursday, then I would spend all of Sunday morning or afternoon with the books.  It wasn't easy because there were times when my depression was so bad that I would have to read things many times in order to understand the material and to absorb it.  Now that I don't work, I am finding it a bit easier.  I try not to leave things to the last moment.  This is mainly achieved by cracking on at the start of a course when I am full of enthusiasm.  Even though my mood has been very up and down over the last couple of months, I have managed to complete a short course almost a month ahead of schedule, and I have got to grips with my current course, that doesn't officially start until the weekend.

Some of my fellow students are quite worried by the fact that I have progressed so far.  They shouldn't be.  Most are new to this form of study and they will find out as the course progresses what the best method of arranging things is for them.  I need to get ahead for two reasons.  The first is that I never know when I will get a period when studying becomes impossible.  The second is that I am hoping to go to Canada for Christmas and two TMAs are due in at the beginning of January.  As I don't want to be having to study while I am away, I am going to have to get these assignments completed before I go.

Studying has become a way of life for me.  It's an addiction that doesn't harm, although I must admit that you can get withdrawal symptoms when a course finishes and you have to wait for a number of months before your next one begins.  It is a means of keeping my brain active, and there is a wonderful sense of achievement when I finish a course, but it can also be nerve wracking waiting for the results to come out.  My graduation day was one of the proudest days of my life, probably more than it would have been had I gone to university straight from school.  I don't think that I could live without it now.

Monday, 29 September 2008


Yes, I can report success on two fronts today.  I managed to get the first appointment of the day with my GP and got the prescription for the tablets that were missed off Friday's prescriptions and then I went to the pharmacy and got the little blue pills.

Then I went off to the library, and spent the day there working on the first TMA for my current OU course.  I managed to draft the first essay and compile the notes for the second one.  That made me feel good.  And then I had a brainwave.  Why not look to see if the library had any books about Cezanne and Matisse, the two artists whose works I was going to have to compare for the second essay.  I found a book about each of the artists, and on scanning through the book on Matisse I found that his painting that I have to look at was painted in tribute to Paul Cezanne, so there is a nice reference for me to include in my essay showing that I have read around the subject.  I decided to take the Cezanne book out on loan because although it does not include the painting that I have to write about, it does include many other examples of his still life paintings and it will enable me to make comment about his repeated use of certain objects.

I had planned to take myself out for a meal at the local Italian restaurant in celebration of my successful day, but I am too tired after having three bad nights, so I have got myself ready for bed, I've taken my night-time tablets, including one of the little blue ones, and I am going to have an early night.  I'm hoping that the successful day will lead to a successful night.  After all, I might enjoy having a meal out more on a day that hasn't gone quite so well.

The Roadworks Have Moved

Having been writing, on and off, about the roadworks outside the library for almost as long as I have been writing this blog, I can now report that they have moved from outside the library and the next door primary school. However, they haven't moved far, just a hundred yards or so up the road, so they now run the whole length of the road outside the local girl's secondary school; and the school has a substantial frontage so it's quite a long stretch.

The move, however, has meant that we no longer have to put up with the sound of drills and other mechanical equipment while sitting in the library. Life here has returned to previous quietish levels, and the almost silence is only broken by the tapping of keys on the computer keyboards, the quiet mutterings of staff and visitors, and at break times and lunch times from the children playing in the school playground.


Sunday, 28 September 2008

Depression - A Life Of Vicious Circles

Just when I think things are settling down nicely, everything goes pear-shaped again.  I had some trouble sleeping last weekend so I took one of the pills that help me to get off to sleep (not a sleeping tablet I hasten to say).  As a result of taking that I slept almost continuously for 48 hours.  Then I had a couple of quite good nights, not brilliant but good enough, so when I went for my psychotherapy session of Friday I was feeling ... okay.  

The psychotherapy session went quite well I think, at least I managed to get through it without having used a box of tissues, and I spent Friday afternoon doing some studying.  I felt pretty good, the sun was shining, and I thought that things might be on the up.  Then I went to see my GP for a check on how I was doing.  Having started medication for my blood pressure, he is keeping a close eye on me at the moment with fortnightly checks of that and my mood.

While I was with my GP, I raised the subject of my sleeping pattern.  As I am concerned about going for days without sleep, then when I take medication ending up sleeping for days, I asked if I could have a lower strength of the tablets.  GP said he was just going to suggest that, so the problem was going to be solved.  By having tablets of a lower strength, I would be able to take one when sleeplessness was becoming a problem, and hopefully get to sleep, and stay asleep, for a normal period of time, and not end up wanting to sleep all the time as is the case at the present.

At this point we moved on to checking my blood pressure and discussions of any side-effects from the medication that I have for that.  One of the problems when you have to take medication for a number of different problems is the way that the different drugs can interact and cause some pretty spectacular side-effects.  I have been reasonably lucky and not had too much of a problem with things like that over the years, except as far as antidepressants are concerned, and there I have had some really nasty reactions.

Anyway the consultation progressed, I got a repeat prescription for all my regular medication, and left with a rejoinder to come again in two weeks time.  Everything was fine.  Well it was until I went to the chemist (it's just round the corner from the surgery) got my prescriptions filled, walked home and opened the bag of pills.  I had all the regular medication okay, but the requested lower-dose medication wasn't there.  Because we had moved on in the consultation, GP had forgotten to put it on the prescription.  Never mind, thought I, you're feeling pretty good at the moment, it's not going to be a problem.  Oh boy, was I wrong.  

I couldn't get to sleep Friday night; I finally dropped off about 5am yesterday morning (if you check out my last post about being an OU student you will see what ridiculous time in the morning I was writing that).  Okay, so it was Saturday, and I don't work so it wasn't really a problem.  Yes, it was; I was awake again by 7.30am.  And I couldn't get back to sleep.  And I was soon feeling like death warmed up, without any strength to do anything except just sit there.  So I made the best of it, pottered around doing little tasks, and planned to have an early night.  Wrong again.  I was still awake at 3am this morning, but I must have dozed off shortly after that.  Then I woke up at 4.50am.  So less than two hours sleep this time.

I have tried wrapping myself in the duvet and snuggling down to get a couple more hours, but it hasn't worked.  I am hoping that writing this will mean that when I try again in about half an hour, I might succeed, but I am not overly confident of the result.  I could take one of the tablets (higher strength) that I have at home, tonight, and then see if I can get a prescription for the lower strength ones tomorrow, but I am worried that if I do that I won't be able to drag myself out of bed in the morning.  Or I could manage without taking anything tonight, hope that I can get some sleep and see how things look tomorrow.

Having depression can really lead you into a series of vicious circles.  They are something like this.  You start to feel very low; you stop being able to sleep at night; you are given medication;you can't stop sleeping all day and all night; you stop taking medication; you stop being able to sleep at night; it starts to make you feel very low again.  That's one circle, the other can be even more difficult to cope with.  You start to feel low; you stop eating properly; you are given medication which helps to raise your mood; you start to eat again; unfortunately the medication that is making you feel better is also causing you to put on weight; you cut down on what you are eating, but the weight keeps piling on; you get even more depressed; you stop eating; you still put on weight; you get to the stage where life just doesn't seem worth living; you get put on a different medication; you start to feel a bit better again, you start eating, but you have put on a lot of weight and you can't seem to shift it; you start feeling low again; you stop eating ... and so it goes on. 

I seem to have been suffering from both of these vicious circles either one at a time, or more often, both together for most of the last 10 years.  Every now and again I get a period when both seem to fade away, and I can live an almost normal life, but then some little thing starts it all off again, and I start the slip into blackness again.  I've been suffering from both circles over the last couple of months, and I had hoped that I was coming out of it, but I think I may have been just a little bit premature.  However, just recognizing what is going on can make it easier to cope with, and by setting myself small goals to achieve each day, I seem to manage to survive.

As long as I can get through each 24-hour period, I shall manage to survive.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

On Being An Open University Student

I started studying with the OU as a means of filling the empty hours in my life after my husband died.  I still worked full-time, but I found it difficult to cope with the lonely evenings and weekends, and after two of the most important people in my life at that time spoke to me within days of each other about finding something to fill some of the time, I started to think about what I might do.  Neither of them suggested anything, so the decision had to be mine, and after a few months I came to the conclusion that the thing that most fitted the bill for me was to find a course with the Open University.  At that time, I had no real thoughts of working towards a degree, that came later.  I sent off for a prospectus read it from cover to cover many times, and eventually settled for S103, the Science Foundation Course.  When I announced that I had decided to study with the OU, both of the people who had suggested I find something to fill in the hours were shocked and both commented that this was not what they had in mind.

That first year of study was difficult.  It was a long time since I had left school and getting into a routine of sitting down to a couple of hours study each night after work was not easy, but after a couple of months it became easier.  Some parts of the multi-disciplinary course I loved, but some parts I found almost impossible to understand.  I had studied physics and chemistry at GCE O-level, but these areas were almost beyond me at undergraduate level.  It wasn't only the fact that they were much harder than I remembered at school, the subjects themselves had moved on significantly in the intervening 30 years.  However, the biology, oceanography, geology and cosmology were easier to digest.  

I survived the tutor-marked assignments (TMA) quite easily, but I knew that the exam was going to be a different thing altogether.  Trying to revise for an exam when you suffer from depression and extreme anxiety is not easy.  However, I managed to answer as many questions as I could in the first part of the paper and the requisite number in the second part and I just had to hope that it was enough to get me a pass.  At that time practically all OU courses started in January/February, and had their exams during a two week period in October; marking all the exam papers must be a logistical nightmare.  The problem with an exam in October is that it means the results are released just before Christmas, so the wrong result can really put a damper on things.

As luck would have it (okay I worked pretty hard too) I managed to pass all the courses that I took and at the end of six years I had earned myself a BSc (Hons) degree.  It wasn't a brilliant degree, but it was a degree nonetheless.  However, by this time I found that studying had become a way of life, in fact, it had become more than this, it was an addiction.

Since then I have undertaken some study at postgraduate level, completed a short course, the result of which I will get just before Christmas, and I have just started the OUs new Arts/Humanities Foundation Course.  Fortunately this course does not have an exam, so that is one less thing to worry about; then it's one more course and I will have earned another degree.

One of the best things about the OU is the quality of the course material they provide.  Some courses require you to buy a few set books, but in the main all the material you require will be provided by the OU.  In addition you will have access to a tutor who will provide guidance and tuition for certain parts of the course at periodical tutorials.  The OU is broken down into regions and each region will have a number of facilities that they use for tutorials.  Your tutor will also mark your TMAs and provide you with feedback for all the work that you submit.  When your course materials arrive it's like having Christmas several times a year.  Few courses have all the materials delievered in one go, for example the course that I am doing at present has four mailings spread throughout the year.  Each mailing date is approximately one month before the material is needed, so it is unusual to not have it ready when you need it.

As the years have progressed, the OU has embraced more computer technology for its coursework and these days it is possible to complete a course without ever having to write any notes (there is now a computer application provided to do that for you), go to a library to look for reference material (the OU has a fantastic online library that is there for all students to use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), there are course forums, many course websites have all the course material in pdf format, so that you can access your books wherever you can access a computer, and many courses have an electronic TMA (eTMA) system for submission of TMAs and even for end of course assessments (ECA) in some cases.  This is a marvellous development because it means that assignments are no longer held to ransom by this coutry's sometimes appalling mail service.  One other benefit of everything being online is that you get access to your results a few days quicker too as you no longer have to wait for that letter from Milton Keynes that has to fight with the rest of the Christmas mail, although many long courses no longer start in January with an October finish, so this means that results come out at other times too.

Well that's the serious side of being an OU student, but there can be a lighter side too.  Unfortunately, it is usually because of other people's failure to use a little commonsense that leads to these funny occurrences.  Some of the funniest things can be found on the various forums that each student has access to, although the practice forums, and the forums that are set up for each course, which only students for that course have access to can be the best.  Most OU students could be classed as mature students, although the number of youngsters who chose this method of getting a university education is getting more each year.  Many see the benefit of taking a little longer to get their degree, but being able to work full-time while they do it.  And there is no doubt that many employers are willing to sponsor their staff while gaining qualifications from the OU.

So what sort of things happen?  Well, many new students commit the cardinal error of jumping into the course material without reading those all important bits of paper that also come with the mailing.  So the forums get littered with questions about "What is a dummy TMA?" (it's explained in the booklet about using the eTMA system); "I can't find out who my tutor is?" (it can be found on your course website, and you will receive an email giving his/her details sent to whatever is your preferred email address); and "Please help, I'm stuck on the first assignment" (this is before the student has read the course material that is required for the assignment, before the course has officially started, and also about five weeks before the first assignment is due).  But there can be lighter moments too, because on every course there will be some with a wicked sense of humour, so that you get things like "What are we going to do for Fresher's week then?" and amongst those on my course a Facebook group has been set up for those who are over 40 years of age, and yes I am a member of it.

So, you can see that there is a lot to being an OU student.  We may be spread all over the country, and we may never meet more than a handful of the other students on the course that we are studying, but there is a camaraderie that is unique to this very special institution.  And it is quite amazing how many people with mental illness study with the OU because it helps them to survive through the bad periods.

Friday, 26 September 2008

A Lovely Autumn Day

Can you believe it? The sky is a picture-postcard blue, the sun is shining although it doesn't have the warmth of a July or August sun, and the only clouds to be seen are tiny little wisps like cotton wool balls. It is the end of September and days like this usually something that we savour as winter approaches. But with the awful summer that we have just endured, a day like today just reminds us of what we have missed this year.

So as I look out at the clear blue sky, watching the leaves falling from the trees, I hope that the winter is not too hard and that spring will be with us soon. I'm not trying to wish my life away; it's just that it is much easier to cope with things when the sun shines and the days are long.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

I Overdid It, I Think

After having what I thought was a pretty good day on Monday, I now think that I may have overdone things a little.  I spent the whole day studying, and I was really pleased with what I had achieved.  Monday evening I was even considering starting to write the essay that would form the first part of my first TMA.  In the end I thought better of it and sat down with my knitting for an hour or so before going to bed and reading my latest library book before settling for the night.

It took me quite a while to get to sleep, but when I did, I slept, and slept, and slept.  In fact, apart from having to get up a couple of times to answer the call of nature, I slept most of yesterday.  Sleep came pretty easily last night too; I was asleep by 9pm and then slept through the night, and after being up for a short while this morning I went back to sleep until midday.

This afternoon I have managed to stay awake.  It's been difficult at times but I have managed it.  I won't be staying up late tonight, and I hope that sleep will come easily again.  I'm not exactly sure what is wrong with me.  I can't say that it is depression that is making me like this, but I can't say it isn't either.  I have made some tentative plans for tomorrow.  I shall get up and get myself ready to go and do a little bit of food shopping.  And then, if I am still feeling okay I shall do some more studying.  I'm still not sure whether this will be achieved by starting work on the first essay or reading the next chapter in the course book.  Much as I find essay writing difficult these days, I have a feeling that it may turn out to be preferable to looking at Art History and Art Appreciation.  My problem is that I know what art that I like and what I dislike.  I do not believe that analyzing it to bits is going to make me like something that I didn't like before.  But I guess that is what I am going to have to do for the second part of my first TMA.

So I shall take it easy for the rest of this evening, go to bed at a reasonable hour, read a couple of chapters from my library book and hopefully drop off fairly easily.  Then whatever, I do tomorrow I will try to ensure that I don't overdo things.  After all, I am about 7 weeks ahead of where I need to be with my studying at the moment, so I am managing quite well.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Autumn Is Here

Autumn is with us already.  Summer seemed to pass us by this year, but autumn has definitely arrived.  

The leaves on the trees are changing colour; no longer various shades of green, the trees are becoming clothed in shades of yellow and gold.  Then as the leaves finally free themselves from the branches that they have graced through this dismal summer they change to brown.

The lovely colours in the photograph are not, I'm afraid, from a tree in this country but from one that I photographed in Canada at this time last year.

When autumn arrives there the trees, especially the sugar maples, really do get dressed in many colours.  There is nothing quite so wonderful as the sight of a large sugar maple that is dressed in leaves in every shade of green, red, yellow and orange.

Another sign of the season is the shortening length of the days.  At a time both morning and evening that just a few weeks ago we had broad daylight, we now have darkness.  It won't be long before we leave Summer Time behind and go back to Greenwich Mean Time.  Then the days will shorten even more and we will be mourning the passing of another year.

We have entered Keats' 'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'; we will soon be seeing diamonds of frost rather than diamonds of dew in the weak morning sunlight.

My New Course Has Got Me Hooked

Even though I have been studying with the Open University for nearly nine years and have studied quite a number of courses (undergraduate and postgraduate) and have earned a BSc (Hons) along the way, I think that this new course has grabbed at me in a way that none of the others have quite managed. I just have to hope that this enthusiasm continues until the end of May next year when I have to submit my end of course assessment (ECA).

I am working towards a BA (Hons) in Humanities with the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. This course and one more will see me achieve this second degree, and I have already decided what my last course will be. I was involved in writing for my living when I was at work, all factual stuff, some technical and some organisational, so it made sense to take a creative writing course as my final module for this degree.

My present course is the first presentation of the OU's new Arts Foundation Course, and I am thoroughly enjoying the wide range of subject areas that it covers. The first section has been about Cleopatra, and highlighted the different ways in which she has been portrayed over the centuries. In Egyptian art she was the great Queen, to the Romans she was seen as a threat to Rome and responsible for the downfall of Mark Antony, and to Hollywood she has been portrayed as a woman whose beauty attracted both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, although contemporary art works did not show her to be the beauty that Hollywood depicted.

The second section of the course has been about Christopher Marlowe and his play Doctor Faustus. I have to admit that I knew very little about Marlowe other than that he was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and that he died young in somewhat mysterious circumstances. Additionally, I am not a great fan of Elizabethan theatre, and no matter how good Shakespeare's plays may be I will not be rushing to see any of them. In fact, the only Shakespeare play that I have seen right the way through is the Kenneth Branagh film of Much Ado About Nothing. So it was with some trepidation that I loaded the audio CDs of Doctor Faustus onto my computer, and then transferred them on to my iPod. I read the first part of the study material about Marlowe and then armed with a copy of the A Text of Doctor Faustus, I put in the earphones and sat to listen to Doctor Faustus on my iPod while following the text in the book.

It is amazing how mush easier it made following the blank verse, and iambic pentameter when listening to the actors playing the parts. There can be no doubt about it that it was a far more satisfactory way to follow the play; neither reading it to myself, nor listening to it in isolation, would have allowed me to understand it quite so well. The production was by BBC Radio 3 for the OU, and the actors were excellent, although I couldn't help thinking that one particular voice seemed very familiar to me but I just couldn't place it. Fortunately, the final track on the CD gave details of the actors playing the parts and I was put out of my misery. The voice that I recognized, and that I knew belonged to an actor that had played a significant part in something that I have watched many times, turned out to be that of David Bamber, the actor who played the awful Mr Collins in the BBC's much acclaimed production of Pride and Prejudice.

So now I have finished the second section of my first study book. Notes have been made and I have an appreciation of the Elizabethan play that I did not have before. The next section is about Paul Cezanne, so Art History and Art Appreciation are undoubtedly the areas that this section will cover.

This is a truly wide-ranging multi-disciplinary Arts/Humanities Foundation Course and I am racing through it at an incredible pace. I am already making notes for the first tutor-marked assignment (TMA) which comprises two short essays, each of 500 words. What makes this all the more incredible after the anxious time that I had getting the TMAs and ECA written for my last course, is that this course doesn't officially start until 4 October and the cut-off date for the first assignment to be with my tutor is not until 14 November.

But I know that a really awful period of depression can make studying very difficult for me. Concentration can become impossible and I can read a page countless times and not be able to tell you what it was about. So making sure that I get a good start to this course is very important to me, and I think that the structure of it, with it covering so many different subjects, and so many aspects of those subjects, is more likely to keep me on track than a course that deals with one subject matter from beginning to end.

Studying has kept me sane sometimes during these last 10 years, and have given me something to focus on when everything seemed to be against me. This course has renewed my desire to enhance my education, and my knowledge, and I am sure will ultimately help me to get through some very dark hours.

A Quick Update On The Roadworks

Well, they have resurfaced the road outside the local primary school but I am afraid that our problems are not over because they have merely moved a bit further up the road. They have now dug up the section leading to the local girls' secondary school and closed the pelican crossing outside that school.

We now have a long stretch of road controlled by three-way temporary traffic lights, bus stops out of use on one side of the road for about a mile (the two bus stops closed serve the two schools) and no safe means of crossing the road for about a mile and a half.

One hopes that the situation will improve one day, but I shan't be holding my breath for that day to arrive.

A Film I Love And Hate

I've just been watching Captain Corelli's Mandolin on television.  I first read the book not long after it was published, and it is a book that I have reread many times since that first occasion.  I probably read it a couple of times a year, and yet I never tire of it.  The film, however, leaves a lot to be desired.  To even say that it is based on the book is a travesty, as so much of the story is changed, but I still watch the film.  You may wonder why I do, as I am so disappointed by it; the answer is quite simple.

One of my favourite places on this Earth is the island of Corfu, more properly known as Kerkira.  It was while on holiday in Corfu that I read Captain Corelli's Mandolin for the first time, and was struck by the descriptions of the people and the scenery in the book.  It is set on the island of Kefalonia, which with Corfu is one of the Ionian Islands.  While I have never been to Kefalonia, I feel as though I know it intimately, the descriptions in the book, of the scenery, the people and their way of life, could so easily be about Corfu.

So, while I am watching the film, I am watching dances that are familiar, houses that are like many that I know, and the streets of the main town are reminiscent of those that are seen in Corfu.  But more reminiscent yet, are the cypress and the olive trees.  I may not like what has been done to the story, but the film does show the beauty of the Ionian Islands and watching it makes me feel as though I am there.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Knitting And My New Course Of Study

After sending off the ECA for my OU course yesterday, I couldn't make my mind up whether to start the reading for my new course, or to do a bit of knitting first. In the end, knitting won and I have started knitting a cardigan.

Knitting is one of those old arts that pretty much went out of fashion in the 70s as it became possible to buy machine-made woollens at a reasonable price. I was taught to knit as a very young child (probably at the age of 4 or 5) and for years I knitted clothes for my dolls. When I was 11 I knitted a jumper for myself; I can remember it clearly, it was bright red in colour and had a complicated 4-row pattern to it. What makes this jumper particularly memorable is that I finished knitting it on the day that England won the World Cup. Yes, that does mean that you can work out how old I am, but I don't care because most people don't think that I look my age.

At about the time that I finished knitting that first jumper, many of my cousins from my Dad's side of the family started to have babies. Dad was the youngest of six children, and was 30 by the time that I was born, so my cousins were all a fair bit older than me. So my Mum and I seemed to spend all our time knitting baby clothes for the innumerable additions to the family. I think that I knitted something for all these new additions, but the outfit that meant the most to me was the one that I knitted for the baby who I was asked to be Godmother to. I was 13 at the time, and she was eventually born on Cup Final day.

I think that it was that summer that I was taught how to crochet, and a series of crocheted blankets were made of squares produced from the remnants of wool left from all the baby clothes that we had been making and from the numerous items that the female members of my mother's family had knitted over the years. Knitters never throw away the scraps that are left because you never know when you may need a bit of wool to sew on a button or repair an unravelling seam.

I've continued to knit and crochet all these years, and the things that I have made have been many. I've crocheted two evening dresses (they were all the fashion in the 70s and 80s) and I crocheted a christening dress for my second Goddaughter. I've knitted jumpers and cardigans for myself, jumpers for my husband (I've always hated knitting things for men because they seem to take forever), jumpers with pictures on for my second Goddaughter and my Godson when they were small (they are both in their 20s now), and recently I have knitted a number of lace shawls and made a couple of afghans, one knitted and one crocheted. Last year, while I was in Canada I made a crocheted baby's afghan with lots of teddies on it; in fact it is the one that is pictured on my blog.

Knitting has made a bit of a comeback over recent years, after many years when it had become a forgotten craft. Much of the revival is due to a number of young designers who have decided to work with wool and have come up with innovative designs and the wool manufacturers have brought out many new yarns for these items. And incredible as it may seem, a number of Hollywood actresses started to knit when they were on the set of films, and where celebrities lead, others are sure to follow.

My cardigan now has a couple inches of its back completed; it's not growing very quickly, but it has a cable pattern to it so I shouldn't be surprised as it requires me to keep an eye on what I am doing, although I have made one mistake so far but I spotted that almost immediately so it wasn't too much of a problem.

I have also started work on my new course. I have almost finished reading the first chapter of the course book, I have watched the relevant video, and I may be in a position to write part of my first TMA for the course tomorrow. The first TMA has two questions, the first of which relates to this first chapter. If I write the essays as I work my way thorough the relevant material I shouldn't be left in the situation that I was with my last course, having to struggle to find the enthusiasm to get the work done. Five hundred words on Plutarch's view of the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra shouldn't be too difficult, should it?

Saturday, 20 September 2008


The end of course assessment for my current OU course is finished. It's written, typed, spellchecked, printed, has requisite paperwork attached, folded, inserted in appropriate envelope, address label affixed to envelope and I have been to the Post Office to post it and to get a Proof of Posting Certificate. It is now in the hands of the Royal Mail and whoever draws the short straw and has to mark my submission, and all I have to do is wait until just before Christmas when the results are due.

In a comment to my post the other day, Steph from the Biopsy Report suggested that when I had finished the assignment I should give myself a treat. Actually what she said was this:

Plan a little celebration for yourself when it's completed and make sure it's a real treat.

Having a celebration on your own is not much fun, but I have still made an effort. I've bought some wool to knit myself a few jumpers ready for the winter, and I have had my hair cut into a new style. I may even really put the boat out later and open a bottle of wine.

But first I am going to put away all the material from my now finished course and get all the books and other material for my new course together into the nice little bag that the OU sent me for my previous course, so that they are all in one place and I'm not searching for the various bits and pieces once I get into the course. And the next course starts now.

I'm quite a happy Teddy Grad .

Friday, 19 September 2008

Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree

The other day I wrote a post about having a dream about something I should write for this blog, but by the  time I woke up I couldn't remember what it was that I was supposed to be writing about.  This afternoon I was talking to a friend on the phone and a chance remark during the conversation reminded me what the post was going to be about.

Conkers.  Yes, that's right, conkers.  I had dreamt about writing a post about conkers, strange as it may seem.

It all began a few weeks ago as I was sitting on the bus on my way to my regular Friday psychotherapy session.  London, for all its sprawling size and apparent mass of buildings, is actually a very green city.  I mean that in the nature sense, not the environmental one.  The capital has lots of parks, some large some small, all over the place.  These parks are in the central, touristy part of London and they are in the suburbs too.  In addition, many streets in London are tree-lined, and it just so happens that in my part of London there are lots of horse chestnut trees.  So, on this journey a few weeks ago I happened to notice as I was looking out of the window that there were an awful lot of conkers on the trees.  It was one of those things that you just sort of notice at the time and then file away for future reference.

Horse chestnut trees are amongst the most beautiful that grow in this country.  From the sticky buds that start to appear as winter starts to fade into spring they become clothed with leaves formed of usually five leaflets, that start off drooping then become firm and fan-like as they grow larger as the days grow longer and warmer.  Then there are the magnificent pink or white flowers that look like candelabra fixed all over the tree.  The flowers die back as summer arrives and the horse chestnut displays itself as a magnificent spreading sunshade during the days of high summer, and if we have been lucky and the flowers have been fertilized the conkers begin to grow.

This year we have not had the best of weather; I think we can all say that it seems to have been one of the coldest and wettest summers that we can remember.  But the weather this year seems to have been perfect for the horse chestnut trees.  Spring was mild, we even had some really lovely weather at the perfect time for the blossoms, and it seems that the bees and other insects were busy fertilizing the flowers.  The excess of rain seems to have suited the horse chestnut trees with the result that there was sufficient to ensure that there was minimal loss of fruit from the trees during the summer.  It is normal during July and August to see lots of immature conkers on the ground around the trees which have been shed because the trees cannot take up sufficient water for all of them to grow to maturity.  This year there were few.

During the last couple of weeks, as I have been taking my daily walks, I have noticed that the conkers are starting to fall from the trees, and this year there seem to be far more than I can ever remember having seen before, and not only are they numerous, they are also large.

So, while it may not have been a very good weather for humans this summer, it seems that the weather has been perfect for the horse chestnut trees, and consequently for a good harvest of conkers.  

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Cracked It!

Yes folks, the essay has been drafted. It's even half typed up and will be finished later this evening, then I shall have another look at it tomorrow and if it still looks okay, I shall print the ECA and put it in an envelope then take a walk to the Post Office on Saturday morning in order to post it off to the OU and get proof of postage. So tomorrow I can start reading the material for my next course.

Do you know what? I'm starting to get excited. You would have though that I would have grown out of that at my age.

I'm Getting There

I had a bit of a lie-in this morning after a bad night for sleeping. Not too long, but enough to feel the benefit of it. Then having got myself fed and watered, and ready to face the day, I set off for the local library so that I could work on the end of course assignment for my current OU course. I took the long route to the library so that I could get some exercise too, and will probably do the same thing on my way home.

The good news is that I have actually done a lot of work on my essay. I have written more than 600 words of the 1000 that are necessary, and I think that I have enough material still to use, and a reasonable conclusion to sum the whole thing up, so that it will be completed within about 50 words or so of the limit, and more importantly, completed today.

The result of this is that my mood is starting to lift a little as I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as this course is concerned. I think that it was just unfortunate that I chose to do a psychology course at this particular time, and that the most important essay for it (the main part of the ECA) happens to be about happiness, something that I often find eludes me.

Anyway, when this post is published, I shall sit and type the essay as it stands so that I can confirm the word count (I do count each paragraph as I draft it, but I'm number dyslexic so sometimes I can make quite large errors in my count) by using the tools on the word processing application. I shall then email the draft to myself and try to complete the draft of the essay before heading back home again.

Even with the noise outside the library, and the gentle tapping of keys on the computers, and the occasional squeal from a bored young child, the library does seem to be a more conducive environment for me to write my essays than home. I suppose that it is the fact that I can't get up and do something else that keeps me firmly in my seat and writing away.

So, if all things go according to plan, by the time I write my next post I will have completed this assignment and will be looking forward to a change of subject. The next course is the OU's new Arts Foundation Course, which covers literature, history (particularly the history of science and the history of medicine which are subjects that I have already covered at a higher level), art, and religion (I've done the history of religion too). On successful completion of that course I will be eligible for a BA, but the Creative Writing course that I will start this time next year will see me graduating with a BA (Hons) in Humanities focusing on the History of Science, Medicine and Technology. Then it will be Madsadgirl BSc (Hons) BA (Hons). It sounds rather good, doesn't it?

Essay Writing And Other OU Things

Three days on from my post about working in the library to try to complete my end of course assignment, it still isn't finished. I haven't been procrastinating (what an incredible word that is) it's just that other things have taken priority.

I did quite well on Monday. While I was in the library I managed to write the draft for the reflective part of the assignment, check the word count (I have a maximum of 200 words to look at three aspects of the learning experience on this course) and polish what I had written. I have managed to reflect on my learning skills and answer the three questions posed in a total of 185 words. Close enough to the word limit, I would think.

I also went through the course material and selected the information that I wanted to use for the main task of the assignment, a 1000-word essay about happiness coming from outside and within. Having selected my data, I wrote an essay plan and started selecting specific examples that I would be using as references in the essay.

One thousand words is not a lot to have to write, many of my posts on this blog are longer than that, but over the last year or so I have been finding it increasingly difficult to write essays, so this short course was really intended as something to provide me with a no-pressure opportunity to do a little essay writing. I was pleased with the amount of work that I managed while in the library on Monday and thought that I would do the same again on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, Tuesday was one of those days where I found it very difficult to drag myself out of bed, so the essay was forgotten. Yesterday was a no starter because I was going to have to disappear for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to go for a mammogram, and to do some shopping while I was at the large supermarket in whose car park the screening unit is situated. However, today I think I will attempt some time in the library again and with a bit of luck I will get the job done.

I want to get this assignment finished; while the course has been interesting it perhaps wasn't the brightest choice of courses for someone in my position. But, never mind, it has kept my mind active and added to my knowledge, and I don't think that I could have asked for more. But the real reason that I want to get this course finished is because I want to start my next one. This next OU course will really help me with my essay writing. There are seven tutor-marked assignments and an end of course assessment in lieu of an exam, and the essays seem to range from 500 words in length to 2000 words. This should exercise me much more because instead of there being only one course book as there is with my present course, the next one has four course books, two books of illustrations, four set books, audio CDs, DVD videos, and DVD-ROM. With such a multitude of material from which to draw for the essays, getting all the information into the word counts is going to be the problem that I face, rather than being able to drag out the argument to get close to the word limit.

Mind you, the real reason that I am looking forward to doing the next course is because it will be bring me closer to the final course for my second degree. What is the final course going to be? Creative writing, of course. I can't think of better preparation for it than writing this blog. I mean, this is creative writing for real.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Attend Breast Screening, It Really Does Make Sense

Many people deride the NHS but very often they are people who don't use it. After having a fairly healthy life, 10 years ago I had to start using it regularly. It started with me needing a major operation, that had to be cancelled because between the time that I was told I needed the operation and actually getting the date for it, my husband died and I started to suffer from severe depression so my GP thought that the operation ought to be deferred for a while. Since then I have had two operations, a hysterectomy and an emergency cholecystectomy. I have had an angiogram to check what was causing the angina that I started to suffer from. And all the time I was suffering from depression. So I can be said to have had my money's worth from the NHS.

One of the things that the NHS does for women in this country is to provide screening for two types of cancer. We are screened for cervical cancer from our twenties, and for breast cancer from the age of 50. Both procedures are undignified and uncomfortable, but neither can be described as painful and what is a little discomfort when it can quite literally save your life. It is hoped that the costs of cervical screening will eventually reduce to almost nothing after the introduction of vaccination against the HPV this year, but that is something that is way in the future. Breast screening will have to carry on because there is no alternative at this time and breast cancer will affect approximately one out of every nine women over the age of 50. As with cervical screening, early diagnosis can save lives and as it is free, every woman should take advantage of it.

Now you might think that it is not my place to preach about this, but I went for my annual mammogram this afternoon. I have one annually because there is a high incidence of breast cancer in my family (on both sides); a permanent mobile screening unit belonging to one of the local hospitals is located in the car park of a local supermarket, so it is easy to get to and parking is free. You can also do your weekly shop if you want to.

While I was waiting to have my mammogram done this afternoon, I was talking to the radiographer who was going to be doing it. As we chatted away, I asked her what the take-up rate was like, and I was horrified to be told that of the 50 women who were scheduled to visit that day (presumably 25 in the morning and 25 in the afternoon), I was actually only the 15th to turn up. As I had been chatting with the lady who had the appointment before mine while we waited for the unit to open after lunch, it seems that only 13 of this morning's appointments were kept. If the same were to happen this afternoon then it would mean that nearly 50% of those with appointments did not attend.

The radiographer told me that the hospital had three other mobile screening units permanently located in other areas, and that the take-up rate at one of them was similar to that at the unit that I had attended, while the other two units had a better take-up rate. As I know what the other three areas are like, it struck me that the two that were located in fairly affluent areas had good attendance, whilst those in the poorer areas which have much larger ethnic minority populations seemed to suffer from low attendance.

It strikes me that it is a very sad state of affairs that something that is there to provide us with screening for a cancer which is often easily treatable if caught early, but which may require radical surgery if not detected until a later stage, is not being made use of by so many women who could benefit from it. It is something that the NHS does for all women, and none of them have a right to complain about any of the services that the NHS provides if they don't make use of this kind of facility.

We are as much responsible for our health as the NHS is; we cannot complain if we develop breast cancer but have not availed ourselves of a service which has a proven track record. Yes, errors will occur occasionally, but they are few compared with the number of cases of breast cancer that there would be if the screening service didn't exist.

So ladies, when you get the letter calling you for screening, don't ignore it and think that you won't get breast cancer. I knew that I was probably at greater risk than many people when I got my first call for screening, but I didn't expect there to be any problems. I was recalled, but fortunately further screening showed that it was only a large cyst. It has made me much more aware how important the screening is and the potential that it has for saving lives.

The Forgotten Dream

Yesterday I couldn't think of anything to write about so there was no new post for my few regular readers. This morning I was having a dream about writing a post, it was clearly formed in my mind, and I was sure that it would be well received because it was on a subject that we all hold dear. The problem was that I woke up, and on waking couldn't remember what the post that I should be writing was meant to be about.

They say that you should keep a pad and pencil beside the bed for those moments when you have a dream which you want to remember, or when you have the spark of inspiration just as you are about to drop off to sleep, and that you know will have disappeared for ever come the morning. Unfortunately, the pad and pencil would have been of no use to me this morning, for it doesn't matter how vivid the dream was, I couldn't for the life of me think what it was that I had dreamt would make this memorable and informative post.

Never mind, because I know that I have something else to write about. I am busy forming it in my mind as I type this story about my forgotten dream. My next post will be important for some people, I don't know whether it will be read by any of those that it is aimed at, I can only hope that it is. It is about something that could save lives, and yet unfortunately far too many people fail to take advantage of even though it costs them nothing. Well nothing except a little bit of their time.

Monday, 15 September 2008

All Is Not Quiet In The Library

I decided that the best chance that I had of getting my end of course assignment written today was if I took a walk along to the local library. If I'm sat in there I am less likely to get distracted as I would do if I was at home, and hopefully three or four hours in the library would see the essay written and the reflective question reflected on. But I'm afraid I didn't make allowances for the workmen sorting out the Victorian water mains around here.

I've talked about this work before, and noted how late in the summer holiday the work outside the local primary school was started. Not having been around this part of London at this time of day for a couple of weeks I wasn't actually aware exactly how far the work had progressed, but I did think that they were way past the school and the library, but I am afraid I couldn't have been more wrong if I tried. At this present moment they are drilling in the road right outside these buildings. So much for my bit of quiet to work in; so much for the children being able to learn in a quiet environment.

As I've said before, I know that this work has to be done, but it is the length of time that it is taking that concerns me. I was also somewhat perturbed when on Friday I saw a sign not too far from my home saying that work on behalf of British Gas would be starting today on a stretch of road that about two months ago was being dug up for the water mains. Is it totally beyond the realms of these people to do a little liaison so that the work can be carried out at the same time? We are now likely to be subject to severe traffic jams on this stretch of road again, and I have no doubt that the newly laid tarmac will be criss-crossed with more holes, bumps, and other road defects likely to cause damage to traffic and injury to pedestrians.

While I am a city girl at heart, sometimes I wonder why I moved back to London from the country.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Depression, Studying And The Open University

One of the things that gets quite a lot of mentions in posts on this blog is the Open University. I am an OU graduate, and I have found that I am absolutely hooked on studying now. I sometimes regret what might have been had I worked harder and had more parental support when I was at school. But had that happened, my life would probably have taken a very different route and I may not have had such an enjoyable career, nor met my husband and had more than 20 wonderful years with him.

The OU is a wonderful institution which has allowed people from all walks of life, and of all ages, to get a university education. Because you need no previous qualifications in order to start studying as an undergraduate, it means that those who didn't do so well at school, or who had to leave school early because of home circumstances, can get the education that they missed out on earlier in their life; it truly is an 'Open University'.

Unlike those in traditional universities, students with the OU have always had to pay for their courses, though because many undergraduates are studying to enhance their value to their employers, those employers have willingly provided financial support to their staff. It is worth the employer's while to do this, for the employee continues to work while undertaking their studies. This is the thing that makes OU students very special. A significant proportion of them are in full-time employment and are studying in their own time. And let's be honest about this; it is not an easy thing to do when you have a responsible job that may require shift working, long hours, and travelling abroad. The OU student has to juggle all this with maintaining a reasonable home life too.

Several of the bloggers who I read regularly are either graduates of the OU, or are current students. Elaine studied mathematics and statistics for her degree, There and Back has passed a number of courses and is about to start her first Level 3 course, while Lemon, who is actually still of school age has found that studying an OU course has been something that she has enjoyed doing while she has been ill and unable to go to school.

So, there has been a certain camaraderie amongst the group of bloggers who have the OU in common, whether we be graduates or current students. There have also been a number of comments to posts that I have written from those who have studied at conventional universities, and the common theme from them is amazement and admiration for those who study in this manner. One of the things that it is imperative for an OU student is self-motivation, because most of your studying will be done alone sometimes at a significant distance from your tutor and others doing the same course. But when you suffer from depression this self-motivation can be difficult to find and sustain.

The Nice Lady Doctor wrote:
"I enjoyed this post as I've always been fascinated by the OU, its students and how it works (not to mention deeply impressed at the self-discipline it must take to take OU qualifications)."

Yes, it takes self-discipline, and self-motivation, and lots of other 'self' things, but there is nothing like having to meet deadlines for focussing your mind when you aren't feeling too well.

When I was writing about waiting for the first batch of course materials to arrive for a new course, Alhi, who is a law lecturer at a UK university and has suffered from depression too, wrote:
"I would be the same about the course materials! I find it absolutely amazing that you can find the motivation to work at OU courses. At my worst, and even now, I could scarcely muster the interest to get up in the morning never mind sit and work at something."

And then there was the comment from The Witch Doctor, which perhaps explains why I have taken to blogging so enthusiastically and why I, and others in my position, become addicted to studying:

"Sometimes we witches wonder why everyone in the world does not suffer from depression most of the time.

We even wonder how much depression drove some of the great writers, musicians and artists.

We've come to the conclusion that we think some types of depression become the default position eventually for many, but that, at least for some, the greatest antidote is creativity.

Blogging is surely a form of creativity.

As is learning for learnings sake.

It looks as if you are finding this might be true for you.

I hope so.

Good luck."

So here I am. Falling deeper into the chasm that is depression each day, and yet I am still having to focus my mind on that essay that needs to be written so that I can pass another course. Get a little nearer another qualification. And have the feeling of satisfaction that there is when you achieve another goal. Depression robs you of all happiness and enjoyment, but by achieving little things each day you can help yourself to climb out of the chasm and start to live a life, that while it may not be normal, is at least some semblance of what others live.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

All Is Not What It Seems

Usually when I start to fall downhill there is a reason for it; an upcoming anniversary or something that has triggered things in my memory. But, as I fall deeper into the black hole that is depression, this time I am not aware of anything that could have caused it to happen.

Yesterday morning I went off to my psychotherapy session as usual. I was pretty anxious as I left the house and even more so by the time that I arrived at the hospital. My therapist was aware that all was not well almost immediately (I think the tremors in my hands may have been a bit of a giveaway) and decided that the session would take a slightly different path to normal. The session covered how I felt when a period of depression started, how I felt as it deepened and how I felt as I was coming out of it.

For me depression has always had a deeply physical side to it as well as the mental effects. When I am at my worst, my head and body no longer feel connected; there is a significant sensation of numbness in the area of my neck and shoulders. When I get to this stage I find it difficult to concentrate on even the simplest things, my sleep pattern gets worse as the days progress, and I start to have dark thoughts; my mind takes me to places that I really don't want to be.

For the first time ever, the session was a real two-way conversation and as a result I gained a lot from it because of the questions that my therapist was asking and the answers that I gave helped both of us to understand more about me.

Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with my new GP. This was an appointment to go through the results of my recent blood test, to check on my blood pressure to see if the recent introduction of medication to lower it was having the desired effect, and for him to get to know a little more about me. He has requested that I book double appointments for at least the next few months so that he can get to know me as well as possible so that he can effectively monitor me.

The blood tests showed that all was well, my blood pressure has dropped to normal levels, and we had a good chat about what sort of psychotherapy I was having, about my sleep problems, and how I cope with things when my depression gets really bad. We also discussed a programme that the local council and PCT jointly run for people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress. The result of this discussion is that he has referred me to this programme and hopefully I shall soon be joining a local art class. I've never been much of an artist, but I've always wanted to be able to draw and paint, and I think that this might be a good way to help me with my lack of self-confidence, and help with dealing with social contacts. So with a bit of luck I will soon have a regular art class to form an alternative to my OU studies, and hopefully it will also help me focus on those studies a little better.

So what is this post all about? On the surface it may seem to be about me and my depression, but actually it is about something quite different. It is about two doctors; both of whom helped me on a day when I was feeling very down. Neither of them have made me feel better, but both have helped me to understand why I am the way that I am and have helped me to find ways in which to come to terms with that.

So, why is it that there are so many people in government who feel that doctors are not doing a good job and therefore it is necessary for them to interfere in the NHS? The problem is the government are not talking to the patients about how they feel about the NHS and its staff. They listen to big business, and to people who have an axe to grind. If they really want to know how to improve the NHS they should listen to more people like me; real patients with real problems, who are getting excellent support from their GP, access to treatment for mental health problems, and who appreciate all that is being done for them, and they need to listen to the the kind of doctors who are looking after me. It is always those at the coal face who know most about the business, not those who sit in offices far away and who have no idea about what really happens.

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Bad Old Feelings Have Returned

Don't ask me what has happened, because I have no idea. For some reason I have started to feel more and more depressed over the last couple of days, just at a time when I thought that things were starting to look up, and after a very bad night, where I kept waking up every hour or so, I am terribly anxious about my psychotherapy session this morning.

If I am lucky I may improve over the day, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen. The roller-coaster ride that is depression is very frightening and is hard to explain to those that have never suffered it.

I don't ride roller-coasters at the fair.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Thinking About The Future

I suppose that I stopped thinking about the future in September 1998. All of us make long-term plans, although sometimes they are really little more than wishes of where we would like to be or what we would like to have achieved by a certain date in the years ahead. Sometimes they can be more concrete plans where arrangements are made for the things that we want to happen.

My husband and I both loved travelling and seeing new places. Occasionally you find somewhere that you fall in love with and for us that was Corfu. But even though we went there every year, we would also try new places or new things. We had a monumental holiday in 1996 where we spent five and a half weeks travelling the east coast of Australia. It took about six months to scan through brochures and guide books to decide what we wanted to do and where we wanted to see. In the end we settled for a guided coach tour from Cairns to Brisbane, and then my cousin and her husband, who emigrated to Oz about 20 years ago, were to join us and we drove from Brisbane to Melbourne from where we were to fly home again.

It was an absolutely fantastic holiday where we saw incredible wildlife, and experienced all sorts of environment. From rain forests outside Cairns, to a number of different islands on the Great Barrier Reef. Then there were the cities, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. We drove for miles in the bush, and at one point were diverted from our carefully planned route by a bush fire, and then we had to struggle to find our way to where we wanted to be. Unfortunately, the police had set up the diversion, but they made no effort to direct you back onto the main roads from there. Blindly following the car in front is not always a wise thing to do. We stayed at a beautiful island south of Townsville where kangaroos jumped in and out of the hotel and along its corridors, and at another island I went swimming only to find myself surrounded by hundreds of fish. On Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, we saw freshwater lakes of incredible blue, and dingos nestled in little holes that they dug in the sand. While we were in Brisbane I hand-fed kangaroos, wallabies and emus, and had one of the greatest thrills of my life when I got to cuddle a koala. The night before we arrived at Melbourne was spent at Phillip Island so that we could see the penguins come out of the sea to return to their nests at dusk. It was a holiday to remember.

In 1998 we started to plan what we would do for our 25th wedding anniversary, and after much deliberation we wondered whether a long cruise might fit the bill. But I did have one concern and that was whether I would be able to take to life on board a ship. I am not a great traveller; it's not that I get sick, I just don't like the time that it takes to get from one place to another, so if someone could actually make a working transporter system like that in Star Trek, then I would probably volunteer to try it out. So we booked a short cruise to give the experience a trial. After all, what was the point of spending a lot of money on what was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime only to find that we hated it. But that cruise didn't happen. My husband died before we tried the cruising experience and so that is still something that I have not tried.

Since then I have not made long-term plans about anything. Depression has meant that sometimes I don't even know how I am going to get through today, let alone make plans for a time that is off in the distant future. Yes, I sometimes think that it would be nice to do such and such a thing, or to visit this or that place, but whereas in the past things were preplanned and booked far ahead of when they we going to happen, now I rarely plan more than a few weeks ahead. I try not to be pessimistic about my future, but I have learned that you cannot tell what is going to happen tomorrow, let alone in six months or a year.

But just sometimes I wish that I could forget all that has happened to me in the last 10 years and make some plans for the future.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A Day Of Milestones

Today could well be a day of two milestones for my blog. I can't believe that I have managed to keep it going and not run out of things to write about. I don't live a very exciting life, certainly nowhere near as exciting as my working life was, but I have managed to find things to write about on a regular basis since I started to blog, only missing a few days along the way.

By chance as I was looking at various blogs this morning I found someone whose blog I had never read before, and as she has only been blogging for a few weeks I decided to read all her posts. She suffers from mental illness, and it appears that she blogs for much the same reason as I do. To keep her mind active because she cannot work, and to find ways of helping non-sufferers know what it is like to live with mental illness, and the stigma and discrimination that we suffer. Whenever I find somebody new I always look at their blogroll to see whether there might be other blogs that I will find interesting. I was surprised to find that mine was there. I had not been aware of this blogger's existence, and yet it seems she knew about me.

So what about the milestones? Well, this post is the 1 0 0th of the blog; and some said it would never last! And it is entirely likely that the visitor count is going to reach 1000 500 today. Yes, I think that we can call these milestones.

New Books

My package from the OU has finally been delivered. After quickly cutting off the banding, I opened the cardboard wrapping, and there nestling inside were books; new books with that wonderful smell that I associate with a book shop.

There are three books in this mailing; the course companion which contains details of the materials associated with the course and details of study skills and learning outcomes, an illustration book which has colour enlargements of the paintings and drawings used while studying Books 1 and 2 of the course, and Book 1, which looks at the reputations of a number of historical figures. In addition there are audio CDs, a video DVD, and a DVD ROM.

Then there is the scariest item of them all; the TMA booklet. In this thin little publication are the details of the assignments that form the continuous assessment part of the course, some guidelines for answering the questions posed, and the dates by which they have to be submitted to my tutor. And on the last few pages of this booklet are the options for the end of course assessment, that is the examinable component for this course.

Exams and I do not get on well. My anxiety levels rise so much that I can be a gibbering wreck as I walk into the examination hall. I become more and more depressed as the exam date looms and I suffer weeks of anxiety after sitting the exam. This time I am hoping that I can do myself full justice by not having the additional pressure of an exam.

The course website opens next week, and I should be getting information about my tutor too. Then it will soon be time to start working on this course and getting back into the routine that study with the OU requires. It's not always easy keeping to the timetable that I set myself, but by setting that timetable and trying to always be a few days ahead of where I need to be, I hope that times when my depression is really bad don't mean that I fall behind.

Just the arrival of the first package of course materials is making me keen to get started. And strange as it may seem, after studying with the OU for so many years, this is the first time that I have taken a course that followed the traditional academic year, the others have all run from January to October. So this time I won't be getting to the most important part of the course just when I want to spend time outside in the good weather. Although that does presuppose that we are going to have some good weather next summer.

Books + Writing = Smiley University

Very Angry

I am not a happy Teddy Bear . I stayed in all day yesterday awaiting the delivery of a package from the OU. DHL are supposed to have attempted to deliver it last week; apparently they left a card signifying the fact, but I can't find it. On Monday I rang DHL, they found the package and told me it would be delivered on Tuesday. Tuesday was yesterday. When the package still had not arrived at 2pm, I rang DHL and was informed that it would definitely be delivered today (that is Tuesday, which is now yesterday).

I don't lead the most exciting of lives, and generally I can keep my temper under control, but I am very angry that I wasted a day at home waiting for a delivery that never happened. On the DHL website, the working hours of the DHL centre that is responsible for delivering this package are listed as being 0800-1930 Monday to Friday (there are weekend hours too but they are not relevant here). You can imagine how my anger increased when I rang them last night at 1820 to be told that the centre was closed and that I should ring again during working hours.

I have tried to track the package this morning, but DHL's computer is down. I will persevere, I will keep trying to track the package, and I can assure you that DHL will be required to explain why the package was not delivered yesterday, although I had been assured by two separate employees that it would be with me on Tuesday. When you ring them you get the usual automated message that the call may be recorded for training purposes, if my calls have been recorded, I hope that they can find those recordings and explain to me why their assurances about delivery mean nothing.

DHL is a German company; so much for German efficiency.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Sat On Tenterhooks

I'm sitting here waiting for a delivery. Okay, so that might not sound very exciting, but it is the first of the course materials for my next OU module. It's always a case of waiting with baited breath when you know that the materials are on their way, especially the first mailing, because you get to see what the course is going to involve; what resources you have in the way of books, audio-visual material, and most important of all, the book that has the tutor-marked assignments in it.

The parcel should have been delivered last week, but I was out on both the days that DHL attempted to deliver it. A phone call to them yesterday managed to get things moving again and I was told it would be delivered today. I ought to be working on my essay for the end of course assignment for the course that I am getting close to finishing, but I can't bring myself to start writing and getting involved in it when at any minute the delivery may arrive, causing me to lose track of what I am writing, and to get excited about the new books.

So I shall wait for the parcel to arrive, open it, have a good look at everything contained in the package, and then I shall force myself to sit down and get the essay written. I need to get it done today if possible, because I want to be able to tell my tutor that the ECA is almost finished when I speak to her tonight.

I'm acting like a kid on their birthday, rather than a 50-something who really should know better.

A Sad Person

I guess I'm a bit of a sad person. I have just taken delivery of a new ...


... and I'm really excited about it.

I've owned a number of dictionaries during my lifetime. I can remember the excitement of getting my first dictionary when I was about 10. I think it was a Collins Dictionary, but I'm not exactly sure now because being 10 was a long time ago. I later received an English-French dictionary, followed a year later by an English-Latin dictionary, and then by an English-German dictionary. Studying foreign languages up to GCE 'O'-level was compulsory when I was at school. When I was in the Sixth Form, I was given the opportunity to study Russian in some of my spare periods, so an English-Russian dictionary was added to the bookcase in my bedroom.

Fortunately I was taught spelling when I was at primary school; every Friday morning for all the years that I was at the school, there was a spelling test. It taught me to love the English language, and it also taught me that it had a lot of tricks that it could play in order to catch the unwary. When I started working, I didn't need to use my knowledge of English to begin with, but as I moved up the ladder, the type of work that I did changed, and the use of English became all important. At work I had to use the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as the arbiter for spelling and definition. Each time a new edition came out, our library staff had to order a number of copies so that the editors all had their own copy for reference. However, at home for help with crosswords, I had a copy of Chambers 20th Century Dictionary.

I haven't bothered to get a new dictionary because I didn't think I would need one. I can always use the spellchecking facility in the various applications that I use on the computer, so I have stuck with the dictionaries I already had. But I am doing the last two modules for my second degree, and for one of them The Chambers Dictionary is a set book, and a brand new edition has just been published. So for the first time in about 20 years, I personally own a brand new dictionary, and it is full of lovely words like blog, blogger, and blogosphere.

You can hardly blame me for getting excited, can you?

Monday, 8 September 2008

I've Been Promoted

I've served my apprenticeship; I've proofread the requisite number of pages, I've passed the proofreading test, and I have completed the requisite number of days. So when I logged in to do some proofreading for Project Gutenberg today, I found that I could apply for admission to the next grade. And I was told, Yes. Bravo

So now my grade has changed from Apprentice Proofreader to Precise Proofreader. I have to serve some more time. complete another 50 pages at this level and complete a formatting test before I can move on to the next level. I think that as long as I do a good job on whatever I work on, that should be within my capabilities. The next level is also the one where there is the biggest backlog so I should have more things to choose from too, and they will be glad to have someone else to help in what amounts to a backlog of about 18 months' work.

How Things Are Today

Today I am feeling quite Happy. This makes quite a change because recently I have been feeling Crying Into Tissue.

I should be doing some Reading but I have decided to give it a break for today. I have a lot of hobbies, but I can't make up my mind whether to do some of this Knitting or some of this Quilting .

Tomorrow I will do some more Reading , and then next week start on my new course. Then I will only have one more course to do before I can do this Graduation again.

Taking A Break

I did eventually manage to get down to some studying this morning. It was a bit of a struggle but at least I have made a start. But now I am hungry, so I will have to make myself some lunch; some pasta with vegetables sounds like a good choice. Then I shall have a couple of hours to myself before I get back to work on the assignment.

But before I started preparing my lunch, which is only going to take me about 10 minutes to cook, I thought that I would see who has been updating their blogs, so that I would know what I had to look forward to after eating. I looked, then I refreshed the page, then I refreshed it again. It's a very quite day out there with the only people on my blogroll to have written posts this morning, being the Jobbing Doctor and me.

And I'm getting a bit worried about some on my blogroll because it has been some time since they have posted. Have they given up? Are they now so busy that they can no longer find the time to tell us about their lives? Or perhaps they are ill? If that is the case, get well soon. I miss you.

Summoning Up The Enthusiasm

Is it because it is Monday, or is it because I'm a procrastinator? I know that I should be getting myself into a comfortable position with my book, the course DVD, my notes, and a notebook so that I can start working on the ECA for my OU course. I know that I should be doing that, but summoning the enthusiasm is proving to be quite a problem.

The course isn't difficult, it's the easiest that I have studied with the OU, and yet I am having so many problems. It's not that it isn't interesting; it's a psychology course, so is about how we think and act. I've been sitting here trying to determine why I am finding it so difficult, and the answer is astoundingly simple. It is the way that the marking is structured that is causing me concern. This is the only course that I have studied where you are required to meet learning outcomes in order pass the course. So I don't have to get a specific percentage in each of the assignments, I have to achieve a certain number of outcomes.

For some reason this is making me even less confident in my abilities, and yet the point of doing the course in the first place was to try to regain some self-confidence. I suppose I will just have to do my best and hope that by doing that I am able to meet the learning outcomes to enable me to pass the course. The course is ony worth 10 points and I don't intend to use it towards a particular qualification, but passing it will help me regain some of the confidence that I have lost over the last couple of years. I need to do that if I am going to try to start living a normal life again.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

I Survived

Yes, I survived yesterday and I hope that I am on the road out of this depression at least for a while. After having slept most of yesterday, and even managed a reasonable amount of sleep last night, I have been very indulgent today. I have taken it easy and been watching Doctor Who Series 2. Good honest escapism, and nothing to feel guilty about. It was a great way to spend Sunday.

Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I must set to work on the end of course assignment for my current OU course. There are two tasks for this assignment, one involves an essay explaining the statement 'Happiness comes from outside and within', while the other is a short exercise in how my learning skills have improved while I have been working on this course. This is a rather strange experience for me because this is the first course that I have done with the OU that wasn't part of a programme towards a particular qualification. So after having studied undergraduate and postgraduate courses, to have taken one of their Openings courses that are designed for people who have not studied at university level before has been a bit of a strange experience. I did it in part to regain some confidence in myself. I had been finding it very difficult to write essays and as a result had stopped working for my MSc, but I didn't want to stop studying all together because it is one of the things that has kept me going over the last few years.

So tomorrow I will start work on the ECA; I have about five weeks in which to complete it but I am hoping to have it done in about two. That means that I can write it, leave it for a few days and then look at it again to see if I can improve it in any way. Then once it is on its way I can start work on the next course that I am doing. This will be a long course (one academic year and worth 60 points of credit) but once this is completed I will be starting a course which I think this blog will be excellent practice for. I am going to take a course in Creative Writing as the last course for my second degree. I almost wish I was doing it this year, but it will have to wait.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

By This Time In The Day ...

... I have normally written at least one post.  Today, however, while having a number of ideas about things that I want to write, I seem to be lacking the actual will to do anything about it.  I woke at a reasonable hour this morning, looked through the curtains and saw the grim day outside and promptly went back to bed and fell asleep.  Since then I have woken up, had something to eat and fallen asleep again.  I've had a look to see who is saying what on the blogs that I read daily, and fallen asleep again.  I am sure that you are starting to see a sort of pattern developing here.  I am feeling a little bit strange; depressed perhaps, but not that bad, considering.

So why am I feeling so bad (or maybe not so bad), and why am I managing to be so philosophical about it all?  Today is the 10th anniversary of the worst day in my life.  Previously I have started to feel my mood go downhill a couple of weeks before this date, so that by the time that the day arrives I am very emotional and very low.  Most years I have been in Corfu on this date, the last two years I have been in Canada, but this year I am at home, and alone.  So that is the reason that I am feeling bad today, but I can be a bit more positive than that because I know how I have felt in the past, and this year I don't feel anywhere near as bad.  Although falling asleep at various times throughout the day may not seem like the right thing to do, the mere fact that it is happening quite naturally means that I am not worrying about things too much and therefore it is not the most important and worrying thing on my mind.

So while I almost expect this to be a very unhappy day for me, the fact that I am coping so well today gives me hope for the future.  It's never easy losing a loved one, it's even worse when it is very unexpected, and no matter how many people tell you that time will heal those feelings that you have, they won't.  But maybe you can learn how to cope with them and find strategies for ensuring that they do not rule your life.  This year I am sad, but I am not so depressed that I don't know how I am going to go on living.