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A psychological journey ...

So the day had finally arrived. The day that I gave up dreaming of at 19 years old when I realised life had other plans for me. Graduation.

It seems I did everything back to front, worked hard, had babies, got married and then finally got a degree. But, the latter was almost an accident. Having had an open door policy and a curious mind I spent my days taking on other people’s problems and researching how to deal with them, if there was a project I was given it as I’d come up with a cunning plan. I loved understanding people’s behaviour and working out a solution to their issues that would suit their personality. Then one day my friend said to me why don’t you stop helping others and help yourself, use that mind of yours? So I phoned the OU and in a moments’ madness I signed up for a degree – you know, for fun, to fill in some time.

Four years later almost to the day I took to the stage a completely different person to the woman who started. As a person who has suffered with severe anxiety for years, two years ago I wouldn’t have even gone to my graduation, in a large group of people and stood on stage. I nearly didn’t go to my first residential school, or indeed go to my first OUPS revision weekend. But oh how this degree has changed me, inspired me and moved me forward into a new world a new career, and a life that I am so grateful to so many people for helping me achieve.

I stood on that stage and realised I’d earned this moment – it was mine to enjoy!

Things I learned during this degree:

Other students are just like you.

Don’t be afraid to walk into that first tutorial. It’s not that you aren’t capable, it’s just knowledge you don’t know yet. Yes you may be nervous (I was crying in the car!), but everyone is in the same position. Embrace the experience - get to know your fellow students. I met Barry Morgan at my first tutorial, he was a strong character, not unlike my husband, and we became friends. In fact if it hadn’t been for his support and friendship I’d never have made it to my first residential and first OUPS revision weekend.

The friendships I have made in the past four years will remain, we have supported each other through every event - study or personal, we have developed bonds that will outlive our study time, it’s been a journey made better by sharing it with others.

Talk to the tutors.

They are just people, but they are filled with knowledge and many are so very passionate about their subject that they love to talk about it. Having started the degree ‘for fun’, two years into my degree, I walked away from several conversations with Andy McBurnie inspired, knowing I wanted to be a tutor, knowing I was capable, and knowing it could be achieved. A couple of months ago I spoke with Frederick Toates regarding a biopsychosocial based Masters, after many questions I again knew what I needed to do, just from speaking to those who have already done it. They are inspiring and encouraging, without them I’d not have reached my most recent achievements.

Get to an OUPS event.

Just Wow! Be with other current students, course writers, previous students, tutors and lecturers. Listen to their passion, the way they have a knack of just helping you understand things. My first revision weekend Frederick Toates, Graham Edgar and Graham Mitchell were our tutors. To call them inspiring is an understatement, plus despite awful anxiety they have the ability to put people at ease and make you realise you’re part of a bigger family, again, that you are not alone. (Plus the stories they can tell in the bar after are also equally enjoyable!)

Join Ask Fred and OUPS.

Distance learning can be a lonely experience, but having access to support from others is fundamental, get online and start to talk to other students and tutors. The Facebook groups have been a godsend, somewhere to feel you are not alone when you are running a home, looking after children, working full-time, have a TMA due in an hour, the laptops died and your car’s broken down and you’ve run out of gin… But also somewhere to celebrate successes, meet people, realise it’s not just you, and BE a student.

Appreciate others.

Yes, you are doing a degree, but those in your family that are not can equally feel they are doing it too. My husband has lived and breathed this degree, as have my children. Their support and understanding has been amazing, and whilst I have missed out on occasions, I know they have helped me to focus when the time came.

Believe in yourself.

This is the big one. You must believe in yourself, even at first if your only belief is to get through the first week, the first TMA, the first module. You can and will do it. And as the end approaches you will feel this sense of relief that you are at the last hurdle and it’s nearly over. But I warn you - you may have caught it, the bug. The study bug, the psychology bug…. You need more information, more books, more knowledge. It gets you when you least expect it.

So four years on I’m sat there with a 1st Class (hons) Psychology BSc, I’m surrounded by my family and the amazing friends I have met along the way, I’ve celebrated their success and my own, and I feel so very proud of us all. It’s been one hell of a ride!

I now walk (read: skip excitedly) away to my next dream to come true, to start an MSc in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at Kings College London; to run the first Overview Days in Region 13 as Chair of the South East Region of OUPS, and to tutor for the OU.

Yes, this degree has changed me, and I am forever grateful for those who inspired, encouraged, supported and befriended me along the way. Never forgotten, I am truly indebted to you all. It’s been an incredible journey, and led me to a place where I hope to also inspire others to fulfil their own goals.

Oh and the last thing I learned on this journey?

Even if you find yourself on a stage, NEVER miss an opportunity to tell your childhood hero you love him, give him a kiss, thank him for coming to your graduation and accept the offer to sit on his lap. Thank you Mr Cleese, you were the cherry on top of the cake!

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