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First Term Lessons: LLM with Chronic Illness


Hello, lovely chums!

Once again I find myself in the position of apologising for not having posted in a while. And boy, it has been a while. But, as many of you know, I don’t believe in writing for the sake of it and will only share on this blog when I have something that I really want to say.

In the coming months, there will be a lot to write about, as I’m getting ready to embark on a really exciting project that is targetted specifically at young people with chronic illness. I can’t wait to share more information with you guys, but it’s still in very early stages and would be far too soon to spill the beans!

There’s not all that much to report on, except that I successfully managed to dislocate my knee while I was in Paris and have been uber-resting it to make sure it heals properly. I’m used to subluxations (so many), but bloody hell, dislocations are the worst! Fingers crossed in a couple more weeks it will be better!


Today I wanted to pop back in to share my experiences of studying with a chronic illness.

Last year I posted that I had decided to make use of the whole ‘I probably shouldn’t be at work’ thing by starting a Masters of Laws with the Open University. I’m about 20 minutes of work away from completing my final research paper of my first module (I’m totally not procrastinating right now…), and I thought I’d tell you how it went and some things that I learned.

1. This is the first thing in about five years I haven’t had to quit because of my health. And I’m proud of that

Before I get into the challenges, I just wanted to throw that out there. That’s a really big deal, and I’m trying to get better at acknowledging ‘little victories’. I’ve had to quit school, internships, jobs, missed out the best parts of life-changing opportunities and all kinds of skills classes because I haven’t been well enough to keep up with them. Yes, choosing to study again has been far from easy, but I think that I’m finally getting to grips with true resting and balancing things a bit more. Managing my feelings of unfulfilled potential and not being able to do the things I want still plague me on a daily basis, but my refusal to be ‘a depressing sick person’ keep me going. The thing I worry about a lot these days is whether my ability to do more and that I feel (relatively) better is due to the fact that I’m making sure I do not do too much. This is something that I’ll definitely be writing about in the coming months as things start to get busier again.

2. Choosing the Open University was the best decision I could have made

When I thought about getting a law degree, I did look into London-based schools like BPP. However, after phoning them up, I realised that they weren’t as flexible as I needed them to be. With the OU, I’m able to work pretty much as and when I want to, and with just one module to take on at a time, it meant that it wouldn’t become utterly overwhelming. I did have issues with my first tutor who was extremely unresponsive (waiting weeks often meant that I’d wasted my ‘good days’ where I was able to work). Also, when I told her that I was struggling to get some stuff done (winter time is particularly bad for me) because of my health, she suggested reconsidering my priorities. This made me mad. But, the OU team are great, and within a few days, I had an incredibly lovely new tutor who was extremely responsive and supportive, which made the whole experience that much better.

They also have a really great disabilities team and are able to do lots of small things to make life easier while studying. I received my course books all ringbound to make them easier to hold, as well as all the online materials printed off (several packages arrived full of papers!) because I find it easier having things away from the screen to prevent headaches and fatigue.

I was given an extension on all three of my papers (I didn’t think I would need one for the last one, but the knee dislcoation came at a bad time!) which helped take a lot of the pressure off, especially when I was having particularly bad days. Unfortunately, for my ‘examined’ end of module paper I can’t get an extension. That made me really stressed out for a bit (I shouldn’t get stressed), especially since they’re going to be doing loud work on my building this week, but I managed to get it all done. It’s probably not the greatest. But it’s done.

Which leads me to…

3. My brain doesn’t work like it used to

This has probably been the biggest challenge for me. I never really learned how to study when I was younger. I had an excellent memory and was really quick. I was smart but academically lazy. Now my brain fog and fatigue (exacerbated by my pain) makes everything infinitely more difficult than it ever was. I beat myself up about the fact that it takes me longer to do things, and that frustration can become counter-productive and overwhelming.

It’s not that I find this stuff difficult, it’s that I can’t sit down and just bash out an essay in one go anymore and I need to take a lot (a lot) of rest breaks. Things need to be done over much longer periods of time. I struggle with the fact that I don’t produce things of the quality that I know I’m capable of, and I feel like I’m letting myself down. Everyone says I’m too hard on myself. But meh. Shh.

I guess it is what it is, and I’m trying to find ways to adjust to that.

4. I didn’t quit

I can’t tell you how many times, especially at the beginning, that I was ready to quit for all the reasons mentioned above. Especially during a bad flareup. But my parents wouldn’t let me, and I spoke to my favourite professor from university (thank you, K), and I think without the kind words that she said to me, I would have quit at that point.

I’m one of those people that is generally confident in their ability. I know what I’m capable of and what I can do. But chronic illness is cruel. It can take away so much from you that it starts to make you question everything. And that’s hard. And something that constantly needs to be balanced with trying to go out and achieve things.

Knowing when to quit and why you’re quitting something is really important. I chose the OU because it was the least physically demanding and flexible course I could do – something less easy to justify quitting. I had to stop working the way I was because it was too much, as was the coding course I started last year, and for my health I needed to stop.

5. I did it (…once I submit this paper)

Ok, so I’m not getting A’s on my papers, it’s taking me significantly longer than a few hours to do everything and I’m having to accept that things are different and more difficult now. But I did it. And that’s a big deal. Yay.

Have you seen my ebooks? You can find the Sick Girls’ Guide for family and friends, as well as the Sick Girls’ Guide to diagnosis here: Please check them out and support my work :)

If you’re in your teens or 20’s and are struggling with chronic illness, check out my coaching services for someone to talk to who ‘gets it’. 

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8 Comments on First Term Lessons: LLM with Chronic Illness

  1. Sandy
    April 11, 2016 at 11:45 am (2 years ago)

    So good to know you’re achieving and that it is possible! Congratulations! How do you deal with not getting all A grades? I have studied on and off with the OU for 5 years and have in that time completed the equivalent of one year of study towards a degree. I found lower grades really hard to deal with.
    I am 39 and wonder if I will ever ‘live up to my potential’ or whether I’ll continue to be unwell for decades to come. I was unwell all through my teens, better in my 20s and have been unwell again for several years. I try not to think about it too much because I don’t want to be bitter. I have at least decided I need to prioritise my health even above the wants of my children (not their needs). It is so, so difficult when you have a family, especially when one of them has autism and his own illness! No wonder I’ve overdone it so many times that I eventually made myself worse :-/
    Anyway, again I wish you some very hearty congratulations! And I hope the knee gets better soon. :-)

    • Natasha Lipman
      April 14, 2016 at 8:33 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks so much, Sandy! I don’t know…I suppose I was in a place for a really long time where I wouldn’t have been able to finish it at all…so being able to keep going and pass means more than getting an A!

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been having a tough time, but I totally agree that you need to put yourself first – even if it means that you can look after others better.

      Thanks again for the congratulations. It means a lot!

      • Silvia Logan
        April 14, 2016 at 9:31 pm (2 years ago)

        I am enjoying my MA in Classical Studies Part 1 which is module A863 very much, but it can be challenging at times. The TMAs and EMA are difficult, because they ask so many complicated and vague questions. Therefore, it is difficult for me to get As. I submitted my TMA03 which is 10 days ago. I handed it in three days before the cut-off date. I am always nervous about getting it back, because I am afraid of failing it. I definitely do not want to fail neither the TMA03 nor the EMA. I want to pass, so that I can continue on in module A864. How do you find your TMAs? My aim is to earn a Master’s degree in Classical Studies. If everything goes all right, I am expected to finish in the fall of 2017.

  2. Silvia Logan
    April 11, 2016 at 3:15 pm (2 years ago)

    I am so happy that you are managing your MA in Law, while you are struggling with a chronic illness. It is not so easy to finish those TMAs on time, because some of those questions are quite complicated and vague. Do not worry, if you do not get As in your essays! I have not got As in my TMAs either. I got a Pass 3 in my TMA01 and a Pass 4 in my TMA02. God knows how well that I have done in my TMA03. I just hope that I do not fail my MA in Classical Studies Part 1 which is module A863, because I registered for the following module next year which is module A864. Do you finish your LLM this year, because you are submitting your research project? I understand why you need extended times, because doing those TMAs are a lot of work, especially if they are essays, since you have to look for sources. I tend to start my TMAs very early, because I do not like leaving them for the last minute. I tend to submit them 2 or 3 days before the cut-off date, because I live in Canada which is five hours behind the U.K. and my computer could be down that day. I am very pleased with your accomplishments that you are achieving in your LLM. I hope that your LLM goes well for you and your knee gets better. Good luck on everything, Natasha!

    • Natasha Lipman
      April 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm (2 years ago)

      Thank you so much! Hope things continue to go well with your course and that you’re enjoying it!

  3. Jennifer KnowingTheLight
    April 12, 2016 at 11:43 am (2 years ago)

    I’m so happy for you and so proud of you Natasha – well done. What a great service the OU provides – I din’t know they could do things ring bound, good to know if I decide to go back and study with them.

    I have been worrying about you and glad to hear things are going so well (aside from the dislocation).

    And yes to not being a depressive sick person, you have to decide not to be that and it is bloody hard work. I did mine through music and other forms of creativity that contibue to flourish..

    PS Formerly posted as Jen Farrant, so we have conversed quite a bit on here, or elsewhere!

    • Natasha Lipman
      April 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm (2 years ago)

      Hey Jen! Lots of name changes 😉

      Thanks so much! The OU are great. I told them that I didn’t like reading everything on the computer so they printed it all out for me, which is awesome. Definitely recommend if you choose to go back to studying.

      Hope you’re doing well x

      • Jennifer KnowingTheLight
        April 15, 2016 at 7:58 am (2 years ago)

        Yeah, trying to figure out what the best thing to do with my online presence, not least because I am pitching for work with councils and more under my actual name…….

        Still, I have made a decision now and I am sticking to it. At least for now.

        I need to stop thinking so bloody much I think is the problem


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