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Studying with MS

Tracy_Wilsden
Studying with MS

Having to take medical retirement from my job left me feeling unsettled. My life lacked structure. Although I was still quite unwell and was suffering relapse after relapse, I felt doing something that gave me structure and took my mind away from my symptoms would help. I’d always toyed with the idea of ‘one day doing a master’s degree.’ More for personal achievement than professional development. I started to research part-time master’s degrees.  Always setting standards for myself high, I wanted to do a post-graduate qualification.

After researching I found I could do a part-time English MA. The online course took roughly sixteen hours per week and lasted two and a half years. It was all essay-based, so no exams to sit. Planning study time would give structure to my day. Additionally, the subjects covered were fairly new to me and looked really interesting, so I would be learning new things along the way.  I didn’t overthink it. Instead, I took the plunge and hit the ‘register’ button. Then I immediately navigated onto an online send hand bookstore and purchased the set books. After this flurry of activity (and feeling a bit exhausted), I sat back and thought ‘uh oh – I’ve done it now!’ But I also had a feeling of elation … up until this point I had been in a bad place emotionally. Having to give up work and reduce the amount of time I could socialise face-to-face, my life had become limited. I’d taken control. This was a new journey.

Up to this stage, my relapses had been quite bad. I was full of self-doubt and had no idea if I would be able to complete the course. Two and a half years seemed eons away. Optic neuritis had left me blind in my left eye – would I go completely blind? My mobility had reduced significantly – would I be in a wheelchair? I’d already noticed changes in my cognition and memory – would I have the mental capacity to finish the course, let alone pass it? And then there’s the fatigue. Need I say more?

The books soon dropped through my door and my excitement was reignited. The University had a virtual platform and various online forums, which I started participating in. I was allocated a tutor. At last, I felt part of something. I had embarked on a new challenge purely for myself and the health of my brain!

One of the first things I noticed that was different from when I had worked or studied previously was the amount of time it took me to read a text. Only using one eye, and having cognition and memory difficulties, reading even simple things took me ages. My eyesight slowed me down and studying for any longer than an hour or so made the side of my face and head go numb. I would need to sleep for a few hours after studying for a couple of hours.  I also couldn’t remember everything I’d read, so I had to make more notes. Over the first few months, I adapted to this, but I found reading, taking notes, and trying to remember what I’d read the previous day exhausting.

After a few weeks of struggling, I found a wonderful provision here in the UK called ‘Disabled Student Services’. You can apply to this service, and they will assess you. They recommend various strategies and resources to try to make studying easier. I applied and was invited for a face-to-face assessment. After this assessment, the service provided me with a laptop, although I had to contribute towards this. They also provided ‘Dragon’ software, which types as you talk into a headset. Great for fatigue and when my left arm and hand go numb. Alongside this was a monitor to allow the laptop screen to be larger, excellent for my poor vision.  They also offered a personal tutor (in my case, Tom), who came to my house, set the computer up, and showed me how it all operated. DSS also supplied an ergonomic chair and footrest, brilliant for helping with my posture and any pain associated with sitting for a long time.

All these tools combined made a huge difference to my studying experience. Without their help, I do not think I would have been able to finish the MA or enjoy it as much as I did. During the time I studied, I had my ups and downs in terms of MS and health and noticed further deterioration in memory and cognition. But the nature of the online, part-time course, alongside the study strategies suggested by DSS, meant I passed an MA in English with Merit. I enjoyed the interaction with other students, the structure of studying on the days when I felt well enough, and the sense of achievement I got when I passed the various essays. Despite a decline in my cognition and memory, I enjoyed it so much I have recently completed an MA in History. Fingers crossed I’ll pass that too. Now… what next?

About the author

Tracy_Wilsden

Hi, I’m Tracy. I was diagnosed with RRMS in February 2016 following an incident of optic neuritis in August 2015. However, I think my first CIS occurred in 2014.

I’m married with 3 adult children. Since medically retiring I enjoy hobbies including studying, reading, crafting, gardening, and baking.