Making Decisions

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not the only person in the world who has difficulty with decision making. This is not an issue that is limited to those with mental health difficulties and it affects many people in different ways. 

Some people who have to make huge decisions which impact the lives of many struggle with smaller everyday decisions – as if all their decision-making power was ‘used up’ in the process of their every day work. 

Others have a long process which they follow when making important decisions. Some have to write out pros and cons, deliberate over the facts they are faced with and do their own further research to support that decision. 

There are so many different kinds of decisions that any one person might make, and different ways of posing that question to ourselves. Take something as simple and getting dressed. What do I want to wear? What do I think other people might want me to wear? What does the weather suggest I ought to wear? Of course, different situations would call for different decisions and the importance of those decisions. 

If you’re planning on lounging around the house all day you can quite literally wear whatever you want. That dress you bought for your friend’s wedding and have only worn once, or those really comfy trousers that have seen better days but are great for curling up on the couch. 

If you’re going to a job interview, obviously – the opinions of others are something you want to take into consideration. Even then there are a number of questions I know I would be posing to myself. Growing up, my Father instilled a sense of ‘neatness’ in my appearance and I don’t see me going to a job interview in anything less than black trousers, a shirt and a blazer. What if this interview was more relaxed though? What if the interviewer is hoping to see some of my personality shine through in my clothing choices? Making human connections is important in most interactions we have with others, especially when it comes to work – and employment with people who we will potentially be spending most of our working week with. 

Decisions that I struggle with most are based around food. Am I hungry? What am I craving? Do I have any food in the house that I can cook easily? Do I want anything that I can cook right now? Where do I want to eat? Is this healthy? Should I buy this bar of chocolate when I know I’m just going to eat the whole thing in one go even though it’s the biggest bar of chocolate I’ve ever seen in my life, and don’t get me started on Jelly Tots. I can count the number of times that I have sealed a packet of Jelly Tots back up to save for later. 

Later, I will probably question many decisions that I’ve made. Today has been a relatively good day, food wise. I had a veggie breakfast with my Dad in the City for lunch and re-heated some leftovers from the weekend that a friend helped me cook for dinner. I’ve even got some Linda McCartney Sausage Rolls cooking for ‘snacks’ through the rest of the week. (If you haven’t tried them yet, I implore you. They are scrumptious, I promise! 

Now, at this moment the chemicals in my brain are in a state of flux. My GP & I (or, just me) made the decision to increase what dose of medication I’m on. That was two weeks ago, and anyone who has been on anti-depressants knows that it can take 6-8 weeks for the new dosage or drug to come to a therapeutic level. Before that I’d been experiencing long periods of low mood, and honestly – that’s just not who I am. So it made sense, of course – but in the mean time I just have to keep managing with this constant fluctuation. 

As a Law student, that isn’t really an option. Trying to justify my decisions isn’t easy, and the one point I really wanted to make with this post is that when you have a health condition (like Borderline, or depression and any number of other things) you really start to question those bigger decision. 

There are not enough fingers and toes on my body to count the number of times I have asked myself what feels like it should be a simple question. 

Why am I studying Law?

Two years ago, when I decided to undertake a Law degree it felt like a decision made on a whim. On reflection, there was a lot of thought and discussion involved in the process and if it hadn’t been for those conversations with other people – I’d be studying Social Policy instead. 

Low self-esteem, lack a self-belief, the mess of chemicals in my head, the difficulty of the work I’m being asked to do, the complexity of the cases and the need to be able to focus and apply laws are all reasons that flitter through my head when I ask myself this question. Who am I kidding? I’m never going to be able to achieve this HUGE goal so why am I bothering? 

It hurts that I think this. It hurts that despite the advice and support that has been offered around me, that my thoughts gravitate toward this way of thinking. I know I’m smart enough to do the work, I understand it well, and even I can see that there are cases I can remember the details of. Hell, half my friends have joked that they’re getting themselves a ‘free education’ from all the facts that keep rolling off my tongue. 

So why do I feel like I haven’t made the right decisions? The difficulty I’m having to focus at the moment has impacted on a number of things. My ability to get to sleep, to go to lectures, to read for more than a paragraph and feel like I haven’t just been daydreaming about cats the entire time. Equally I’ve been having those kinds of dreams where I’m not sure if they really happened or not? Some things that happen are more obvious than others, but when you remember a news story and you can’t remember if you actually read it, or you read it in a dream – things can be complicated. Until earlier today, I had managed to convince myself that the next assignment we had been given was simply ‘Choose an area of law and explain it to me’, and have been having both awake, and ‘asleep’ thoughts about this. These are some of the only ways I’m really aware of the levels of anxiety I have, because it feels like all the other anxiety is just ‘normal’ for me now. 

I’m still looking for the right indicators that suggest I am right in standing by my decision to get a degree. Although a know, somewhere in the far reaches of my brain that this IS what I want, I am capable, and this wasn’t a bad decision – there is a haze of emotion that wants me to think otherwise. 

Worrying that all this ‘stuff’ going on at the moment is an elaborate form of self-sabotage is another thing that keeps me awake at night. 

It is my sincerest hope that by Christmas the chemicals in my brain will settle, that I will be able to get on with the work tasked to me and when the 17th January rolls around I’ll be ready and raring to go. 

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Studying Law in the UK

So it’s September and we’re at the start of a new Academic year. I feel a like I have a slight head start for reasons that I won’t go too deeply into but basically this is the second time I’ve started my first year.

I like to think of myself as an organised person, and I love to get a plan straight in my head however I can to ease some of the stress that comes with any kind of studying.

On top of that, a few friends of mine who are also on the course with me were feeling stressed about how to manage the workload so I thought I would take a few minutes to share some of the ideas I’ve implemented that seem to be working for me.

First of all, I took some time to arrange a space to work!

new desk

I’m a bit of a nerd, my desk used to be in the living room, with my PC rigged up to it – but I found that it was just too distracting. I’d sit down and start playing video games, or start working on new projects, figure out whose birthday it was next – anything but study!

So I moved my desk into my bedroom and took only what I needed to study. During the holidays I took time to reformat my MacBook, to minimise distractions as so that it could function as a ‘University’ laptop.

books

I love books, and can get so carried away buying things that interest me, so I made sure to keep it to the bare minimum. I’m aware that I have far more books than I actually need. This is partly because I started the course last year and some of this years texts are different – but also because someone was selling a batch of previous editions last year that I decided to get as an extra reference tool. Sometimes it’s helpful to look in another book because authors have different styles of writing.

I also brought along only the essentials. A pot full of pens, my hole punch and a stapler!

Because I’m obsessed with keeping things organised I decided very early on that I needed a colour scheme. By associating a module with a colour I found that I could better differentiate between the modules. (Although now I am slightly worried that I’m going to be very confused when I go into my second year, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there – also, if anyone knows of a place where I can buy lever-arch folders in different colours than these I would love to hear from you!)

reading checklist

Anyone who is starting, or has done a Law degree will know there is a LOT of reading to be done. A lot. It can be incredibly overwhelming to look through your handbooks and see just how many cases, journals and text books are on the list that week but it really is best to NOT PANIC. Panicking leads to stress, stress leads to headaches, headaches lead to time off studying, time off studying leads to hate, hate leads to the dar– (shut up, Ollie.)

I’m sure you get my point. I decided to try and combat my fear of such huge reading lists by writing down what I had to read. As I’m compiling this list I’ll make sure that I have access to each journal, textbook etc.

(This is when I realised that organising yourself digitally is important too.)

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That’s a folder for each module,

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Folders for different purposes (and copies of each handbook in there too! Very handy.)

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Then as I collected together different sources for reading I made sure to label them with a number corresponding to the Seminar that the reading is required for.

Now I can access the reading ANYWHERE. On my phone, my tablet, laptop, computer, at home or at uni. No excuses not to be reading something!

As a very visual learner, and something of a completionist – I came up with a way of representing the work I had to do using *marbles*. Genius, right? At the beginning of each week I count up how much reading there is to do, and make sure to include the Seminar preparation required as a ‘task’ too – and then put that many marbles in one glass.

It’s strange how satisfying it is to be able to move a marble from one glass to another, and I know it’s simple, and a bit weird – but there you go. I even get to tick that I’ve done tasks in my book of tasks and it just helps to manage my own expectations and encourage me to keep on going.

highlighting

The reading itself can be pretty full on, and I know that you can spent hours and hours reading about the most effective ways to read for study. If I had more time (and the inclination) I would love to be able to read things at least twice, but we don’t really get the time for that.

Instead, I came up with a way of using my stationery as optimally as possible. Since I’ve started Law I’ve come across a lot of terms and expressions that I refuse to be embarrassed to say I don’t understand. I make a point of highlighting them, then checking the meaning of the word (because it’s so important to understand what was being said). I also highlight key passages, usually ones where a specific point or idea is being made or argued as well as any key statutes or cases that have been mentioned.

There’s nothing worse than knowing you read about a case or a statute in an article and having to trawl through it because it doesn’t jump out at you.

further reading

Finally, the most recent and most ambitious thing that I do is to write down any further reading that I think I could benefit from looking at or reading – or just being aware of. Again, there is already SO MUCH READING in this degree that I am not prepared to make myself feel that I need to read everything that someone suggests, but I do know from previous experience that reading around a topic is incredibly valuable.

You’ll notice I’ve written my list on blue paper – that’s because Contract is BLUE! I wanted to have a log of other things I might take time to look into. Some of these look more interesting than others, some I have a feeling will come up in later lectures and seminars but you get the main point.

If you’ve read this far, thank you – and I hope that I haven’t frightened you off studying Law. There are a lot of books out there with a lot of tips and tricks to help you manage the work load, as well as going into the reasons why you might choose law as a degree. Everyone studies in different ways, and I hope that maybe reading this post has helped! (Even if it’s only a little.)

If you have any of your own tips and tricks please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

~Ollie. x