A tale of an underdog!

Submitted by Sarah L. Crowley, BA (Hons) Psychology & Sociology Student on Wed, 06/08/2022 - 08:31

I would love to say that my career and the educational path are the stuff of fairy tales, like Cinderella and her glass slipper, the end! However, life isn’t as easy as that and it involves a lot of setbacks and rejections. I know at times I’ve felt so defeated and worthless, it’s really knocked me for six - I’ve felt unconfident and I didn’t believe in myself. Simon Cowell’s words, “It’s a no from me!” may sound comical, but to be honest, I’d gotten so used to that response that a “yes” response still takes me by surprise! So when an Academic Skills Tutor asked me to write a blog, I thought, “Wow, but where do I start?”

Let me take you back in time. It was the end of 2018, and after several years of applications, interviews and rejections, I was finally offered a receptionist/administrator role at a drug and alcohol service, based in South Manchester. I thought, “finally a breakthrough - I can start earning again and be paid to make a difference in society”. Little did I know that it would be one of the worst experiences of my life.

I started my new job at the start of 2019. I was only there 8 weeks when I had my first anxiety attack. I was asked to work both in reception and the upstairs office (working in two places at once was not in the job description!) I found it too overwhelming and couldn’t cope with the pressure so the Admin Manager relocated me. Less than a week later, I had another anxiety attack in their cramped back office - but it wasn’t the anxiety attack that shocked me, it was the Admin Manager’s aggressive and unsupportive behaviour.

I arranged a meeting with senior management at the company and they relocated me to their Young People’s (YP) drug and alcohol service. For a while, I felt settled in my new role - it was a lot different compared to the adult services, as there was a lot of multi-agency working. I really liked my new colleagues and I got on well with them.

However, a flood happened at one of the bases and I was given additional responsibilities. I quickly became overwhelmed, but management had changed again, I was under two managers now and there was a clash of interests. By the end of the month, I had my third anxiety attack and this time it was a fire alarm that triggered me. I had to take the rest of the week off and when I returned the next week, I decided that I’d had enough of the management’s unsupportive behaviour around mental health and I left.

After I left, I sought Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help me deal with the trauma I’d had at this job. As soon as I made this decision to put myself first, I realized I’d had enough of working as an administrator and being used as a general dogsbody. I knew that I could and did deserve better than this. It was then the beginning of 2020 (pre-Pandemic) and I realized that no employer was going to provide me with the opportunities I was looking for - the only way I was going to achieve my career goals was to return to education.

I looked at my existing skills and what I enjoy doing. I’m a people person and I enjoy art, finding it therapeutic, so I decided that I wanted to become an Art Therapist. I made enquiries and found out I needed a degree in Psychology. To me, Psychology on its own seemed too intense - I’m also a Gemini, so variety is more stimulating!

I looked at Arden’s prospectus and I liked the idea of distance learning because this option felt more manageable - I knew that I would find a standard university too overwhelming, and I also knew that I would find it difficult to keep up with note-taking in a traditional lecturer theatre, since I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace (due to nerve damage, I have reduced dexterity in my right hand). Given everything, the flexibility of distance-learning was right for what I needed.

Turn the clock forward and it’s May 2022, I’m now in my third year at Arden as a BA (Hons) Psychology and Sociology student and (as I write this article now) I’m celebrating my birthday by reflecting on how far I’ve come - so far that I was amazed to find that in my last assignment, I achieved a first for the first time!

I have to say how proud of myself I am for making these choices and I’m so grateful to all the staff at Arden who have supported me on my studies so far. I’m also grateful to the range of support options that help with things like equipment, and that Student Finance England provided support and funds, plus provided me with the opportunity to work as a mentor, a big lifeline for me as a disabled student.

I would love my story to inspire others to achieve their dreams.”


A huge thank you to Sarah for sharing her story and inspiring us all! Like Sarah, if you are managing a disability while studying, you can contact the Arden Inclusion Services Team on their Inclusion Portal or via inclusion@arden.ac.uk for help and support.

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