Week in the Life: Law

Steven Mellor, studying Law, takes us through his Week 14

395
Photograph by Joanne Skelton

My name’s Steven, and I’m a mature undergraduate Law student in my final year. To some of you, this might present an image of an inebriated student yelling at a bouncer about their “human rights”, but the way I see it, legal studies are a way to equip yourself to live your life in a way where you’re stepped on that little bit less.

I’m a proud County student, who’s back living on campus after some time “couch surfing” over the course of these most recent two academic years.

To look at, my week might not seem the most conventionally productive, but I know that every week I get through and end feeling that bit clearer, I’ll chalk up as a win.

Monday, 5 February

I was bolt upright at 3am. As I have been every Monday since term resumed, I was convinced that this would be the week that I’d fight off my health difficulties and have 100% attendance. I took myself down to the library to visit some work colleagues on shift overnight and opted to make some progress towards restructuring and polishing a somewhat overdue piece of coursework.

I eventually returned to my room for about 8am and set about one of my twice-daily periods of meditation. This is an element of structure I’ve endeavoured to retain throughout all the recent chaos, and it shows: both in the mirror, and in terms of my mindset.

My self-care regime would have been best-described as shambolic until the last few days, and so I ensured that I got a proper shower, shaved, logged my food intake and made sure I wore a set of entirely clean clothes. This might seem common-sense to most, but it’s one of the first things I go to when I struggle.

Unfortunately, I’ve had physical health difficulties (as if mental health concerns weren’t enough), and so I was then confined to my room to, once again, independently review my Intellectual Property material from the lecture slides and reading list.

The afternoon brought its own difficulties, as I found a selection of information I requested from the University under a “Subject Access Request” had landed in my inbox. Before I knew it, I was chain-smoking by the grit box behind County Main, filled with a bizarre mixture of dread and fear.

After spending some time reviewing the same piece I’d been adjusting earlier in the day, I eventually took myself to bed before 10pm.

Tuesday, 6 February

Following another early start, I had gone through the motions and was out at 8.30am walking with a friend who works within LUSU and is toying with the idea of tossing their name in the hat for an FTO position. I have always enjoyed what goes into elections, and these days I try to help others where I can. As I say to many these days, I’m more of a “logistics-slash-ideas-slash-candidate-prep-guy”. Keeps me off the radar.

I spent the majority of the day researching disclosure failings within the criminal justice system. It’s a particularly widespread problem of late, and I’d recommend it as a rabbit hole to peer down, for anyone interested in one of the major causes of these “collapsing” trials the media continues to portray in a questionable light.

That afternoon, I found another “dossier” had arrived by post, which related to the support I received during the 2012-13 period of my studies. It feels like there’s nothing but stacks of paper coming my way these days, but I’m on a drawn-out quest to fill gaps in my memory. A problematic relationship with drinking combined with challenging mental health difficulties have definitely taken their toll: there are many periods from 2006-2016 I would be unable to describe in any great detail.

Lower back pain made itself known to me shortly before my Company Law lecture, and so I thought it best to get my game plan together for Wednesday’s appointment with the doctor, as well as adding some further thought to the various postgraduate applications I have in progress.

I also pulled up a case file and researched matters relating to an ongoing debt dispute to distract myself, and further mapped out Wednesday.

Wednesday, 7 February

Straight off the bat I managed to have a rather lengthy chat with my mother. My family and I have been somewhat disconnected, bordering on estranged, on and off for years, and so this is an ongoing challenge. Graduation naturally came up.

I am increasingly less of a fan of visiting the doctor these days, but even if talk of complications and a need for further invasive testing weren’t my idea of a good time, I was almost relieved that a physical concern turned out to be a relevant factor in my day to day struggling.

Shortly after leaving the surgery, I took my “welcome call” from Mindsmatter at 10.30am. I eventually managed to secure a cognitive behavioural therapy referral, with that oh-so-sweet (and unfortunately standard) six-month waiting period.

My anxiety and being in the town centre do not mix of late, so I got back on a bus to campus at the next possible opportunity and quickly bashed out an email on my thumb to arrange to meet one of the academics in my department for an update the following day.

Not long after returning to campus, I bumped into the Accommodation Manager in their travels as I stood around “looking moody” outside my flat. It was nice to have an informal chat and a bit of a laugh with them, while also talking about how good it’s been to have a roof over my head and how hard I’m trying in spite of my difficulties (whether health, academic or welfare-related).

If there is one thing I have endeavoured to not miss throughout the chaos, it’s my weekly appointment with my Clearlinks support worker at 4pm for two hours. I took the opportunity to walk them through the current essay in detail, discussed the release of my Evidence coursework questions, and generally tried to assuage any concerns they had about my present state of affairs.

By the time 6pm came, I was nothing short of depleted. Before winding down, I picked up a book I had received from an author during a mindfulness course some time back: Jeff Gill and Will Medd’s Get Sorted. The content’s very accessible and borrows from a lot of various “toolkits” I’m familiar with, but these are things you can never know too much about (SMART goals, coping strategies, and so on).

Thursday, 8 February

Any opportunity to meet with the Obi-Wan to my Luke is an opportunity that fills me with enthusiasm, and so I practically cartwheeled into the department at 11am, to be immediately greeted with “been smoking, have we?” (The cheek!)

Discussion was predominantly rooted in how we get me through this final year of my degree, and on with my future plans at Lancaster. Despite how messy things are at first glance, I know I am supported exceptionally well within the department and the college, and that we shall all find a way to get me through this.

My laptop’s been out of commission for some time, but I’d only just managed to get it off for repair in the last week, so I next decided to chase that up.

I regularly feel like my degree takes a backseat when I’m keeping myself well, but if nothing else I’m increasingly efficient at absorbing and applying information. The afternoon’s research and reading included such uplifting and cynical topics as: the gendering of sex crimes’ relationship with that of political “optics”, the misrepresentation of statistics in such matters, as well as various ways the media continue to carelessly use language surrounding much of the criminal justice system. It’s all sunshine and rainbows here.

Friday, 9 February

I woke up feeling as though I’d been barraged with kidney punches in a boxing ring, and so to say that I was a little slow off the mark was a massive understatement. I eventually managed to get sufficiently put together for midday. It’s a bloody good job I’m already off on my own steam with my reading for Evidence.

My arrival in the Porter’s Lodge was greeted by the face of the Abbott to my Costello (or is that the other way around?). It’s amazing how a friendly face behind that window can get you grounded, whatever might be going on. We chatted for a while, and I kept on with some reading from “Get Sorted” in the lodge, making my way to about the halfway point.
Today’s excitement from the postman featured a letter from the barrister whom the Bar Pro Bono Unit have allocated me. Another job was added to the list.

The working week came to a close for myself at 7pm or so, and I considered myself lucky that this was my “off” week for seminars, but it did not make me any less frustrated with myself. Instead of singing from the usual hymn sheet of beating myself up, I opted to just put a pin in dealing with the English language for the evening. After some searching, I came across Dicte – Crime Reporter on Netflix, which is a Danish series.

I’ve found there’s something very therapeutic about removing subtitles and accepting that you’ll be sat for several hours only understanding 20-45% of the dialogue: my brain then seems to shift to what I can only describe as operating on “low-level systems only”.

Saturday, 10 and Sunday, 11 February

Although it’s somewhat lazy to dump my accounts of these two days together, I feel as though the last 36 hours or so of my week have been on a continuum of sorts, as I’ve scrambled to address seminar reading and the pressing need to get up to speed (and perhaps get ahead) with what coursework remains. I’ve also had to fire off emails to bring various people both within and outside of the University up to speed.

One thing I would say that stood out in this amorphous blob of “busy work”, however, would be that on Sunday I realised that the information the University had provided this week, about my previous support, was sitting there, unanalysed… and it was making be restless. Sick and tired of being “scared” and on the defensive constantly, I sifted the initial selection of three major topics from the 2,000 or so items they had collated for myself. In the end, it was hardly as terrifying as I’d built it up to be, but good grief it was about as raw for me emotionally as I had expected.