“I had this system,” says Siara, who’s a mum and a student, “where everything was written down on my phone in notes. I’m quite thorough, but I couldn’t do things on my own, and I couldn’t cope like that.”
When Siara was offered support through the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), she’d already been at uni for a year and a half. Finding that her mental health was making it difficult for her to deal with the pressures of studying, she’d just transferred to a different uni. When she saw what she would have to do to get all her DSA support set up, it felt overwhelming.
“I was given a lot of things I had to do to get my different bits of support in place,” says Siara. “That was difficult – I couldn’t focus on one thing. What if it’s too difficult to use, what if I have to have a setup session when I’ve got a lesson? It was just adding to my anxiety. But then I saw how simple it was, and I realised how accommodating my Brain in Hand coach was. I knew I had one less thing to worry about.”
Siara’s Brain in Hand coach worked around her, letting her book in sessions when she was available and feeling ready to engage. “I want to tell people it’s not as hard as it seems to get started. When I did have my first session, it was straightforward, and once I knew how to use it I felt comfortable starting to add things bit by bit.”
Siara’s first hope with Brain in Hand was that she’d be able to see all her tasks in one place, bringing all those notes that used to be in separate files on her phone into a single easy view. With adding uni to her life around her kids, things could often feel overwhelming, but she was able to add all her appointments and colour-code them so she could see at a glance what was going on each day.
I have to keep switching from being a student to being a mum to this and that, but it helped me stay focused on what I need to do.
In the two years she’s had it, however, Siara says her view of Brain in Hand and the way she uses it has changed. She still has all her tasks and events added, but she says using BiH has changed her interpretation of how she sets goals and reacts to her progress. “Last year, if I hadn’t ticked something off, I’d be frustrated that I hadn’t done that. But now I feel happier – I can look and see I’ve done lots of other things around it. I can see I’m not a failure, and it doesn’t matter if I didn’t do that one thing. Look at what I have done!”
Siara now credits Brain in Hand with helping her manage her emotions, not just her tasks. “I was shocked when I realised that it’s not just a planner, it’s an emotional management tool. Everything else from DSA is just to do with my course, but BiH also helps me plan my whole life and deal with my emotions around it.” Through working with her coach, she can review what’s been working for her and add new backup strategies to help her calm down if she needs them. She says this review process helped her realise when particular lessons were causing her distress, which meant she could talk to her personal tutor about it. Because she’s using BiH every day, it’s easy to track her mood and see how she’s been doing – and this has helped her recognise when things were getting too much.
With her on-demand support, Siara can get a call to help her work out what to do if she presses one red light or three amber lights. “When you press red once, you know you’re at that breaking point,” she says. “But sometimes I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t had the amber lights. Sometimes so much had happened between things, and then I’d get the call."
It was like if you’re drowning and someone comes to get you and tell you it’s OK.
She says she wouldn’t have wanted to call another service or someone she knew, but having someone call who didn’t know her and wouldn’t judge her when she was in crisis meant that she could just talk to them about how to deal with the situation.
Siara says that her purpose in using Brain in Hand was to help her overcome anxiety and avoid situations that would cause panic attacks. Through helping her identify her emotions and set up resources for when things were difficult, she says it helps her “see what’s going on, right there on the screen, and take it forward from there.” With a lot to juggle in her life, Siara says Brain in Hand helps her not only keep all her responsibilities on track but manage her emotions too.