Student Voice — Stories of Success: Helen Miller
Helen Miller has lived with disability her whole life and faced discrimination at many turns. While studying online from her home in a small country town was ideal to help manage her health conditions, she credits creative outlets and learning with helping her through difficult times and adjusting to new realities.
Since we last caught up with Helen in 2018, life has thrown more challenging circumstances at her. Through persistence and resilience, she is continuing her lifelong journey of creativity and the pursuit of knowledge.
— Helen’s story 2022
Since my initial participation in the NCSEHE Student Voice project, and after speaking at the 2018 World Access to Higher Education Day conference in Perth, life has interfered with my studies. Some think study interferes with life but, for me, learning is crucial. Completing a study unit, while an achievement, does not match the subsequent achievements the learned knowledge brings.
At WAHED, I conversed with academics about the experience of online students. In the first year of my Digital Design degree with Open Universities Australia via Curtin, their interest encouraged me to persist with online study despite its inherent limitations.
Since then, my study program fluctuated and took a hiatus in 2021. Life took over while I dealt with the ongoing issues that dictated my choice to study online. My health continued to deteriorate, my chronic pain increased, my mobility decreased, and my mental health suffered until I adjusted to the change.
One of the adjustments was to move from a country town to Toowoomba, a city with access to essential facilities. The new house needed renovations to make it accessible. They took months without a dedicated place to study, hence the hiatus.
I used the opportunity to prepare my anthology, Threads of Hope, for publication. The book is the artefact from practice-led research I did into multimodal metaphor and unconscious creativity when studying my MA(Writing) in 2016. It will publish in 2022.
At the same time, Covid-19 rampaged, and the nation moved online. Apart from the inundation on the internet, it made little difference to my plan: design studies and writing united in future research into online storytelling. I set up a website, blog, and social media sites to build my online presence. Time will record its success.
When thinking about where I am now, it does not feel like a success story, but in the last four years, I completed 15 study units; published my first novel, Two Tails; wrote the first drafts of a pentalogy of middle grade stories; prepared Threads of Hope for publication; started my online presence; and resumed study in 2022.
While resilience helped when life buffeted, persistent reflection on what was, or could be done, rather than what went wrong, changed my perspective.
My advice to another person with chronic pain and limited opportunities is to look at what tertiary studies offer you, use online study to build your knowledge, and create the change you want in your life.