What now?
September 28, 2008 3:55 PM   Subscribe

I was diagnosed with general anxiety three weeks ago. My first paper was due for college two days ago; I haven't started writing it. What are the best possible actions to take in this situation?

So. I had this paper--a quarter of my grade--due on Friday. Haven't started writing it. It's not even that long, and the topic isn't that hard. I feel pressure for it to be really good since it is already late, but something would probably be better than nothing. The best I can make on this, now, is a C (letter dropped for each day late).

I feel really, really bad about it. This is the one class I've felt really good in this semester; I've kept up with the readings, maintained a good relationship with the professor, spoken up in class. My best friend died last year, and my mom had cancer, and my parents divorced, so I haven't really had any classes that I've felt good about or professors I could count on for recommendations. It was so nice to have never even cried in front of this professor. I can't help but feel that it sucks that that's even a big deal.

So, now I don't know what to do. I could probably finish this paper tonight and get it in by midnight if I just force myself through my head and get it turned in. And I guess I can do that because I have to. I feel really lame. I don't even have a good reason for this. Every time I've tried to start writing I've just had so many other things to think about. Myself. The people on Thursday who I finally told about my diagnosis. My close friend having psychotic episodes yesterday and being helpless to do anything about it and just seeing how easily that could have been me. I know other people can and do just work through the stress, and I'm mad at myself that I'm not, but I'm also mad that I have to.

Anyway, with that long explanation, what is the best way to deal with this? Do I just turn in my paper late with no explanation to my professor? Do I apologize? Do I mention this diagnosis, or does that mean I ruin all chances for a recommendation from him for anything? Do I just seem like I'm looking for pity? I mean, to be honest, I'd like some. Or at least just some patience and understanding that doesn't totally destroy me in the eyes of who I'm hoping could give that. Would the fair, proper thing be to just turn it in and don't say anything? Gah... what do I do?
posted by Alligator to Human Relations (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"Please accept my paper. My apologies that it's late, I had a personal issue pop up. It won't happen again".

And hopefully you'll mean it when you say it.
posted by matty at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2008

First write the paper. Then worry about explanations.

Don't think about excuses, explanations and the consequences thereof, until the last word is written.
posted by matthewr at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

Finish the paper ASAP. Turn it in, but tell the prof your story. Maybe you can generate some sympathy and not get graded down so much, but if not, at least you were polite and let him know why it's late. IMHO, the "personal issue" excuse just sounds like BS, so if it were me, I would tell him as much as you felt comfortable.
posted by aheckler at 4:07 PM on September 28, 2008

Most colleges have an office staffed with counseling deans whose job it is to mediate between a student in your position an professors -- if you have one, you should start there. You can speak with a dean in confidence and they can relay information to your professors. It can save you the awkward situation of having to give too much personal information to a professor; at MIT where I advise freshmen they typically send professors an email saying "X is dealing with a complex medical/family issue; please extend some consideration to their difficult situation" and profs are, as a rule, good about dealing with it. In my experience, if you stay in communication (with counseling staff, deans, professor, or all of the above) folks are very understanding. Professors would usually rather know the circumstances (or at least, that there are circumstances) in real time than find out after the fact.

Lots of students I've worked with have made the bad assumption that these services are for "crazy people" and not for them -- you need to know that it's the nature of a confidential service that you'd think that nobody you know is using it.

If you don't have a service like this available on campus, you should approach the prof or TA and start slowly broaching the subject -- they're typically not interested in violating your privacy and will (hopefully) stop you before you open up more than either of you want.

I'm sorry you're having a tough time so early in your college career.

(On preview -- and, of course, you'll want to get that paper written as soon as you can. I disagree that you should write first, ask forgiveness later -- letting them know what's up will (perhaps) do nothing for them but can remove a big weight from your shoulders and make it easier to do the work.)
posted by range at 4:14 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your school should have a department to help students deal with this sort of thing. If you haven't let anyone at your school know about your diagnosis you probably should. There will be people who can help you talk to your professors about extensions now and meet your future deadlines. Also, I don't think that telling your professor what's going on will ruin your shot at getting a recommendation. If you make it clear that you're making an effort to do well and you're not using whatever you have going on as an excuse to slack off your professor will probably appreciate the work you do.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:19 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

While I would recommend putting effort into the paper since it's probably the weekend where you are, I think you may want to prioritize arranging for dealing with your anxiety responsibly higher than or as high as doing the paper.

If your anxiety is really the root cause of your slacking, then you probably should get the word out about the anxiety, since it's likely to affect your future performance as well as the performance on this paper.

I think that getting the word out (i.e. telling your father if you can, your professor, your department chair, etc. so they know) as soon as you can and then not asking for any special favors is probably the most responsible thing you can do. So also do the paper and see if the professor will accept it, or, possibly look at the professor's syllabus to see if s/he says anything about late policies and what you can do.

Were it me, I would get the diagnosis in writing and give a copy of it to the folks in the administration for your school while giving notice/explanation. You may qualify for legal protection, but it really depends on the diagnosis and the local, state and federal laws (assuming you're in the U.S.), as well as school policy.

If you don't qualify for legal or policy-wise protection and your professor's policy is clear, you may just have to swallow the downmark from the professor for the late paper. This is the responsible/respectful thing to do.

You may also decide not to preventatively tell anyone (it may feel too personal). But keep the option open to tell the prof what's going on if s/he asks.
posted by kalessin at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

All good advice above, but in the future, inform the professor of issues and potential lateness of paper in advance. You might or might not ask for/get an extension, but without contextual info, a prof may assume you are just blowing it off rather than dealing with specific, recent issues. This will not help you.
posted by Riverine at 4:24 PM on September 28, 2008

I'm an instructor, and have dealt with this before. Chances are your professor has too; most have. Here's how to navigate it:

1. Do the paper. Immediately. No more excuses. I might sound like a big, anxiety-inducing meanie. But really, just doing it will be a huge weight off your shoulders because it's the first step in getting this situation--which, because of your anxiety, you've let become a situation when really it could have been just a paper, no biggie--off your shoulders. Not doing the paper, and then feeling bad about not doing the paper, is self-sabotage.

2. Hand it in to the professor. Apologize for it being late, and explain as much of your situation as you feel comfortable. Acknowledge the repercussions of your actions. "I know that handing it in late means that the highest grade I can get is a C, but I figured turning it in late was better than not." And be prepared to accept those repercussions. I have a lot of students who will hand things in late despite the fact that my syllabus says explicitly that I don't accept late work for credit. They say things like "I'll take whatever penalty you'll give me." Then they get angry about the penalty (a zero). Acknowledging that you know the policies goes a long, long way in my book, and telling your professor what's going on will show that you respect them--and your professional relationships with them--enough to be honest with them.

3. Go to your school's disability office. What actually happens there varies from state to state and from school to school, but at my school, an anxiety diagnosis is enough to get some special allowances made--like separate facilities for test taking, or extensions on work if you ask for them. These accommodations are usually not retroactive, and be sure to stick with what disability services says you actually get. Like, don't stop going to class completely and expect to still get As. That's not fair, but the accommodations specified by disability services will be.

4. In the future, if and when a situation like this comes up again, always, always talk to your professors first, the moment that you're aware that you might have a problem turning something in. I have a harsh late policy, but that's because I give extensions no-questions-asked as long as students request them in advance. Most professors are reasonable people and want to accommodate you so that you'll actually be a participatory.

5. One last thing. I think you're putting the cart before the horse in thinking about recommendations from your professors now. Take things one step at a time--first, focus on getting this paper done. Then, focus on doing well in the class. If you do well in the class, then think about asking for recommendations.

Good luck--and get working on that paper!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

Write the paper, worry about the other stuff after it's written. Until it's written anything else is not worth worrying about.
posted by iamabot at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2008

You have some good suggestions here about how to handle the professor situation, but I'd just like to suggest that you stop checking this thread, turn off your internet and go write the damn paper. That will make you feel far better than the best prof-approaching plan of action. I don't want to sound harsh, because I feel for you, but I can see my own tendency to overthink when I'm faced with starting a paper. You say "Oh it isn't that long, not that hard, I can do it in like, an hour" but usually it takes longer. And then you curse yourself for being such an idiot. And the longer you put it off, the more panicked you'll get and the more you'll tell yourself it'll be fine and the less you'll believe it, deep down. Right now, AskMe is the laaaast thing you need. Write the paper, deal with the prof tomorrow.
posted by MadamM at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2008

1. Email the professor now. Emailing them now lets them know you haven't simply forgot about the paper. I cannot tell you how many times students have not turned anything the whole quarter and then came to me at the very very end of the semester (or after the end) with some excuse. You need to show you are dedicated/mature and not simply slacking.

2. (My own personal advice) Tell them you had a medical condition / problem / issue. You do not need to give details, but it is helpful to let them know it is medically related and not simply that you caught your ex cheating at a party or your dog had puppies.

3. Ask them for an extension, and then be sure to turn it in by that new deadline. An extension is a hassle to both the TA and the professor because it messes with the grading workflow. However, we (in my experience) always give extensions because we understand that, statistically, in a class of a few hundred students there will always be a few that have horrible medical / personal problems that semester. It is inevitable. But, nothing puts you on the professor's bad side more than asking for an extended deadline and then missing it.

posted by chrisalbon at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can speak with a dean in confidence and they can relay information to your professors. It can save you the awkward situation of having to give too much personal information to a professor; at MIT where I advise freshmen they typically send professors an email saying "X is dealing with a complex medical/family issue; please extend some consideration to their difficult situation" and profs are, as a rule, good about dealing with it.

Just a note, to underscore how these processes differ from school-to-school, at mine (University of Florida), students are required to bring a letter from the office of disability services in person to their professors when requesting accommodations. Although this can be difficult for students with anxiety, specifically, it's still very worth it. And, in fact, professors are required to refer students requesting accommodations there, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Write the paper. Write it now. Turn it tomorrow, apologize for it being late, and explain to the professor that you've had a lot of personal problems this semester (if you're comfortable saying what those problems are, do so), and that you've been recently diagnosed with a mental illness (again, only if you're okay with saying that). S/he'll perhaps be more sympathetic than you'd think - you're not handing in work late because you were too busy partying, or because your dog ate it; you're handing in work late because you have an illness, and some serious personal difficulties.

Just write the paper now.

If you haven't already, I recommend you get in contact with your school's disability services. I also have an anxiety disorder (and depression), and disability services at my school have been a great help - they've helped me get extensions for work in advance; given me more time, and a separate room for exams; allowed me more absences; and helped negotiate flexibility in the amount of marks deducted if I hand in work late. It sounds like they could be a lot of help to you.

But you have to write the paper. Do it now.
posted by spockette at 4:32 PM on September 28, 2008

Do your paper now, turn it in and talk to your professor. I've been in situations similar to this and it's always better to have a dilogue with your professors than to keep them in the dark. Worst that could happen is he thinks it's just an excuse and keeps to his grading policy.

Letting him know that there is some consideration to be taken in you situation, could only help you in the long run. While, he may keep to the grading scale even if he believes you, it will take some stress off of your mind not having that secret.

Some professors I've dealt with have been more lenient and given me a break on grading and making up things - but do not, I repeat, do not let it become a pattern, or an excuse to not do your work when you should. No professor will be that forgiving, legitimate reason or not.

Also, check with your student center or health services. Odds are they offer free counseling sessions. *I'm not saying that you're crazy!* Sometimes it helps to go in and chat with these people about your plans and worries and hopes, etc.

As a fellow anxiety sufferer I know how constant thought can make you become a less than responsible student, but I also found it helped to have someone unbiased to talk to. A lot of times these people are graduate students and will have a closer idea growing up when you did. It's like talking to a new friend. *shrugs* It can be helpful for letting off steam and keeping on task. Check it out.

Recap: Do the paper now. Talk to your prof. Grin and bear the outcome. Check out what free options your school offers for stress relief.

Good luck!
posted by Kimothy at 4:35 PM on September 28, 2008

As an instructor, I prefer to hear BEFORE the paper is due...

But, in this case, go speak with the instructor (and TA if you have one) and bring a letter from student health and explain to them that you've recently had some personal health issues... and if you feel comfortable telling them, tell 'em -- they won't tell anyone most likely.

Ask them what they think that you should do -- they'll either say "turn it in in 2 weeks" or "drop/withdraw this class." And then take their advice.
posted by k8t at 4:38 PM on September 28, 2008

Hi me.

No, seriously, I dealt with this a bunch in college, and I'm dealing with it (though slightly better now) in graduate school. In fact, I'm trying this reply instead of finishing my own paper which is due at 5pm tomorrow.

Most profs are good with this, but usually not after the fact. To be fair, from their point of view, they can't tell if you're a chronic procrastinator or someone with an actual medical condition. I used to (and still do) get tied up in knots over doing a paper, simply because I was sure that it could never be as good as I wanted it to be, therefore waiting till the last minute and half-assing it was a better choice. Yeah, I know, my logic was amazing.

Anxiety is tough. God, I know it's though. But you need to get help - especially if you want to continue going to college and not keep having these issue crop up. It can be as little as having someone to talk to, or going to full out counseling. But do something, or else this question will be the same question you'll have over and over and over during your college career.

I'll also be keeping my eye out on this question, because if anyone else has good advice about this, I'd love to hear it.
posted by SNWidget at 4:41 PM on September 28, 2008

Goodness, this is me, too.
Anxiety, difficult family situations, etcetera. It's so hard to motivate myself to write papers most of the time. Last year, I simply didn't write two of them.
I told myself never again.

Yes, write the paper tonight, and sit down with your prof tomorrow to explain what happened. Then find a way to never let this happen again. Counseling helps, as does having someone "check up" on you once in awhile.

Good luck.
posted by OLechat at 4:46 PM on September 28, 2008

can you withdraw from the class? Or take it pass/fail?
posted by onepapertiger at 4:49 PM on September 28, 2008

Okay. Honestly, I'm not at all worried about getting a C on this paper. I am fine with that so long as my professor doesn't think I'm a terrible student, crazy wild partying procrastinator with no sense in her head. I don't even want an extension because I don't think that would help me at all. I'm more concerned about my future interactions with this professor and his understanding of me. I know that I screwed up a lot, and believe me, I feel bad about it and know I made poor decisions and need to get counseling and not just give up or distract myself when I'm stressed. I just hate to feel like I've messed up this whole semester because I messed up at the beginning of it.

Anyway, I thought maybe e-mailing my professor now would be a good idea. Then, I can at least get this off my brain and right my paper. Also, it commits me on a personal level to turning this in tonight.

That being said, does this seem like a reasonable e-mail?

Hi Professor ___,

I haven't turned in my paper yet, but I'm letting you know that I haven't forgotten about it. I'm finishing it tonight. I don't expect an extension, and I also realize that my letter grade will be dropped for each day late. I've been dealing with some personal/medical issues which I regret not bringing up beforehand, but which I feel more comfortable addressing in person rather than in an e-mail. It'd probably be good if I could talk to you individually at some point this week. According to plan, you'll be receiving another e-mail (with paper attached) from me within the next few hours.


That idea being proposed, I'm disconnecting my internet at 8 PM and then I'm going to sit and focus and work. Hopefully, I'll get a response or two before then.
posted by Alligator at 4:49 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, don't use caffeine or other stimulants. Trust me, those are going to make everything worse for you, and I was absolutely you in college.

Mild sedation could be good though, are you prescribed medication like that? Now might be a good time to take .25 milligrams of xanax, for example. Tea at least. Make yourself a calmness nest. Do all the things you need to do to feel as calm as you can.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:52 PM on September 28, 2008

Don't tell the professor that you're not looking for an extension, even if you aren't. Just don't mention it. That way, you'll leave the decision up to him to give it to you or not.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:59 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

This exact thing happened to me earlier this year: massive paper due, hadn't started, was in complete panic deer-in-headlights mode. I'd just barely missed failing a course and my lecturer, seeing my state of near-breakdown, sent me to the university counsellors. The guy I talked to diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. He immediately wrote me a medical certificate explaining to my lecturers that I was unwell, and wrote a letter and phoned my lecturer, with my permission, to explain that I was diagnosed with depression and had this paper due, and that he recommended a two-week extension. The lecturer came back with a ten-day extension, the maximum she could allow, and I passed with an A-.

You may have emailed your professor already, and hopefully all is well. If not, I recommend going through the above so you have an authority backing you up.

Good luck, it feels so good to have it done.
posted by tracicle at 5:03 PM on September 28, 2008

You may already have your internet shut off (depending on your time zone), but I'll chime in anyway -- I think your note is great, and as long as you keep the lines of communication open with the prof I wouldn't worry a bit about your future interactions, especially if you continue to express yourself as well and you do in that email. I think "I don't expect an extension" is perfectly clear that you're aware of the consequences but that you're leaving it to their discretion.
posted by range at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2008

Brilliant strategy - although you may not be reading this until after your paper is finished. The email sounds just right.
posted by metahawk at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2008

Here's what should have happened: three weeks ago, moments after getting this diagnosis, you should have taken a note from your doctor to disability services. They would have communicated to all of your instructors and insured that all your deadlines would be reachable.

Since that didn't happen, this is what you need to do: email your instructor now and explain. You don't necessarily have to give details. You can say something like, I was unaware of this until now, but it turns out I need the help of disability services, and I'm currently working with my doctor and the university to sort out what I need. I'm sorry my paper is late; it been a rough time for me these last few weeks and I'm sorry that that has resulted in my paper being late. You will be hearing from disability services about my case soon; will you accept a late paper from me?
posted by Hildegarde at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2008

I would add that your e-mail should say you will drop by office hours. Nothing annoys me more than when students expect me to make time for their problems outside of the time I set aside specifically for that purpose.

If office hours are inconvenient, do everything possible this one time to make them. Asking for a special appointment and special treatment in one sitting is a little much.

Good luck, use the resources offered by your campus, and get to work if you can.

If you cannot work tonight, it's ok. It's just a paper. It's just one class. It's not the end of the world. With documentation, your university and prof are likely to give you a second chance. No paper, no class is worth ruining your health over. And I speak as a professor with a strict late policy and little tolerance for last-minute excuses. Even so, I firmly believe a class is just a class. It will have no long-term effect on your career or happiness.

That said, my first paragraph still stands. Always go to office hours unless you have a major conflict. That's why we hold them.

In your e-mail "personal/medical issues" reads well.

I disagree with those who say reveal as much as you feel comfortable with. Your professor is not trained nor does he likely want to know the specifics of your mental health crisis. Talk to your counseling or health center first. Any detailed information should come through the proper channels within your university.

Good luck and remember, it is just one paper in one class. It is not the end of the world. Send the e-mail, relax and go to bed if that is all you can do tonight.
posted by vincele at 5:12 PM on September 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

aheckler is right. When you're done with that, see the school counselor. Maybe you haven't had a chance to deal with what happened last year, and talking to someone should help a lot with the emotions. The counselor will probably also be able to advice you on how to prevent similar academic problems, and recommend someone you can turn to for basic help with schoolwork.
posted by debbie_ann at 5:18 PM on September 28, 2008

Read this after your paper is finished:
Read this comment that you made:
I'm not at all worried about getting a C on this paper. I am fine with that so long as my professor doesn't think I'm a terrible student, crazy wild partying procrastinator with no sense in her head. I don't even want an extension because I don't think that would help me at all. I'm more concerned about my future interactions with this professor and his understanding of me. I know that I screwed up a lot, and believe me, I feel bad about it and know I made poor decisions and need to get counseling and not just give up or distract myself when I'm stressed. I just hate to feel like I've messed up this whole semester because I messed up at the beginning of it.

Now that you are calmer, do you honestly believe that your entire relationship with the professor is ruined because you were two days late handing in a paper? Look at what you were telling yourself: Being late with a paper means that he will assume you are a crazy wild partying procrastinator. (He already knows that you do the reading, speak up in class and have good a relationship with him - why would he jump to such a conclusion?) You said that you messed up this whole semester because you are late with one paper at the beginning. (You already said that you aren't worried about the C and you have a plan to do better for the rest of the semester.)

That kind of overgeneralized prediction of total disaster as a result of a medium size mistake is called catastrophizing (turning everything into a catastrophe). Your anxiety is distorting reality. Therapy can help you recognize these distortions and help you counter-act them. You said you had a diagnosis but you didn't say who gave it to you. If you don't have a therapist, get one. You can probably get started with your on-campus counseling center - if not, they can give you a referral.
posted by metahawk at 5:23 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

It looks as though you've already been given a lot of good advice here, but I just wanted to add in a few things from my own experience in a very similar situation.

Back in May, I was finishing up graduate school and my M.A. thesis was due. I've struggled with anxiety issues on and off for the past few years, but February was a particularly awful month for me and the situation only got worse from there. Fortunately, I didn't have too much of a problem getting through my regular schoolwork, but when it came to my thesis, it always seemed like too big of a task to deal with and so I kept putting it off as the weeks went by.

Fast forward to May, three days before my final paper was due. Even though I had my entire thesis mapped out in my mind and I knew exactly what I wanted to say, the fact of the matter was that out of a required 40-50 pages, I had only written 15. Oh, and to top it all off, I had only met with my advisor one time to let him know what the paper would be about. Granted, he wasn't the overbearing type of advisor who needed to be informed of absolutely every single detail along the way, but still --- I really should have given him at least two or three smaller drafts before giving him the finished product.

So I'm writing this now to give you the best advice that one of my friends gave to me during those hectic three days before the deadline, even though I know that yours has already passed. My friend told me to STOP making excuses, because really, that's what it always came back to. Once I did that and just focused on finishing what I had come to graduate school to accomplish, it became a lot easier. At that time, what was hindering me more than anything else was the fact that I kept dwelling on all of the things that I couldn't change. I thought about how writing my thesis would have been easier if I had just bitten the bullet and talked to my advisor sooner, or if I hadn't spent so much time dwelling on the main issue that was triggering my anxiety, or if etc. etc. etc.

I spent those three days researching and writing the very best way that I knew how, and then after I turned in my thesis, I allowed myself to once again return to my anxious thoughts. Looking back on that time, it all seems like a blur, but I'm proud to say that I got an A on it and it ended up being one of the best academic papers I have ever written, despite the less than favorable circumstances surrounding its creation.

Writing this paper is most likely not going to be easy, but you CAN make it a lot easier for yourself by keeping your professor informed of your situation (however much detail you choose to give him is entirely your choice) and by surrounding yourself with a strong support network. Do the best you can so that in the end, you can truly say that you gave it your all, regardless of the outcome. It's a tough hurdle to get over, I know, but you can do it.

Good luck!
posted by sabira at 5:39 PM on September 28, 2008

In college I turned in papers late all the time (like months late) and frequently didn't do or turn in assigned homework at all. I missed class often, but when I was there I showed interest in the subject and in learning from the professor. This was at a private Catholic college in the U.S. where my fellow students thought the grading was especially harsh. (Though I suppose students probably think that no matter what sort of school they attend.)

Now, I've never cared about grades at all and in many of these classes I expected to fail completely... yet, I usually was surprised at the end of the semester to find that I received a passing grade. (Not a very good one, for sure, but passing.) And the professors would usually say something like I'm disappointed, I know you could have gotten a better grade than this but I don't believe they thought I was a bad person. They seemed to take me and my opinions more seriously than they did many people who were more timely with assignments.

YMMV, of course, but it sounds to me like you're being way too hard on yourself over this. If you really don't care about the grade, and you make a genuine effort to learn what your professors are teaching and be an intellectually responsive student, there's no reason to worry at all that a professor will think you're a bad person because of a late paper. I think the odds are that many people wouldn't even regard that as unscholarly. Sure, apologize respectfully if the professor complains, smile apologetically when you hand it in, but it's not worth it to be tense or ashamed about this.
posted by XMLicious at 6:15 PM on September 28, 2008

The only thing I want to say is: it's just college, dude. Write the paper. Or don't.

Lots of people have worked through adversity and lots of people have blown off papers and classes for lame reasons. Just make a decision to succeed or fail and move on. It's not a commentary on your life or you as a person. It's just fucking college.

If you think writing a paper is hard, try being an adult. I won't comment on any personal issues you may be having, but if you can't handle college right now, then drop out and pick it up later when you're ready. There's no shame in that. Otherwise, pull your shit together and stop whining.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 6:36 PM on September 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

Explain your situation to your professor and see if you can take an Incomplete in the class for the time being. That would enable you to work on your paper without duress, and the grade you ultimately get will not be reduced for lateness. Good luck!
posted by Lillitatiana at 7:03 PM on September 28, 2008

Hopefully you're already writing your paper. If you're not (or have taken a break), I promise you will feel *so much better* once you get it done.

And, from here on out, always try to get as far ahead in your projects as you can. Your anxiety will drop considerably when you have plenty of time to handle emergencies and relax.

Don't worry so much about what your professor is thinking about you. Wanting to explain so that the authorities you respect don't lose respect for you is a natural tendency which is intensified by your tendencies toward being over-anxious. Handling it as simply as possible - vincele's comment describes it best - will give you peace of mind and let you get back into the swing of things without worrying what your prof is thinking about you.

Whatever you do, ignore Wayman Tisdale, who clearly doesn't understand that whole anxiety disorder thing but still felt his opinion important and useful enough to share.
posted by batmonkey at 7:26 PM on September 28, 2008

Luckily, it's just the start of your semester, so you can probably do some really good damage control. First, you need to tell your professor what happened. If you have done any writing since you posted, send him/her what you've written, or give them an outline, etc.

You will be surprised at how understanding many professors can be. Probably more so than high school because they expect that you do have other stuff going on in your life sometimes.

If you have been diagnosed with something and it's already affecting you, you should probably let your school know. There should be an office, often one with "accommodation" in the title where you let them know of your diagnosis. Then you are usually responsible for letting your professors know. I never did this, and ended up regretting it.

Break the paper down into specific, small tasks. Things like writing notes. Then writing an outline. Then writing the intro. Then writing each paragraph, etc. Sounds obvious, but with each little task you finish, you can get a sense of confidence in your ability to finish the whole thing.
posted by fructose at 7:27 PM on September 28, 2008

Wayman Tisdale, some people ARE adults in college. Like they have to have jobs and pay bills and stuff at the same time. You can't really say what the OP has going on outside of school, other than they do have a documented mental health problem. Most schools actually accommodate that, because they feel that it is a legitimate factor that can impact the ability to function in school.
posted by fructose at 7:29 PM on September 28, 2008

Now that you are calmer, do you honestly believe that your entire relationship with the professor is ruined because you were two days late handing in a paper?

I agree with the drift of this comment. I had a class in college that I completely blew off, with the exception of occasionally slipping a paper under the professor's door on the dates the syllabus said one was due. This was a seminar. That professor ended up being my senior thesis advisor. Professor/student relationships are more durable than you are assuming.
posted by jayder at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2008

Okay, okay. I'm well enough into the paper now that I am going to finish tonight. Not before the midnight due date, which means I'll get one grade above passing at best, but at least I'm getting the thing written and turned in. batmonkey--you're right--I will feel so, so much better once this is done (though still a bit dejected and realizing that I have a lot to work through). I feel better now at least that I'm actually writing it. vincele, metahawk, fructose, everyone--that was all helpful too. I appreciate these responses, and I'll follow through with more of the advice throughout the week (doctor's note, disability services, office hours, counseling and all that).

Wayman Tisdale, I may be struggling, but I can comfortably say that I am an adult. I live in a house. I pay rent. I drive a car that I pay for. I work full-time when I'm not in school and part-time when I am, on top of the responsibilities of classes and all else. I'm not lacking in life experiences. I see value in being in school, even with all of this, and I'm not ready to just drop it without a good try. That doesn't make it easy, nor does that mean I can think, "oh, I'm staying in school, guess I better just instantly think away that inexplicable chest pain and insomnia and lightheadedness--" It doesn't work like that. I have a sense that stuffing up all my emotions and trying to keep my shit together and not whine is what has gotten me into a lot of this mess. So, yeah, insulted.

Back to the paper writing.
posted by Alligator at 9:27 PM on September 28, 2008

When you resurface, either having successfully written your paper or having done your best to face it down, please do follow some of the other steps recommended above. See your dean, go to your college's counseling/psychiatric center, and get things documented. Find out what resources are available to you and what rights you have.

You probably won't face the severe repercussions you imagine from this professor; indeed, I imagine he or she will be impressed that you've taken the initiative to actually say you're having a difficult time now, rather than dropping off the face of the earth for the semester and then coming back and saying you weren't well. (I say this because I've done both the former and the latter, all because of anxiety and other difficulties.)

But you do need to protect yourself for other bumps you may hit down the road. While most professors are understanding and do try to be fair, you might meet others later on who, like Wayman Tisdale up there, just can't understand what you're going through.

I'm so sorry you're going through all this right now. But congrats on facing your difficulties and trying your hardest. ::hugs::
posted by brina at 9:35 PM on September 28, 2008

I don't know what it'll mean for this semester, but, for all future semesters, the clear lesson here is that communication is key. Some professors are very understanding about this sort of thing, especially when approached directly and honestly (and in person). Others will stick to their written policies no matter what explanation you might offer up. You're lucky, in fact, that your professor follows this one-letter-off-per-day late scheme. Some policies are much stricter than that.

But, as with anything, there are stated policies and there are indulgences. I'd visit your instructor during office hours (preferably with your finished paper and a note from your doctor in hand), explain your situation, and hope for the best.
posted by wheat at 12:14 AM on September 29, 2008

Ask for an extension due to illness and JUST DO IT.
posted by watercarrier at 12:57 AM on September 29, 2008

I finished! A minor victory. Thanks for the support. I'm going to go to go back to my doctor, I guess, with this form I found online for my school's disability services; it says that they help with communication with professors, so that'll be good and official. I'm actually upset that I went to a school doctor who was willing to prescribe me medications for my brain but neglected to tell me about options like this. I worry that this is somehow going to get on some "permanent record" of mine that I have a mental disorder and no one will hire me or think well of me; I feel rather weak and, well, self-disabled telling people about this. But I must do what I must do, and it seems to be the overall consensus here that I should be communicative about what's going on, if only in a general sense.
posted by Alligator at 2:48 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know what you mean. The fact that you have anxiety issues *doesn't* go on your record. But poor time management does, quietly; it shows in your grades. By the time you're finished with this degree you're going to have a much better grip on your anxiety issues and how to manage them. The strong thing is to bite the bullet and be honest, and you've gone that. Illness isn't personal weakness. You're getting through this.

It's only one paper, after all. There's still lots of time to show your stuff. Just don't let yourself get behind your deadlines again.

I agree with you that health services should have advised you. I don't know why they think you're going to know what to do, especially between anxiety attacks. It's early days; you haven't made any serious mistakes yet. It's okay.

I struggle with anxiety as well, and the way I managed undergrad was this: I mapped out the whole term in my calendar, blocking off weeks where I would be working on particular papers and projects, well before their due date. I gave myself new due dates, ones set so that if the finished product was awful I would still have time to scrap it and start over. This way, I never felt extraordinary pressure (it was always just a *possible* draft), I never pulled an all-nighter, and I enjoyed the work a lot more. I set up this new schedule in my calendar, and then I put up a laminated calendar on the wall as well, reflecting what I needed to do in the next few weeks. I kept this up pretty religiously; I was always looking at at least the next week or two on that wall. This way I was always in control of my work and my deadlines.

When it came time to hand in papers, the only thing I had to do was print the file.

It took me a year to learn that I needed to do this, so I took my knocks too. Being really organized about your time, setting your own deadlines and committing to them, gives you way more control over your life.

In the end, the only thing that was a serious struggle was exams, because I couldn't do the work ahead of time. But there are good strategies for that to, you *can* be so prepared for an exam that you finish studying at 5pm the night before and relax after that. And even sleep through the night!

Hang in there.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:25 AM on September 29, 2008

I'm late to the thread, but as an instructor, receiving an e-mail like the one you drafted above---polite, well-written and articulate, that explains the situation but doesn't whine about stuff or assume that you're a special snowflake for whom of course accommodations must be made---would go along way to giving me a positive impression about the student sending the e-mail, even though (in terms of the paper) the student had screwed up.

So I hope you sent it, and good luck with the rest of the class!
posted by leahwrenn at 7:44 AM on September 29, 2008

Well, on a fun note, student health didn't have a clue what I was talking about when I scheduled an appointment about documenting everything with disability services. I finally just scheduled an appointment with the physician I saw, and I guess I'll print out whatever I can get off the internet and bring it to him. I don't think I'm really disabled, but I guess it's better to have something official for professors, even if that's all that comes of this.

The last time I went to student counseling and asked for referrals, the only one they gave me was to the psychology grad student counselors (-in-training, I guess). Who I refuse to go to, for a number of reasons. But maybe I can be more adamant about what I need specifically (e.g. someone more qualified than a grad student to help with general anxiety).

Also, when my doctor prescribed me meds, he said that I should also be in therapy and that this could be a recurrent thing for me. But I don't recall him ever using the term disorder. So. I don't know what the significance of that is in all of this.
posted by Alligator at 9:08 AM on September 29, 2008

The last time I went to student counseling and asked for referrals, the only one they gave me was to the psychology grad student counselors (-in-training, I guess). Who I refuse to go to, for a number of reasons. But maybe I can be more adamant about what I need specifically (e.g. someone more qualified than a grad student to help with general anxiety).

Have you tried going to these counselors? Often they'll be advised by those in the field, and will be able to refer you to specialists/psychiatrists if needed. They're also often very up on the current trends and developments in their field, because they're still students. You really need to be seeing a mental health specialist, not a GP.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:11 AM on September 29, 2008

I worry that this is somehow going to get on some "permanent record" of mine that I have a mental disorder and no one will hire me or think well of me; I feel rather weak and, well, self-disabled telling people about this.

Also, this is your anxiety speaking, rather than logic or reason. It won't go on your permanent record, but, as Hildegarde said, leaving your anxiety untreated could have a long term impact on your grades, which will. Seriously, all that's on your permanent record is a list of courses and your grades in them. Go and talk to the counselors at your school, and if (only if! it's ridiculous not to go to them because you think they might be unqualified) you find that they're ultimately unhelpful, find another mental health specialist to talk to. This doesn't make you weak, or even unusual. Tons of college students have been in exactly your place, and there's no reason to be ashamed. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take care of it, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:16 AM on September 29, 2008

YMMV and IANAD and IANAL and all, but the impression I've gotten is that having some degree of mental health problems is widespread enough and accepted enough at this point in history that you have get pretty far along before anything "going on your permanent record" is going to cause you practical problems. I've been surprised to discover when some people I've known for quite a long time, both personally and professionally, have confided to me that they've had long-term issues that had them in therapy, using psychiatric drugs, and even had mental-health-related hospital visits, without any negative effect on the rest of their lives and unbeknownst to most of the people who know them.

It seems to be pretty non-stigmatized and run-of-the-mill these days; you definitely don't need to worry about talking to a health professional about this sort of stuff or asking questions, nor even receiving many forms of treatment. Go ahead and "shop around", see what sort of options you might have for seeing someone off-campus if you think you'd feel more comfortable that way.
posted by XMLicious at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2008

I know this is late, but it may still be of some use if you're still around and reading.

I work in a university and this is what I would suggest: You want to *get* the documentation of your condition from student health services or your private doctor and bring that to the Dean of Students Office who will keep a copy of it on file. Explain what has been going on with you, how it has affected your ability to do your job as a student, and how you want to know what if anything can be done to help you now that you are in a position to seek some help, do your work, etc. They should then point you in the right direction for other services you may not even realize are available to you --- and there are a lot of offices for students that are really under utilized.

At most colleges, the Dean of Students Offices houses or works with any disability offices/coordinators your campus may have and in the event there is not a separate disability office, DOSO is the one to handle these situations. I am not sure that anxiety would necessarily constitute a "disability" in the sense that most universities use it. However, your condition certain warrants a discussion with DOSO as it is impacting your ability to successfully function in your classes.

DOSO will also handle letters to professors about granting some leeway. And, let me tell you, having to have directed students to DOSO, to Counseling Services, to all sorts of other offices either on my own or at the behest of faculty members, and who is regularly asked by professors in less serious situations what might be appropriate handling of students' requests/behavior, I *know* professors pay attention when they get anything from DOSO. Professors do not *want* students to fail. They *want* students to be successful and to give students every opportunity of being successful, but they take a tough love approach in that one has to work for success --- this is where the hard ass reputation can come from, though many are really understanding when something of this sort happens --- *even* after the fact, in spite of what others may have said here.

(And, also, it never hurts to talk to the people who work with that professor --- I can count on all fingers and toes the number of times I have said to a professor, "Student came by to talk about a late paper. It sounds like there was a lot going on. Anyway, I told Student to [e-mail/call/leave a note] and to try to come by during your office hours." So many times after the professor meets with the student, and this happens a lot, the professor thanks me a) for the heads up that there was something going on and b) states that he/she didn't realize things with the student were that serious and it was good I mentioned something was going on because they would have just assumed the student wasn't vested in the class. Now, though, they realize there was more to the situation than they had considered.)
posted by zizzle at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2008

Hey, you finished the paper. I knew you could do it!
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 4:29 PM on January 25, 2009

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