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Help me salvage the rest of my academic career and also my life
February 20, 2014 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have tips for how to get things done when you are feeling really depressed or generally terrible? I need to make myself catch up when I am dangerously behind in school.

I'm sorry in advance that this will be overly dramatic and downright pathetic but I need some fairly objective feedback on my situation because I don't feel rational right now. Basically I returned to school after a semester long leave of absence for mental health and academic issues. Before the semester started I felt like I had made a lot of progress on the time off, I still felt somewhat depressed but I was on some meds that felt like they were helping. However 3 weeks in and I feel like any progress I made has been completely erased, my academic issues are worse than before and I feel just as badly which makes me feel like I don't actually have any mental health problems and just can't deal with anything. I'm already horrendously behind, have used up all my homework late passes and have been up for nights and nights trying to do really easy work b but failing to do it and I don't know why because the material is interesting and I want to do the work! I can't really explain why I cannot just do it or even how I am feeling and why how I feel even matters because I should be getting my work done anyway. My overwhelming urge is to just drop out now but as it's been so expensive and I'm due to graduate in December that is not an option. Basically what can I do to be productive when I feel unstable af? I can't solicit help from the school or profs either because I feel like there's only so many times you can ask for help and I've totally overextended it. Do you guys have any tips for being able to get work done when you feel close to your worst? I've been essentially bad at getting schoolwork done my entire life anyway even when I felt mostly ok. Essentially I need to rally and do the bootstraps thing but as dumb as it sounds idrk How to, especially since extensions and the like aren't an option and I have no valid excuse.
posted by hejrat to Education (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't try to do it alone. See if you can partner up with a study buddy or a tutor or even your TAs and/or professors. Talk to your professors about your situation and ask for their help. One of the most insidious elements of depression is the idea that you have to suffer and get through it alone, and you totally don't. People will help you, but they have to know that you want and need their help.
posted by xingcat at 8:32 PM on February 20


Be nice to yourself. You're facing a pretty huge emotional obstacle, and think about what you would tell your friend if he/she were in your shoes.

In the meantime, take care of yourself. Are you taking your meds? Are you eating properly? Are you exercising? Are you sleeping properly? Take care of these things first.

Try to silence your mind. There are a couple of self-hypnosis apps by Andrew Johnson that might help. I like the "Dont Panic" one.

Also, take heart. You aren't the only one who feels this way. It's an obstacle, but you'll get through one way or another:)
posted by discopolo at 8:37 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I never took a leave of absence, but I've gone through periods that your post strongly reminds me of, and they really really sucked.

If there's any sort of tutoring center available, go there. Make an appointment and tell them a condensed version of this post. They can help you make plans and set goals- small ones, even- give you advice about what you should work on first and help you set priorities. Make a recurring meeting if you can every week. This helped me a lot sometimes, only a little other times, but it did always help me feel like I had a fighting chance at getting my work done.

The other thing I did was occasionally dropping a class that was driving me to despair. This was further from graduation than you are, and I had an overabundance of credits, so it was a decent option for me- might not be the same for you.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:48 PM on February 20


First: Go talk to the dean of student services or your counseling center or something (or both!). There are people whose actual job is to help you. They can't help you if you don't talk to them, and you;re absolutely allowed to go talk to them even if you've talked to them before.

(You also can/should ask for help from your professors---I am a professor and I say this---but if you've already been flaky on homework and assignments it's probably better to go into that conversation having already shown you're working on stuff by contacting the appropriate student services personnel.)

Also. Don't pull all-nighters. Bail on (some of?) the homework. You will not do quality work, and the lack of sleep will only exacerbate your current situation.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:49 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Also, in general I am a huge fan of studying with other people. If you can set up a regular study session where you don't want to/won't let yourself bail on the folks you're studying with, that might help you at least have some set times where you know you're going to work on stuff. But setting up study sessions and then not showing up for them is bad news, so you;d have to judge if this would be productive thing for you to pursue.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:51 PM on February 20


I'm already horrendously behind, have used up all my homework late passes and have been up for nights and nights trying to do really easy work b but failing to do it and I don't know why because the material is interesting and I want to do the work! I can't really explain why I cannot just do it or even how I am feeling and why how I feel even matters because I should be getting my work done anyway.

This doesn't sound like you have your mental health issues under control. You're basically saying, "I had a flat tire, and I got it fixed, but yet again my car is hard to steer and is making this disturbing THUMP THUMP THUMP sound. I want to know how to drive faster."

You don't mention whether you're in ongoing therapy or if you've checked in with your prescribing doctor about your medications since the semester started. I think that would be your first step.
posted by BrashTech at 10:50 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Looking at your previous question, I have a few things. Your 3.4ish GPA going into this thing was not bad at all.

As leahwrenn wrote, go to student services and get that started. Make sure you have good contact with your mental healthcare provider. And, then go talk to your professors.

I am a prof too. I have taught many students going through psychiatric treatment. It comes with the territory of university age people. 19-25 is when a lot of people find out they need some help. It happens every year. There have been some semesters where I met with several students going through something similar to what you describe. Most profs know that this happens to some of their students.

Helping students succeed and graduate is one of the great things about this job. And, even better if I can help them out of a hole like this. And believe me, I've seen many students get out of jams like this and do well. Just start with one professor.
posted by Gotanda at 4:17 AM on February 21


Some things:

-...especially since extensions and the like aren't an option and I have no valid excuse.

You do have an excuse. Does your university have an office of Student Disability Services or something of the like? Depression absolutely counts as a disability, and this office can help you work with professors to negotiate deadlines and extensions that are reasonable and manageable for you. Your instructors want you to succeed, and will be happy to accommodate you (and are required to).

-How ambitious are you being? Scale back your expectations. Is there a time of day when you feel better (early morning, right before bed, right after a meal)? Can you work for just 1-2 hours a day at that time, and dedicate the rest of your day to self-care? You might not be getting everything done, but getting a little bit done + taking care of yourself will gradually help you feel better, and maybe you can work up to 2-3 hours a day.

-Again, self-care. What are you doing when you're not in classes, or trying to work? Do the things that help you feel better, whether it's watching a whole lot of tv or going swimming or taking long baths or whatever. Do these things as much as you need to without feeling guilty. And, as noted above, take care of eating, sleeping, exercising, etc.

You're really close! You don't have to have a stellar semester, you just have to finish. Use your university's resources -- disability services, tutoring center, writing center, study notes available in your campus bookstore, friends, etc.-- to get as much help with the work as possible. Keep your goals small and reasonable. Take good care of yourself. You can do it.
posted by munyeca at 5:54 AM on February 21


You are not alone in this. I have very much felt exactly the same way--frozen, unable to get work done, certain I was going to just mess up the whole semester--more than once. Here are my tips, which have helped at various times:

1. Figure out which class is causing you the most pain, and drop it.

2. Remember that perfect is the enemy of good. Actually, that came from my own fairly desperate post here from a while back, where you will find other bits of perspective when it comes to how well you do. munyeca is right--you just have to finish, you don't have to do it perfectly.

3. Change settings. Sometimes, if I have been struggling to get things done at home, I go to a coffee shop. Or the library.

4. Stop thinking of this struggle as One Big Problem. You have a set of smaller problems--how to get each assignment done--and you can tackle those one at a time.

5. As someone else said, go talk to your professors. They can give you a more realistic picture of how dire it is, grade-wise.

6. If it is truly dire, you need student services, and you need to figure out how to mitigate the damage to your academic record.

7. Remember that you really are not alone. A lot of people struggle like this. It's okay.

Good luck!
posted by hought20 at 6:49 AM on February 21


Oh, also! You can always drop out now and come back and finish when you're ready. It's absolutely not the end of the world.
posted by hought20 at 6:50 AM on February 21


Your priority should be to find ways to cope with your situation in ways that help you feel better and not worse. After that, everything else will follow.

In dealing with school assignments, it helps the break projects down into tiny chunks of manageable work which you can tackle one at a time. Large undertakings look much less daunting when broken down into smaller tasks. For instance, it may seem challenging to do XXX, but more than likely it can be broken down into a number of different components YYY which are much easier to deal with. Make lists of these small tasks and reward yourself as you cross them off.

You can combine this with some basic wellness activities by working some of your to-do list into Superbetter (terrible name, brilliant concept) which transforms self-help into an online social game, with missions, challenges and rewards. This will enable you to define your personal goals and take steps to achieving them, while improving your physical, mental, emotional and social resilience. I am not at all depressed, but I have been using this lately to manage the stress and anxiety of running a small business while generally working on my performance. Watch the inevitable Ted talk by its creator, read a review of the app and PM me if you decide to do this and want a buddy.

Also, contact student services and find a mentor/coach as well as your care providers. Make sure you meet with them regularly to help you evaluate your progress and keep you in social contact. Isolation is your enemy and these people are educators. It's what they're there for.

good luck and get well!
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 7:11 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


For practical stuff:

Get it Done When You're Depressed by Julie Fast

The Pomodoro Technique

These two things saved my bacon when I was having a rough time in school due to anxiety/depression, especially the latter one. When I'm depressed or anxious, it is difficult to concentrate for long stretches, but doing like 15 minutes or 25 minutes of "on" studying, and then a few minutes of break, really helped me. I basically passed chemistry by studying for 15 minutes at a time in the school library while terribly, terribly depressed. You can do this.

Also, you should be able to see a counselor through your school somehow. They are pros with helping at this kind of thing, since all they do is see anxious/depressed students who are behind on schoolwork all year long.
posted by Ouisch at 12:26 PM on February 21


I've been here.

Definitely go to your university counseling services. It's free, it will help, and even if it doesn't help fast enough it provides valuable documentation that can bail you out of trouble if you do get yourself into something you can't get out of. Assuming you're in the U.S. It's still earlyish in the day. They're still open. Go now. Don't go tomorrow. Tomorrow is how it never gets done.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:45 PM on February 21


Thanks for all your help guys. I dropped my hardest class even though I reaaaaaally didn't want to it will honestly make my life 100x easier (in the short run because I'll definitely have to take it at a weird time now). I'm only behind by one homework assignment now which is kind of a bummer as I'll lose 3 percentage points off my grade from it but it could be a lot worse I guess. Still have a lot of catching up to do but at least now I can try to sleep and eat etc. I think i'll give my dean/counselling centre a heads up anyway and try the more manageable study times like pomodoro/way smaller goals and try to be less performance oriented.
To answer some previous questions I have been taking my medications but at off times so I think that might have caused some problems also my present diet and sleep schedule may have totally cancelled out any positive effects. I am not in therapy, I have tried a few at the mental health place on campus and had one at home but I found it hard to relate to/believe them? I think that might be some sort of cultural clash but I will give it another go.
posted by hejrat at 12:15 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


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