Pulling the Fat out of the Fire
November 19, 2008 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I have fucked up yet another academic semester. This is the third time--I fucked up as a freshman, took time off, came back, fucked up again, took more time off, and came back and have repeated the cycle. Only now, now that I've realized I've shot myself in the foot again, I desperately want to recover my academic career somehow. Is it possible? Is it over?

The story: I should not have gone to school straight from high school for a wide variety of reasons. College did a LOT for me in terms of personal/social development, but due to depression, ADHD, procrastination, and persistent self-sabatoge, academically it's a wash.

Crashed and burned after the first few semesters. Took over a year off working in the real world. Came back full of hope and promise, changed major. Repeated old academic habits, crashed and burned again. Took more time off, worked in a different area of the real world and developed an appreciation for a degree that would get me off of minimum wage. Came back full of hope and promise, changed major. Repeated old academic habits, have now crashed and burned for the third time.

Habits are as such: Attend the first few weeks of class. The material is interesting, as always! The conversations with the professors are interesting, as always! This is going to be it! This semester I will SUCCEED!

I miss an assignment and/or a few classes. I fuck around on the computer, I get behind. I feel ashamed about this and decide I won't go back to class until I am caught up--MORE than caught up so I can return like the prodigal son. Of course, I never catch up and spend all my time procrastinating and fucking around. Shame deepens, I escape further into procrastination, fucking around, internet addiction. End semester with series of Fs, sometimes do not even attend final exams. This semester I am on schedule for that track, having whittled my schedule to a shadow of what it was in the beginning of the semester and turned in no homework and failed all tests for what classes were left.

Each time I've come back, I've been thinking that if after my break I can pull some really good semesters until graduation, that will sort of redeem me in the eyes of any potential employers or grad schools. But with only three semesters left now, this one already full of failures, two breaks and all my other semesters of failures behind them, I am afraid it's a lost cause.

But it can't be! Yesterday my counselor gave me the revelation that I have been fucking myself over with the big "shaming voice" inside my head, and I've been letting it turn me miserable and listless in the face of the most minor academic failures, turning small failures into big ones and giving it more ammo. Unfortunately, while this revelation led to a night of some of the most furious and successful studying of my life it was not enough to pull this last midterm out of the fire, and has basically doomed my grade for yet another class this semester.

I feel--no, I know--if I could have had a handle on this sooner my academic life would have been a lot different. I want to try academics again, anew. How do I do that? I have so few semesters left, and so little money, that starting over somewhere else would be silly. Is there anything I can do to salvage this semester? To salvage the rest of my academic career? I don't even know where to start.
posted by anonymous to Education (33 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
How do you only have three semesters left if you've been failing all of your classes? You still need the credit, no? My recommendation is to take more time off until you're really ready. It's taken me ten year to finish my BA and my grades over the past two semesters are better than they've ever been because I really want to be here and to be studying what I am studying. You sound like me when I was first in college...just wasn't ready yet.
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2008

Don't wait to be caught up to come back to class. If you miss a class, then do the reading for the next class and be sure to be there. Almost everyone misses a class here or there for some reason; your problem is that missing one class spirals out of control. So don't let it. Come to the next class.
posted by philosophygeek at 9:19 AM on November 19, 2008

You're a perfectionist. This used to be me. I used to collect diaries, write on the first page, and then throw out that diary because I had "ruined" it with my bad handwriting. I would resolve that the next diary would be filled with good handwriting and worthy thoughts. It never happened. I keep a journal. I'm allowed to write stupid stuff in it. I'm allowed to miss months of journaling and then return to it. I'm allowed to make spelling errors. I'm allowed to scrawl.

You are trapped in a toxic cycle of wanting to get everything right from the beginning to the end. This will never happen. Literally no one has or can ever achieve that. Brilliant people and hard-working people alike mess up constantly. They skim the reading. They come to class unprepared. They oversleep. You need to give yourself permission to mess up. Your goal is not to get an A+ without ever making a misstep. Your goal is to pass.
posted by prefpara at 9:21 AM on November 19, 2008 [36 favorites]

I had a somewhat similar mindset with some classes when I was a student; I'd get behind, skip class, get further behind, fail. Now I teach college and see students in that cycle.

You're not doomed, but something has to change in your life to get your focus set. Perhaps the talk with your adviser is that, but I've also several times seen the ambition of a single talk fade when it turns into months and years of hard work.

Perhaps standard classes aren't for you? Have you tried perhaps online at your own pace, or a school with compressed semesters (10 weeks vs 20) where you just go more often?

The specific class that hosed me was Spanish, but taking it at another school with a different schedule (class met daily rather than biweekly) I ended up staying driven, getting an A, and graduating.

So something to look at might be the root cause, what distractions are keeping you from studying? It's unlikely it's the computer, but rather some form of mental exhaustion that makes the computer look more attractive than your work; the immediate goal overriding the long term benefits studying will give.
posted by arniec at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2008

Your issue is all-or-nothing thinking. You are emotionally invested in being perfect. You have to get out of this kind of thinking or you will repeatedly allow small lapses to spiral out of control. Go to class, focus on keeping up with the readings and assignments.
posted by sid at 9:23 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Even if you're really behind, go to class. Write down everything the professor says, even if you don't understand what it means. That way you at least feel like you're part of the class. It's too easy to ignore everything if you aren't even showing up to class.
posted by number9dream at 9:25 AM on November 19, 2008

I miss an assignment and/or a few classes. I fuck around on the computer, I get behind. I feel ashamed about this and decide I won't go back to class until I am caught up--MORE than caught up so I can return like the prodigal son.

I may be wrong but this sounds less like a logical thinking about how to improve and more like a symptom of having anxiety issues about going to class. I've had anxiety issues in the past and they led to similar behavior (not wanting to go to school after missing days from being sick, not wanting to return library books that were late, etc.).

There is no reasonable argument for skipping classes and exams because you aren't prepared, since as you've seen that will inevitably lead to falling even more behind and eventually failing the class. At any rate, do not do this or anything similar to this, and take a hard look at the thought process that led you to think that it would be a good idea.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:28 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Start by talking to your class dean, or dean of students, to find out what your options are. If there's an academic help center on campus, hook up with them.

But don't set yourself up for failure by going back too soon, with too many "This time I'll really do it!" promises.

Yesterday my counselor gave me the revelation that I have been fucking myself over with the big "shaming voice" inside my head, and I've been letting it turn me miserable and listless in the face of the most minor academic failures, turning small failures into big ones and giving it more ammo. Unfortunately, while this revelation led to a night of some of the most furious and successful studying of my life it was not enough to pull this last midterm out of the fire, and has basically doomed my grade for yet another class this semester.

It's great that you've recognized this. I speak as someone who's had a lot of therapy-enhanced epiphanies: recognizing the problem and changing the habits/mindset that lead to the problem are two different things, and the change does not happen overnight. You will have moments - like the successful studying - where you feel like you've really licked this problem, and you will have moments (possibly longer and more frequent) where, despite the recognition of the problem, you engage in the same old self-destructive behaviors (which in turn can lead to YET MORE feelings of shame, avoidance, etc. Fun!). One revelation does not permanent change make.

So: Give yourself a break, and don't set expectations too high right now. Work with your therapist to set realistic goals. Those goals may include "I will take just one class this term, and I will pass it."

I know someone who, like youcancallmeal, took 10 years to finish her BA. She'd come back, work, take off, come back, etc. She finished when she was ready, and last I heard, she's doing really well in some sort of Hollywood-related job.

I should probably delete everything in this comment except "work with your therapist to set realistic goals", because I think that's the most important thing for you to focus on now. The first step to success is to avoid setting yourself up for failure. Good luck! You can do this.
posted by rtha at 9:32 AM on November 19, 2008

First, a useful little book: Get It Done When You're Depressed. (Even if depression isn't your main or current problem, this book is great.)

Second: it's my personal belief (quite possibly wrong of course) that all the well-intended advice in the world about how to successfully achieve your goal will not free you from this cycle until you also see that it would be absolutely OK if you did not achieve this goal. In a cosmic sense, of course, whether you succeed at school hardly matters to the universe, but I don't only mean that. I mean that your life would be absolutely fine. Sue, maybe you'd have a few regrets if you dropped out, or pursued this right to the end and then failed spectacularly. But you're going to have some regrets anyway, and people with regrets still have lives that are absolutely OK. It took me a long time to learn this and I still forget it all the time.

You have to begin from the position that you do not need what you're seeking to achieve, but that it's merely a strong preference. So you might never graduate, you might never change to become less of a procrastinator, less prone to depression or anxiety, etcetera. And that would be OK. Everything's already fine. Go for your goal, knowing that you're only really trying to achieve it as an invigorating challenge, not because you won't have measured up if you fail.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2008 [8 favorites]

I meant "Sure, maybe you'd have a few regrets", of course
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:35 AM on November 19, 2008

Geez, this sounds like me 17 years ago. I screwed around my first couple of semesters and felt similar emotions to what you are feeling. I was able to come around by doing the following:

1.) Missing one class should not be an excuse to missing another. When I hit my academic bottom, even if I fell behind on something, I still went to class and wrote everything down (I think someone already mentioned this). This helped understand where the professor was with respect to the arc of the syllabus.

2.) Even if you miss a due date on an assignment, either negotiate another due date or hand the project in late. Have a good reason. Not "I screwed around on Facebook". I had some professors that looked upon this practice kindly; others, not so much.

3.) Take summer classes. They are often smaller class sizes and the material is covered differently (only important stuff; no BS) than during normal semesters. This helped me a ton.

4.) The shame of missing an assignment or a single class was nothing compared to the shame I felt in the presence of my peers by having to explain I failed a class because of carelessness. This might be unhealthy peer pressure or competition or whatever, but it helped me.

Good Luck!
posted by PsuDab93 at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I could have written this very letter, with minor modifications, about eight years ago.

The most important thing is, you HAVE to go to class. I know the anxiety, I know how it feels to show back up after not attending for months (the professor who said "You're still in my class?" as he handed out an exam that I bothered to show up for was one of the most embarrassing moments in my college career).

The counselor who ended up helping me may have done so inadvertently. I'm not sure what good this anecdote will do, but when I told him how many classes I was taking (in addition to classes I didn't NEED to take but was enrolled in as a part of my new focus), in addition to an internship I was doing three times a week with a one-hour commute each way, he told me that I couldn't do it.

I'm not sure what his intention was, but the effect it had was to fire me up. I can fail on my own terms, but if someone tells me I *can't* do something? Well, F you! I'll show you!

And I did.

No, I didn't graduate with a great GPA, or with a useful degree (Theatre!), but I graduated, you doubters. It was nice to give them all a big middle finger - and I'm happy to say that since I graduated, three of my dropout friends have started to/completed getting their degrees. (If pkphy could do it, ANYBODY can!).

The spiral of not showing up to class, feeling bad about it so skipping another, feeling bad about it again, etc won't accomplish anything other than to make you feel bad about yourself (and then worse).

Sit down with each of your professors and come clean. I'm sure they see fuckup students like us every year. But the one that comes to them - as a counselor and confidant - probably sticks out. And if you're on the edge after the beginning of a screwed up semester, the fact that you came to them might just push your grade from Fail to Pass. If you don't talk to them, there's no way this would happen.

Hope this helps you make some kind of decision. Best of luck to you.
posted by pkphy39 at 10:01 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have watched someone go through this. I think (non professional opinion here) that the depression is due to the ADHD sabotaging your academic performance. I think you need to actively treat and medicate your ADHD. No amount of self medication or motivation is going to change your brain wiring and unfortunately for you, educational systems are not meant to reward peformance of the type that you naturally deliver. I'm sure you are very engaged and driven at the beginning of the semester when everything is new but the whole point is that you see that through to exam time and you just can't. It is painful to hear you describe the cycle of procrastination -> getting behind -> shame -> depression when you are probably a very bright person.

I would stop spending money on academic pursuits until you have a handle on your ADHD and can reasonably expect to be able to perform in an academic setting. That means keeping your focus on one subject for months at a time.

Good news is that there definitely is hope. If you can trick your brain into functioning like students who achieve, I'm sure you have the natural intelligence to do so yourself.
posted by smallstatic at 10:07 AM on November 19, 2008

I second everyone who suggests speaking to the Dean of Students at your school. It should be the very next thing you do.
posted by buriedpaul at 10:11 AM on November 19, 2008

Are you on medication for ADHD and/or depression? Maybe you should be. I've seen it work wonders for others.
posted by desjardins at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2008

Wow, I too am in the middle of this (minus the ADHD) and am just now timidly finding solid footing. What did it for me? Finding a class I really love. I realize how cheesy this sounds but finding something I'm really invested in kept me going back to class.

Another thing that really helped me was the realization that NOBODY (but maybe the professor - who you should try to be as straight with as humanly possible - and even then it's sometimes a crapshoot) cares that I didn't show up for class. How many times have you honestly noticed that somebody wasn't there? Everybody in the class is more or less interested in themselves, for better or worse.
posted by bookwo3107 at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I won't go back to class until I am caught up--MORE than caught up so I can return like the prodigal son.

Ok, no. I'm a TA and I'm in the classroom all the time. I know who (in my small class of about 30) is attending and who's not. If you go away for weeks or months at a time, I'm not going to think "wow, look, he's back! Glory be!", I'm going to think "wow, this guy is probably going to tank this class." You can't get caught up if you're not in the classroom. It doesn't happen. And trust me, I appreciate someone coming to class every day MUCH more than someone who doesn't attend class and then frantically tries to catch up at the end. Please just go to class. All you need to do is to plow through and get your final credits and graduate. Very few employers will ever check your university marks, so don't worry about it. You don't need to pass well, you just need to pass.

Do talk to an academic counsellor or the Dean of Students to try to save your semester (works well if you have a doctor's note supporting you). Best of luck.
posted by pised at 10:43 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of other posters have already given the facts.

Personally, as a younger man, I only did well in school when I was working and taking night classes. Somehow the stress of doing the two combined got me to manage my time more effectively.

Also, never miss a class, even if your homework isn't done.
posted by SpecialK at 10:47 AM on November 19, 2008

Wow. Did I sleep-post or something? This is too familiar.

"the professor who said "You're still in my class?" as he handed out an exam that I bothered to show up for was one of the most embarrassing moments in my college career"

That happened to me, and I was mortified. I'd miss a class, that would turn into two, and then I'd be paralyzed with the fear that I've disappointed my professor and would avoid class for the rest of the semester. This was completely irrational. I think youcancallmeal has it. Take some time off until you're absolutely sure that you're dedicated to school.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:54 AM on November 19, 2008

I'm joining the chorus of people who suggest that you detach from the educational setting until you can learn to live with your disabilities - because that is what we have in our mental condition: a persistent, cyclical, debilitating condition that prevents us from undertaking even the most trivial activities.

Paraplegic people can't climb stairs effectively without learning how to do so with their condition. We who suffer from mental disorders cannot attend school/work/social functions effectively until we learn how to cope with our condition. For us, it is not as easy as mechanical intervention or physical therapy.

It sounds like you are doing some good work with your therapist. But if you've seen Shortbus, you'll recognize your reaction as the same as the one former-child-star-Jamie had, which prompted his therapist to explain the problem about "false-epiphanies." Breakthroughs in therapy are great. But those breakthroughs do not turn your life right-side-up immediately. It is a long process of hard work, restructuring your life.

Those of us who have tried to soldier on without taking the time to really come to understand our disabilities have been doing ourselves a disservice. Were we unable to walk but insisting on dragging ourselves everywhere by our arms, society would step in and tell us to take a chill pill, get a grip, figure out what we needed to do to get around more effectively - get comfortable with that reality - and only THEN start trying to get around.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:04 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding liketitantic. I was you. I went to school, went to class, stopped going. Panic. Promises of miracles. Failure. Shame. Rinse, repeat for four years. Then I decided to stop. Got a job I liked. Got therapy. Took one course at a time while working. Stopped worrying about perfection and started having a nice routine with less highs and lows in my mood and self-expectations. In other words, I did what liketitantic said. It worked.
posted by girlpublisher at 11:07 AM on November 19, 2008

For almost every class I've been in, the reading was not nearly as important as what went on in class. I don't think I've had more than a handful of classes EVER where I actually read everything I was supposed to read.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2008

You don't need to pass well, you just need to pass.

Yes, this. Do you know what they call the person with the lowest passing grade in medical school?

posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Other than not wanting to make minimum wage, I'm unsure as to why you want to go to school. Succeeding academically, even succeeding minimally (just passing) can be really difficult for some people who aren't genuinely motivated towards a concrete goal or by a passion for the subject matter. If you were doing well professionally outside of school, and if there are non-degree related options for getting ahead, I would pursue that, until you have a compelling reason to go back. Like "I really want to study subject x because I'm fascinated by it." It's actually really hard to miss class when you're riveted by--not just interested in, but obsessively fascinated with--the subject matter.

College isn't for everyone. I don't say that dismissively at all, but it seems to me that you're mostly there because of a societal expectation to be there. If you're not self-motivated, you're not going to succeed; "wanting to look respectable and not make minimum wage" is rarely motivation enough.

Data point: It took three schools and twelve years for my SO to get his BA. He did exactly what you did, meandering from major to major that he was only tangentially interested in because he thought it would be valuable, in some abstract way, to learn about subjects he knew nothing about. All along, his passion was history, but he figured that wouldn't be "useful" as a degree. Three years ago he finally went back and started from scratch as a history major. He'll be graduating in May, likely summa cum laude. So it is possible to do it. But without a reason to, it might be difficult.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:58 AM on November 19, 2008

Dude, just get the fucking piece of paper and get out. Do not make "impressing my professors who I will never see again after I graduate" your goal. Making getting the damn degree your goal, and do as much or as little as you need to do to get there.

Do you know how many people after your first job will ask you what your grades were?

posted by DarlingBri at 12:08 PM on November 19, 2008

Seconding PhoBWanKenobi on doing your passion. My husband went through a similar cycle as an engineering major and blew it because he didn't like the material. He ended up going to a small school to get his AA. He then went on to a better school to get his degree in history (his real passion), and was much happier and more successful.

And if you don't want to do it, you don't have to. I figured out that teaching, either at the college or high school level, was not my passion and quit grad school with a terminal master's and before I got my teaching certificate. I don't count myself a failure because I didn't end up trained to do a job I found out I would have hated. I count myself a happier person because I didn't end up going home from work every night for years tearing my hair out.

Also nthing using the Dean of Students and medical or therapy resources available through the school. You pay for this stuff; you might as well use it.
posted by immlass at 1:19 PM on November 19, 2008

You're no perfectionist.

Look, I remember a professor saying, "Don't worry if you're behind when you come to the class. You should come to class especially if you're behind."

Unless you're in extremely small seminars where everyone is expected to contribute, you can just sit there quietly and absorb information. In college I was lousy at keeping up with homework but I have always been pretty ruthless about attending my classes and I think that made all the difference. Knowing that you will be in a class in an hour must spur you to do at least a fast skim of the assigned readings.

I would try to meet with all of your professors. Explain your situation; if they've been teaching for a while it shouldn't be that unfamiliar. Ask them what you can do to catch up -- for example, perhaps there's a more compact text that can at least you get somewhat up to scratch on the subject. Maybe they can offer you make up homework. Obviously you need passing grades but right now focus on the fact that you are there to learn, so make it about making sure you know what you "should know" about that class's subject once you finish it, and then make sure to know it. If your professors know where you stand they will hopefully give you *some* leeway in the class (i.e. won't call on you to answer a tough question, might send you copies of notes or something).

Doing your passion might be useful, but be careful. You strike me as the sort of person who might have a whole basket of potential passions without being really certain of one or the other. You say you're addicted to your computer. Well, one option is to look into computer science or information tech. At the very least, when you get on your computer there will be reminders there of things you are supposed to be doing for class.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2008

Dear God, I've gone through that same cycle so many times. Only took time off once, but I can't count the number of times it's caused me problems with classes and with my work. Depression, anxiety, and perfectionism can be a toxic combination. I am nowhere near solving it, but here are things you might want to consider.

1) Get an advisor or another faculty ally. You need to be able to go to someone who's _not_ the professor and say "help me get out of this cycle." Sometimes you need someone else give you a kick in the ass when you start skipping classes because you feel ashamed to go. If you make sure that there are other people aware of your mental state, they can tell you when you're acting irrational.

2) Counselling and therapy. If you're like me, you need outside help in changing these stupid behavioral patterns. Furthermore, therapy and/or meds might affect how often you make the mistakes that send you into these vicious cycles. (For example: If I am running too late for a class, due to anxiety about unfinished work, I often end up opting not to go. This, of course, puts me further behind, making me more stressed out and anxious and depressed, thereby making it even harder to finish the goddamn work and show my face in class. Etc. If I address the anxiety that paralyzes me at the beginning of the cycle, I end up in those cycles less frequently.)

3) Figure out what the best environment is for you to be in while you work on your problems. This doesn't necessarily mean dropping out of school - this kind of self-sabatoging perfectionism can cause huge problems in work environments as well. You _do_ need to figure out how to minimize external stress while working on getting your problems under control.

4) Realize that your conviction that you will be able to get everything done perfectly if you just wait another few days (and another few days after that) - and your feelings of shame that prevent you from coming to class or talking to the prof without that Perfectly Done Assignment - are irrational. Sure, what you hand in might not be the best work you are capable of, but realize that the choice isn't between handing in a decent paper and handing in an incredible paper. If you've missed a class or are late on a paper, your real choice is between handing an imperfect but real paper and not handing anything in at all (but telling yourself that if you spend another day working on the paper, you would have something great that would make up for the lateness.) It sounds like you've recognized this, but you need to repeat it to yourself whenever you think about skipping a class, or continuing to work on an already-late assignment, or whatever.

5) Consider putting yourself in situations where time-wasting is difficult while you're studying. I often waste time as a way to distract myself when I am anxious about things. If I study in a coffeeshop or an empty classroom where I have only my problem set and a cup of tea, it's harder to do anything but work on the damn thing.
posted by ubersturm at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2008

If I were in your shoes, I would not quit now after a bad midterm. I would approach the prof(s) and ask what extra credit or make-up work you can do. If you quit now you will just reinforce your habit. You have already concluded you've lost after a midterm. This is a mistake. Profs are often flexible when students, particularly those with mental disease like ADHD or depression, come to them and ask to do whatever it takes to pass. Do that. Do it now, don't give up, and for heaven's sake don't take even more time off and repeat the cycle. You've got to get past your mistakes this semester so far and actually talk to people and see what you can do to pass - I honestly do not understand where people who are recommending you take even more time off are coming from. That will just reinforce your cyclical behavior. Nip it in the bud NOW. Send an email to your prof(s) NOW, tonight, explain the situation and say you will try your best to do whatever work they think is appropriate to make up for whatever you have not done so far. Even if nothing is sufficient, you will have broken past this point of "complete failure" that you feel you're in, seen that there is some hope after it, and seen that no, failing is not so terrible, so that next time you won't have the same shame / fear reaction to missing a simple homework assignment. Also everything that pkphy39 said. Best wishes.
posted by lorrer at 4:47 PM on November 19, 2008

After getting a 1.5 semester GPA for the spring semester of my junior year which landed me on academic probation I realized I was deeply fucked. Things that helped me were:
1. getting diagnosed with ADHD
2. going on medication for ADHD
3. academic counseling
4. taking the minimum required credits of classes to remain a full-time student.
5. working a maximum of 12 hours a week at my job.
6. studying at school or studying at home in my "study area" to reduce distractions
7. Realizing that I will not be able to turn in perfect work for everything. And even if I am not satisfied with the end product I need to turn it in anyway. I would mentally beat myself up for turning in a paper that I thought was seriously sub-par only to get it back with a A or B.

posted by silkygreenbelly at 7:33 PM on November 19, 2008

As someone who teaches, I can tell you that you have a much better chance of passing if you
a) show up (even if you aren't prepared, you have to be there)
b) talk to the professor about what's going on
c) ask if there is anything you can do to make up for previous failures.

It will probably depend on the teacher, but plenty of professors will be happy to help you find a way to salvage the semester if it seems like you are willing to put the effort in. Most of them want you to pass. (They want you to earn it, but they want it to work out for you, too.)
posted by mdn at 7:47 PM on November 19, 2008

I'm basically going to echo what's already been said:

1. It's great that you've come to this realization (about the "shaming voice" in your head) through counseling. Applying that understanding to your daily life and changing your behavior over the long term is probably going to require ongoing counseling or therapy of some sort.

2. I teach college classes. Since I started teaching, I've had about five or six students not pass the class. The circumstances for each student were slightly different, but what they all have in common is that they had lots of absences. When I teach first-years now, I try to impress on them that just showing up is half the battle.

I know this is far easier said than done, but try (by working with a therapist!) to reconfigure your thinking so that your first goal for every class is just showing up. Doing the reading / assignment is important, but less important than doing whatever it is you need to do (shutting down the computer, picking up your book bag, going for a half-hour walk before class to get you away from the computer so you won't be absorbed in a website just as class is about to start?) in order to get yourself through the classroom door on time, consistently.

3. Are you leaping to pessimistic conclusions about that midterm you just took? Unless it was a computer-based, instantly-graded thing, I don't see how you can know the grade yet; and unless you've sat down and talked over your situation with the instructor, I don't see how you can know for sure that your grade for the entire semester is "doomed."

4. The title varies from school to school, but every college or university has an official whose job it is to work with students who have unusual or difficult situations. At your school this may be the "dean of students" or there may be some other title. (Some large schools divide the job among many assistant deans.) Figure out who this person is at your school and talk with them to get a realistic assessment of what needs to happen in order for you to get enough credits to graduate. This person will also be knowledgeable about options such as medical leave, which in some schools is available to students who need time to work on psychological problems.
posted by Orinda at 8:51 PM on November 19, 2008

Ha, I'm one of those (supposedly) terrible people who turn up late to class. One of the only things I was doing right at Uni, was deciding that I had to go to class no matter how late I was.
Luckily there were a lot of back doors in large theatre halls etc, and I got very adept at unobtrusively sneaking in (a. Don't 'sneak'. It's very noticeable).
I'd go to class even just for the last 5 minutes, and to pick up the handouts. Or as people were leaving, to pick up the handouts.

Yes, not being late would have been better. But I could also have been you. :/
(And, people seem to think it is a selective, passive-aggressive thing that I wouldn't do for my own stuff, or fun stuff. Ha! Those are also the kinds of people who have say... lost their wallet. Once. Rather than keeping 2-3 rotating wallets all filled with ATM cards, money, & bus tickets etc. And don't miss holiday plane flights. :( ).

As much as the realisation might... be a realisation, I don't think you can peg future behaviour changes on it.
Can you work (even in a menial low-income job), and take one paper at a time? WITH your counselling, meds, and preferably, a buddy to go to classes with, and even joining a study group to do your work with? Go totally-f(*&*ing-overboard in making compensations so you pass THIS paper, then if you get the routine down, expand your responsibilities.
I also kinda find I do better when I'm busier. Too much free time is too much time to not-do-things in (social time & exercise time doesn't count - they are good, they make you busy)
posted by Elysum at 8:44 PM on November 30, 2008

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