Study method for the one who feels hopeless?
November 18, 2009 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm uncomfortably depressed to the point of feeling completely hopeless...but I need to pass my classes. Can anyone recommend a good study/homework method that worked for you in hard times?

When I get home I completely turn off inside, and it's drastically affecting my grades. I'm seeing a therapist for the depression, but I need a short-term plan for passing my classes.

I'm currently a junior in highschool, so dropping out for personal reasons won't work. Thanks in advance.
posted by Taft to Education (16 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
A simple kitchen timer got me through some hard times. I would set a very realistic small goal to work for 15 minutes on the timer and then take a 30 minute break if I wanted. I would write that down along with a to do list and set the timer. Often it was enough to get me really started and motivated, but more than that, it felt like a big accomplishment at the time to get any work done and that was something that made a difference to me.
posted by melissam at 6:38 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

What do you do when you turn off? Do you watch TV or listen to music? This is generally really bad advice, but if you have busywork (not-too-complicated math problems, flashcards to make, fill-in-the-blank-style language homework), then it goes much faster if you have something else to keep your mind on.

Are you discussing these problems with your therapist? He or she might be able to write you (or refer you to someone who can write you) a prescription for ritalin or adderall. These aren't long-term fixes for academic work or depression, but they'll get your work done.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:40 AM on November 18, 2009

melissam, great idea. I'm going to try that.
posted by Taft at 6:45 AM on November 18, 2009

Seconding the timer. I find in graduate school that I'm much more effective if I rely on good old fashioned pencils & papers instead of computer-based writing & research (though I don't know what high school work is like these days). It helps me focus on the study task at hand for longer periods than on a computer.

Also, can you stay after school and study? Or go to a public or university library? It might be easier to stay in focus-mode if you're in a library or class room rather than at home.
posted by motsque at 6:59 AM on November 18, 2009

I've been in a really similar circumstance lately, and may be again, and I find that producing some inner narrative helps, as well as instituting a regimented system of working/breaks, like melissam said. By inner narrative, I just mean thinking to yourself, in words, audible in your thoughts, "though I'm depressed, I am going to get out of bed and do this work for a short time." Don't abuse yourself, just ask yourself, sincerely, to do the small things you need to do. I hope this helps you as it helped me, good luck.
posted by voronoi at 6:59 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't go home. You might find it easier to focus if you're at a library or something, compared to just heading into your room and triggering "ugh, veg out now" feelings.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:00 AM on November 18, 2009

One thing that I've learned about my suceceptible-to-depression self is that if I go through the day just surviving until I can get home, and then having no plan for anything to do once I get there, I will inevitaby fall further into depression. And the poor performance that goes along with it. I don't know many people who can shut down for a portion of the day, and then get back started to accomplish more tasks.

Instead, if I feel I must suffer through a day (even if I don't), I try to make a point of having something to look forward to when I get home. Something to *do*, that I will get a nice sense of accomplishment out of. For me, it can seriously be something as simple as giving the bathroom mirror a really good cleaning. Almost failure proof, and it reinforces two things: I can accomplish things, and that my home isn't just a nest of protection from the outside world. I have responsibilities there too.

I find that, at least for me, I have a need to feel I've accomplished the day's responsibilities and a need to have the subsequent shut-down. If I get myself into a bad feedback loop where my day's responsibilities are nothing but surviving without having some kind of emotional outburst, I have an empty sort of accomplishment feeling that justifies shutting down even though nothing really got done. It doesn't work well.

Also, there seems to be something about depression that makes planning a day hurt for some reason. I guess it's probably because we *know* something will wreck the plan and make us feel terrible. We focus on that one failure, instead of focusing on any of the successes of the day.
posted by gjc at 7:02 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

melissam has it. Require yourself to work for [small time period] and then give yourself a break. It's fine if the break is up to about twice the length of time period. Do something fun during the break, too, and don't be beating yourself up. You already worked for your work time, so now you're allowed to be whatevering.

It's best to start out with something easy and finishable in one or two work periods, because then you have enough motivation to keep going on things that take longer.
posted by jeather at 7:07 AM on November 18, 2009

Whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed, I make a massive to do list of items that are ridiculously small to accomplish - as in takes no more than 5 mins. I include work stuff, personal stuff, and fun stuff. Then for every 10 or so items I accomplish, I have a list of rewards that I allow - such as watching the latest Daily Show. The massiveness of the list doesn't further overwhelm me, because the items are so small. Seeing that many things crossed out in a day is a way to keep me motivated.

If you are still in high school, can you work something out with parents, siblings, friends, guidance counselor to create a plan, along with your therapist? In the middle of depression, sometimes we forgot how many people are there for us. Good luck.
posted by quodlibet at 7:08 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I get home I completely turn off inside

Don't go home, go to the library. Or a coffee shop if that is your thing, but I think a library is better.
posted by grouse at 7:12 AM on November 18, 2009

This might sound absurd, but it was helpful to me.

Recognize that failure IS an option. You CAN drop out. You CAN do anything you want. You are not compelled by any force to do anything.

The logically objection is to say "If I drop out I'll ruin my life." If you can make the decision to say, "This is not an obligation but a choice," that might help.

So when you're confronted you think, "I am choosing to finish my work and not drop out. I accept that I have the legitimate option of doing otherwise. Because I have weighed the potential future that comes as a result of dropping out and the potential future that comes as a result of working hard, I make the CHOICE to work hard."

When I struggled with suicide, a controversial therapist asked me to consider that I really did have the option of blowing my brains out. It was my choice. And therefore I could think of every day I didn't kill myself as a day that I was completely free and bound only by my own choices. This way of thinking helped remove external constraints from my mind and freed me from the depths of depression. It may not work the same for you, but for me at least, realizing that I had choices and following through with those choices was a powerful step toward feeling efficacious and then becoming so.
posted by jefficator at 7:32 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I had major depression through all 4 years of college and used homework as a kind of therapy, to keep me busy so I wasn't obsessing. I would always find somewhere quiet with minimal distractions (at my school there was a huge ballroom that was seldom used) and start out with math because it had a clear process to go through that would warm me up mentally, then I would switch between subjects every 20 minutes or so to keep my ADD satisfied.

I found myself doing math problems that weren't even part of the curriculum just to keep my mind busy. Also did everything with pencil/paper because the effort involved in writing by hand sort of forces you to slow down and really think about what you're doing.
posted by mattholomew at 7:53 AM on November 18, 2009

I second making a comprehensive list of tasks for yourself. I had an incredibly difficult semester in college, to the point of almost voluntarily dropping out, and what got me through it was my lists. I had a few; one was an overall task list, and then I had one for each class. This may seem overwhelming, but for me, it had the opposite effect; instead of viewing my responsibilities as a huge amorphous thing that I wanted to hide from, I knew exactly how many tasks I had to complete, and thus how close I was to finishing the list. It's also incredibly satisfying to put a nice big check in one of the boxes, and know that I finished that.

Another technique that I still use: I am notorious for figuring out what school/work-related things I need to complete at home, then getting home and COMPLETELY wiping my brain of school/work things. Very out of sight, out of mind. What helps me is to make one of the aforementioned lists, and put it somewhere that I MUST access when I get home, no matter how much I shut off my brain. I've had the most success with folding the paper and wrapping it around my cell phone.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 8:12 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get It Done When You're Depressed (a book of productivity tips for the depressed, not a book about treating depression).
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:47 AM on November 18, 2009

The one personal trick I have for overcoming an utter lack of interest or motivation in tackling a long or meaty list of tasks: I look over the list and pick out the one thing I least want to do. Then I do that thing first, even if it sucks and is horrible, because the whole time I'm doing it I can tell myself that it sucks and is horrible but it's the worst thing I'll have to do today.

Of course, I'm the kind of person who, as a kid, ate every vegetable on my plate first so that I could savor the non-disgusting foods afterward. So this may only work if you are my kind of crazy.
posted by miskatonic at 3:13 PM on November 18, 2009


Nth go to the library and do your homework there before going home.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2009

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