Pulling it together
March 23, 2010 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Help me get back on academic track as I recover from depression.

I've found a medication regimin that seems to be working to help me with my depression issues. I've been stuck in a bad cycle of failing and getting pity Cs throughout much of my college career (my mom and therapist wouldn't let me leave school unless I found a job, and I was too depressed to seek one), so my GPA is really low. I want to get back on the horse and succeed like I did in high school. I'm hoping to go back to a 4 year college, after leaving TCNJ for community college. How can I explain to admissions offices best that my poor records are because of my depression, which is now in check? I really do want to get a degree, rather than starting a job right now, especially in this economy.

Also, what steps can I take to ensure that I don't become depressed again, or don't slide so far if I do get depressed? I have started exercising (pilates exercise tapes and bicycling when the weather's good), and my diet is generally homemade recipes using whole foods. I've also found a hobby I enjoy, homebrewing, and I feel like I'm starting to enjoy life in general again. I'm hoping I can get some good grades to show for it, and get a handle on my life. I'm feeling hopeful for the first time in years.
posted by mccarty.tim to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a professor you've impressed (or could still impress before you apply elsewhere)? A strong recommendation could be really helpful. Someone who understands your situation and what you're really capable of? It's almost certainly not too late to find that person if you still have some time at your current school.
posted by stargazer360 at 7:34 AM on March 23, 2010

I've been in your same shoes, and the best way that I've found to show a college that you're back on track is to put your money where your mouth is and actually earn some good grades. For me, that meant going back to school at a community college and acing my classes, which showed my former school that I was ready to get back to work and they jumped at the chance to readmit me. The new grades I received didn't do a ton to raise my GPA, since I had stayed in school too long getting piss-poor grades and had a lot to make up, but the fact that I told them a big change had been made in my life and I had the awesome grades to back that up went a long way.

Can you afford to take a semester or two at a community college taking gen ed classes and rocking out in them? If not, maybe you could sit down with an admissions person and explain the situation, maybe offering documentation from your doctor/therapist regarding the changes in your life since starting to take care of your mental health.
posted by scarykarrey at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2010

First off, congrats on getting out of your slump! I hope you'll continue to pay attention to your mind and body to keep it in check; it looks like you have good plans.

Colleges hear this all the time. I'm saying this because it's a good thing; they are familiar with these situations and can spot someone who really cares and is taking responsibility for themselves.

You say that you've gotten help from this regimen, but they'll want to see evidence that it has really worked. An academic dean is typically the person who makes decisions about "who lives or dies" (says my friend the dean), so you might want to check in with one of them at either your current school or the school you left.

A semester or two with a clear uptick in grades and involvement is a good sign. You could also use a letter from your psychologist/psychiatrist stating that you've sought help and your prognosis is good. They should also be interested in hearing a bit about things aside from pharmaceuticals that you're using to keep your depression at bay (as you've outlined above).

And don't feel discouraged if it takes longer than you might want. You've got all the time in the world; just focus on moving forward a little bit at a time. You're already better off than many people who have been in your shoes.
posted by Madamina at 7:50 AM on March 23, 2010

For the college you are interested in going to, ask if they have a "returning students" counselor or dean. You may feel you're still college age, but if you're even a year or two off the normal track, a returning students expert can be helpful in getting you re-integrated in a college program. He or she can also let you know what it really takes to get into their program and help you prepare if you're not quite ready yet.

We're going through the same thing with our son. It's slow progress, but any progress is good. Congrats on trying to get back on track.
posted by Doohickie at 8:50 AM on March 23, 2010

Colleges are very familiar with this situation, so you're by no means doomed. Based on my experience:

-Get good grades at a community college or other local school for a semester or two. You need to be able to show them that your previous bad grades were the result of depression, not lack of interest or ability, and that you've got that depression controlled enough to be able to succeed academically.

-Work with the four-year school on a plan to get readmitted. Schools handle this differently; at mine, counseling deans handled a lot of the readmission procedure and were able to work out the details of what I'd need to do to get back in. If you're applying to different four-year schools, talk to the admissions officers and see if there's anything special that helps people in your position get in (i.e. an explanatory essay written by you, a note from your doctor, recommendation letters from profs at the community college, etc.)

-Have a plan for what will happen if depression strikes again. How often will you be visiting your therapist? How often will you be meeting with your academic advisor? Are there other resources for people struggling with emotional problems? You need to be able to build yourself a safety net so that if (when) another bad period strikes, you'll have people who're keeping an eye out for these things and who will be ready to help you fix things before they spiral out of control. Moreover, it will help if you are able to tell the school that you do have a plan for dealing with future challenges.
posted by ubersturm at 8:54 AM on March 23, 2010

You mention "depression" and "depression issues".

Are we talking about "classic", clinical depression (unipolar)? Or was it more a case of something happened in your life which was depressing, so you got depressed in reaction to that? Or have you had seriously "up" manic periods as well (manic depression/bipolar)?

Also, how long have you been feeling more level and stable - weeks?

I'm not asking for personal details but with the above questions in mind, can I suggest some caution before jumping back into the saddle? If it's "classic" depression you may have found a regimen that keeps you on an even keel. In which case yay! And carry on. Make plans, etc. If it was some sort of normative depression (somebody died, you left home, you got dumped etc.) then - ditto, yay for the present regimen and carry on.

However. If it's really more up-and-down than that, you might just be entering the up phase, where you begin to shake off the horrible depression and begin to feel "fine". And then possibly more than fine. You might get a lot done in this phase, but it isn't something you can rely on as a long-term foundation, in fact making long-term plans based on a manic phase will probably end poorly and leave you feeling bad about yourself. You might be able to guess, I have experience with the latter.

Also this:
-Have a plan for what will happen if depression strikes again. How often will you be visiting your therapist? How often will you be meeting with your academic advisor? Are there other resources for people struggling with emotional problems? You need to be able to build yourself a safety net so that if (when) another bad period strikes, you'll have people who're keeping an eye out for these things and who will be ready to help you fix things before they spiral out of control. Moreover, it will help if you are able to tell the school that you do have a plan for dealing with future challenges.
posted by ubersturm

And yes, getting decent amounts of exercise, eating healthily and drinking ~1.5-2.5 litres of water a day all make a big positive contribution.

tl;dr - make sure you know which type your depression, broadly, is. If this contains a manic component, and you're in it, check your head and wonder if long-term plans are for the best right now. Maybe part-time courses you can later build on, rather than committing to four solid years or whatever would be better for you right now. HTH. Good luck!
posted by blue funk at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2010

Definitely work with whatever support system(s) your school has in place; this may include deans, counselors, faculty advisors, etc. Building up a network of people who will get to know you, your goals, and what you're capable of is hugely important--they're the ones who can help you if you get stuck, go to bat for you if you need an ally, and cheer for you when things go well.

Along with that, see if there are resources available for tutoring or academic mentoring. I found that depression totally wrecked whatever meager study/time-management skills I may have once had, and that taking a year off to work, which was preceded by at least a year of being unable to function, had left me feeling particularly unscholarly. When I went back to school, I sat down with a dean once a week to fill out my schedule for classes, studying, work, and whatever else, and it wasn't the most uplifting exercise but it did help me regain a sense of control and order. Something like this may help you, too.

I also recommend thinking a bit about how you'll discuss your situation. If you can come up with some talking points--here's what happened with my grades, here's how I'm dealing with it now, here's my plan for the future--it can really help with the re-entry period. (I also found that with some people, it's absolutely enough to say, "I took some time off," and just leave it at that. The admissions folks will need more details than that, but your fellow students probably won't.)
posted by 2or3things at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2010

Look for schools who have a "non-traditional" program like Columbia University's School of General Studies. I'm in GS myself and it's half former drug addicts (okay, I exaggerate but...) A lot of them/us have had weird troubles in the past with school and our transcripts reflect this but admissions is a little more interested in "your story" than your grades--though I imagine your pre-depression highschool performance will look good. It's expensive, but I love it. Also, the teachers love having people who aren't just prep-school, Ivy-league-groomed kids.

As for staying out of depression, there are a lot of support groups on campus and I'd imagine most universities have a bunch of support groups as well. PM me if you'd like to talk more about it, our situations sound similar...
posted by johnnybeggs at 12:32 PM on March 23, 2010

From personal experience, I wish I had NOT gone straight back to college after a major depressive episode. It sounds like you've really got a good grasp on what it is what you want to do and your whole life is opened up for you. I agree with folks who say take it slowly, maybe just enough courses to go part-time if you can hack it. Best of luck.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2010

Response by poster: For the record, I never left college. My therapist told my mom he felt that I would be worse off if I wasn't working or going to college, which I feel was bad advice. After all, I was too depressed to get the energy to go out job searching while still in school. My mom still thinks she did what was right, so I kind of don't bring it up with her anymore.

I have to go with full-time for insurance and student loan purposes, but I'm going to stick with easy, liberal arts courses until I feel better and know I can handle the hard stuff.

Thanks, everyone for all the advice. Hopefully this recovery will stick, and it's not just spring mania.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:38 PM on April 22, 2010

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