How do I survive this week?
October 14, 2010 5:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I make it through the next five days without falling apart? Completely overwhelmed with depression, midterms, medication, and a funeral.

For all intents and purposes, the next five days are going to be the hardest days of my life. I've been fighting depression for years and, though I've been in therapy for a year and a half, started this week on a regimen of Prozac (10mg/day), flaxseed oil, and Vitamin D. This is the first time I've ever taken medication for depression. I've been going through what is apparently the ups and downs of starting fluoxetine - my days begin a little rough, I settle into a calm, even upbeat state by 10, but am back to depression by late afternoon.

I thought that would be okay to handle on its own, but my grandmother passed away Tuesday night, and tomorrow (Friday) through Tuesday night will be taken up by funeral business - travelling, attending (the service is on Monday), and returning. It's a 10-hour drive (thankfully, I won't be driving - I'll be in the car with relatives, three of which are small children). I don't have any major duties at the funeral, I don't think, besides just helping out where I can in the kitchen, with children, etc.

Unfortunately, this is also midterm season, which means I have two exams next week - one scheduled for Monday that I'm making up on Thursday, and another on Friday. I also have two short papers to write, a presentation to organize, and lots of reading to do. I can try to work in the car and at the house over the weekend, but I also don't want to isolate myself from my family during all of our time of need.

Basically, how do I manage all this work, while spending enough time with my family, while dealing with grief, depression, and the side effects of the fluoxetine? All I want to do right now is curl up into a little ball and hide, but that's apparently not an option. I've asked for extensions on what I can, but that's still only allowing me an extra few days -- so basically everything is due Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.
posted by punchdrunkhistory to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One hour at a time. One hour at a time. Remember, Grandma wanted you to be happy, and not so downtrodden at her funeral that you cracked and ended up blowing an exam you worked hard for.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:32 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

All families are different, so first, ask yourself this question: would your family rather have you do well in school, or attend a funeral? Would your grandmother rather have you do well in school, or attend her funeral?

Otherwise, school isn't everything. Right now it seems like it is because it is your whole life. It's where you spend most of your time. And it's been that way since grade. But it's not everything. Don't work on both papers bit-by-bit; try and see if you can get one done. Then the other. Better to have a paper handed in and half-done paper late than be late on two three-quarter done papers.

As far as the exams, well, you have to triage. Make yourself a schedule of how much of what to study.

Good luck.
posted by griphus at 5:32 PM on October 14, 2010

Get off Metafilter RIGHT NOW and get two small, concrete things done. I'm so sorry you're going through this and I'm sure people here will have great advice, but ive found that the best way to deal with incipient overwhelming is to minimize the time you spend worrying and catastrophizing and maximize the time you spend actually getting shit done. Nothing feels better than crossing something off the list.

Also, sleep enough.
posted by MadamM at 5:35 PM on October 14, 2010

First of all, I'm very sorry for your loss.

If you're taking medication, are you also seeing a therapist who you might be able to check in with by phone while you're away?

I suggest taking the next five days one at a time. When you get through one, then think about the next. Take it hour to hour if you need to.

Regarding your schoolwork, I find that early in the morning or late at night are great times to concentrate for me. YMMV. Focus on the stuff that's due Wednesday and Thursday. Once you're back at school, you can focus on Friday.

Berst wishes to you and your family during this difficult time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:38 PM on October 14, 2010

Are your professors aware of what's going on? At least with your grandmother's funeral. It's better to talk to them now and see what concessions they may be willing to make, than to do poorly and make excuses later.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:41 PM on October 14, 2010

Can you go through your advisor or the counseling or health center? Usually they have ways to get the Dean of Students involved, who can arrange for you to get the extensions you need-- beyond next week. Someone higher up at your university should be able to get more time than this.

If not, just do the best you can. Grades are not everything. Put that at the bottom of your list. Your well-being is so much more important in the short term and long term.
posted by vincele at 5:41 PM on October 14, 2010

I missed my own grandfather's funeral because I had midterms. (And I was ten hours away.)

Your mileage may vary.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:43 PM on October 14, 2010

Just so you know, your professors very likely have deadlines of their own to submit grades to the university for midterms. That might be way you can't get extensions beyond a certain date. But even in that case, they could always submit a grade for something else. I do it all the time for students in need. Talk to one person in a position of authority first thing tomorrow and see what can be done.
posted by vincele at 5:44 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

With all the tough times ahead of you, I can certainly see why you are feeling overwhelmed. The good news is that Prozac takes a while to fully kick in. So it really is GOOD that you are already having some effect from it. It will get even better.

Like CoolPapaBell said, take it a little bit at a time. Just look ahead to the very next step, and don't worry about next week or the week after yet. Get through now. Like I said, Prozac can take a while, up to 4 weeks, to fully kick in. So by the time those more stressful things (like midterms!) come up, you may, and probably will, be in a much better place emotionally. Don't worry if you can't imagine it right now. Just handle right now, and you'll grow stronger day by day.

Get outside in the sun as much as you can. Find quiet, peaceful spaces.

Don't try to read too much, or study too much, just yet. You're fuzzy, and not yet concentrating clearly. That will pass, too. Give it time, as much as you can. Ten-hour car drive? Stuff to read? Hey, can you get the audiobook and just listen to it on your headphones? You may be able to absorb it all better that way. Or if you can get the notes of what you are supposed to read, and that's all you can handle, that's still *something*. If you need help organizing your thoughts for your papers, try talking them out with someone before attempting to write it all down. Don't shoot for an all or nothing attitude. Just go for incremental improvements, adding on as you can handle more.

Indulge yourself wherever and in whatever small ways you can. Eat your favorite foods (take some snacks on the trip), steamy bath or shower, comfy chairs with an outside view.

Exercise as much as you can. I know, you feel exhausted. That's the mental exhaustion, though. Try walking outside. take deep breaths. Don't worry about going fast or getting anywhere in particular, just move around to get the blood flowing and lift your mood.

Set yourself small--very small!--tasks. You CAN get through this!
posted by misha at 5:49 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've dealt with this kind of thing a lot. I've dropped out and back in four times, thanks to bad bipolar disorder. The most important thing is to keep one foot in front of the other and not beat yourself up if things don't go perfectly.

- If your school has any office that does advocacy for students with medical problems and other extenuating circumstances, talk to them now, before you are in trouble with any of your classes. Virtually all colleges have procedures for helping out students with health problems and often have specific procedures for helping out students with mental health issues. These offices can talk to your professors for you. They can let you drop classes late in the semester. They can advocate for extensions and things like that. But they almost certainly won't be able to do much after the fact. If you haven't told the appropriate parts of your school administration that you need some help, you really should.

- Figure out how much time you need to study. Divide that up over the number of days you have to be out of town and figure out how many hours you need to work per day. Let your family know that's how much time you need, and then schedule it while you're there. Maybe wake up early and spend a few hours at a Starbucks and then rejoin everyone for lunch. Don't tell yourself you'll get 20 or 30 minutes of studying in here and there, schedule blocks of time and stick to your schedule. Will you have access to a car while you're there? You're probably going to have to leave the hurricane of family to get anything done.

- I find it's hard to do very much real studying as a passenger. The best I could hope for in that kind of circumstance is just copying notes over by hand and maybe making a study sheet. Doing any kind of actually attentive reading is difficult for me in those circumstances.

- It's only grades. If you have your heart set on Harvard medical or a PhD at MIT, then I guess you should be really stressed out. But honestly, a couple of Cs on midterms really aren't the end of the world. It is shocking how little school matters once you're graduated and out. I used to be a 4.0 student on track to become a mathematician. That's not my relationship with school any more, and while it took my ego down a notch or two, I'm perfectly happy being on a different path in life.

- I don't know what your family situation is. If they're supportive and a positive force in your life, let a few people know what you're going through. If they're a bunch of negative crazies, take as much time to yourself as is possible and reasonably polite.

Good luck. The best news is, these problems are on rails. No matter what, you're going to be in that car, the funeral will happen, and then the midterms will happen. It could go well, it could go poorly, but it will all occur and then be over.
posted by keratacon at 5:50 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

One hour at a time. One hour at a time.

Precisely this. Schedule every moment of the next 10 days; figure out as much time for studying as possible. Include "sleep" as a schedule item. Allow for the possibility of things slipping a bit beyond their scheduled blocks.

Then... be as in-the-moment as possible during each task, given your medicated state. When you're at the funeral, if you find yourself worrying about midterms, think to yourself, "I will deal with that in 2 hours," and then let it go in the meantime.

Besides your professors being understanding, your family should be understanding as well. They should allow you to skip out on ushering, food prep, cleanup, etc, as much as possible so you can study. If you're committed to traveling to the funeral, you should focus during the ceremony and visitation, out of respect. But as to general helping out, this is a very important time in your life, too, and people should cut you some slack.
posted by rkent at 5:51 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Came in to also suggest rigorous scheduling. It will give you a sense of control as everything else is spiraling around you.
posted by lhall at 5:55 PM on October 14, 2010

I'm so sorry for your loss, and for the hard time you are having right now.

I think you should talk to your doctor, counsellor, dean, whoever it takes to try to get longer extensions. Midterms should not be bound by external requirements for professors to get grades in by a certain date - not like finals - so they should be able to be more lenient. When I have taught students who have a funeral OR an illness, yes, an extension of only a week is usual, but if I knew that they had ALL of this stuff going on, I would do what I could to make the extension as long as was possible without affecting their learning.

On the other hand, the important thing about classes is learning, not grades (I'm sorry, I am a lecturer, I can't help this attitude!). It doesn't sound like you are in a position to learn as much as you need to in these courses this semester. If it is possible, you might want to think about withdrawing, to give you time to get well.

If that is not possible, you need to figure out how important these classes are. Your own judgment of this will probably be influenced by the depression, so talk with someone you trust - a prof, or a fellow student, or an advisor. If you completely flunk the midterms, will it mean you can't pass the courses? What sort of grades do you need in these courses for the future (i.e. as prerequisites to other courses, or to keep your GPA high enough to retain a scholarship, or to get into med school, or whatever your plans are). Does it even matter if you don't pass these courses this semester? (And by matter, I mean: will you care about this in 10 years' time?)

If there is no compelling external reason why you have to excel in these courses, try not to worry about them too much. At the end of a degree, one bad semester is easy to explain away on your transcript. My husband is working at a prestigious university as a physicist, and has received plenty of grants and jobs and whatever in this discipline where intelligence and high grades are important. He had no trouble getting a prestigious scholarship to grad school. His transcript was entirely As for every class EXCEPT for the semester where he discovered girls and alcohol. In that semester he got nothing but Cs. And you know? Everyone who sees that transcript laughs and discounts that semester, because it is clearly an aberration.

So I don't say this often to students, but it might be that if you can't withdraw formally from your classes, and you can't get longer extensions, that your best option is to forget about the midterms, don't study, and just do what you can in the exams. You need to concentrate on your mental and physical health right now. And incidentally, you will feel much better about "slacking off" like this if it is a conscious decision, rather than simply what ends up happening despite intending to study.

Finally, I should note that it is pretty common that when profs add up all your grades for the semester to decide a final grade, if one component is totally out of character (e.g. a student gets an A on the first assignment, an A on the essay, participates in all classes, and does all the homework, but flunks the final), we use our judgment and bump the final grade up a bit to smooth things out. It's even possible that your university has a formal process for this: if you submit paperwork showing that your performance in the exam was adversely affected by circumstances, you may be able to have your final grade not take that into account. You need to talk to an adviser about your particular options at your university (and not necessarily your profs - profs don't always know about all the options. Try the counselling centre, or the Dean of Students, or the Student Learning Centre, or whatever your uni has.)
posted by lollusc at 6:05 PM on October 14, 2010

"Basically, how do I manage all this work..."

Stay off of MetaFilter.

Seriously, I'm not being snarky, I'm speaking from personal experience as someone who occasionally has to add the MetaFilter domains to my hosts file as a way of coping with my own internet addiction.

MetaFilter already a hugely tempting time suck on a good day. It's going to be even more tempting this week to distract yourself from all the crap going on in your life, especially now that you'll feel compelled to keep checking this AskMe for new responses. But as good as it feels in the moment to shut out the world and INTERNET! FOREVER!, you're just creating a worse, more stressful situation for your future self.

If you have the self control to just not check your usual sites for a week, good for you. If, like me, you think you're going to just browse for a few minutes while you eat something and then suddenly several hours have gone by, then you might want to consider temporarily blocking MetaFilter and any of your other favorite time-suck sites until you get through the crunch period.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:21 PM on October 14, 2010

I am really sorry to hear you are going through all this.

If you were my student, I would recommend you go to the Counselling Centre (Dean of Students Office/Advising Office/whoever handles this stuff at your school) and ask them to a) contact your instructors to request longer extensions and b) help you come up with a plan for catching up when you come back. This way, you can provide documentation in one place and someone else can handle the paperwork/e-mailing/phoning for you. I have received requests like this in the past from the Counselling Centre and have never had a problem with it because I knew a) someone had seen official documentation of an emergency or medical problem and b) someone was helping the student come up with a work management plan for after the crisis has passed.

Forget about school right now. Go be with your family, let yourself mourn for your grandmother, allow yourself time for your medication to be effective, and worry about the work later. Seriously.

I say this as someone who is normally very strict about deadlines and student responsibility, but cases like yours are what extensions are for. I don't want my students endangering their mental health for their schoolwork. I also don't want them half-assing work they could otherwise do well on when they are in a better space.

Take care.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:40 PM on October 14, 2010

Think about the sixth day.
posted by setanor at 6:46 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when I'm completely depressed and shattered and overwhelmed and the tasks ahead seem insurmountable I think, "OK, what would a well-adjusted competent person do right now?" And then I do that.

That sounds flippant, but it really works for me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:57 PM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry for the times you are going through.

Here's something that helps me, and I often forget it: make sure to remind yourself regularly that this isn't the way things always are. For some reason, when we go through hard times, we feel as if we are experiencing life the way it's always going to be from here on out, and we forget to keep our eyes toward the light at the end of the tunnel. Try to picture how you will feel when you get to the end of the five days, and you have time to rest. That will be the more normal way of things, and it'll keep you from viewing the temporary difficulties through the lens of permanency. When all is done, and your grandmother has been laid to rest, and your midterms are done, you will get to rest. Internalize that feeling and hold on to it, and remind yourself of it on a regular basis.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:14 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss, and I wanted to let you know that I'm sending good thoughts your way.

Take things each step at a time. Parse out manageable tasks for your day so you feel like you're getting stuff done without overwhelming yourself. Take time to breathe. Take time to grieve. And talk to a school counselor about how you're doing so that if things get too out of hand, you'll have somebody to depend on for help.

You can do it.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:30 PM on October 14, 2010

Thank you all so much for your responses. To clarify some things - it's really important to me that I go to the funeral, both just to connect with my family and because I missed my grandfather's funeral six years ago. I have let all my professors (except one, with whom I don't have class until Wednesday) know about the situation, and got a reprieve on the presentation - so that's one less thing to worry about. I did also get one reading done so far. Also, I talked to my mom just now and she reassured me that the family will be fine with me spending Sunday doing homework - that feels much better.

Thank you so, so much again. I've been trying to take it step by step - that's one thing I've been working on with my therapist consistently. Otherwise, I'll try to keep reminding myself to just do what I can.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:55 PM on October 14, 2010

10 hours in a car with small children - try and engage with them. Watch them. It is one way to see life in action, learning, growing. Children themselves are so engaged with the world, and they have no worries. Try and soak in their attitude as much as you can, you'll see that the worries of one bad week are really small in the grand scheme of things.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:36 PM on October 14, 2010

What helps me with papers is to say "you can do a bad job." that gets me to do something. Just do a really bad draft, or the best draft you can. You can always improve it. But if you draft up a really bad version based on what's in your head now, rather than doing tons of research and preparation, you'll be mostly done and you can always polish sections up later based on additional research.
posted by salvia at 8:40 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider withdrawing from a class or two and focusing only on the courses where you can do well. School will still be there when you're feeling better.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:18 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's perfectly appropriate to inform instructors that you have had a death in the family and need extra time to hand in assignments. It's nice to add a link to the obit online, for verification. I think being with family may be a big help, and funerals are a way to process loss. Salvia is right; done is better than perfect, so get done what you can, and then let people help you out. You can go back to faculty and make a new plan for work you can't complete.

You are doing better than you think; coping well and making good choices, like coming to for help.
posted by theora55 at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2010

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