How do I tell my professor I have essentially "wasted" my extension due to psychological blocks?
January 7, 2011 8:07 PM   Subscribe

"Now semester 3 for me starts next Monday and my paper is just as unfinished as it was three weeks ago. I spent over a good half of my break sitting in front of the computer screen crying, unable to write anything legitimate. I have no idea why, perhaps I just lack the confidence, but I kept feeling overwhelmed and would just sit there and cry.... Looking back I probably could have written it three or four times over, and I deeply, deeply, regret not just withdrawing... I did make progress, but it is nowhere near to being a finished paper. There is no way it can be finished by Monday, and at this point I just want it to go away and disappear."

This is in a sense, a buildup to multiple questions. I have gone to write on here many times before and always hesitated as I would always find posts similar but not quite what I was asking so I guess everything's spilling out at once a bit, because everything is connected.. Most of what I've included is background and can be skimmed through... (*if you wish to skip, just scroll down to OK So...*) My apologies again for length and a big thank you to everyone who reads through it all.

(Also I will be sharing this with my next therapist/counselor session)

First, some background...

I am a 23 year old student with an Associates, attending my local university with hopes that I will one day finish the course requirements and be accepted to their Nursing Program - and I am 100% dependent on my parents. I did not pick this school out of any other reason other than it was conveniently located, semi-low attendance costs (around 5K for 10 credits & books), and to avoid the extra anxiety of moving out and having to pay rent on top of transportation costs.

Previously I have had small on-campus jobs. I held a secretarial position while attending community college, and when I transferred to our *very* small local university branch, I misguidedly ran for a job position as a student senator, won by sheer chance and after a very stressful semester, resigned (just sent my letter 1 week ago today). I have tried off campus jobs in the past, but nothing that lasted longer than a few weeks as I could not handle the psychical stress. I have recently tried looking again, but have had zero luck in finding work that would allow me to also stay in school.

My mother has worked extremely hard her whole life. She grew up in poverty and has been forced to work since the age of 10. When she moved here from France, and then later divorced my father, she started working despite being on her own in a foreign country with two dependent kids and no child support payments. Now she is married to a very successful engineer (been in my life since I was 4) and still hasn't stopped working hard, and can not understand why everything is such a struggle for me.

I have had anxiety/depression for as long as I can remember. I've seen about 3 therapists in the last year, even more so in the past, none of which I feel were any big significant help. I also have a tendency to put on a “Suzie Sunshine” facade in-front of therapists around session 3 or 4 and then they usually recommend I cease seeing them. This just lets my problems fester until I once again have some mental break and start seeing someone else. I have not been on any medications since I spent a big chunk of my high school and community college days “trying out” Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft, or Wellbutrin, and none of which seemed to do anything other than give me unwanted side effects.
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship (ages 17-21) and had a few nervous breakdowns and bad quarters at school resulting from it. Not too long after officially cutting myself off from my ex, I met my current boyfriend whom is awesome and very supportive. My first semester at university I retook some classes and fixed my GPA: the door to being a nurse had opened for me once again.

Ok, so....

First the school system held me back another year to finishing my studies (I am not a full three years behind my original graduation date) by not offering the classes I needed that were promised to be offered last Fall semester. I was going to resign from my student senator job due to not being able to meet the minimum class load requirement, but my mother insisted that since I had made a commitment that I should stand by it. She also insisted I take at least 3 classes otherwise she wouldn't pay for my classes or books. So I "sucked it up" and gave it my best shot even though I have more than enough elective classes under my belt.
As the semester wore on, and my anxiety grew worse and worse, to the point that I was coming home everyday crying, and my mother started getting a bit fed up with me and she started insisting I just resign from my job and keep pushing through the classes I hated and had no academic need for and was just taking because of her.

I've been feeling a ton of pressure to do well in school. I come home every day to see my mother suffering from her endless mountain of grading and lesson plans workload (high school French professor), only for me to be ceaselessly paralyzed by mental block A or B.

At some point in the semester I had a gigantic research paper I needed to write. I kept trying to work on it and was unable to write. The due date was around the corner, and then it came and went. This paper was worth 1/5th of my grade, and I was sitting at a B, so I decided I would be best off to save my GPA and withdraw from the class. When I spoke to professor about it, through some miracle he offered to give me an extension on the assignment through the winter break as an alternative. Thinking my writing difficulties were more stress induced than anything else, and that surely I would be able to finish my paper over the break, I accepted.

Now semester 3 for me starts next Monday and my paper is just as unfinished as it was three weeks ago. I spent over a good half of my break sitting in front of the computer screen crying, unable to write anything legitimate. I have no idea why, perhaps I just lack the confidence, but I kept feeling overwhelmed and would just sit there and cry.... Looking back I probably could have written it three or four times over, and I deeply, deeply, regret not just withdrawing... I did make progress, but it is nowhere near to being a finished paper. There is no way it can be finished by Monday, and at this point I just want it to go away and disappear.

So...

How do I approach my professor? I know he went out on a limb offering me that extension and I feel like I've completely let him down, and have shattered the chances of him ever doing the same for another student down on their luck.
It's way to late for me to receive medical withdrawal as the semester is over (I somehow received low A's and B's in my other two classes). Without my paper I will be receiving a low C and realize I will either have to deal with the consequences of a once-again low GPA or somehow fork up 2K to retake the class.

Does anyone know of a magical way to change a class from “incomplete” to “withdrawal” past the end of the semester?

And on bigger scaled side-notes...

How can I learn to make my own decisions more and not let people (like my family) make decisions for me?

Also How can I be a better patient for therapists? The more people I see the more difficult it feels for me to let them know why I'm having so many issues.

And as far as the guilt I receive from being around my mother; Should I just move out?
If I do, I'll lose my health insurance and suspect that in due time my mother will cease helping me pay for school since I am "on my own now". This is exactly what happened to my older sister when she got married... who now has to pay for everything herself since her hubby is an overpaid jerk who doesn't help her with squat.
My boyfriend is more than willing to have me move in with him and his mother (we are already practically cohabitation, I use his house as a sort of escape from my family), but I am still not sure if I am ready for that big of a step yet and am concerned that I would just be shifting my dependence more to him.
posted by lovecricket to Education (37 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
My university allowed medical withdrawals until about halfway through the following term. You need to call your counseling center and someone with a job title like "dean of students." If you can say where you go to school, people can be a lot more helpful.

As for your family: you should be very upfront about your "Suzie Sunshine" tendencies with your therapist. They can help a lot more than random internet strangers can.

(In your shoes I'd pick debt over living under mom's thumb, but I'm going to be paying off my loans into my fifties, so that may not be great advice.)
posted by SMPA at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2011


IAAP, although IANYP. I am only going to deal with the paper section of your question.

What you describe happens all the time. Your professor did not "go out on a limb" to give you the extension; for that matter, he has probably had students request extensions to extensions before. In fact, I just did that for one of my students earlier this week. This is almost certainly the least of your problems. Now, you're going to have to decide how much you want to tell your professor about your problems. If you really cannot finish the paper, send your professor an e-mail now, explain the situation clearly and concisely, and request a further extension. Give him a proposed due date--don't just ask for an open-ended extension. (Depending on the college bureaucracy, you may need to fill out some paperwork; check to make sure that your grade won't automatically reset to an "F" if your incomplete isn't finished in X amount of time.)
posted by thomas j wise at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2011


Also: medical withdrawals. Definitely a possibility, but you'll need paperwork--at the very least, a note from a therapist.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:22 PM on January 7, 2011


A weekend can be a long time, are you sure you couldn't put in long hours Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and get it in to him Monday night?
posted by pseudonick at 8:24 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel a little bit like I shot myself in the foot with getting a medical withdrawal... I met with my therapist yesterday told her I still was struggling with my paper and she just smiled at me and told me she "knows I can do it" and recommended I just lock myself in a library.

And I've been literally been trying to write this paper for the last three weeks. I haven't had much of a break. Both my mother and boyfriend are scratching their heads as to why it's not finished yet...
posted by lovecricket at 8:31 PM on January 7, 2011


Echoing what pseudonick says, can't you finish the paper on Saturday and Sunday? When I was a grad student I would frequently go through similar phases when I would get stressed out about finishing papers. Instead of focusing on the problem at hand (the paper), I would catastrophize and think about the consequences of not finishing the paper, and brainstorm about every possible way to get out of writing said paper. It is going to be tough, but I'm guessing that you probably could crank it out in 2 days, and you will feel a whole lot better about yourself if you do it instead of dropping the class, requesting a medical withdrawal, etc.

This happens all the time, don't be so hard on yourself.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:35 PM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Go to a greasy-spoon type restaurant.
Get a belly full of hearty food and start pounding coffee.
Go to the supermarket and get a case of soda.
Lock yourself in somewhere (with toilet access, of course) and just start writing.

Sometimes the psychological hurdle is the physical prep.
posted by notsnot at 8:40 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The amount of time it takes to complete a paper is a function of how much time is left.

Seriously. Quality may not be what you want, but you can get it done by Monday. Man up.
posted by shew at 8:41 PM on January 7, 2011


How big is this paper that is due? If it is at all possible to spend 20+ hours and get it done, then do it this weekend! Just start writing. I heard a quote once that said that if you want to be a writer you need to write even if you don't think it will be great. At least after you have written your report/manuscript/etc. you will have something to edit. If you don't start writing you will have nothing to edit. Makes sense to me...
posted by MsKim at 8:42 PM on January 7, 2011


I would suggest getting off metafilter and sitting down to concentrate on writing the paper. Also, notsnot has a great idea.
posted by TheBones at 8:43 PM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


You really do need to contact your instructor as soon as possible and let him know what is going on, or to discuss what your options are. Giving another extension isn't unheard of, but it may be something that needs to be arranged sooner rather than later, especially since you guys may be facing certain grading deadlines, paperwork, or automated computer systems set by the university.

But what you may want to consider is just...handing it in. You said that not handing this paper in would give you a C minus. An incomplete piece of work may very well yield a partial grade. But note: partial does not equal zero. As far as you know, what you have in your hands right now might be enough to get you a higher grade than you might expect.

Which leads me to another thought: if I were to play armchair psychologist, I would suspect some perfectionism is feeding this anxiety. The interesting thing about perfectionism is that it makes you think your work is awful when, in reality, it is okay. Good even!

Sometimes, it's better to hand something, anything in instead of just giving up. You may not do as badly as you think (though usually not as well as you would have hoped for initially) and it lets you move on and focus on more important things in your life.

But what I really want to do is comment on this: I feel like I've completely let him down, and have shattered the chances of him ever doing the same for another student down on their luck.

This is something you might want to unpack with a therapist at some point. But what I want to point out is - you really shouldn't evaluate this situation so personally, because you don't really have a personal relationship with your professor. He doesn't care. Well, that's an oversimplification: he cares that you learn, he does want you to get a good grade, and it probably makes him really happy to hear that you enjoyed his class or learned a lot from it. But what you guys really have is a professional relationship. He understands that stuff comes up sometimes. Or that some students hate his course. Or that others love it to bits and want to do well. Or that some just want to get an A and coast by. Or...etcetera.

Your professor is invested in your education, but isn't your relative, isn't a friend. He cares if you do well, but it doesn't hurt his feelings if you don't.

This is a good thing, really, because if you approach this from a less highly emotionally charged place, and just treat this situation in a manner similar to how one would treat a crisis that happens at their job, you may find it much easier to find a solution that works for you, and gives him enough time to deal with the paperwork and stuff on his end.

Sorry this was super, unnecessarily long. I am not a professor and certainly not your professor (just a lowly grad student instructor), but my suggestion would be to be up-front about it, and open to a discussion with him about how best to proceed. It's no big deal. Really.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:53 PM on January 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


P.S. The decision to hand in something that you feel is unfinished really is up to you to evaluate, and shouldn't be done lightly. But I have, in the past, had students hand in work that they were initially planning to get a 0 for that, in reality, gave them more points than what they were expecting, even if it wasn't their best work, by far. And they passed.

Hell, I've been that student in the past, too.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:59 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went through this with my undergrad thesis. It took me a whole school year of freaking out in front of the computer and crying and getting nothing done and getting all catastrophic and philosophical about the whole thing. Finally what I had to do to crank it out was turn off the computer, sit under my bed (it was raised off the ground) and write the whole thing on a yellow legal pad. I had myself on a timer to do a page every 5 minutes or something like that.

Staring at the computer can be nerve-wracking, and I think that's partly because now your brain is conditioned to freak out whenever you see that blank Word document. If you want to break out of that cycle you have to try different ways of getting it done.

I wish I could tell you what to do so that you didn't have to do it. Maybe if you wanted to get that certification from your therapist, tell her directly that you are thinking about medical withdrawal and see what she says about that. If you just say general statements like "I don't think I can do it!" The only thing she can say is "Yes you can!" You have to be direct. This goes for everything you do in therapy. It's not the place to be polite and fake-smiling. You have to let it all out.
posted by amethysts at 9:00 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's just think about the paper for the moment, and set aside your other questions about your mom, home, school, therapist, etc. Set aside what your professor thinks - he has seen conscientious students with writer's block many times before. Give yourself permission to ignore all that other stuff for now. Just think about your paper.

You say that even if you get a zero on this paper you'll get a C in the course. That is great! Ok, so basically you just need to produce *something* by Monday and you will pass the course and probably get a B. Do you know how good that will feel, once you've turned it in, and you are done with last semester? It will feel great!

How long is the paper?
What is the topic of the paper?
Is it a research paper or a persuasive essay or something else?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:03 PM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree with those that are advocating just biting the bullet and starting to write... You'll manage, it might not be perfect, but you'll manage.

And, as huge as this seems to you, as was stated upstream, this is not unusual... I suspect that a majority of people who have a university degree have faced similar situations, and survived....

come back here and ask for encouragement if you need to, we'll provide that... but, for now...write the first page.... that's all, just the first page... the rest will come...
posted by HuronBob at 9:06 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stop spending time thinking about it and start writing. Handing in a five page paper is better than nothing. When you get working, you will feel better. It really doesn't matter, the professor will forget all about the paper you wrote within a month. This is not a big deal. Most of the students in your class also wrote their research paper the weekend before it was due. This paper does not need to be good. It just needs to be done. Just write it. There's nothing else you have to do. Just write it. Don't worry about it. Don't want it to be good. Just put words on a page. Your expectations are far too high. Just set out to write the worst paper possible. Start now. Write the first paragraph. That is the only thing that will make you feel better. Just open up Word and start typing. And realize that when it's done, you won't have to worry about it any more. No guilt. It will be over. Just start. You can't write this paper because you're worried it won't be good enough.

Guess how many double spaced pages you wrote for this Ask Metafilter post? Six. You just wrote six pages about your problem instead of writing six pages to fix your problem. You took the course. You are a fine writer. Just start typing. Forget about how good it is. Forget about embarrassing yourself. Just write. You are scared about your paper being judged. But handing in nothing, or asking your professor for another extension, will make you far more ashamed than handing in a below-average paper. Honestly. Nobody will ever remember that you wrote this paper, or how good it was. Just write it already. Close the browser. Write. Forget about every other issue you're worried about and just write the paper.
posted by one_bean at 9:07 PM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


"she started insisting I just resign from my job and keep pushing through the classes I hated and had no academic need for and was just taking because of her."

Is this paper for one of those classes? This sounds so much like the kind of thing I did when I was very young to "punish" the people I could not refuse or retaliate against. I punished myself. I'm not saying you are doing this but it's the kind of thing I did.

You can probably finish that paper in two or three days (shoot for Monday night) and get at least a B on it and consider this the first step to taking over your own life. If the spring semester is already lined up and your mother is set to pay, you're that much closer. Get a good therapist and consider it another step in taking charge of your own life to tell the ugly truth about how bad things are. Get help learning how to say no to your mom in a way that is effective and not destructive. She wants you to grow up and be all right but you don't do things her way so she's not sure you are capable. You become capable by just doing it. That's why it's a good choice to write the paper anyway, no matter how much time you've already sat and cried. It's not wasted if you seize ownership of this class, send the email to your prof and write the paper. You're entitled to be a nurse if that's what you want. Start now.
posted by Anitanola at 9:16 PM on January 7, 2011


Do you have a fear of it not being perfect or being a sub-par paper? I find that my perfectionism can sometimes cause me to freeze up and not even get started on something, because I worry about expectations. I affirm what everyone else is saying; simply get moving and see what you can get done over the weekend. You will probably find that if you have a perfectionist mindset, and you are normally and A-B student, that you will do much better with your limited time than you think you will.

Here's my piece of advice for writing a paper, if you feel less than capable or have limited time: at least write a really kick-ass opening section. Do it right. I don't mean in terms of attention-getting with something snazzy, but in terms of clarity of purpose regarding your thesis, as well as how you plan to organize your paper. You can surely do at least this much in an hour or two, at the most. This serves two purposes. One, it is psychologically helpful to have a very clear road map, even if you don't end up filling in the pieces perfectly. But you will sometimes find that the organization was the hard part, and once the structure is in place mentally, the rest can be done in manageable portions. Second, if it starts off well and is clear, you will have a more sympathetic reading, even if the rest isn't quite as strong. You may get docked for a less than thorough follow-through, but you can get some major points for being well organized in your attempt, even if it falls short in some areas.

Good luck! I'd love to hear that you pulled this off.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:33 PM on January 7, 2011


A practical suggestion (in addition to the others) if you are still checking into metafilter. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Start the timer. Do NOTHING except write the paper. Keep writing until the timer goes off. Do not worry about quality - just put ideas on the page. If you need a long rambling paragraph about this is a stupid assigment, then write that down and keep going. When the timer goes off, you MUST stop working, set the timer for 5 minutes and walk about away from your work for 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes is up, sit down and start writing again. After the second or third session, give yourself a long break if you need it, maybe 30 minutes - just SET the timer and do NOT work during your break and then ONLY work during the work sessions.

Continue until you have a complete draft that includes all the ideas that need to be in the paper. Now print out your draft, start a new document and with your first draft as guide, write it again but in a more academic style using the same timer strategy. It doesn't have to be perfect but since you know what you want to say and what your evidence/quotes are going to be, it will be easier to produce something half good. At this point, your paper is probably worth a C (75%) which is way, way more than a zero. If you have time, do a final rewrite but if not, just hand it in.
posted by metahawk at 9:45 PM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You have a lot on your plate, which you need to address eventually, but I think you would feel a lot better right now if you could just just start your paper.

If you can't even bring yourself to start writing, then can you start brainstorming by using your boyfriend as a sounding board? Explain to him what the assignment is about, and what you want to argue. You might find it helpful to record this conversation, or have him write down your thoughts. (You might also find it easier to write at your boyfriend's house or another space that is feels less oppressive to you than your own house).

After you have the general sense of what you are going to argue in your paper, then make a plan. (For instance, Saturday = research & write outline, Sunday = write paper, Monday = revise paper).

I would strongly encourage you to outline your paper. There are many ways to outline, but I prefer to start with my thesis, and base my outline off of the structure implied by my thesis. This way, when I start researching I already know what kinds of information I am looking for. My outlines are very detailed, because they cover every point I am going to make.

One of the hardest things about writing is getting started. However, once you have your outline, the writing part will seem a lot less scary. You will already have planned out your thesis, argument, and supporting details. All you have to do is turn the points in your outline into complete sentences. What you write on the page the first time doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, it won't be. Read "Shitty First Drafts" for inspiration.
posted by oceano at 9:59 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My feeling is that you should avoid asking for an extension - if nothing else changes then there is no reason to think that the paper will be any closer to being done in a few weeks than it is right now. If you can't get it done by Monday, consider working the withdrawal angle.

Second, one way to help you work better with your therapist would be to keep a journal. Write down all of your thoughts, worries, fears and then when you start to repeat yourself, write about patterns in your life. Bring the journal to session and read the most relevant parts to your therapist (or if you can't do that, ask her to read certain sections) If you can be honest with yourself in your journal then you will have the material you need to have a more honest communication with your therapist.

Also, pay attention to how much trust you feel with your therapist and how much you feel judged by her (remembering that the judgment may really be coming from you). If you don't feel safe telling her about the parts of yourself that you don't like, then tell her that. If you tend to be compliant but resentful with your mother and others, then you will tend to push your therapist into the same role. However, this is a very safe place for you to try out being different with someone who is not going to take a personally and see if something different happens. You may not be ready to honest with your mother but you might learn a lot about yourself if you try it out with your therapist (about your relationship with her, not about your mother)
posted by metahawk at 10:04 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I have much advice to offer, except nthing that this is NORMAL and even a GOOD THING that shows you care about the output.

An anecdote:

I was a nervous wreck when I wrote my senior thesis in college. I was also a huge hypochondriac and suffering from anxiety issues in general. I eventually asked for and received an extension, because I spent much of the fall semester having panic attacks about how little I had accomplished to that point (and also because I thought I was having, you know, seven heart attacks a day), and then coping by completely avoiding my responsibilities. I let myself get really down for missing ultimately arbitrary deadlines that I set for myself. Come, say, October 15, when I wasn't where I had hoped I would be by October 15, I gave into this feeling of despair instead of buckling down and saying, okay, if you work another hour a day you can get back on track.

Then I got an extension, and eventually, once there was simply no more denying it, I cranked out the whole thing, basically, in three or four weeks of solid full-time work. And I got honors on it. Could it have been better? Yes, certainly, if I had spent even half as much time working on the paper as I did worrying about it, it would have been twice as good. But it was good, objectively, and nobody held it against me for getting the extension, and frankly the fact that I was such a mess over it didn't show in the final product.

TL;DR: Three things to keep in mind:
1. Don't beat yourself up over the time you've "wasted" to this point. It's water under the bridge.
2. Take a deep breath and accept that perfect is the enemy of good.
3. You didn't need all the time you were given. You can do it in the time you have left. It's not a lost cause. You can still do it, and you can even still do it right.

Also (4), always keep in mind that everyone, almost certainly including your professors, have felt this exact same dread on some important project. It is completely normal and not a problem with you, notwithstanding all the other (completely legitimate and I'm sure difficult) stresses in your life that you discussed. One thing at a time.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:20 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another trick for getting started: don't worry about the first paragraph, or even the first page. Skip it. Seriously. Write something like "STUPID INTRO WILL GO HERE" or whatever, just to act as a placeholder and to break the spell of that scary blank page. Then jump in from whatever point you think you would start with after the intro. You can go back and write your opening a little later (or you may even find out that you wound up writing it inadvertently anyway).

I think I tricked myself into writing most of my papers in college and grad school this way.
posted by scody at 10:25 PM on January 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Agree with everyone who says you have a lot to work out but the first thing to do (and you will feel better once you have done it!) is to write the paper. It really, truly doesn't matter if it's any good - you just need to write something. This is a question of mine about paper writing from a few weeks ago - obviously not all of it will be relevant, since it's assuming a longer time frame, to get the writing done, but there is still a lot of advice in there that I think you might find useful. And even with 2 days, it is absolutely doable - I ended up writing almost all of the second of my two papers in one big caffeine-fueled all-nighter. You can definitely pull this off!
posted by naoko at 10:31 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you guys. It's wonderful to read supporting words. Just reading through all your responses made me feel much better.

I've spent a good part of the last hour crying and feeling sorry for myself, but you have all helped me realize something important: I can do this. I'm getting myself a nice strong cup of tea and am

I am going to go work like a madwoman and put this paper in my past (and now I have some motivational reading for when I start doubting myself again!), and promise I will give you all an update as to what happens come Monday.

Everything is going to be okay.
posted by lovecricket at 11:23 PM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Should I just move out? If I do, I'll lose my health insurance

Only if your mother choses to remove you from health insurance. With last year's medical insurance reform, parents can cover their children until they are 26, whether or not they are living with their parents.
posted by ShooBoo at 11:32 PM on January 7, 2011


I think you should get a job and then get your own place. When you make space for yourself I think you will find it easier to make decisions. I don't think you want to be in school anymore. I think your instincts are correct about not wanting to transfer dependence to your boyfriend.

The only way I know to understand that you are OK on your own is to get on your own and see what happens. You are not responsible for your mom, your therapists, and future students of your professor. You are responsible for yourself. Fall in love with who you are. Everything else will follow.

Best wishes.
posted by macinchik at 11:36 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are dealing with a disease and it is hard and you are struggling and that does not make you a bad person.
posted by NoraReed at 11:38 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll admit to to being patient enough to read the replies above, so sorry if this has been covered, but:

I found myself with writers block on my thesis, and what seemed to be the problem was the idea that I had this huge thing and no idea where to start. What I did was:
-set up 20 minutes a day where I *had* to work on it. Generally it was enough time for me to get going and then I'd want to continue. But if I didn't, I could quit.
-break it down into smaller tasks. I wrote a pretty detailed outline, and focused on one bullet point at a time
-start anywhere. i hate writing intro sections, so I started working on my results section, which is my easiest, and then went from there. Any progress is good progress.

Good luck!
posted by gilsonal at 4:33 AM on January 8, 2011


To follow up on scody and oceano and the others offering suggestions for how to get started writing by just shutting down that critical part of your brain and just. start. typing.

First, do something to clear your head. Take a hot shower. Go for a run (maybe not in that order), go for a walk outside, or to a favorite coffeeshop for a drink.

Then find a different spot to work, somewhere that's not where you've spent so long feeling miserable. Try writing in a notebook or using a laptop; just something for a new context. I like that timer idea. Just focus on writing - even if it is complete junk [blah blah insert notes on whatever here].

That might help get you going. You need to recognize the times when you're spinnning yourself up and kick yourself out for a short break, walk away, take a deep breath and come back. Writing screenfuls of junk will evetually form a frame that with your outline, you can hammer into a reasonably decent paper.

I'm not saying it's easy or that it doesn't take practice - but advice like scody and the others about finding ways to just turn off that internal censor and just write has kept me going in grad school. If you get the urge to even correct a fragment, just tell yourself, "I'm just going to get all this out of my head and I can come back and edit later."

Good luck, and let us known how it turns out. Be careful about too much caffeine - if you're jittery that might make it worse.
posted by canine epigram at 7:01 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am a pretty junior professor, but your situation is one I've already seen several times over with a number of my students. I would say that you shouldn't feel ashamed of your situation--this is not a moral failing, but sounds like a pretty normal combination of anxiety and perfectionism, and I don't doubt that your professor has seen it many times before (and typically from excellent students). When one of my students gets into this situation, I usually send them off to our student affairs director who can help them work out (1) a schedule for completion, and (2) more importantly, a way to deal with the anxiety that is causing the problem--maybe counseling, maybe medication, maybe something else, but the important thing is to find a way that works for you. I will say that this situation tempts a fair number of students into plagiarism--they are so anxious and freaked out, and have likely never had a failing grade before, that they copy something rather than admit that they are struggling with writer's block. It doesn't sound like you would do that, but I want to warn against it anyway--I think most professors will be willing to accommodate a struggling, anxious student especially if the student is willing to take steps to fix the problem, but academic dishonesty--even if motivated by the same factors--creates a whole other set of problems.
posted by Emera Gratia at 7:04 AM on January 8, 2011


Write the paper.

Here's how--i crammed for the bar exam this way. Work for 55 minutes per hour, then take a five minute break. Take an hour for lunch and dinner and work until 11 PM. Sleep six hours, get up at 5 AM and repeat. Do the same until Monday's deadline. You can do it!

Long-term, get therapy. Read Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns and do the exercises religiously for months.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:35 AM on January 8, 2011


Vivid postcard has a good point about perfectionism. I have had huge issues with this when faced with high pressure writing assignments. Everyone who is saying you just need to start is right, but sometimes that's easier said than done. What I've found works is a glass of wine. I get a little happy and relaxed and just hammer something out, not worrying about quality, punctuation, or typos. Once you have words on a page, you can go back later and fix those. My law school required us to write a masters thesis-type paper, and I wrote the entire first draft over a few evenings while drinking wine. I also had a mantra that I repeated, out loud, any time I got stuck--"It doesn't have to be good. It just has to be done." My professor loved it, and I got an A.

This is obviously not a long term solution to anxiety issues and won't work if a glass of wine (or a beer) will make you maudlin or more anxious. But it's done wonders for me a few times when I just could not get those first words out.
posted by Mavri at 7:47 AM on January 8, 2011


Another tiny hack for writing papers that just won't freaking write: If you use an instant messenger program, start EXPLAINING the paper to a friend who's agreed to help you out. Explain your thesis, explain your supporting points, etc. Your friend can ask clarifying questions, or just make supportive noises. Then you can just copy and paste the chat into a file and start snagging good sections of it for the paper itself.

For some reason EXPLAINING something to someone is easier than sitting down and saying "I must write a paper." Even though it's basically exactly the same task. Do it in typing form on an IM program and you can just copy/paste.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:51 AM on January 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


A technique I used to use back when I had to write papers - and I am a natural procrastinator with perfectionist tendencies - was to start in the middle. I used to make myself so anxious about starting the paper that I couldn't start the paper. And since "starting" the paper meant (in my head) writing the introductory paragraph, I successfully tricked myself out of being blocked by telling myself that the first paragraph I wrote would actually be the middle of the paper. Or the end. Something that was not "the beginning," and I'd move things around once I had more written. And it worked for me, over dozens of papers. Maybe it'll work for you, too. Good luck!
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on January 8, 2011


And as far as the guilt I receive from being around my mother; Should I just move out?

Yes, seriously. I love my mother dearly, but she loves guilt trips. My mental health has improved greatly since I've moved out and set some boundaries between us.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2011


Well, I have roughly a little over half of the assignment content wise, which is about four times more than I had Friday and a whole lot better than nothing!!! :) In about 6 hours I start my new round of classes and after two almost all-nighters my brain feels like it is melting out of my ears so I am headed to bed.

Thank you all again for your advice, and I will do my best to cut back on the nervous brain dumping on future questions :P
posted by lovecricket at 2:39 AM on January 10, 2011


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