My brain wants me to hate myself. My self wants me to finish college. Help.
November 30, 2011 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Please help me make a plan to deal with the aftermath of this episode of severe depression. For various reasons I would really prefer not to be enrolled in college again next semester. It's long, I'm sorry, but I wrote this too quickly to pare things out.

First, I am not in crisis. Basic self care things I know about, and am working on with my psychiatrist. I will not discuss them here. (except to say that I am making the decision to post this here to help relieve some of the anxiety about this, and to go to sleep now instead of pulling another a pre-exam all-nighter trying to write a terrible 2,000 words. If you have questions, I will answer them in the morning.)

I need help with the university specific stuff. The thought of failing these classes is terrifying, and a very expensive possibility. Here's what happened.

So. My psychiatrist wrote a note to my professors a month ago with a brief explanation of my condition, and a statement that any help they could provide would be appreciated. We made a medication change.

I met with each professor. I said I needed to make a plan. They both said, "try to catch up" I said "I will do the readings and work on the writings and try to catch up." (I knew then that this was not a plan, but I didn't know how to say, "No, I really need a plan. Like, a time progression. Concrete." I had exhausted my ability to talk in the meetings. I meant to email them. The second time it happened I said, "self, send those emails." The ADD didn't help, I didn't send them.)

In the meantime, I resumed attending lectures, and just dragging myself in there destroys my energy for the rest of the week. I continue to maintain a convincingly positive affect, which is also very tiring, but less tiring than crying all day in front of people and having to (decline to) explain why. When not faking it in the world, I am at home, sleeping screwing around on the internet.

My communication with professors has been poor (shame cycle!) Tonight I spent a few hours emailing my profs to try to explain. (I can share that privately if you think it might help you suggest damage control.) I don't know what I need to ask for. I don't know what is available to me, or what is reasonable.

The medication change has not been effective, except in restoring my ability to form sentences about topics I really care about. This has been a very intense form of procrastination (see: my long winded answers this past week or two). I meet with psychiatrist again on Friday, another med change is probably imminent, but that won't help me in the very short term. College students are not his primary patient base, and he does not seem to know what resources are available or where to access them on campus. Neither do I. And it's a little late in the game for that.
posted by bilabial to Education (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to disability services. You desperately need to, they are your advocate. Professors aren't equipped to handle this as well as disability services who can suggest concrete plans that the professors understand are coming from a university perspective.

The faster you do this, the faster things can come together. Nearly every university has this department and depression is a very serious issue that they help with on a regular basis. If you don't know where to find the disability services department, ask anyone in an administrative department. They'll point you in the right direction.
posted by Saydur at 7:50 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

What kind of classes are you taking? It sounds like humanities, where you'll probably get more sympathy than in the sciences (sometimes). Do you have to stay in all your classes, or can you drop one or two if particular professors aren't sympathetic?

I've been in the exact same situation. What worked out for me was dropping a course and jumping ahead in the rest to finish assignments even if I hadn't completed every single reading. I worked very strategically and the thought of finishing out the quarter without a total loss motivated me. Medication didn't really help me at the time, so I tried to just make my life as pleasant as possible-- ate out, bought good coffee, &c. If you need to, dedicate an entire day to one assignment. You probably know what your capabilities are right now, so don't make ridiculous unrealistic to-do lists or burn yourself out. Make a list of what absolutely needs to be done and work on it as steadily as possible.

Most importantly: talk to disability services. Talk to your advisor. When I was in this situation, my advisor hooked me up with the undergraduate dean and they "circled the wagons," in her words. They were totally willing to work in my interest. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Things will get better! It sounds like you've got a good break down on things.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:53 PM on November 30, 2011

Disability services and the Dean of Students. Where I work, the DoS is the go-to when this sort of thing happens. The Dean sends out the emails you wanted to send, and although it is worded in the most polite of terms, no one I know ever takes it other than a directive to help the student in question as much as possible. You might be looking at extended time on papers, exams, and some incompletes if possible.

With that in mind, have deadlines for those incompletes, should you get them. You do not want them to revert to a failing grade. A dealine plan might include you making smaller email updates and a scheduled meeting with all professors (at their convenience, so you might be coming to campus 5 times specifically to do this) as a larger update about 3 weeks before the date you intend to finish the work for the course.

Feel free to contact me if you wish. I have been the professor in this situation.
posted by oflinkey at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, disability services should be your first stop. Then if you have any professors who seem to "get" you, talk to them. There's a huge amount of flexibility in how faculty deal with students who are struggling, and if you get someone on your side who can make some phone calls on your behalf it can make a world of difference.
posted by nixxon at 8:05 PM on November 30, 2011

I know you say you don't want to be enrolled in college again next semester - does that mean you don't want to consider taking incompletes?
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:16 PM on November 30, 2011

Definitely talk to disability services. Their department might be called Resources for Disabled Students or something to that degree. They will best be able to talk with you about what you can do to salvage this semester -- maybe it's filing for "incompletes" this semester, maybe it's to point you into a different direction for resources. But this happens ALL THE TIME and there are certainly processes to streamline it and hammer out plans. The good news is you don't need to reinvent the wheel on how to solve these problems; the bad news is you need to find out where the wheel you're looking for is located within your university. The disability services department can lead you to it.

I may be inferring too much from your question, but it sounds like you're struggling to guess what is reasonable from the professor's point of view. Disability services will be able to help you with that, but my experience is that the professors are hesitant to give you any sort of concrete schedules because they're equally unsure about what's reasonable from your point of view. It might help to come up with a plan on your own that you can suggest to the professor, and you can both negotiate from that starting point. Suggest due dates that you can reasonably accomplish (don't shoot yourself in the foot and plan for things you know you can't do), and if they have a different set of expectations they will tell you. Even if you are way off base (you won't be), it will get the conversation started and that seems to be what you're looking for. If you're having trouble identifying benchmarks on your own, tell that to disability services. They will help.

Another thing you might want to look at is whether your university has any counseling services available -- not to become your primary caregivers in that regard, since you seem to be working well with your psychiatrist, but for their input on how to handle these types of situations. This is perhaps not a question for this semester, but for the next one so you can get ahead of the game if you need to.
posted by lilac girl at 8:18 PM on November 30, 2011

I very strongly recommend getting some or all of your exams deferred. I had to do this a couple years ago because of health problems. At my school, the deferring/rescheduling of final exams is done through the Dean of Students' office -- the professors actually have very little say in the process (which is good, because some professors can be real dicks about stuff like this). Since you have a documented medical problem, this ought to be pretty easy to do. When I did it, I basically just had to fill out a form and present a doctor's note to the Dean; my request was approved within the day. Over the course of about 24 hours I went from "ZOMG I can't take these exams what the fuck do I do!?" to not having to take any exams until the spring.

Your school's policies and bureaucracy may be different, of course, and you'll have to do a little research to figure out what to do. A good place to start would be the Dean of Students -- at my school, we have an Office of Disability Services which is part of the Dean's office. They exist to help students navigate the problems that come with having a disability, including short-term disabilities like health or psychological crises. With 99.99% probability, your school has a similar entity.

Another place to look for exam deferment policies would be wherever your school publishes academic regulations. At my school, these are found in the course catalog. If you're not sure where to look, try the Registrar's Office website, or the Dean of Undergraduate Studies website.

If all else fails, you can just physically go to the Dean of Student's office and ask the secretary at the front desk what you have to do in order to defer exams. They ought to be able to point you in the right direction.

It is completely reasonable for you to ask to defer your exams/papers, and I really think it would be a good course of action for you. It's not an uncommon thing to do, it doesn't go down on your transcript, and it can really make the difference between passing and failing. When I did it, it meant doing some extra work over the winter break and at the start of the next semester, but it was completely worth it.

Good luck, and take care of yourself! If you have any questions about what it's like to defer exams, feel free to ask.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:28 PM on November 30, 2011

First, my sympathies.

Different people on campus can help you with different things. Profs may not be the best go-to people here, as they could see dozens or hundreds of students come through their classes every term. They can be sympathetic, but dealing with students at a detailed level is often not their job, particularly if you have not been communicating with them. A short note from the psych might just be passed over. So, other people can help you here as well.

But profs first - Email them and say you have a Serious Issue and need to talk. Say you have been overwhelmed, and have gotten behind. You don't have to be too specific I think. Try and get your schedule adjusted, at least in the short term. However, warning: any significant postponement could just lead to more pain later, in your circumstances. IMHO, Incompletes are a Very Bad Idea if you are already disorganized and overwhelmed. They will just pile up.

At this point what you really need to do is pass okay, and then write off this term as a bad experience. Stop worrying about your GPA. Just get through the classes.

Student advisors - you do talk to them I hope - can give you the ins and outs in terms of school regulations, withdrawals, incompletes, credit hours, tuition, help centers on campus, etc.

Shrinks/therapists - can help you figure out why you procrastinate and hate class (anxiety? performance expectations?)

Campus Help Centers - if you have them - can give you advice on studying, time budgeting, discipline, study buddies, etc.

Basically, I think that you need to go from disorganized and overwhelmed, to organized and underwhelmed. Your psych and meds could help with the latter. For the former, you really need to learn good study habits, and that will come from advice from the 'How to study' Center (or whatever it is called), plus a lot of hard work on your part over a considerable period of time, and also some motivation.

You need to Make A List Of Important Things To Do (see this thread) and prioritize it. It can be a short list. Then see who to talk to about what.

Good luck.
posted by carter at 8:41 PM on November 30, 2011

There's a lot of good advice here.

The one school specific thing I can think of is that "catching up" may not be an advisable or desirable goal. What you're trying to do is damage control to pass, not to excel. Keep that in mind always.

This is subject specific (won't work in math, will in English), but the idea is that catching up on back reading you don't need is an expenditure of time, focus and energy you don't have.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:01 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been the professor in this situation and the two primary solutions I've used are incompletes, and grading a student on the work they've turned in. The second one I hesitate to do and only do with my dean's involvement (since then they're being treated differently than other students, allowed to be graded out of 800 points instead of 1000 or something) but it's sometimes been appropriate.

I'm allowed to give 9-week incompletes at my total discretion, and I routinely do for illness (physical or mental), death in the family, etc. With a doctor's note I'd definitely do it, no question. I generally give the student about 6 extra weeks so I make sure I have 3 to deal with the grading. If I don't turn in the new grade, the "I" automatically turns to an "F" so it's no extra work for me if they student DOESN'T bother to finish even with the extension. The only thing I'd want you as a student to know is that your paper ends up at the bottom of my priority pile when it's turned in separately from all the other papers; I like to grade all the same papers together, so outliers (even if they're turned in early, not late) tend to get graded last. If we're talking after the semester is over, like you turned it in a week after finals, I'm probably not going to grade it until after New Year's. (I'm going to finish grading finals, take a week off thinking anything about school, have Christmas, laze around, have New Year's, and then start going, "Man, I guess I'd better think about next semester.")

Many professors give make-up work, alternate assignments, or extra credit; I don't do those things, personally, just because of the way my classes are structured, but they're certainly reasonable to request. ("I bombed the quiz on Marx; can I produce a paper instead?")

So that's five options: incomplete, graded on the partial coursework you've turned in, alternate assignments, extra credit, and making up missed work.

BTW, you absolutely aren't the first student who's come to your professor with a serious personal issue and you won't be the last. Don't be embarrassed. Don't be ashamed. Not only have I had students have major abdominal surgery or a death in the family during the semester, but I've had students have babies, students (more than one) hospitalized mid-semester with a mental illness who finished the semester; I had a student who actually went to jail midsemester and managed to finish and pass! I had a student on the local news in connection with a serial killer. Not even kidding. I had a student put in a locked ward by a court after having a psychotic break. What you're experiencing is difficult, I know, but it is not a big deal to your university support personnel, and it's nothing that would make me blink.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:11 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been in your exact shoes. There's great advice above and I'd follow it. If I could could go back in time and give myself some extra advice it would be this:

1) I don't care how low you feel, get some exercise. Doesn't have to be perfect... just something.
2) Stop drinking (at least until this situation is resolved).
3) Get a full spectrum lamp and use it (I lived in a cold, dark, dreary part of Canada).
posted by jmmpangaea at 8:47 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Following up. I got a B in theory (so much better than I expected to manage, the paper is not so good, but it's readable) and have an Incomplete in the other class that I have some time to resolve.

Thank you all so much for the suggestions. I ended up being able to advocate calmly and politely for myself. But knowing that I had the "nuclear option" of visiting the dean of students gave me the courage to do that.

I'm still in pretty bad shape, and I'm not sure when I'll have this diploma in my hands, but I'm looking forward to it.
posted by bilabial at 5:26 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

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