Sinking while trying to complete undergrad
August 10, 2012 2:10 AM   Subscribe

Hi all. I've seen questions touching on similar points but none that really pinned down the more important particulars of my own situation, so here goes nothing. I'm a twenty two year old student now in what will be my sixth year of undergrad. I got to this point because, after my first two years went rather swimmingly, I suddenly fell pray to a mystery syndrome, complete with crushing, unrelenting mental fogginess, high anxiety and severe depression. My life has become an obsession with trying to find a cure for whatever this is, (medication for depression, therapy, supplements, sleep studies, hypnosis, meditation, lifestyle changes, etc. Nothing has worked and so I won't bore you with the details here. My problem is really my current standing in school. What was once a shining record with a 3.6 gpa and distinctions is now a narrative of consistent failure and I need to know where to go from here and most importantly, how to do damage control.

I started college as a psychology major and did well ( As and Bs) for my first two and a half years. I was reasonably on track with my extra curriculars and my professors generally loved me. I could bang out A-quality essay in a matter of hours and I was doing okay socially.
Two years later, everything started to freefall. VERY long story short: I have now:
-Ruined my relationships with all of my professors
- Asked for an incomplete for most the classes taken the past five semesters and here I sit with a majority of them either unfinished or turned to Fs
- Been refused help from Disability Support services at my school, instead being referred back to the professors
-Lost any hope for ever getting into a graduate program, much less medical school ( my original plan)

My gpa is now below a 2.6 and I see no end in sight- only more I's, F's, long, apologetic emails to professors and more embarassment ( Oh I'll have that for you by the end of next month!")

I'm literally drowning- I can't even respond to emails from my school anymore, just because I'm SO ashamed at this point.
I've been overtaken by anxiety and I've lost all motivation to continue anything.
A bit about me:
- I have cerebral palsy (a neuromuscular disorder), so DSS should be more assuredly on my side
- I've discussed taking a leave of absence with my parents- they just won't have it ( waste of time and a risk of my not going back). They're old fashioned Romanians with a big thing about pride as well.
- I can't take ADD medication ( high blood pressure), nor do I think I actually have ADD.
What do I do to get my life back in order? Can I save any of the past six years and ever be successful?
Sorry if this was messy and unfocused- needed to get everything out and this is my first MeFi question. Ask if you need any more details. Thanks all :)
posted by marsbar77 to Education (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and I've tried retakes. I either never finish or do poorly in them
posted by marsbar77 at 2:13 AM on August 10, 2012

Did you ask your therapist about this? What did they recommend? Are there strategies you have already tried?
posted by J. Wilson at 2:21 AM on August 10, 2012

Depression and anxiety are real things. They don't have to be underlying symptoms of a "mystery condition". Maybe there is something more complex going on, but right now it sounds like you have at least two diagnosable mental health conditions, and that should be enough to qualify you for disability support. Have you received formal diagnoses from a medical professional? Have you taken proof of that diagnoses to disability services? What was their response?
posted by embrangled at 2:29 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They've all recommended either a leave of absence or yet another change of medication. I've been on Prozac( did fantastic things for about 3 months, then never again), Celexa ( nothing) and Wellbutrin (nothing). I'm not sure I have the time to keep puttering around like this. I should have finished college over two years ago now...sigh. No matter what I do, I can't get myself to delve into the piles and piles of readings, essays and assignments I have from years past at this point.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:29 AM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: I've taken every letter and prescription imaginable to them. They refuse to touch it. All they can do is send letters out to the professors. After that, it's in their ( prof's) hands. Most professors will laugh in my face at this point, should I come crawling back to them after they were so lenient the first, second and third times around. Others flat out refused to budge even the first time.
posted by marsbar77 at 2:31 AM on August 10, 2012

my computer crashed in middle of a long answer- so I'll try to give you the summarized version. I've heard of people diagnosed with severe depression throwing out their whole academic record and starting over. you could even do this with a new school with new profs. I get the whole Romanian pride thing- but a big part of life is learning to swallow that pride in order to manage challenging situations appropriately. I'm sure if your parents had to pick between complete failure and you starting over, they'd probably pick you starting over. You have to do what's right for you. Especially if you have serious ambitions to go to grad school. You can still get that if you manage this situation appropriately but later it might get much more difficult.

I can't advise you on the medical part of your question, only to say that I'm sure years of backlog isn't helping you. I get uber-stressed out with a week of backlog and I can imagine becoming very depressed to the point of paralysis with a couple months of backlog.

All the best to you. I hope you find a way to take the steps you need to to solve this- and I have a feeling that finding a way to actually finish the backlog isn't the answer.
posted by saraindc at 2:50 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not sure how to make an indented post, but thank you! It sounds like I'll need to have a serious conversation with my parents. I just hate thinking that all that money and time is gone down the drain. Sigh. What did you mean by "throw out", though? Would there be a way to stay at the same school and do that?
posted by marsbar77 at 2:54 AM on August 10, 2012

My first inclination was to think that if this has been going on for five semesters? You're running into the problem that you can't keep doing what you've been doing or you're going to keep getting what you've been getting. You've got basically two years of being in the habit of not succeeding at what you're doing. You need to get out of this loop.

This is not your parents' decision. It's yours. If you can't live with them and you can't manage to actually do work in class, then your next step should be looking into what you're going to need to do to apply for disability. You are currently not functioning. You are disabled. That does not mean anything bad about you as a person. A lot of immigrant families do not deal well with mental health issues--the Mexican side of mine churned out several generations of alcoholics and the like before my sibling and I actually looked for real help. At some point, being an adult means looking at your parents' disapproval and, while it might be *a* factor in your decision-making, not letting it be the decision itself. Right now, your body and brain are not going to be able to make up *two years* worth of school at once. That would be crazy even for somebody who was in terrific shape with no mental health issues! Your doctors can't do more than recommend leave because you need a leave. If it might help, consider getting your doctors to write letters to your parents instead of the school; it will admittedly be easier to take time off if you have their help.

But the stuff you've spent so far? It's a sunk cost. That's an accounting term that basically just means "a complete distraction". Ignore it. You have to pay it back either way. It should not influence your decisions about the future.

Once you get out of this miserable rut of being in school, you can start looking for part-time work, even better volunteer work, because you really shouldn't just lay around; it tends to make mental health stuff worse. But low-pressure stuff. Build up a pattern of small successes. You may well find that your medication works differently in the absence of this giant weight on your shoulders; you'll be able to make better decisions from there about what you're capable of doing, what you want to do, and when and where you want to do it. Don't make those decisions now. You're already overloaded. Right now, narrow it down: You're the hero, and your goal at the moment is to get out of the burning building. Once you've got air to breathe, then you can make a plan to move on.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:01 AM on August 10, 2012 [9 favorites]

Do you have an advisor of studies/academic advisor, or someone in a similar role?
posted by Catseye at 3:01 AM on August 10, 2012

You're quite vague about the 'mystery condition', but all the symptoms you described sound like a really standard experience of depression. It's really normal, too, although really frustrating, to have to go through a number of different meds, treatment approaches etc before you find one that works. However, it must be a nightmare trying to do that while taking college classes as well. I think what you need here is to accept that you're actually sick, take the leave of absence, and dedicate yourself to getting better. Here's a list of the things I have done in the few years since I started taking my depression seriously:

- Meds
- Therapy, two kinds (CBT-ish, then psychodynamic)
- A mindfulness-for-depression course and then a compassion-meditation-for-depression course
- Experimenting with different supplements: magnesium, high-dose D3, Omega-3s etc
- Eating a better diet with more protein and vegetables. Trying to spend some time outdoors each day
- Changing my sleeping environment so that I can sleep better
- Hypnosis mp3s to help me feel like I have some control over my insomnia and over some of my more persistent bad habits.
- Changing my life so that I take more art classes and generally give myself fun things to do
- Continual efforts to exercise more (walking, yoga every morning)
- I am attempting a sort of general shift in the way that I think about emotion as clearly the way I started out with was not working for me well at all
- Giving myself permission to feel too sick to do things properly sometimes

I didn't do these all at once - when things were really bad I could barely manage any of those things - but I have accepted that this is a real battle which I may be fighting for the rest of my life. Accepting that has actually given me more space to think about all the other things I want to be doing while I'm alive too.

I too had a really horrible experience of university where suddenly I couldn't work properly, thought I was being weak, couldn't bring myself to admit something was seriously wrong, disappointed a lot of people and just scraped through. Looking back, I think part of the problem was that I couldn't get myself to feel any hope that things would eventually get better, and so it didn't make sense to me that I would take the risk of admitting I had a real problem. Another part of the problem was that I didn't feel I could rely on my parents' support. I wish now that I had taken the steps I needed to get myself better then. I thought everything was so irrevocable and unfixable, and it wasn't. I thought I couldn't possibly find the resources to survive if I couldn't get them within my own family, and that wasn't true. I thought I had failed everybody so completely that nobody would ever want to help me or forgive me, and that wasn't true either.

I am not a big fan of people who say smugly that mental illness is a sign that something is wrong with your life that you have to fix. However, I do think that an important way of fighting back from it is accepting that you haven't been processing things right. For me, part of that was that I got so trapped inside my own head and the mindset that everything that went wrong was a problem I had to fix, and I could not see that my toolkit was itself kind of broken. I couldn't seem to join the dots between the overwhelming despair I felt, the total exhaustion I was experiencing every day, the 'moral weakness' that seemed to prevent me from doing the things I planned to do, the constant difficulty I had with sleeping... I was depressed for well over a decade and I didn't even really allow myself to admit I was feeling an emotion. Part of the getting-better process for me has been getting myself out of all the habits I developed in order to survive. They got me through from day to day, but they also kept me frozen and trapped. I guess this is why I'm saying you probably need to give yourself some time off from school, because you really need a space in which you allow yourself to let the survival strategies go. If you are clinging on for dear life it can feel really difficult to take even a single step.

I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of speech where I've got it all sorted and I'm dispensing my wisdom, because that's far from the case and honestly, some days I still think my life is a mess and everything will be terrible for ever. But some days I don't. A whole bunch of days it doesn't even feel like everything is all that terrible right now. Bit tl;dr, this. I'm sorry.
posted by Acheman at 3:06 AM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: The issue with my parents' control is a bigger one. My physical disability means that, if I'm brutally honest, I'm incredibly dependent on them logistically, financially, and emotionally. I'd love to "go my own way" and I've tried to stand my ground several times. It doesn't work- I live with them and I would never hear the end of it. It would quite literally be catastrophic.
To make things worse, I'm not ACTUALLY that far off from finishing... only about 17 credits or so... I would hate myself to no end for throwing in the towel at this point.
posted by marsbar77 at 3:08 AM on August 10, 2012

Just wanted to add - I didn't want my list of things to be one of those things like 'Here are all the things you should do! If you don't do all of these things then everything that happens to you is your own fault!' Just that I guess what I think is really important is going into the whole process with a willingness to experiment, change, create something genuinely new, do things you're not comfortable with, do things that scare you, hope.
posted by Acheman at 3:11 AM on August 10, 2012

Can you switch to part-time enrollment - doing only 1-2 classes per term?
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:19 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you spoken to the Dean of Students?
What are your official medical diagnoses (if you feel comfortable sharing)

I want to ask many more questions, however my mind is exploding after hearing that you, with CP, were denied assistance from disability services; that diagnosis alone should have them (DSS) completely at your disposal, allowing you to fine tune a semester's course-load with parameters that fit your capability to succeed. The fact that your decline in performance + the words 'Cerebral Palsy' didn't immediately ping a light bulb above their heads baffles me, but I'm getting off point.

Get the dean of students involved and go higher up (President) if need be; they represent the school and its official policies and getting them on your team changes the playing field from you (vs) professors to Official school policy + the Americans with Disabilities Act (vs) professors. My point is, get the Dean of Students to light a fire under DSS. Once DSS is involved there is no longer a need to get permission from professors to retake/resubmit, because it's no longer about some student with questionable excuses asking for yet another chance, but rather, it becomes about a student with documented disabilities, and the ADA gets to say fuck you to anyone who denies a disabled person. Put simply, it's out of the professor's hands- you *will* be allowed to retake/resubmit/other.

In summary: gain some credibility in terms of diagnosis, use the power of higher office to make sure DSS is paying attention, then utilize every tool given to you under the ADA and DSS to craft a school schedule you can manage, including wiping out old records (I finally came up for air and previewed my question, so I won't elaborate on this point, saraindc has it covered) but remember that this option will put you back to sophomore/junior status, leaving you with more than 17 credits left to finish. Your mileage on that point will vary.

It's late, I'm grumpy, and I feel like I'm ranting/not being very eloquent so I'll leave you with this- If you take these measures and are still rebuked by the school, DSS, and/or professors, feel free to turn this into a legal matter:

"If a student is denied auxiliary aids or services, they can file a complaint under Section 504 with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, or under the ADA Titles II and III that is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. The student may file with both offices if they so desire. Under ADA, monetary damages may be enforced and the student may name both an individual, such as a professor, and the institution in the complaint. "

U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights

I'm not saying sue a professor or the school, but rather, scare the christ out of them by letting them know that you're aware of your rights, and that they are required to honor those rights. If you have a decent lawyer (and if it comes down to lawyer-time,) you could try angling for reduced/free tuition for a set period in return for DSS balking at your request for help. Because if you're at this point, you might as well leave them with a little something to remember you by.

Good Luck : )
posted by MansRiot at 3:23 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Acheman , Not at all. You actually sound level-headed and thorough in your response and I appreciate it. I've tried most of these, but perhaps not intently enough. I do have much of the same mental narrative though, and I know how touch it can be.
posted by marsbar77 at 3:24 AM on August 10, 2012

If your physical condition needs that much support, you are really likely to qualify for disability. Adults with conditions like yours are really not required to be dependent upon their parents forever. There are housing subsidies available, and caregivers if you need them, and bus passes, and whatever else you really need. It is doable. I used to have a friend who had muscular dystrophy who still had his own apartment and such. There's no particular reason you couldn't, just because right now they provide a lot of your support.

17 credits like you need 17 more credits of additional classes? Because if so, no, you don't have 17 credits of classes to finish. You have five semesters of classes *plus* seventeen credits to finish. I know it looks like it's within reach, but you really are proposing something that would require someone absolutely superhuman to achieve. You can't keep enrolling in new classes and still have all those old classes' worth of material to finish and expect to ever catch up. You'd get to the end of another semester or two... and have seven semesters of makeup to do, instead, only no more actual classes to enroll in. Don't do that to yourself, seriously.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:26 AM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: gracedissolved- No no- 17 with all the incompletes. I'm done with new classes. Though even that seems herculean at this point. :(
MansRiot- Very funny and on-point advice. I was actually always one for the strong-arm approach and it may work here.
posted by marsbar77 at 3:31 AM on August 10, 2012

Check your memail.
posted by embrangled at 3:48 AM on August 10, 2012

"Not sure how to make an indented post, but thank you! It sounds like I'll need to have a serious conversation with my parents. I just hate thinking that all that money and time is gone down the drain. Sigh. What did you mean by "throw out", though? Would there be a way to stay at the same school and do that?"

The only thing worse than time and money down the drain is more time and money down the drain. and some life lessons are expensive to learn- so learn your lesson and don't keep throwing more money down. I did hear about a school (a top level one at that) throwing out the entire school record and letting the student start from zero, butyou'd need your doctors in on that and your condition under control and I don't know the details of if you could get this to happen. I would, if you, consider starting over at another school anyway just to get fresh new relationships with new profs and new administration. it sounds like dealing with the same profs again might be really rough and stack up the odds harder against you than they need to be. also maybe a lot of the credits you've already earned would transfer over. if however, you could stay at the same school, and there are enough profs that you could deal with completely new ones, that might work out fine.

I'm from one of those proud cultures where these situations with the family really seem like the end of the world. I think it helps a lot to find others in the same situation to give as example to the family 'hey did you know that 2nd cousin's aunt's daughter had to take off a couple of years from school and then she got her degree got a great job and now has 5 babies' or 'did you know your friend's friend's friend's romanian son failed out of school completely? i need to do whatever i can so that i can be a success story- even if it has been harder for me, if i keep struggling i'll succeed and that's what we all need'
posted by saraindc at 5:26 AM on August 10, 2012

I am sorry you're going through this. Mental health is still not taken seriously in many parts of academia. Professors are rarely trained to deal with situations like yours, and it leads to the kind of friction you're describing. And many mental health providers don't know how to deal with someone who doesn't fit into a prefabricated box.

You are not being offered the support and accommodation you deserve. Seriously consider seeing a lawyer who specializes in education services (you might start with one who works on IEPs for public school students, and get a referral from there if that's not the right person.)

You also need consistent medical care from a good mental health provider, and that person needs to communicate with the specialist treating your cerebral palsy. Mental health is part of overall health. You have two different sets of issues, but you shouldn't be treated as two different people.
posted by moammargaret at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think first and foremost it might be beneficial to you to cut out the "shoulds."

You're 22, which is the age you would finish college if you went right from high school. You sound like you were ahead of the curve if your original goal was to finish around the age of 20. So, take a breath and acknowledge that.

I work for an institution with a lot of non-traditional students. We have students your age working full-time minimum wage jobs and only going to school at night. There's one student I'm familiar with who has been taking one undergraduate course each semester and summer session for close to a decade to finish her degree. We have people come back in their 30s and their 40s to pursue certificate or undergraduate degree programs after having left ten years earlier.

If nothing else, you don't sound like you're in a place where you can do school now and do school well -- you have proof of that. This isn't a lifetime failing.

I also want to ask --- are you the first person in your family to go to college? If you are, your experience doesn't sound atypical from what many first generation college students face, and you may have need of added support in that.
posted by zizzle at 6:16 AM on August 10, 2012

If you only have a couple of semesters to finish, I say hang in there and get 'er done.

I too fell into a depression during college. Also, I'm fairly lazy and if the class wasn't interesting I'd tune out and do the bare minimum. If the subject flummoxed me, "D for Done" was my mantra. For cripes sake I had to take Anthro 101 THREE TIMES to pass it! And I read Anthro books for fun! What the hell?

If you can, get the easiest classes that you can get by with and just power through it. They'll give you a diploma with a 2.0 (as I know all too well!)

I actually dropped out after 3 years with a 2.0. I went back after 2 years (to a different school) transferred credits (some from JCC) and got out in a year and a half with a 2.1. Yay me!

Did I mention that I had no trouble getting into 3 master's programs subsequent to that? (Test scores, I'm a great test taker). I got my MBA about 5 years after my bachelors and my GPA was 3.7. It's amazing what a word processor and a lifting of depression can do for a person.

Are you enrolled for the upcoming semester? If so, you need to really PRESS the folks in your Disability Department for appropriate accomodation. My sister has Dislexia and she had to HOUND her's to get out of classes like Stats that would have tortured her.

Also, get with your advisor and discuss a strategy for getting this thing completed and done.

As for shame, trust me, no one in real life will ever ask you what your GPA was. Not never.

As for medical school. That might be off the table. That's the reality. BUT, nothing says you can't find work as a therapist in some other way. Social Work is a good idea, you can even get a Master's in it, if the subject matter still appeals.

I'm 50. I've been through what you're going through, to some degree. I'm at the other end and I'm here to tell you, you're going to be alright.

Forgive yourself for succumbing to illness, it happens. But that doesn't mean you can't salvage what you've got, and make a new life plan.

As for the other professors, forget 'em. Take your grade and suck it up. These guys are larger than life when they have your grade in their hands, but in real life, they're just sad, powerless characters who are only important within the confines of your campus.

Henry Kissenger once said, "University politics is so vicious because the stakes are so small." He was an ass about many things, but that one, he got right.

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:19 AM on August 10, 2012

Dyslexia. Sheesh, I am a terrible speller.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:21 AM on August 10, 2012

From the professor's side, consider that we can only accommodate within the confines of our class and our semester. All the extensions in the world don't negate the fact that the grades are due by a certain date; this is true with in completes as well. So our ability to cut a student some slack has built-in limits, and everything beyond that has to operate out of the disability office, the dean, etc. It also happens sometimes that faculty are knowledgable with mental health issues, but cannot express anything related to that. If I saw a student who was repeatedly struggling in the way that you've been, I'd be concerned and want to talk about it, and suggest that perhaps it would be beneficial to take time off to focus on your health, that the availability of college classes doesn't mean it's right for everyone at every moment. However, I probably wouldn't do that, because it gets ethically tricky to ask about students like that, or offer direction for life outside classes, and colleges prefer we don't.
posted by bizzyb at 6:45 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Think of getting treatments and accommodation and finishing college in this way: You will be much more equipped to get a good job and NOT have to depend on your parents so much. It's a world of suck and awfulness (and can cause depression in someone who would not normally be susceptible) to feel utterly dependent on and beholden to toxic people. This is a huge reason to seek help - whether it's accommodations so you can finish college, or disability payments.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:50 AM on August 10, 2012

Chiming in to say that Mansriot has the exact right answer. You are beyond the point of having the luxury of hoping that people (professors, dean, etc.) will do the right thing. You need to fight for your rights. You have documentation (medical) that proves your case. The fact that you've been unable to get DSS is absurd and is in fact the reason that you are where you are academically. They should absolutely be working with you to wipe out old records and getting you on a class schedule that you can manage.

Also, from your answer "I was actually always one for the strong-arm approach" that maybe your parents weren't and have decided to ignore the problem, for whatever reason, and have instead decided to blame you for these academic issues. 1. This is not your fault. You did not ask for depression and you certainly aren't enjoying it. 2. You don't need their permission to write a strongly worded letter to the dean regarding your disability rights.
posted by Flamingo at 6:50 AM on August 10, 2012

I've discussed taking a leave of absence with my parents- they just won't have it ( waste of time and a risk of my not going back). They're old fashioned Romanians with a big thing about pride as well.

I'm sorry, but fuck that. You're 22 -- it's not your parents' decision to make anymore. You get to make your own decisions about how to care for yourself and protect your health, and "pride" has nothing to do with it.

Right now you're in a phase where all the pain is cyclical. You're struggling in school because of depression, exhaustion and anxiety. You know what's depressing, exhausting and anxiety producing? Struggling in school endlessly with no visible way out - "no end in sight," as you put it. Trying to juggle your academic commitments and your health concerns. Pleading with your Disability Support Services to recognize what you're going through. (Which, by the way, what the hell.)

A college degree is not necessary to your happiness and success in life. Your physical and mental health ARE necessary. Work on those, first.

Anyway, if it's remotely possible, I think you should take a break from school and rest. OF course, the main obstacle to this will be financial. Do you have any friends or relatives who would let you stay with them? Any possibility for a house-sitting gig? Any way of getting some chill roommates and a low-key library job?

What I think you need is a break from it all. You need some time to read, time to go on long walks, time to meditate, time to cook good meals, time to take long baths, whatever makes you feel better. After you have some time to do that, you can begin to separate which part of your condition is physical and which part is the result of almost three years of extreme mental stress and anguish.

Good luck. I'm pulling for you.
posted by crackingdes at 7:05 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think step one is talking to someone who understands your school's policies. Places to find such people:
  • advisors in the department (if your department doesn't have staff advisors (i.e. people whose sole job it is to give students advice, not professors), skip asking in the department--no matter how good a professor or committed to undergrad advising someone is, it's relatively unlikely they've got a super-detailed knowledge of university policy)
  • college advising office--the people who advise students who haven't declared a major yet
  • DSS, assuming they acknowledge they have some responsibility to you, even if only for physical access
Step zero is maybe figuring out what DSS's problem is. If they refuse to acknowledge your existence at all (even if you don't need accommodations for physical access, they should have a file (or whatever) for you, just in case), there's a (vice) provost with "student affairs" or something in their title. You'll want to double check, but they are likely the person to complain to. When it comes to your illness, have DSS told you what their problem is?

So what was the point of step one? For example, where I am, if you retake a class, the most recent grade is what is used to compute your GPA. Sure, if you apply to grad school, you'd probably have to say "I was ill and tried to battle on, which obviously didn't go so well', but you'd also have a GPA saying "This person is a good student." to back you up.

You also want to know what DSS can and can't do. Where I am, I'm not sure they can force an incomplete, contrary to the belief of earlier commenters. However, at a minimum, they should be helping you figure out how to present your case to your professors, if not actually helping with the asking.
posted by hoyland at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2012

There's a lot of great advice here. This is just an idea, but do you have enough credits to get a 'lower' degree than honours? For instance, at my school we have honours degrees and two types of general degrees which require lower marks and less courses than an honours degree. I'm not sure what it's like where you're from, but in Canada this is a possibility at many of our universities.

If that's in any way a possibility for you, then I'd recommend getting a general degree instead.

I also scraped by in my first four years of school for similar reasons that you've mentioned and have earned a 4 year general degree. Most companies won't care about whether you have an honours or general degree.

Then, I'd recommend taking some time off of school because it sounds like you could really use a break.

After your break, if you feel ready to go back to school after taking some time off you can pursue a second degree.

I'm doing this right now and 20 credits from my first undergraduate degree will count towards my second degree. I also only have to take 15-17 courses in total to complete for my second degree which will take two years in total although 1 year if I fast track.

Look into this! Also, I'd highly recommend getting help from a mental health professional.

Feel free to send me a memail because I've been where you have been, in fact, I still am in this place.

posted by livinglearning at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2012

You have more than 1 disability. CP is a physically disabling condition. Depression is a physically- and mentally-disabling condition. Get a diagnosis, and get the school to help you with accommodation. Go to a doctor, and be blunt about the severity of the depression, fatigue, mindfog, anxiety, etc. Go to a psychiatrist, and get a medication review. And keep in mind that some drugs may not seem to be working, because they may lighten the depression, and you may not be able to see the improvement.

If you possibly can, hire a coach to help you build a plan, and complete your courses. You may even be able to get the university to pay for it, as an accommodation. The coach comes over 3 x a week, and helps you get started on a paper, organize research, whatever it takes to keep you moving. The coach does not do your work for you.

Get out of the house. Ask profs if you can sit in on classes, to help review material to finish incompletes. Having a place to be at a specific time can help a lot with the overwhelming heebie-jeebies. If you require special transportation, knowing that the van will be there at 10 a.m. might help you get yourself out the door.

Recognize successes, no matter how small. No, I didn't finish the paper, but I wrote an outline, and read some research notes. Looking at the stuff not done is so disheartening, but any movement towards the goal is a small win, and should be celebrated.

I can tell you from experience that depression isn't forever and that you are not a miserable failure. One of my go-to team said to me yesterday "You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and it might take a while, but one day you realize you're eating the last bite." I found this helpful, though we agreed that I should not actually eat an elephant, since they're endangered, and the ears are way too chewy.
posted by theora55 at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wanted to say what theora55 said, but she said it better than I could. You need some kind of coaching that will help you break schoolwork down into much, much smaller pieces, and you need to accomplish those and feel like they are accomplishments.

It's not about finishing your remaining 17 credits all at once. That's too overwhelming. It's not even about researching and writing a paper. It's about finding a source or three. It's about getting a paragraph or a page down on paper, even if it's very rough. Things like that. You need to find some way to split everything up into manageable pieces.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:19 AM on August 10, 2012

You need to seek help that is specific to your university. Anything I say here is specific to one university, and may not be pertinent to your own.

My university (a Canadian state school) had a program/system called "Petitions" whereby students could petition anything - I was on this committee for two years as a student. Some of the more common types petitions that the panel saw were petitions for people to remove classes from their records due to illness, family problems or trauma -- that is, they would not get the credit, but they also would not have the failure on their record or contributing to their GPA. The panel that decided whether a student should have this done consisted of two professors, one student and an ex-officio Dean. We didn't always agree that students should have courses removed, but in the case of serious illness we were more sympathetic. Generally, however, we expected students to have a plan for how to deal with the future -- it did them no good if we approved the removal and they just continued to struggle.

If your university has any process like this, find out about it. If disability services won't help you (which seems strange), talk to a Dean or other adviser.

And I know that's not easy - being depressed is like having two broken legs when it comes to getting help. If you have anyone you can trust, like a friend or mentor, please ask them to help you.

It may be that your university has no programs like mine did - mine was special, and that's part of what made it a good university (even though it's poorly ranked). You may have no choice but to quit university and/or go part-time. If I could talk to your parents, I would tell them that forcing you to remain in university when you are struggling is far, far more damaging to your academic career than allowing you to take time off. Time off has no effect on your GPA. Going part-time has no effect on your GPA. Continuing to do poorly or failing courses will ruin it.

in fact, I wish that there were mandatory programs for parents to explain to them how universities work. A degree with a good GPA earned over 10 years is better than one with a bad GPA finished in 4 years.
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on August 10, 2012

Can you take Clonazepam (Klonopin)? That should help knock back the anxiety, which should then help you cope with everything else.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:08 PM on August 10, 2012

Just wanted to add something from the perspective of someone who works at a university. I'm currently a little unclear on what the disabled student service has been able to do/not do for you. You do say they sent letters to professors about your condition, and that you've received up to 3 different extensions on the same assignment/class at times. This sounds pretty typical - I'm not sure what else you want DSS to do for you other than try and facilitate accommodations with the professor. And their advice to take a leave of absence honestly sounds good - it sounds like you are in no position to be in school right now, and a leave of absence makes good sense. DSS is really there to make sure that students with disabilities who can otherwise succeed in school are enabled to actually do that. But they can't do much for students who really aren't capable of being in school at the moment because of extreme circumstances - for instance, I once had a student who was only able to attend about 1 out of every 5 classes due to an illness. I did my best to work with him and of course was willing to give extensions, etc. given the situation, but at some point, you can only miss so much class and still succeed in the course requirements. He eventually took a medical withdrawal, which I think was very wise - his GPA remained intact and he will be able to return to school once he recovers.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Apologies if someone already covered this, but your 'mystery illness' of depression/anxiety is actually not unusual among college students. Many are susceptible, and the early 20s are when those diseases start to manifest themselves. (Been there, done that, hellacious brain fog and all. I seriously considered leaving school, and finally got lucky with medication in time to salvage my senior year.)

Keep trying different treatments. Keep fighting. You deserve better than this.
posted by Kibby at 9:42 PM on August 10, 2012

Rainbowbrite mentions a medical withdrawal -- some schools offer a retroactive medical withdrawal for documented conditions. Is there an academic affairs or advising office you can talk to about this?

If you can get some of the old stuff off your record, then maybe you can work with DSS from the beginning of the course to make sure you're doing everything you can before things get uncontrollable. Maybe that would help?
posted by itsamermaid at 8:36 AM on August 11, 2012

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