Anxiety + peer + professor = rough last semester of grad school.
January 17, 2016 12:22 PM   Subscribe

So, a year and a half ago I asked this question. The good news? Almost done with grad school! The bad news? I have to take a class with both the peer and the professor this semester, and my anxiety in full-swing.

I have made it through the program and am doing super-well - great grades, am currently completing my practicum internship, and am all-around awesome. I am scheduled to graduate in May. I have mostly avoided the peer - we were in a couple of classes together, but I kept a polite distance and discretely let professors know in potential group situations that I would rather not be partnered with him. This has worked well. The professor I have avoided completely.

However, in my final semester, I am required to take an upper-level seminar, and the only one I have available to take requires me to be in a class of about 15 people with the same peer who made me feel awful and the same professor who required me to participate in an exercise that made me feel awful. I'm dreading it, and I can feel my anxiety creeping up.

Essentially, what I'm looking for are ways to interact with both of these people in a polite and distant way. I also want advice for making the class slightly more bearable, and I want advice on how to cope with my anxiety when interacting with people who have made the learning environment feel not-so-safe for me. Thank you so much for your help.
posted by socktothepuppet to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you just clarify what (if anything) happened after you sent the email? Did the professor respond? Was the peer made aware of his transgression? Did the professor acknowledge that it was an inappropriate exercise? Or did they react in some way that makes you think they sided with peer and/or thought you were exaggerating or any such nonsense? (I think mostly what would influence my strategy would be whether I can think of the professor as an ally, a neutral party, or still part of the problem. If the latter, I'd probably go higher up tbh).
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:38 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sure. Professor was basically like, "Well, i can see why that might make you feel uncomfortable, but maybe you need to look within you to find out why that made you uncomfortable. I'm sure he wasn't coming from a bad place. It's an exercise designed to challenge you." So, basically completely blah toward me. I talked with another professor about it, and she was more supportive, but I ultimately decided to not take it up further with the administration. Peer was not made aware of his transgression.
posted by socktothepuppet at 12:43 PM on January 17, 2016

Oh. Sorry to hear that, that's really sucky. Barring getting support from the institution, I wonder if you might be able to get validation from other peers / professors allowing you to fully reframe it in your mind as "those assholes" and to go into the class with a feeling of righteous indignation rather than anxiety? What they did to you was really awful (I wouldn't be surprised if peer has antagonised other people if this is how he interacts with his peers), so you have every right to be outraged and don't they dare try to make you feel weird about it or you'll give them a piece of your mind! (I realise this may not work for every personality type. I'm very confrontational so it would come naturally to me.)

Other people may come up with better strategies. Sorry you have to go through this. :-/
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:08 PM on January 17, 2016

I think at this point, it's about managing your anxiety and distress that the anxiety causes. It's great that you're thinking about this now and "Coping ahead" so to speak. Do you do any mindfulness practice? I am going through a really anxious time right now, and something that I have found really calming recently is coloring/doodling.
posted by Stewriffic at 2:22 PM on January 17, 2016

I'm a bit concerned that this is causing you significant anxiety 18 months later. You opted not to address the issue with the student and not to escalate the professor's choices with the administration. What kinds of mental health supports do you utilize to prevent ruminating on long past, relatively minor transgressions? I know they suck, but dealing with people who say and do less than optimal things is unfortunately a pretty common part of life.
posted by metasarah at 2:33 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not to thread-sit, but I wanted to clarify: I hadn't thought about this in months until I saw the class roster and realized my peer would be in it. It kind of brought back the whole "ahhh I really don't want to be in an intimate class environment with these people again but I don't have any choice" feelings. I think ruminating is a sort of strong word for it - it's more prompted by the immediate situation that a consistent source of anxiety. I'll definitely be talking to my therapist about it, and I have other supports in place. It's just more of a how can I manage my dislike for these folks in way that doesn't harm me professionally but also allows me to feel safe/not super-annoyed. I hope that makes sense. No more thread-sitting!
posted by socktothepuppet at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2016

Does your university not have a dean of students that you can talk to regarding this incident? Even if nothing really happens at least they can give you professional advice about navigating social interactions with your peer and professor.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:48 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would basically have my guard up with peer. Some people say mean things regularly and so you can expect it. Bracing yourself can help you blow off their comments because you know the comments have no value. Just ignore peer for the three hours you spend in this class a week. The semesters go by so fast!
posted by Kalmya at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2016

I got this.

Number One - the peer is an unhappy and insecure individual (I think I called him an asshole previously for being the type to take out his feelings on others.) You're free to remain distant and professional. Just entirely edit him, mentally. There is nothing there for you. He's obviously troubled, skip it.

Number Two - it's possible your professor has entirely forgotten the exchange you had previously. Certainly, the way you down played what was said to you in the email you wrote about the incident (you wrote you did not think peer was being malicious, you did not dispassionately simply relate his exact words) left your professor with the mental wiggle room to put the event back on to you ("the exercise was meant to challenge you" PFFFFFT!) Again, remain professional and distant. Mentally edit the professor into a stranger and forget any past history with him as you interact throughout the duration of the class.

Overall, remain professional and distant. Just forget what you've experienced or know about these two people. Don't let this insignificant amount of time you'll have to spend with them negatively impact your graduate studies or career. Practice mindfulness and pick topics to refocus on if these two clowns start to take up too much headspace.

The good news is what happened in the past was like an accident. Clown #1 met Clown #2, and you were collaterally damaged. Literally, any other female would have gotten the same lecture from Clown #1 given Clown #2's directions for the exercise. This is the last thing you should personalize or allow into your internal space from here on out.

Congratulations on successfully completing your degree! Focus on this wonderful thing, forget this noise. Congratulations and have a great semester.
posted by jbenben at 3:56 PM on January 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Since this was about clothes, I wonder if you could put yourself in a "you go girl" mood, by wearing an outfit you love and that makes you look good on the first day. If it includes a skirt, so much the better.
If it were me, I'd be struggling between not wanting to be reminded of what the peer said and so wearing something nondescript, and flaunting my skirts to get into a "fuck you, you're not the boss of me" mood. I know the latter would make me feel a lot better in the long run.

Maybe you can plan to have coffee with some other people who make you feel good afterwards? Or someone nice from that class? Just...cushion the whole first day in things that make you feel like a successful, fun, happy person.
posted by Omnomnom at 5:38 AM on January 18, 2016

Have you talked to your advisor about this? Would it be at all possible for you to get special dispensation and sub out another class instead of this seminar?

Do you have any friends in the class who already know about what went down or that you would feel comfortable confiding in so that you have some real-time moral support?

Otherwise, if you are well and truly stuck in the seminar, I like jbenben's advice. I'd also develop a game plan for what I'd do if something equally offensive is said again so I could respond and shut it down right away in a manner that would be effective and appropriate.
posted by smirkette at 1:01 PM on January 18, 2016

Assuming you are stuck with this class (which, given my personal experiences with academia, I am guessing you may be), I would create a calendar in the front page of my notebook/binder for the class for each session of the seminar (hopefully only 10-14 times given that many seminars only meet once a week!) and physically check off each date as you complete the class. Then give yourself a little treat (something like a cup of your favorite tea or half an hour reading Harry Potter or whatever makes you smile) right after class if the timing works out (or else as soon as you can).

I would also think about whether doing a big weekly complain fest or not will help you feel better about it. I think some people find this type of venting really cathartic, and for others it's better to compartmentalize a bit and try to keep the bad experience out of the rest of your week as much as humanly possible. So consider which you think you might best react to.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:15 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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