Depression and college
March 16, 2007 5:56 PM   Subscribe

College/DepressionFilter: How do I avoid further destroying my life?

I am a sophomore in college. My college works on a quarter system, so my second term ends this month. First term, I received a D in one course and a B in two others, which gave me a 2.3 term GPA. Although I haven't received my final grades yet, I'm estimating that my second term GPA will be roughly 1.5. This means I will be placed on academic probation. I will also lose my scholarship funds from the college; even a straight-A third term wouldn't raise my GPA enough to save the money. I've also almost completely destroyed any chance of transferring to another school.

During my first year of college, my GPA was about 3.4. I was on the Dean's List for my first term. What happened?

Since I started my second year, and especially since I started this most recent term, I've become more and more depressed. I stay up until all hours of the night obsessing over past mistakes, my terrible present situation, the uncertain future, and the inevitability of death. Suicidal ideation is one of my top activities. The depression is not helped by my brutal social anxiety; a combination of the two has left me with next to no friends here, no job (lack of motivation, fear of reaching out to job-dispensing authority figures), and little money -- I blew it all on delivery food to avoid the terror of eating alone in the cafeteria. [Yes, I'm on pills. Yes, I'm seeing a shrink.]

I have no motivation whatsoever to get my work done. I don't even read my textbooks, if I buy them at all. I'll stay up late staring at a blank Word document when it comes time to write a paper, and I'll never even type a single word. I want to do well, but I can't. I know I should read my books, I know I should study, I know exactly what I should do, yet not only do I not do it, it feels like I CAN'T do it. I know that I can; I did very well during my first year, after all. It's even more frustrating because I can't find anyone who understands what this feels like.

College staff have been of little help. One academic dean told me to withdraw from this term. An academic skills counselor suggested I withdraw from next term.

Those actually don't sound like bad ideas to me; I'm not even sure I want to be in college. But I have no idea what else I'd do. Plus, my parents wouldn't allow me to do anything but continue in college (they don't know any of what I just typed above, except for the 2.3 GPA first term). That's why I can't withdraw from a term, take a leave of absence, or drop out. My only option is to transfer and hope for the best; unfortunately, I did that once before, and it didn't work out very well. And I'd need somewhere to transfer to; my recent academic performance makes that quite difficult.

Summary: I'm failing classes, losing scholarship money, depressed, unmotivated, and feel like I have no good options. What the hell do I do?
posted by anonymous to Education (50 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Visit a doc. Tell the doc what you told us. Get a diagnosis of depression. Have doc call parents, explain it's a physical ailment and prescribe a semester off.

Losing a scholarship sucks but it isn't the end of the world.
Depression could be, if you let it go long enough.
posted by konolia at 6:04 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get your doctor to allow you medical leave. I have friends who did this to save their scholarships. You may even be able to have a doctor write a note to the scholarship committee explaining that your performance was tied to medical issues.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to apply for disability insurance. Perhaps this would enable you to move in with roommates and not have to depend on your parents for a while.
posted by acoutu at 6:10 PM on March 16, 2007

Withdraw. It sounds scary but if you're anything like me, it will be a huge relief. Give yourself some time to get your mental health back on track and to get back into a pattern of being good at stuff and feeling successful. Are you at the University of Chicago? I have a feeling you are. Go talk to Susan Art.

Do hang in there. The depression is telling you that you're alone in this, that nobody has screwed stuff up as badly as you have. The truth is that many, many students have followed your same path and many of them much worse. It sounds like you're not enjoying school, you're not learning, and you feel like a failure. Get out! Go back when you well and truly feel like it, which you probably will eventually, and when you do you'll get SO much more out of it. Imagine yourself learning a ton, enjoying your classes, respecting your teachers, and looking forward to learning more. That's the college experience you deserve, and that's the experience I think you can have if you take some time out to work on your health and break out of some unhealthy paterns.

Listen to the academic skills counselor and the dean. They've seen this a million times before and they know that taking a break really does help. Good luck with everything! Travel, work, read for pleasure, watch fun TV and movies, and remember what it feels like to enjoy life.
posted by bonheur at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2007

It would be presumptious of me to thinking I had any good advice. So, I just wanted to let you know there is life, and opportunity, outside of college. You won't find any answers by trying to satisfy your parents.
posted by phaedon at 6:15 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

My gut feeling is that you should probably let your parents know what's going on.

Your folks have a lot going for them. They have greater resources than you do, money-wise, housing-wise, experience-wise, nearly any way you care to slice it. And they have your personal welfare in mind, much more than any academic dean or skills counselor is ever going to.

Like it or not, at your age your folks are still what psychologists call your major "social support" network. The sooner you let them know what's happening, the sooner they can bring their considerable resources to bear in getting you to a better place. You said they wouldn't let you do anything but continue in college, but maybe you should lay it out for them and let them know what's going on. You've never screwed up this badly before; you may find they're capable of being more supportive than you have ever needed before.

If your parents hate you or you're a victim of severe parental abuse, that makes things harder, and maybe my advice doesn't apply.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:18 PM on March 16, 2007

Don't continue pouring money into school if there won't be any payoff. If you are failing your classes, you're just wasting cash. And nothing can make you feel more depressed than feeling like you're wasting money that you don't have.

I'm sure your parents love you and want what is best for you. If you are honest with them and tell them about the severity of your depression, they would probably be supportive and want you to deal with that immediately. College takes a long time and if you're depressed, 4 years will feel like an eternity. There is always time for school.

It's hard to see it now, but it really doesn't matter what your parents think. You need to do what's best for you. And saving your own life is certainly in your best interest.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:21 PM on March 16, 2007

I never went to college, so FWIW...

..but I would agree with what some of the other people that its not the end of the world is you take some time off. Your physical and mental health is a hella lot more important than college. Also, you have to live your life for yourself, not for your parents. I would bet that if you sat your parents down and described everything like you just did to us.. that they would care enough for your wellbeing that they would do whatever it takes to help you.

That said... definitely dont give up on college. I'm 33 and going to attempt going back (I was in community college for not even 1 semester after high school)... as soon as I get some of my bills paid off. (probably next year)

As far as the depression goes.. I'm in a similar situation but its in regards to $$$ and not education. I'm jobless and (relatively) homeless (crashing with my brother) and have 20+k of Credit card debt...

Your not alone.. dont give up.. Adversity is just lifes way of saying you have to be more resourceful and creative to solve the problems. Change some things in your daily routine..find some new music to listen to.. re-arrange your living room/apt/whatever... go for a walk.. just do something "new" that will stretch your mind and give you some new experiences/viewpoints... Hell, I've struck up conversations with complete strangers and met some really cool people...
posted by jmnugent at 6:22 PM on March 16, 2007

Take a break. It's only school. You can come back to it at any time in your life. Your past marks show that you don't need to prove yourself to anyone, so take a vacation, find a different vocation, have yourself a sabbatical. You're old enough that your parents don't have to decide things for you. They won't be happy, but they'll be forgiving, and they'll be happy when you go back later. You have lots of time left in your life.
posted by furtive at 6:24 PM on March 16, 2007

I'm going to agree with the above. There are always options. Get out of there, it's clearly not the environment you need to be in right now. Your mental health matters more than anything else you've mentioned. Even if it's just suicide ideation now, god knows one night some little switch up there might flip and you'll end up doing the unthinkable.

Go anywhere. If you parents won't "let you" withdraw, get out anyway. If they balk, you'll find yourself needing shelter and work and that's may be great motivation to seek out either (it depends on how bad your social anxiety is).

I went through a (from what you've explained, at least) really similar situation to yours around the same time (two years into college). If you want to talk, drop me an email.
posted by griphus at 6:26 PM on March 16, 2007

This has not happened personally, but here is what I know from friends who have had similar issues:

Make sure you document that you've been in therapy, how long you've been in therapy, and that it coincides with your academic downturn. Depending on the school, you may be able to work out medically-excused retake credits -- you'll be able to retake courses where you underperformed at a later time and it will overwrite your previous grade instead of counting as a second time through. Ideally, the best case scenario is this: you take a semester off, do something to clear your mind, and continue in therapy. The scholarship board knows about the situation and retains your scholarship for your return. When you return, should you continue in the same major, you retake the courses you did poorly in and overwrite the grades that were an issue. Not all of these things may work out, but it is the best possible situation and should be your goal. Don't let it get you down if not all of these things work out -- just because life has thrown you a curveball doesn't mean that things won't work out in the mid- to long-term. Everyone has difficulties at some time.

Your parents may see this as some sort of failure, but it is not. I have known people who have stuck with school because their parents did not understand, or they thought their parents would not understand, and it has failed miserably. Depression is not self-inflicted, and it is a disease to overcome. If you had mono and had to drop a semester because of your inability to go to class, no one would expect you to be penalized for it. This is the same situation. I wish you the best.
posted by mikeh at 6:26 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I felt like this my first year of college. My school has free counselors so I went to talk to one, and she suggested I take some time off. So I did. I got a got as a web developer (which is what I was studying for anyway) and loved it. Soon, it was time to go back to college.

Now I'm starting to feel a bit overwhelmed again myself, but the time off really helped.

"Plus, my parents wouldn't allow me to do anything but continue in college (they don't know any of what I just typed above, except for the 2.3 GPA first term)"

You are an adult, and you parents no longer allow or disallow you to do anything. If they're supporting you financially, they have some say. If you don't want to tell them your grade issues (which I think you SHOULD, but if you DON'T), tell them you just need some time off and get a job and support yourself. (They'll likely be more accommodating than you think if you just come clean.)
posted by jesirose at 6:37 PM on March 16, 2007

listen to what these people are saying. don't waste your time or money on college when you're not up to the task. you're ill right now. take the time off to get well. you would do the same if you had cancer.

and tell your shrink about the suicidal ideations. and that you're feeling worse, not better. he or she needs that information to treat you properly. if there's no change in your therapy, get a new doctor.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:39 PM on March 16, 2007

Is the doctor you are seeing part of the campus health center, or were you referred to him/her by them? If not, I would suggest talking with a counselor in the health center. Most campuses have this as part of their health or student services, and often it is free or very cheap. The advantage of doing this is that at many schools the counseling staff (in addition to whatever therapeutic benefit you might get from talking to them) have the ability to help mediate between you and your professors, between you and the academic dean, and between you and your parents. There are ways of taking time off that won't hurt your academic standing (as compared to flunking out and just not showing up the following semester, which a surprising number of students do every year), such as asking for a "medical leave" or similar. If the doctor you are seeing is part of the campus system, ask him/her to help intercede and access the support you need.

Because of privacy regulations (in the US at least, elsewhere wil vary), the school may not be able to call your parents and say, "hey, your kid is in trouble, here's the situation." But the counseling staff, or academic dean, can either help you make that call, or (with your permission) may be able to make it for you. (This is definitely the case at the university I am at, and at the undergraduate college I attended; not every school may provide these resources, I don't know.)

Ikkyu2 is right, your family could be the largest part of your support structure, and if they don't know that there is a problem they can't help. I'm suggesting that you have a counselor or dean or friend help with talking to them, if you aren't comfortable making that phone call yourself.
posted by Forktine at 6:40 PM on March 16, 2007

Withdraw from the term, following the advice above to make sure the door stays open for you.

Then be honest with your folks. They want what's best for you.

Then forget about college for a while. This is the time in your life to explore your options, not lock them in. I suspect part of you knows this, and that's contributing to the depression.

Depression is serious and real, but it is not a "disease" in the sense that you're stuck with it. You need to rebuild your capacity to perform basic tasks. Chances are there's a lot more - depression doesn't come out of nowhere, but I leave the introspection to you. Just remember that depression is your "deeper" self demanding that you change something about your life. Ultimately you will find your inspiration and power as a result of all of this, simply because that's the only choice left to you. When you can, revel in that. In a way, you're lucky this is happening this early in your life. Yeah, I know it doesn't feel that way.

For now, really basic stuff. You'll be amazed how much the edge can be taken off by the basics. And none of this may be new to you but you'd also be amazed how easy it is for some people to forget them.

1. Stop staying up so late. Easier said than done. Rule of thumb for the coming weeks: Go to bed when you are tired. Get out of bed when you are no longer tired. Follow this rule as best you can. This may start off as a really weird and unpredictable cycle. Let it (another reason to take the term off). It will settle - your body is finding its rhythm. Let it. Quality sleep (don't necessarily conflate that with quantity) is your biggest friend right now.

2. Go outside every day. Especially during the sunlight hours.

3. Eat well. Or as best you can. Say it with me: "Leafy greens are my friend." Avoid sugar and caffeine as a rule (with the understanding that rules are meant to be broken - but have them as part of a treat or ritual, not a numbing indulgence). The former will tend to make you more depressed, the latter more anxious.

4. Exercise daily. Even if it's ten pushups.

5. Take strength from the little things. You went outside today. You didn't yesterday. Hence, you improved.

6. Stop worrying about what you should do and start doing what you want to do.

7. Pick one thing to learn and start learning it. Make sure it has nothing to do with your college major. Make it simple, make it tactile, and maybe make it something that will also help you get on your emotional feet again. Learn to make a really good salad, or something. Later, pick something else.

8. Avoid television at all costs and don't waste time on the Internet.

9. Each week, do one small things that frightens you. Maybe it's just having a two-sentence conversation with the corner-store cashier. Maybe it's something bigger. You're not trying to prove anything, you're trying to build emotional muscle. So push the envelope just a little.

Live incrementally better each day than you did the day before. Don't worry about anything else. One step at a time.

As for social anxiety, that's a tough one. But just try to remember that nearly everyone has it to a certain degree, we're just encouraged to pretend otherwise. In fact some seemingly super-confident people are remarkably insecure. Remember too that people you talk to want to find you interesting. They genuinely do. Most relationships aren't made up of people being thoroughly brilliant at one another in rapid succession, they're made of boring people mostly talking about boring things in their own ways, and finding interesting intersections between those things. They will embellish your inherent boringness if you let them :)

And regarding the meds... did this rapid downturn co-incide with getting on meds? Do you know the side-effects of your meds? I'm reluctant to touch on this one, as it's a touchy issue and ultimately personal choice, but I'll say two things: first, anti-depressants are like steroids- they have their therapeutic use but usually just bring you to a state without your developing the muscles to get and stay there on your own.

Second, if pills actually cured people, pharmaceutical companies would have no business model.

This can either be self-destruction or a healing crisis. Pardon me for saying that you're young enough that there's no reason it can't be the latter.

Everything we like about ourselves happens under the surface. Seeds you plant take a while to sprout. Be good to yourself and trust. Things are going to get amazing, sooner or later.

Take it from a post-depression college dropout who has a great job and a really fascinating life.
posted by poweredbybeard at 6:47 PM on March 16, 2007 [45 favorites]

If it makes you feel any better, you should know that being depressed is extremely common in college for many reasons. Separation anxiety, hormonal changes, feeling overwhelmed, chemical imbalances, etc. There are lots of reasons people get depressed in college, some having to do with the environment and some having nothing to do with it. But you're not alone and you're not a freak.

Universities are used to dealing with these situations and have policies that are spelled out for you. Check them out and see if any of your classes can be repeated at a later time. At my university, staff support is outstanding and they really want to help students succeed. They know the bureaucracy of the school and can tell you how to navigate through it. It might make it easier for you to tell your parents about your depression if you can also tell them that you spoke with the dean's office and were told that all of your classes can be retaken and the poor grades can be removed when you take the classes again.

Parents can be really inflexible sometimes and they make it hard to be honest with them. Some (mine) don't want me to be a quitter, so they have always pressured me to follow through with things and keep my committments. However, when I have been truly miserable doing something, they usually support me when I decide to quit. Parents want their kids to be happy. They think getting a degree will ultimately make you successful, and therefore, happy. This may be true and you can still make that happen. I really think they'll understand and be supportive and glad that you told them the truth. Telling them also makes you more responsible. You're taking your health and happiness into your own hands, which is what parents try to raise their kids to do. The hallmark of good parenting is raising children who think for themselves and can confront challenges and do what is best.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:51 PM on March 16, 2007

Second, if pills actually cured people, pharmaceutical companies would have no business model.

They're not meant to be a cure, they're a treatment. They can help control depression, often most successfully in conjunction with therapy or other treatments.

While it's true many doctors will prescribe 'pills' in situations which might not require it, that doesn't mean they won't help some or even most people when taken with ongoing therapy. I know a few people who are perfectly reasonable people when taking medication and only have to revisit the doctor twice a year to check in. If they don't take the meds, they simply can't cope. You can't dismiss all medication that way.

That's like saying if condoms really prevented pregnancy, no one would need to buy them. You don't use them once and get cured of pregnancy, you keep using them until you no longer need to for another reason.
posted by jesirose at 7:33 PM on March 16, 2007

Perhaps my analogy would have made more sense if I'd used BC pills instead of condoms ;)

poweredbybeard, I agreed with everything else you said, wonderful advice, I just felt the need to defend the medications that help people close to me. AD drugs are not a pharmaceutical scam.
posted by jesirose at 7:39 PM on March 16, 2007

Wow, that sounds nearly identical to my college experience. From Dean's List to academic probation in a matter of months. I ate ramen and vending machine food rather than go to the cafeteria, despite having paid for the meal plan. I had virtually no friends, and lived in silence with my school assigned roommates. The only reason I stayed in school is because I was in the fortunate situation of having some very kind people in the financial aid office who helped me out, and I eventually scraped through with enough credits to graduate, repeating some up to four times to get through (I still flipped back and forth between A's and D/F's in my classes). This involved talking to them honestly about my problem, and I was required to write a letter at one point requesting readmission. I was very straightforward about the situation and what I saw as the effect of my anxiety and depression, as well as the effect of my medication and withdrawal from it. They let me stay and the financial aid office was able to help me find loans that would get me through.

And what I have now is a basically useless degree and a lot of debt. Yes, I learned things there, but with the level of social anxiety I fight with, I haven't been able to apply it to anything. I wish I had quit and gone to a trade school.

Things aren't as bleak as that might make it sound - my social anxiety is nowhere near where it was, and suicide is far from my mind. The biggest thing that helped with this was working. Finding a job is a horrible experience with social anxiety, but working at lower end customer service positions gave me a bit more practice and helped me with the anxiety (it created new anxiety in the form of staying up all night thinking about what went wrong at work, but at least I had a paycheck and was worrying about a new level of social errors and not just the fact that I wasn't able to speak). Someone will hire you, if you're willing to attempt friendliness and you can be reliable about showing up for work. Every coworker I've ever had is more extroverted than me, but my managers could count on me to show up, and in a lot of low level jobs, that can mean a lot. Some of the jobs that have helped me here are restaurants and call centers, where you're basically drilling yourself on making small conversations over and over and rarely have to deal with the other person again. They were really tough and draining, but I learned a lot.

I can't tell you how to fix your situation, but you're not alone, and it can get better. I regret not leaving college and getting some more practical training. I think I would have more confidence as far as a direction for my life, even if it didn't lead me to a high paying career. It's not like college did.

Talk to your parents. They might not understand, but on the off chance that they do, having some support can make a big difference. They will probably still insist you stay in college. Mine did. But they were more conscious of my problems and more sensitive to the reasons behind my mistakes instead of just thinking I was lazy.

I'm not telling you to drop out of college. I'm telling you that for me, getting out into the world and gaining more experience was the biggest help. I hate to say it, since that's the part that's so hard, but it's possible to improve your situation. If you stay in school try to find a part time job or a volunteer position that will help you develop some coping strategies. If you don't, be proactive and get some sort of training to make yourself more employable.

I strongly strongly agree with the list poweredbybeard posted. A lot of these are strategies that I've incorporated into my life and I am a lot happier now. It is a very good list.

Sorry to ramble about my own situation so much, I just didn't want you to feel like you were the only one.

It can get better, good luck.
posted by jheiz at 7:48 PM on March 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

I went through much of the same thing you're going through now, and failed a year of school because I was too afraid to tell my parents, and because school was all I'd known - what else was I supposed to do? Biggest mistake of my life. If you drop below a 2.0 or fail, and want to go back eventually, your academic life's going to be hell - you'll have to petition for everything from that point on (financial aid, probation, etc.) and none of it will be easy.

I'm just finishing school now (at age 26, having started when I was 18), and it's been rough - not because I can't do the work now, because I can - but because the system doesn't care if you're depressed and will fight you every step of the way. I'm only being dramatic because I want to encourage you to take that term off to get better. Do it while you're still in OK standing. Take the term to get well. Take some online classes that don't require you be physically on campus. See a therapist during that time. Take the term to get back in the groove - exercise, eat well, get your sleeping schedule back on track (SO important). Let your body de-stress. But take the time.

In the meantime, see a therapist or school counselor, have them write you a letter and then register with your school's disabilities services. This may seem strange, but they're trained to deal with psychiatric disorders and they can save you a lot of anxiety and headaches with your professors. It sounds nervewracking, but once you make an appointment, the counselor will figure out what's best for you - talking to your teachers, getting paper extensions, waiving attendance policies. It's embarrassing at first, but such a relief when you don't have the fear of approaching a professor.

I know how hard it is to take these steps when you feel like you do. It seems impossible and scary and like your whole life's a wreck, and it'll never get better. It will, because it does. But you need to pull away for a bit, and be compassionate with yourself.

As for talking with your parents, I think you can approach it a few ways - obviously, I don't know your parents, so I don't know how they'll react to these solutions. One, see the school counselor again, and have them write you a letter (this can double as a letter to disabilities services). Show it to your parents. Tell them that this your health - your health! - and that staying in school this term is the worst thing you can do to your health right now. Present them with a plan of action. I thought my parents would be pissed, but when I presented it to them this way - that I was having serious, serious anxiety and depression and that my health was affected, and that I wasn't just being unmotivated or lazy - they were more than sympathetic and compassionate.

So, here's what I would do, step by step:

1. Make an appointment with a school counselor through your school's health clinic.
2. Tell them everything you've said here, and have them write a letter stating what you've said here. Have them suggest - if they can - an outside therapist. (I'm assuming you have health insurance, since you're in school.)
3. Ask them to call Disabilities Services for you, or call them yourself and set up an appointment.
4. Have the talk with your parents, letter in hand. (Easier said than done, I know. But you'll feel 348945805 times better knowing you have their support.)
5. Go to the appointment with disabilities, and have them set out a plan for you.
6. Withdraw from classes for the term.
7. Set up an appointment with a therapist, and go to the appointments.

That's a lot, so take it step by step, as slow as possible, and involve your friends and parents. You need support. It's embarrassing to share with someone that you're depressed because it has such a horrible stigma attached. The first step is conquering the embarrassment - you're smart, you're hurting and you need help. If you had two broken legs and were stranded in the street, you wouldn't hesitate to call for help. Treat it the same way.

Take care of yourself. I'm pulling for you.
posted by Zosia Blue at 7:49 PM on March 16, 2007

jesirose- fair enough. Of course what I should have said is that I was only giving the two main reasons I never touched them. I would never judge anyone for choosing otherwise; they know what they need better than I, or anyone else.
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2007

Ack, missed the part about you already seeing a shrink. That's even better. Have your shrink write the letters! A letter signed by a medical professional is your ticket at the university. They don't want to be sued for medical discrimination.
posted by Zosia Blue at 7:53 PM on March 16, 2007

I don't know if you are seeing an on-campus shrink, but get to student counseling ASAP! They will have resources for you.

Also, tell your profs/TAs what is going on. We are trained to deal with people in your situation and we are willing to cut you breaks.
posted by k8t at 7:54 PM on March 16, 2007

OK, one last thing and I'm done spamming. Even if you figure out that college's not for you, don't burn that bridge by doing poorly. You might want to go back someday, and you'll want it to be as painless as possible. Leave as gracefully as you can, and take the break to decide.
posted by Zosia Blue at 7:55 PM on March 16, 2007

There is one important thing you need to deal with right now and that's managing your depression. Believe me, lots of people wash out a year or two of college, hell, some people plow six or seven. Lots of people blow scholarships and financial aid, you can survive and thrive past any of these things. But you won't be able to deal with any of it until you have your (very severe) depression under better control.

You really need advocates right now, because there are a number of things you need to deal with and you are probably ill equipped to do so, so you need people helping you to manage them.

The most obvious advocates for you are your parents, your psychiatrist or therapist, and your academic adviser. There may also be professionals in whatever element of your school provides mental health services to help you negotiate options.

Nobody can help you though, unless you are being very clear and very honest with them about your state of mental health. I would go well past what others have said. Your parents need to know that you are experiencing severe depression, including thoughts of suicide.

My experience (and it is a good few years back now) is that very little in the academic environment - including scholarship rules, academic probation rules, and so on, are set in stone. I hate to give you a list of things to do because it's just more of what you're having trouble dealing with, but these are the things that need to be figured out - and again, this would be a good time for people like your parents and academic adviser to be helping you to work them out.

You need to determine whether you can prevent the grades from your current quarter from having an impact on your GPA. If withdrawing from your current term will do that then you should. You need to determine if you can get some consideration on your scholarships the academic probation issue based on the problems that you are trying to deal with. Part of this should be whether you could take a leave of absence to work on your mental health. Part of your discussion with your therapist should be about this too: whether taking a break from school might make sense. Are you being clear and honest with this person about how things are going with you? Because unless you started treatment/medication very recently it sounds like it is not going that great. You may need to consider trying new things.

It is obvious that continuing school when your performance is so far below your potential does not make sense. Again, this is a question that cannot be properly explored until your parents understand what's going on in your life.

Despite the way you feel, what you are experiencing is not uncommon. Take a peek at that clickable "depression" tag up in the right hand corner of this thread to see what I mean. When someone very close to me was suffering severe panic attacks one of the most helpful things for him was a group where he could talk to people dealing with the same thing. Consider talking to your therapist or mental health services at your school about whether such resources exist.

Depression sucks and my heart goes out to you. But you don't have anything to feel ashamed about. Continue to work on treating it and reach out for support. It takes time but it works.
posted by nanojath at 7:55 PM on March 16, 2007

This post totally brought on the deja-vu. I went through the same exact thing when I was in college, no exaggeration; I could have written this same letter back in 1991. (I was even on the quarter system!)

Your medication is clearly not working on your depression or your social anxiety. You are either on the wrong medicine, or on the right meds, but at the wrong dosage. Talk to your doctor right away and explain everything as you have stated it here, and ask the doctor ( an M.D. I hope?) to help you speak with your parents, and put together a strategy for getting well. (Also be screened for bipolar disorder, you want to be 100% sure of your diagnosis, and the differences can be subtle.)

I suggest taking some time away from school so you can work on becoming healthy again. (BTW, also familiar: In my case the University was also not very understanding. Get yourself better before you do any further damage to your GPA.)

Be proactive (horrible word, but it works here) about getting treatment and you will do just fine. Email's in the profile...
posted by lilboo at 8:04 PM on March 16, 2007

1. This is extremely common, MUCH more so than students realize. I work at a university and EVERY term someone in one of my introductory classes has some issue like this (can't leave the house, so can't come to class or even email the prof, goes on medical leave by the end of the term). You are not alone in feeling this way.

2. Taking some time off and getting treatment is your best option now, probably. This is completely okay, lots of people do it and come back, lots of people do it and go on to do other things for a while, only coming back to college after 5-10 years. They usually do *great* when they come back. Going out into the "real world" right now is a completely ok option, not something to dread or be ashamed of. College will be there when you're ready.

3. Try to take a medical leave of absence if you can. Doctor's note, deans, head of college counselling/psych services dept. Ttypically the medical leave of absence leaves less of a dent in your transcript, funding, etc.

4. Unless there is some kind of really terrible situation with your parents, tell them. Here is a starter script:
"I've been having a harder time lately than I have told you. Actually, I have pretty serious depression -- I've had a hard time even leaving the dorm. Because of it I haven't been able to keep up with my coursework at all, and my grades have really fallen. I've decided that I need to take some time off from school. I could really use your help in figuring out how to make this work."

5. Eat enough; exercise even a little if you can - it's the most efffective thing in the world; spend awake time during the day with people as much as possible, sleep at night; do what it takes to keep getting treatment.

6. See if someone at campus mental health services can act as your "buddy" while you're figuring out the administrative stuff -- eg, you can schedule a meeting with this person twice a week, and at the meeting you can make all your important phone calls. Sounds dumb, I know, but if you can't make the calls by yourself, this might be a solution. I have done this for students. If you can't get a campus mental health person to do this, possibly a clergy person or your RA (dorm head) would help.

7. If part of your depression is loneliness (very common in college), would moving back to the town where you grew up help?

8. Once you leave school, try to get some kind of job -- the easier the better. Something where you can't worry about whether you're doing a "good enough job" or not. Having a schedule that keeps you busy with small achievable tasks is a huge help in depression. Try not to sit around the house, because honestly the more you do that, the more you will want to do it some more.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:13 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ye, gods, I could have written this 20 years ago after my freshman year. I'd been the valedictorian, got great grades my first semester, then tanked the 2nd semester. Lost my scholarhships and everything.

It didn't help that I was on two medications whose side effects were depression, and that I'd hit major culture shock despite being in the same state and "only" 250 miles from home.

My parents weren't thrilled, but I came home and worked for a semester living with them and socking away money (and paying my part of the rent on my college apartment 250 miles away)

After that respite (and realizing that working for 4.00/hour for the rest of my life was boring as hell) I made my way back to school. Then, despite my folk's objections, I went to the school counseling center and started to pull myself back together. Part of that was getting tested for learning disabilities, which helped me cope with the rest of my college career. I graduated with a 2.mumblemumble, but I graduated.

These days college costs much much more, so losing scholarships is a bigger deal now than it was in my day. If you can get a 'stay of execution' that some people are advocating above, go for it. Then take some time off, take the pressure off, find a hobby that has nothing to do with anything, and then come back, tanned, rested, and ready.
posted by lysdexic at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2007

Also: if you're going to move, have your current therapist/doc help you set up an appointment with a new therapist/doc in your new area BEFORE you move. Don't let that go until you move, because you may have a hard time setting one up among the chaos of moving, and interrupting your treatment is a bad idea.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:19 PM on March 16, 2007

There's a lot of really good advice here, but I just wanted to offer you my personal experience, which I hope you might find encouraging.

I had the *exact* same thing happen to me in college-- depression, anxiety, failing because I became completely paralyzed when it came to doing even the simplest assignments. Finally, I went to my parents and said, "I'm incredibly depressed, I basically haven't left my room in months and I don't know what I'm going to do now, but going back to school next semester is not it." They were shocked (since I'd been hiding my depression and anxiety from everyone, they had no idea what was going on) and worried and scared, but once I made it clear to them that I had made up my mind and that my situation was desperate, they surprised me by supporting me.

I dealt with the academic stuff by getting a retroactive medical withdrawl. Most schools have them-- check with your Dean of Students/ mental counseling service. I had a ton of AP credit, so I ended up not having to repeat those semesters to make up the lost credit... ymmv, but I still think this was the best option because it later allowed me to transfer to a much better school, where I kicked academic ass and was very happy.

Before transferring, I took time off from school and had adventures. Traveled, did AmeriCorps, worked on a political campaign... it was the best time of my life. And as a bonus, I got much, much more out of school after having been in the "real world" for a while.

So hang in there, and don't be afraid to made a bold move to change your situation. I tell you from experience, with much sincerity: it really is going to be okay.
posted by chickletworks at 8:20 PM on March 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

I just want to reinforce what everyone has said above, but in particular:
- this happened to me too, but 20 years later my life has turned out just fine.
- talk to your parents. I wish I had. I was too proud and too scared. I wasted a couple of extra years of time and money and effort from them and me, getting deeper and deeper into financial and academic strife, when I could have opted out, and looked after myself ready for a fresh start.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:26 PM on March 16, 2007

A couple little things here... Nthing everyone else who says "withdraw." It's not by any stretch the end of the world. Saying your parents "won't let you" do anything besides school indicates one thing with two causes: You're under their control. You are either in this situation willingly, or you are not but see no other option but to submit.

If you are under your parents' thumb willingly, hopefully it is because you have a good relationship with them. Tell them about it, and move back home! You're an adult, but still in a stage where your parents' home can be a haven for a time, if it has been for you before.

If, on the other hand, you are like me, and have a less than ideal relationship with your parents, then most likely moving home will exacerbate your depression. Throw off your chains, comrade! It is huge, it is scary, but if you can take the first steps and toss yourself out into the fray, away from the umbilical of daddy's money, it will be immensely freeing.

The fact is, you will not succeed in school if you are not motivated. This is multiplied a hundredfold when you add depression. Don't kid yourself! Things aren't going to get any better, for now, gradewise. Sorry.

Unfortunately, you'll probably still think you can keep trying, and give yourself "one last chance" until you are academically expelled, as I was in your situation. If that happens, it happens. Then you'll be forced to find some other option - which is good. You have many, many options - and will continue to have them, even if you are dismissed. Someone mentioned not "burning bridges," academically above; while this is a valid point, please don't think that you are forever ruining your chances at getting an education or a decent job!

I was dismissed from my university in 2004. Took a couple years to get on my feet, get working, get fully away from my parents and completely self-sufficient, and am now earning a 4.0 average in classes at my community college. I have every confidence (and have been reassured by many, many people, including academic counselors) that this will allow me to transfer to a four-year school if and when I want to do so - which, incidentally, I don't actually have to do, because I make more now than I would at an entry-level job with a bachelor's. Not bragging, so much as saying: the options are there!

Anyway, this is long and rambly, but I'll end with that, and say good luck! I hope you can pull through this with as little damage as possible and be the stronger for it.
posted by po at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2007

Great advice here, and I personally experienced very similar strife: in school on financial aid, crippling depression/anxiety tied to inability to support myself. I got seen by the campus psychiatrist, saw my academic adviser, and they actually gave me a retroactive medical leave of absence. Wiped an awful quarter right off my transcript. I was out of school for too long after that it seemed, getting myself and my life all sorted out, but what I want to contribute is: I returned at a part time (10-12 units of 15 full load) level with a part time bookkeeping job, a FAR SUPERIOR student. That underlined the benefits of the whole experience. I graduated with honors, well-adjusted, in touch with my issues, with a professional background well advanced of most people my age.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:47 PM on March 16, 2007

Listen to everyone else above. Their advice is right on:

1. Take a medical leave now. It's pointless spending time and money sitting in your room and being suicidal. Get your therapist to help, talk to counselors/counseling deans at your university, and get the process started now. If you do that, it's even possible that this term's bad grades will magically disappear. This is what I did when I was in a similar situation, and it was undeniably the right thing to do.

2. Make a plan for your time off. [Talk to counselors/etc when doing this.] This should involve several things:

a. Figure out where you'll spend your time off. Would home be better [support of family and hometown friends]? Would the city your university is in be better [new friends]? Many of your decisions will hinge on this. I stayed in my college town, because I thought friends would be a better source of support [and because dealing with my parents would be stressful]. Both options have their advantages - you don't have to worry about rent/meals/etc. at home, generally, but then you do have to deal with your parents and hometown, and you may not be pushed to be quite so self-sufficient. Figure out what you need.

b. Therapy and meds. It sounds like either your therapist, your meds, or both are not working at all. [Certainly the latter aren't - the dosage or drug would seem to be doing nothing or possibly even making things worse - and the therapist does not seem to have done anything to address this.] Find a therapist you feel comfortable with, and stick with him/her for the duration of your time off. And yes, meds really can help - but only if you're on the right ones at the right dosage. It can take a good psychiatrist to figure out what's needed. No, they're not a magical cure, but they're an often-effective way to treat what can be a debilitating problem.

c. What will you do with your time? Generally, some combination of a low-key job and classes at a local community college or art school is what you want. You do need something to keep your time somewhat structured, but you don't want anything hugely challenging: classes, for example, should have the potential to be self-esteem building. "Wow, I can get an A-plus after all!" [I did both: took three classes {two of them art classes} and had a part-time job. I felt much more competent after managing this for a few months, and the good grades helped me get back in.]

3. Talk to your parents. Yes, they have high standards. But they'd rather have you take time off than flunk out or kill yourself. Believe me. I had the same problem and the same concerns. It'll take a lot of courage to make that call, but if it helps, make sure that they understand that this is the advice of your doctor/therapist/counseling dean/etc. Your parents can help you out financially, they can offer support, and you will feel so much better when you stop lying and hiding your problems from them - something which only increases how alone you feel.

4. Talk to financial aid. Talk to the people in charge of your scholarship. Often, when you take medical leave, they'll put your scholarship on pause, more or less. If needed, explain the situation - they may put you on probation, but there's a good chance that they'll give you the opportunity to prove that you still deserve the scholarship when you return. [Again, this is something that I did, and I finished college with that scholarship.]

5. Find out what readmission takes. Some colleges will require a letter from your psychiatrist, some will require decent grades at a local community college, etc. Figure out also what will need to change before you can succeed again: less time spent fantasizing about suicide, social anxiety decreased to the point where you can function in public, get to the point where you are not intimidated by authority figures, etc. You can even suggest a plan upon readmission: regularly scheduled meetings with counseling deans, your advisor, your therapist, etc., so that you create a support network of people who will help you catch any future depressive episodes before they go too far. [Again, this is something that I did, and though all those meetings were a pain in the ass, it honestly did save me once or twice - you know you have someone to turn to.] Point is, you need to know what the school will want, since that will also shape your plan for your time off, and it will give you a guide to the things you need to work on personally.

6. Relax on your time off. Make sure you set things up so that you don't get stressed. Again, a low-key job plus a class or two is ideal, here, but only if they don't take up all your time. You've been ill. You need to recuperate, figure out how to get through life without going crazy again. Make sure that you take care of yourself too - nutrition, exercise, sleep, social stuff, etc. Enlist parents/friends to help, if necessary.

7. Realize that you're not doomed. Plenty of us have gone through this or known someone else who did - and everyone I know who's gone through it has graduated in the end, with good grades, and has gone on to jobs or grad school. You can figure out how to deal with your depression, whether than means therapy or meds or behavioral stuff or a combination of it all. If you can figure out how to do this, you can get readmitted and get good grades for the rest of your college career. You're not screwed for life, as long as you take action now. poweredbybeard isn't quite right: for some of us, depression and anxiety are diseases that you are, to some extent, stuck with. But they're treatable, like many other chronic problems are. You just need to take some time away from the stress of college to figure out how to do it.
posted by ubersturm at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

I hope you you're still reading this thread because this happened to me 10 years ago. I know what youre feeling and its not pretty, but you have to understand there is tons of hope. Tons of it.

I started school not really know how messed up I was, especially in terms of social anxiety and depression. I got kicked out of school, came home, and my brother helped me see a doctor and enroll into a community college. I'm not sure if the medication really helped as much as the acknowlegement of knowing that there's something wrong with me and its not okay to skip class for a week and hide out eating alone while spending the day playing video games.

I was at the community college just long enough to get an associates. This allowed me to apply to a local university, live at home, and finish school. It wasnt easy, but it wasnt impossible either. I had to learn my own limits, learn how relax, handle anxiety, and not let myself get too depressed. This takes years but its doable. Very doable.

You could never guess these things by meeting me. My only tell is that im 3 or 4 years older than my peers because I pretty much lost those years catching up.

My only regret is wishing I found a good doctor early on. I still dont really have one. I still have problems, but on the bright side that college depression, uncertainty, hiding the facts, etc was the worst of it. Tell your parents. You'll be just fine and in a couple years you wont believe you actually felt this way and wrote this question. Trust me.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 9:24 PM on March 16, 2007

Hey, I've been there. I was a straight-A student in high school, got into an Ivy, etc. Sophomore spring, things went south. I stopped going to class, doing work, being social. I considered withdrawing, but I had just started meds and I thought I was getting better, so I stayed in. I ended up finishing the semester still depressed and with horrible grades. My suggestions:

1. Talk to your parents. They deserve to know what's going on (especially if they're paying for your education,) and you might be surprised by their support. I was afraid to talk to my family because we have no history of depression or mental illness, but when I finally did, it was amazing. They know you better than your academic counselor knows you, and they might have better advice.

2. Take time off. I think other people have covered reasons for doing this quite well. If you have hesitations, write them down and analyze them. I was afraid to leave school because I didn't want to deal with my final semester after my friends have all graduated. And then I realized that that point was fairly far off, I would probably have other friends taking time off at some point, and by that time I would be feeling well enough that the situation wouldn't feel so dire.

3. While away from school, do something you enjoy. Right now, you don't have motivation to do schoolwork. What would you rather be doing? Get a job. Get an internship. Take some time to study something that interests you on your own terms. I had an internship while I was out of school (last semester,) and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot. I met amazing people. I got a new perspective on my life and what I want to do with it.

4. Return to school only when (and if!) you're ready. If you don't think you can come back and kick ass at school, then don't. Another bad semester could lower your self-confidence. Maybe a college degree isn't necessary for a job you're interested in. Transferring seems like a bad plan to me. It seems, from your description, that your problems are more internal than external. If it's not the school that's causing you trouble, the transfer process might just be unnecessary stress. (Exception: If you have an epiphany while out of school and realize that you want to do something unrelated to what you've been doing and there's an awesome program in that field at another school, then transferring might be a good option.)

My two cents :)
posted by tuffbunny at 9:50 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's lots of good advice above. My two cents:

Cent one: Your situation is exactly the kind of situation for which "medical leave of absence" is intended.

Cent two: As others have noted, it's not clear from your question why your parents "wouldn't allow" you to "do anything but continue in college," or why you have to base your decisions for yourself on what they would "allow."

To start with, taking a medical leave is not the same as not continuing in college. The whole idea of a leave of absence is that it leaves the door open for you to return when you're ready. You are continuing; you just need to take a sort of extended summer break. Everyone takes breaks; you just need yours to be longer, or to fall at a different time in the year. That's one way of thinking about it, at least.

Now, none of us here knows exactly what the deal is with your parents, nor can we predict with certainty how they'll react if given the whole story on your situation. But perhaps you could keep in mind that one effect of depression (as you know from your experience with your schoolwork) is that it makes perfectly do-able things seem impossible; it makes ordinary tasks and interactions seem horribly, overwhelmingly scary or difficult. Do you think it's possible that the depression is distorting your sense of just how bad it would be to come clean to your parents and ask for their support? I'm not trying to be dismissive about the difficulty of that conversation--admitting to one's parents that one is having difficulty living up to their wishes and expectations is not a walk in the park for anyone. I just want to raise the possibility that the depression could be interfering with the way that option appears to you.

One final note: anonymous, I'm sorry this is happening to you. Depression is an awful thing to experience. Know that it's not your fault, there will be better days, and as you can see, everyone in this thread is rooting for you.
posted by Orinda at 10:09 PM on March 16, 2007

There seems to be a ton of material above - so if this comment feels like a repeat of other's advice I apologize.

Someone mentioned that you sound like a U of C student. I don't know where they got that but if it's true - I'm a grad student at U of C so I'm 'also' a part of the ridiculous maelstrom of bullshit that is Hyde Park.

First - I'm going to recommend that you don't drop out of school. I know that many people above have recommended that you take a withdrawal for medical reasons but I think that would generate regret, which would create problems for you later.

You seem to understand the importance of finishing your education. I'm going to recommend one thing up front - the most important thing - then I'll recommend a bunch of secondary stuff below that. Before I even begin I want you to know that I've spent days - days - staring at a blank screen, with voicemails from professors piling up on my cellphone, wondering where my paper is to earn that "C" in an incomplete course. College is a terrifying experience and "procrastination" is a word that is thrown around far too often. Anyway - this is what I suggest:
I know it sounds cliche and stupid, but if I were you I would immediately connect with a group of students in your program.
To be perfectly honest, the only thing that keeps me afloat in my department is my peer group. They provide me with almost everything I need to stay alive. We really take care of each other. My peers are absolutely my most valuable resource and I try very hard to let them know that I love and value their input. There should be some student organization geared toward your program and you should be able to join. Go to a meeting or two and target a couple of people to help you reclaim some of the passion you may have lost touch with.

Also, please remember that higher education is a privilege in the western world - most people never even have a chance at attending college courses. From your writing alone I can tell that you have the requisite skills and communicative abilities to succeed in college - you have what it takes - and I'd also remind you that your GPA is but a very, very small part of what lands you a job on the other side.

In fact, graduate schools will be much more impressed by your coherent writing ability than your GPA - especially after you explain that you completed college by overcoming unforeseen difficulties early on.

In short, stay in school - you will thank yourself later.

I've been very blunt with this response and I feel like I might not have completely communicated everything clearly so if you want to talk about this more please email me at I really think you can do it - I think you should stay in school, and I think you have all the resources you need to get the job done.

You are a powerful person.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:19 PM on March 16, 2007

Gosh, you may not even be seeing this post at this point.

Everyone has offered very helpful, pragmatic advice for you and there's nothing really that I have to add to that, except for that if you're only on a med for social anxiety, such as Paxil (paroxetine), you may not be getting all that you can out of your meds...consider asking your doc about an SNRI (serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) such as Cymbalta- this class of drugs is showing fabulous promise for treating depression, attacking two different neurotransmitter systems rather than just one.

ANYWAY, that was an aside. What I really want to tell you is that all of us here who have read this thread and posted our advice are really pulling for you to do what it takes to get yourself out of this. But as you can see, there's no easy emergency brake you can pull that will instantaneously get you out of this mess (unfortunately).

All of this advice probably seems ridiculously overwhelming to you right now, and you may not know where to begin. You may feel incapable of dealing with this yourself, or you may feel so helpless/hopeless that you can't take the steps you need to to take care of all these things. These are all normal reactions for anyone going through what you are right now. But don't let that stop you. You don't deserve to be feeling like this right now. You CAN do this, you CAN get yourself out of it, and your life will NOT continue to be like this.

If you need to, get someone who will be an advocate for your case (whichever person in your life you feel most comfortable with). Get this person to take some of the actions you need to for you (contacting the appropriate deans, etc.) You don't have to get yourself out of this mess alone- despite what it may seem like, the people in your life do care about helping you get out of this situation as quickly as possible. Just think- we here all care about helping you get out of this and we don't even know you. Once the people in your physical life get clued into what's really going on, their reactions will probably be the same.

Best of luck. You can do it, seriously.
posted by liberalintellect at 10:23 PM on March 16, 2007

Baby_Balrog: recommendations to take a withdrawal don't necessarily come because they're a way for anonymous to save his/her GPA. We're also not suggesting that they waste their chance at higher ed. Far from it. The problem is that fighting something like depression when you're in danger of losing your scholarship, getting put on academic probation, and such is like trying to climb Mt. Everest naked and out of shape. It's not just a challenge: it can be almost ludicrously [and pointlessly] difficult.

Taking time off [a medical leave, not a full withdrawal] means getting a chance to get your head together, so that you don't have to spend "days - days - staring at a blank screen, with voicemails from professors piling up on [your] cellphone, wondering where [your] paper is to earn that 'C' in an incomplete course." It's not giving up on education - rather, it's trying to make sure that anonymous is capable of getting their education without flunking out or breaking down. I came back from my medical leave to earn As and Bs at my [rather prestigious] university. I was well on my way to failing a second straight term of courses before I left, not to mention losing friends and undergoing a complete breakdown. Much of what anonymous says reminds me of my mental state at that time.

A somewhat weak GPA won't necessarily destroy your chances at grad school, it's true, as long as you have good recommendations and good essays and other such qualifications [because yes, they do see plenty of applicants who had a bad year or term.] However, a truly abysmal GPA is something else entirely, no matter how good the essays - and again, it can be incredibly difficult to get a handle on depression while trying to dig yourself out of a heap of academic difficulties. All too often, one or the other suffers, creating more problems for the future. Furthermore, if anonymous is too afraid to eat lunch in the dining hall, they're going to have some difficulty networking, let alone getting to know professors well enough to get the good recommendations necessary to get into grad school with a weak GPA. As a result, the rest of us are suggesting that anonymous take time off to deal with their depression and anxiety, so that they can put all of their energy into college when they return - which, if they want to, they will. If they figure out how to deal with their depression, it'll pay off - for college, for grad school, and for everything after.
posted by ubersturm at 10:51 PM on March 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

OK... so if you are indeed a fellow U of C student:

I was in your boat last year. I was a first year then, but completely overwhelmed with the whole college thing, especially in a pressure cooker such as U of C. I ended up trying to fight threw it, and long story short, ended up in the psych ward of the university hospitals for a week. Afterwards, of course, I had no choice but to take a medical leave, which (along with my therapist) ended up being the greatest thing that could happen to me. Please take everyone's advice, and don't dig yourself any deeper. If you are at U of C, my experience is that the medical leave is handled smoothly and competently: I got to keep all my scholarships, and there were only a few minor hitches in my rejoining the university as a first year again this year.
posted by notswedish at 11:15 PM on March 16, 2007

My best friend and I were in your shoes during different times of our college career. We handled the educational ramifications of our depressions differently.

She went to school half-time the semester after things got shitty for her. That being said, she still ended up getting her bachelor's and master's degree in five and a half years. She also got a big fat departmental scholarship for grad school due to her awesome grades after she took time off.

Me? I didn't take a medical leave of absence or go part-time because I didn't want to disappoint my enraged parents. As a result:

1) My depression didn't really even ease up for another year and a half. I have never found a good therapist or medical doctor to treat it or my hypothryoidism, either, so I fight it on a daily basis.
2) I didn't have the energy to achieve inside or outside the classroom. I barely eeked out a degree when I could have kicked ass.
3) I'm not living the life I want to live.
4) I learned that if you have hypercritical parents like mine, they cannot be appeased. What do you have to lose by putting your cards on the table if you know the reaction they'll give you 99.9 percent of the time?

This is your life now and it sounds like you're doing all the right things to take care of yourself. It's good you're doing this at this point in the semester. Good luck, and godspeed.
posted by princesspathos at 11:35 PM on March 16, 2007

As acoutu said: Get your doctor to allow you medical leave. I have friends who did this to save their scholarships. You may even be able to have a doctor write a note to the scholarship committee explaining that your performance was tied to medical issues.

I did this (I didn't have a scholarship, but I got a semester of fails wiped from my academic record). You are ill. It's exactly the same as if, say, you were having terrible headaches that prevented you from studying. Don't just drop out without getting medical leave, because you are entitled to this allowance if you become ill. You haven't done anything wrong.
posted by different at 1:02 AM on March 17, 2007

Dropping out of college was the best thing that happened to me. Like you, I went from Dean's List to a low GPA (1.7 by the time I left). I bummed around, moved across country and started over at a local community college. I didn't know what I wanted to do before but I have a much better idea now.

What's awesome is that I am now eligible for schools I couldn't have gone to out of high school. My original University wasn't even in the top 100 and the Universities that I am looking to for transferring are all in the top 25. I am even applying to an Ivy League, Columbia University, which has a great program for "non-traditional" students. I've found that my life experiences gave me a kick ass application and focus on what I want to do. I no longer take the easy classes and I now love to challenge myself.

I moved to California because, once you get residency, CCs are inexpensive ($20/unit), have wonderful transfer programs with UCs and CSUs, and excellent financial aid. It was hard to do with depression but I'm managing.

Good luck, and just remember, this isn't the end but the beginning. Hopefully this will be the best thing that happened to you too!
posted by avagoyle at 1:42 AM on March 17, 2007

I know you've already figured out from the responses above that you're not alone but I thought I'd throw another "me too" on the pile. Fifteen years ago I failed most of my first-year courses because of depression and social anxiety. Then I failed my entire second year of university. Somewhere in there I apparently registered for a third year, something which I have absolutely no memory of doing, and just didn't show up. I was in such a bad state that every night when I went to bed I wished that I would die during the night so that I wouldn't have to wake up the next morning. I couldn't tell my parents because they had their own stuff to deal with and I believed I was pretty low on their list of priorities. My bills were piling up; there were no more student loans or scholarships left; I was paralyzed with fear.

So, I walked away. I took the first job I could get just so that I could pay rent and eat. I accepted that I had made a huge mess of things and committed to fixing it a little bit at time, even if it took years. It was probably the scariest thing I had ever done but I know it saved my life. It did take me years to fix things but now I'm doing my PhD, I have an awesome family, and I'm living a pretty amazing life. I still have bad days, but even on the worst of them I still look forward to tomorrow.

You are already many steps ahead of where I was at that point in my life because you have had the courage to seek out medical help. It took me way too long to do that. Take strength from the fact that you have already started to put your life back together. If I have any advice at all, it would be to tell people what you need and to let them help you. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options -- it's not uncommon for it to take a while to find the right pills. Also, seriously consider giving your parents the opportunity to do the right thing. To this day, my parents feel a tremendous amount of guilt for not helping me and I know that if my kid ever goes through something like this, I will walk over hot coals to get to her. Your parents might surprise you by just how willing they are to help.
posted by atropos at 2:48 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

And remember, this too will pass.
posted by b33j at 3:03 AM on March 17, 2007

I've also almost completely destroyed any chance of transferring to another school.

Really? I don't see that at all. Start by accepting that your emotions don't represent facts.

Try this: Feeling Good

Worked wonders for me. Keep up the therapy. I bombed in an even worse way before (OK 3 or 4 times) and I have a good job I love now and my life is just fine.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:28 AM on March 17, 2007

I've been in similar situations. I live with the "I know how to do it, I know I should do it, I want to do it - but I can't do it" thing every day. I had parents who wouldn't accept that I was sick. And I also had to take a semester and a summer off from school.

Your parents will adapt. They won't like it and they'll put up all manner of resistance and the process won't be any fun for you or for them, but unless they're completely nuts and are actually willing to see you living in the street, they will accept that you (a) need time away from school and (b) need some sort of treatment. You may have to wear them down. You may have to present them with ultimatums. You may have to yell and scream. Remember that, on this issue, you're the rational one and they're the ones who are refusing to accept reality. Just like a parent trying to teach a five year old that he can't have everything he wants, you have to be both firm and patient. This isn't going to be easy, but it can be done.
posted by Clay201 at 9:19 AM on March 17, 2007

Many people said take a term of, relax

It depends on the situation, obviously you are overwhelmed with college, so yes take a term off but dont stop doing things, find something else to do( get into a local club, volunteer, go on craigslist and find something).

Doing work and staying active will help prevent depression, espescially stay around people.

Thats my 2 cents hope it helps!
posted by radsqd at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2007

Well, you may not see this since it's days later..

As I was reading your post.. and seeing the part about worrying about past mistakes, etc. I thought that sounds so much like me.. except that I don't consider myself depressed, but I have a moderate to severe case of Social Anxiety.. and sure enough, you mentioned it. I did astonishingly well my first semester. I surprised myself. I'm currently in my second semester.. which will come to an end quite soon. This semester has been downright AWFUL. I'm constantly scrambling to write papers at the last minute and I've got a research paper deadline looming. All I can keep thinking is that I'm screwed and I can't do it. So.. I think I understand how you feel or at least a good idea.

It is immensely difficult to go through something like that. Especially when you've got no one. I understand that all too well. I have made no friends since starting college. I had maybe 2 friends before heading in. One of which has disappeared from my life as of several months ago and the other one, who is/was my best friend, is miles and miles away at university. So I don't see her/speak to her. I've come to be somewhat adapted to isolation, but every now and then reality hits. And it crushes me as if I were an ant. But somehow.. even after battling SA for years.. I'm still standing.

As for advice.. that's difficult. It's good that you're seeking professional medical help/advice. Keep that up. But bear in mind that medications are sort of.. hit and miss, if you will. They don't always work. Different things work for different people. So don't get discouraged if that happens. Continue to be honest with your doctor, and you can go through the entire spectrum and, hopefully, you will find one that works to relieve the debilitating symptoms. And therapy can/is a very important component.

I would say a break may be a very good thing. Life saving, even. Before I went to college, I was home schooling/distance education for my high school degree. So most of the time it was like a big long break. And I firmly believe that it was great for me. It was necessary and I knew it. I know with every fiber of my being that I'd be much worse if I hadn't.

If you want to contact someone who may understand what you're going through, feel free to e-mail me or if you have AIM to IM me. Of course, I know that asking someone with SA to reach out is.. silly. Since that's exactly what we avoid. I know it's difficult to make the first step or initiate, but I always found reaching out through the internet was easier.
posted by VegaValmont at 4:09 PM on March 18, 2007

You are not alone. That's the most important thing I can think of to say. Some of your professors and TAs will also have suffered/still are suffering from depression.

Depression is a disease/illness, just like catching mono or having your appendix out, and all universities should have policies for helping students to a) take off the time they need to recover without penalty (a medical leave of absence should have academic penalty), and b) help them to begin their degree again when they are able to.

Some universities are more understanding than others. I am very sorry - and somewhat angry - that your own university seems to be dealing with this very poorly.

Are there any other academic counselors who are available, perhaps a student advocate or someone else who understands the system and can help you negotiate with the administration, who is not in the administration? Anything affiliated with your student council? Or a mental health clinic?

(Our student council used to offer advice to students submitting petitions to the university, and since they were usually students who had sat on the committee, it was good advice).
posted by jb at 8:32 AM on March 23, 2007

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