The Saga of How I’m Taking the Summer Off (Part Two)

Reason Two: Because I Can

When my mom separated from my abusive father, it was just her and me and our cat. She had a part-time job and though she searched for a full-time job, she couldn’t find one. As for me, I was fifteen and didn’t work because I was so involved with school and took a whole bunch of extra classes and piano lessons. Not to mention the stress in having to be involved in my parents’ divorce as a mature minor and having to provide evidence for the court to help my mom get things like a restraining order, sole occupancy of the family home, and sole custody of me.

Sometimes I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a “real job” like some of the other kids in my class, but my mom always told me “Focusing on school is your job.” She always stressed that my education was important, and that I was smart, and that I would do wonderful things. And that just because I wasn’t being paid for it didn’t mean it wasn’t hard work.

But obviously, we can’t just live off of her one part-time job, so we relied on things like BC Housing and my father’s child support to get by, which provided for me while I was in high school. And that was enough to get us by, until the end of the eleventh grade, when my mom got a hand injury at work and her boss fired her while she was on her medical leave, then she pulled out her RRSPs for us to live off of.

By the time I graduated high school, we were living off her RRSPs and her credit cards and that BC Housing and child support became exponentially more important. I did want to go to post-secondary–I’d wanted to become a psychologist since I was fifteen– but my original plan was to take a year off school to work and save up money for school like my friends were doing, as I didn’t want to get into debt and let’s face it, I wanted a break from school, but when I graduated and became a legal adult, we were no longer eligible to receive BC Housing or child support. Unless I enrolled in full-time studies at a university, in which case I would still be considered a dependent and therefore be eligible.

So come September, I was enrolled in full-time courses, even though I didn’t feel ready after a rough grad year involving a stalker and friends who took his side or “stayed neutral” instead of supporting me, because my mom told me, “If you don’t go to school, we will be homeless.” And she was right.

And that is what has gone through my head every semester since: “I must do this, or else we will be homeless. I must take care of my family.” My student loans didn’t just pay for school; I often used them to help make ends meet. And that’s how I wound up $18, 000 in debt with student loans and considering declaring bankruptcy at twenty-two, because I was forced into being breadwinner of my family even though I didn’t have the means to be that.

And sometimes I think that is why I have an anxiety disorder: not directly from my father’s abuse, but from living in poverty for so long, and having to “do this, or else”. And then the “prove this, prove that” nature of the paperwork involved in student loans and such. And these regulations about how many credits I must take and what grades I must get and the fear of whether I will be denied funding if I have an “unsuccessful semester”.

(An “unsuccessful semester” is termed as a semester in which you fail one or more of your classes. It’s a catch-22 situation for me, because I risk being denied funding if I have an unsuccessful semester, but if I try to minimize the chances of me having an unsuccessful semester and failing classes by taking a lower course load [one class less], I also risk being denied funding for taking too low a course load.)

Technically, I was allowed to have summers off, but I was required to be in full-time studies for the other two semesters, which meant if a course had a reputation for being really tough, I would slot that in for summer because that’s the only time of year I can take just one course. So I didn’t consider the summer as a semester I could take off, making me a year-round student who only got a couple weeks between semesters off of school. (And that’s what last summer was: Psych Stats, unfortunately required for my degree to progress.)

And this summer, I was going to take another course that is needed to progress in my degree, Research Methods. I’ve heard it’s a very heavy course load and have been advised by others who’ve taken it “Don’t take any other classes with it.” Despite the lecture hours being double that of a regular course (which results in double the studying), it still only counts for the credits of a regular course, meaning that I can’t do it on its own during the fall or winter semesters, meaning that I would risk an “unsuccessful semester”.

And when I found out the only class times available were during my work hours, I literally screamed, I was so frustrated and scared of how I was going to get my degree done when I can’t take third year courses until I take this one stupid course that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with these other courses, and scared of whether we’d have enough money to live on because I can’t have an unsuccessful semester but I can’t have a part-time course load either.

Well, I took that as a sign that I should take the summer off because clearly I am not well and decided I’ll find a way to deal with the consequences later or maybe rework my course planning for my degree.

Anyway, after that long tangent, I can explain to you why I am able to take time off of school: my mom has finally gotten a full-time job. For the first time in seven years, we are not totally at the mercy of BC Housing and my father. We still need it, as living is far more expensive now than it was decades ago and I can’t work a second job while in school, if my anxiety will even let me work a second job at all, but it’s not the kind of desperate situation it once was. I can actually see an end in sight and that’s why for the first time since I started post-secondary that I’ve actually seen summers off as an option.

When Mom started her new job, I looked in the bathroom mirror with tears in my eyes, thinking, “You did it. You kept a roof over your head and food on the table. You’ve provided for your family. And now, finally, you can rest. You are no longer responsible. You can take a break now.” There are no words to describe the relief of having that burden lifted off my shoulders. I did it.

This blog post was really hard for me to write. It’s so heavy and dense. My face felt like it was on fire the whole time I wrote that because I was so stressed out. Sometimes I got all shaky and my heart would just pound. Why? Because:

a) My mom taught me not to talk about finances, not because she considered it crass, but because she thought if my words got back to the wrong people, we would somehow be punished and be refused money from organizations like BC Housing and then we wouldn’t have anywhere to live.

b) All the legalities behind things like BC Housing, FMEP, and other organizations are so bloody convoluted I’m not sure if I really did them or the stress of being dependent on them justice. I often feel like this system is set up in a way that makes it so people like me can’t do anything right (which probably warrants its own post).

But that is the best explanation I can give at present, so I’ll have to be content with that.

So, after that, talking about my obsessive, Type-A, be-the-best-of-the-best perfectionism demons feels like… well, really light and upbeat. So stay tuned for Part Three!

 

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