Crushing Homework is Not Going As Planned

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She’s soaking up the information through the cover by laying on it.

 

 

Well, my plans for tonight fell through. My plans of doing homework, that is. I have midterms in the next two weeks and I still haven’t started on my two papers yet. One is due in a week and a half and the other at the end of October. I’m pretty up-to-date on my readings, but I have only taken three chapters of notes out of, like, twelve chapters so far. I was going to power through the note-taking because how hard could it be? I already read and highlighted the stuff. But it took me all day to get just one chapter of notes. Chapters are around forty pages and are really information-dense so reading takes about five hours per chapter even when I’m not taking notes.

My mom thinks I’m expecting too much of myself. “I thought everyone worked on their school like this,” I said, but once I said that, I realized that maybe that’s not true. When I glance at other students in the class, most of them have printed out the PowerPoint slides that the professor posts before class and they fill in notes as the prof lectures and goes over the slides.

Whereas I’ve insisted on taking my own notes from the textbook and then integrating the professor’s notes into them. The plan was to get the notes done before class so that way I already have all the important ideas written down so I can just listen to the professor and add in anything in the lecture that’s not in the textbooks. But I’ve only done the readings and no note-taking, though I still just sit and listen in class and participate in class discussions.

I would’ve worked on (and agonized over) my homework today, but Mom said last night that I need rest. When I woke up exhausted this morning and then wonder of wonders, joy of joys, my period decided to show up, I thought maybe she was right, so today has been a day of rest for me.

I started the day off cuddling my cat. She was laying up by my pillow and purring really loud. I think she knew I was tired and hungry and sick and sore, so she was trying to make me feel better. Then I ate breakfast and went for a shower then I finished reading a book, did some packing and some cleaning, got all my laundry done, and posted two more things on the blog.

Tonight I will get a good sleep, then tomorrow I will start by reading the one chapter I didn’t read so that’s done for Monday’s lecture, take my notes as I read it, then I will read some research studies and narrow down which ones I want to use for my literature review, then I will review the PowerPoint slides. If I have time, I will get a bit caught up on my backlog of note-taking.

So that is my game plan for tomorrow. Here’s hoping I actually do it!

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Perks of being a psych major: Googling APA citation and finding Publication Manual of the American Psychological Ass

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This Past Week’s Been Rather Tough and I’m Overwhelmed

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I think I am a sassmaster. I had this one dream where my ex was bragging about how smart his girlfriend was and she was acting all proud and I just said, “She can’t be that smart. She’s still dating you” and they just looked puzzled and offended and my one co-worker was like, “Ooh, ouch!” That’s the only dream containing my ex’s girlfriend that I’ve actually enjoyed. But it makes me kind of scared to run into them because I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep my big mouth shut if I do and will probably get myself into trouble.

Anyway, it was Thanksgiving last weekend. We had my mom’s boyfriend and his daughter out for Thanksgiving, which was fun, but we also babysat my nieces and nephew the day before and I had to write that paper so I was pretty tired by the end of the weekend.

I keep remembering that Thanksgiving last year, I spent the morning and afternoon with my boyfriend because we had the day off work and school. We drove around town and he showed me these places he often goes and we went for lunch at this place he usually goes with his family and walked around in the park close to where he used to live, holding hands and talking the whole time.

So I’m sad because I don’t get to do that anymore and I know he’s probably doing something with her for Thanksgiving and that she actually gets to do dinner with his family, which I never got to do because he never told them about me even though I was under the impression that we were kinda serious. So, yeah, I’m sad.

And this past week whenever I’m sad my mom tells me it’s been nine months since we broke up and I need to get over him and let go and that he doesn’t deserve me and now I just nod and try not to throw up my hands and scream “I KNOW, OKAY!?” I know she’s trying to help, but I’m so sick of being told what to do and what to think and what to feel. I’m sick of being told that I need to get better “somehow”. “Somehow” is useless. I can’t make a game plan off of “somehow”, I need a bit more information to go off of than that!

And I feel like every time I have a bad day where I’m feeling down, she acts like I’ve been like that forever even though I’ve made so many improvements lately. I wish she would just stop giving me advice (since it’s nothing I haven’t already figured out for myself) and just let me cry for a bit.

I’m also emotional because next Monday is the first time in almost two months that I’ll have to work with my ex. I know I’ll do fine, because I’m awesome at my job, and because last time him and I worked together, we actually kind of had fun, but the thought of seeing him and knowing he’s with someone else really hurts.

I also had my car broken into because there’s no door on the underground parking in my apartment complex and some genius left a broom down there and guess what was used to break my driver’s window? Nothing was stolen, so clearly they did not find what they’d hoped to find, but I had to file a police report, vacuum out the glass, miss a day of work because I’m stranded at home, and then shell out a $300 deductible to get my window fixed.

I was very tempted to leave a snarky note on my car the next night, like “Hope you find something valuable in here, like your conscience” or “Don’t bother, you didn’t like anything in here last time”, but figured that would be interpreted as asking for trouble.

BUT! I am pleased to announce that I am moving! My mom and I found a basement suite close to where she works and it’s much smaller (and more expensive, unfortunately) so we’ll have to downsize, but it’ll be worth it to actually have a standard of living again. I will not miss this place at all. I feel like all the misery I’ve felt over the past two years has been absorbed into the very walls of this place and that I’m breathing it in like a toxic gas or mold spores or something.

So, the place is a mess because, hey, that’s moving, and it’s very distracting for me. I’m constantly walking into boxes and clipping my shoulder on things as I walk by and it’s hard to find space to do my homework on.

And I have a lot of homework to do.

For my one class, there’s a major paper due at the end of October that I have barely even started on. It’s just the rough draft due, which only counts for 5%, and the good draft isn’t due until mid-November but that good draft counts for a quarter of my grade and I want to give myself enough time to work on it. For my other class, I have another three papers to write over the course of the semester and I don’t even know what to do my next paper on. And in both classes, I have midterms to study for and though I’ve done all the readings up to date and attended the lectures, I haven’t taken my notes yet so I have to do that this weekend along with getting a start on those papers.

And it smells weird in the apartment, like someone rubbed their armpits all over the place, not even kidding and we’ve cleaned pretty much everything and that smell is still there and that is just depressing. It’s been like this for months and it’s not the furniture and it’s not the laundry and it’s not us, so I guess it’s the apartment itself.

And I need to submit some receipts to my health insurance and apply for bursaries and make an appointment to get the cat to the vet before we move.

And I’m worried about my cat because she’s old and arthritic and I don’t want her to die.

And we ran out of laundry money, which means I have a huge pile of laundry– including my bedsheets that are dirty from my cat laying all over them– taking up space and that I can’t make my bed until they’re clean, which is distracting.

And between the deductible for my window and the damage deposit and the pet deposit, things are very tight financially, which means I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for my cat to go to the vet, or how I’m going to buy sparring gear that I need for my martial arts class, or how I’m going to pay for massage therapy which I would really like because everything hurts, or how I’m going to buy a new sports bra which I need since my old one doesn’t fit anymore. And I’m just so sick of having no money.

And I weighed myself and thought I was gaining weight and I was so excited. “Mom! I’m 125!” I shouted. She was excited at first then looked at me and said, “Are you sure? You don’t look 125. You look more like 115.” She looked at the scale and it turns out the thing isn’t working quite right and that it’s set forward ten pounds. So I’m not 125 pounds. I’m only 115, which is even less than what I weighed when I weighed myself at the doctor’s and decided to work harder to gain weight. I just wanted to cry because I’ve been working so hard and nothing is happening and my old clothes don’t fit and I can’t even wear my favourite pair of jeans anymore and same goes for all of my really nice bras and bathingsuits.

And I’ve just been so sore lately. My whole body hurts all day and I’ve been getting sharp pains in my arms and chest. I haven’t had them for years, since I was in high school, I think. I know the pain is from anxiety because I’ve already had my heart and stuff tested a couple times, but, ugh, I thought I was done with the anxiety pains. Granted, I’d rather have the anxiety pains in my body than the crippling panic thoughts I’ve had over the past six months and the headaches from crying so long and hard over those thoughts, but it’s certainly not fantastic.

And I was going to get together with a friend of mine and watch movies with her, but she cancelled because her parents planned something for them instead so now I will be at home, doing homework, so I want to cry because my whole life looks like homework right now.

And I haven’t really had the time and energy to work on the blog (I told myself I had to complete my paper first) and I’ve really missed it. I feel like school is taking up all my resources then wonder if maybe my problem is that I’ve been spending too much time on Pinterest and that’s what’s eating up my time. I decided that since I can’t focus on homework right now, I might as well write this and get it off my chest. At least I’ll get something I want done this weekend.

Really, though, I think it was that damn paper that did me in. All that other stuff is a lot, but working so long and hard on that paper really exhausted me. And it’s hit me how much more self-care I need than other people in my life. I need more rest to recover from even normal stressors. It’s taken me all week to recover from writing that paper and I dread having four more like it. I’m just glad I’m only taking two courses this semester because I could not keep up with more than that right now.

And it takes me literally all day to eat because of feeling sick to the stomach, which is why it’s been so hard for me to gain weight since eating takes so long that sometimes I’ll decide eating is just too much work and go to bed. This is what I mean when I say I have a disability. I might be able walk and run and speak and move like I’m able, but so many daily functions like just eating take such a toll on me.

There. I should be done complaining for a bit. I know things will get better. It’s just been a tough week, having one “bad day” after another. Next week will be better, I’m sure. And next month better yet once I’m in my new home.

Now it’s time to go crush some homework.

Paper-Writing, Exposure, and Cognitive Therapy

I’ve spent last weekend alternating between exploring Pinterest and working on the paper I’ve been procrastinating on for the past three weeks. The weekend before, I looked at the actual outline for the assignment and realized it was a bigger project than I’d anticipated, so good thing I didn’t procrastinate as long as I usually do or else I’d be screwed.

My mom says I’ve always been an anxious procrastinator and that I’ve always freaked out whenever I was assigned essays, but this time was more of an anxiety-driven, hope-it-will-go-away-if-I-ignore-it-long-enough-but-I-know-it-won’t kind of procrastination than usual. A couple years ago, whenever I had to write something for a class, I would put it off but it was more of a “Whatever, I know I can write the whole thing in one sitting and pull a B, if not an A”, though well-seasoned with thoughts of “But what if I don’t?” Now, I dreaded it and felt like anything I wrote would fall short of my standard, like I would be embarrassing myself by even trying.

But I needed to write it. I told myself, “This is the first paper. It counts for 5% of your grade, which isn’t too much. You have another three papers to write for this professor this semester, which in total will make up 20% of your final grade. You need to complete this paper and see how she marks it and figure out what she expects.”

In my head, I know how unreasonable it is for me to be anxious about writing this paper. There’s no reason for me to think I’m anything but good at writing. People keep telling me I’m good at it. I have a stack of high school and university papers–history papers, psych papers, philosophy papers, analyses of English literature and of music– all marked with Bs and As, telling me that I’m good at it. In the English course required for my degree, my one professor assigned a paper and when he handed it back, he said that most people scored quite well, but no one ever gets perfect marks for this paper… except this time, this one student wrote too good a paper for him to mark it at anything less than 100%. When he handed the papers back, I found out that student was me.

But this past two years, I feel like I really haven’t been able to rely on any of the skills I thought I had. Easy, breezy test writing? Gone. Easy, breezy paper writing? Gone. And this paper is a lit-review type paper for a second-year course and it needs APA citation, which I’ve never really done before. And it requires research, which on the one hand should be great because research means reading and I love reading, but on the other, reading scientific research can be very dull and very hard to focus on because one does not take poetic license with science. And I’ve heard this professor is a hard marker…

But I’ve been thinking about something we’d covered in class, exposure therapy. It’s probably most well-known for treating phobias, but is often implemented in treatment of other anxiety disorders as well and is considered one of the most effective treatments. The idea behind it is that you expose the person affected to what they’re afraid of to show them that those worst-case scenarios that occupy their mind won’t happen and when you build up those neutral and positive experiences of the feared object, eventually the person will learn that the object does not need to be feared. Exposure can be combined with cognitive therapy to help the person interpret the situation to be less negative and so reduce their fear.

So I decided that writing this essay will be exposure therapy for me. The past couple years have been filled with so much stress for me and the recent negative experiences in my academic work (mostly related to my anxiety) are crowding out the older positive experiences, even though those experiences probably outnumber the negative. It seems that having recent positive experiences is really important so I need to create those, starting with this paper.

And on the cognitive end, I told myself that it’s just been a really long time since I’ve done academic writing, I just need to get in the habit again, that I will probably do okay and if I don’t, I can use this to learn what this professor expects from assignments. These things I’m telling myself are responses that I come up with to combat my “I’ll never finish it on time. I’ll probably do really poorly on it” thoughts– cognitive therapy.

I put the finishing touches on my paper the morning right before class, leaving the specifics of APA citation for last. For anyone who is unfamiliar with APA or MLA citation styles, the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) has a lot of information on it. My old English prof recommended it to the class and I’d recommend to other university students. I also noticed Purdue OWL has some sections for different kinds of writing, including academic writing, ESL, and job search writing. I haven’t read through those sections so far, but if they’re anything like the stuff they have on APA citation, it should be helpful and straightforward.

I actually feel pretty good about my paper. I was talking with a classmate during break and asked her how her paper went and she said “Okay, hopefully”. When she asked me about mine, I was able to give a lot of details about what I wrote about because I’d immersed myself in it, which I don’t know if other people did. I’d memorized a lot of the points in my paper.

After hearing others talk about their papers, I think that I probably put a lot more work into it. Sometimes while I was writing it, I thought, “This is an awful lot of work for 5%.” I wrote about double or triple the maximum word count and had to hack it down to a thousand words and end the body of it with a derivative of “And there’s much more, but that’s beyond the scope of this paper, so there.” I’m wondering if maybe I put the same kind of effort into this paper that most people do for a final paper counting for half their grade. So, yeah, I am still perfectionistic but if this paper is up to my standard, then maybe it meets my professor’s standards, too.

Of course, sometimes I still have some anxiety about it and don’t check my school email because “What if my prof emails me to tell me how awful it was and it upsets me so I can’t focus on my other homework?” But really, that’s ridiculous because a) professors don’t email you about that, they write, ‘Come talk to me during office hours’ on your paper when they hand it back and b) my paper couldn’t be that bad.

But I finished it. One down, four to go.

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Here’s my study buddy. She’s been snoring and purring contentedly next to me the whole time.

 

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And this is her sitting up to investigate the thunder.

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

Reset

So, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, I’m going to use this summer to heal, to teach myself new and more helpful ways of thinking. I’m confronting my perfectionism demons, which I think warrants its own post, but here’s some thoughts to combat my academic perfectionism.

Firstly, I’m thinking “my best” instead of “the best”. My mom used to tell me in middle and high school “Just do your best and don’t fail the class.” Maybe she has a good point.

Maybe it’s time that I stopped trying to be “the smartest” and “the best” and “the top of her class” and learn to evaluate my intelligence by a different standard. I need to remember that there can be only one smartest, one best, one top of the class and that there are plenty of smart people out there competing for that so it’s not likely that I will be any of those things.

But maybe I don’t have to be any of those things. Maybe it’s okay to just be smart and not the smartest, good and not the best, and maybe it’s okay to just graduate instead of having to be the valedictorian. After all, most people aren’t the smartest or the best but they’re still getting along just fine.

And all those things–“best”, “smartest”– are relative to how well other people performing. Maybe those things aren’t even a good objective measure of what I’m capable of. It’s much more objective to think “This is what I’m good at, that is what I’m not good at. Someone being better than me at what I’m good at doesn’t mean I stop being good at it. Someone being worse at what I’m bad at doesn’t make me cease to be bad at it.”

I’m trying this new thing where instead of expecting straight As, I aim for a B average. After all, that’s all I need to get into the program that prepares me for grad school. And also, I’m trying to focus more on having intelligent behaviour than intelligent grades and am considering that there are other types of intelligence that aren’t measured in school.

I also realized that when it comes to your grades, you have to consider context. Some classes really are more difficult than others. I already mentioned that I failed one class this semester, but I got a B in the other one. I was disappointed with that B because I was so sure I’d get an A when I was studying twenty hours a week for this class.

Then I talked to an academic advisor. Turns out this class is practically impossible. Apparently it’s really difficult to begin with (it’s biopsychology, which requires a lot of memorization in Latin), but it becomes even harder when you take it fully online like I did, and even harder when you take it with the professor I took it with. Some of my classmates are retaking it this summer because they failed it. But I, mentally disordered, disabled me, got a B. (Yes, I’m aware this contradicts the attitude of “comparison is not objective”, but it feels awesome to do good at something other people are doing poorly in.)

And obviously, doing the math (see https://intersectionofeverything.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/the-saga-of-how-im-taking-the-summer-off-part-three/ ) for how much time I’d need to spend on school and realizing that spending that much time on it isn’t a luxury I have really put things into perspective.

I’m focusing on the fact that I am the only me there is, the only me there ever was, and the only me there ever will be. I may not be the best, but nobody’s mind works quite the way mine does. I can show people things they’ve never seen before. I have something that I alone can offer. I am reveling in my uniqueness.

I’m also focusing on all the little things I can do. Like, my nurse sister commented that she could NEVER put contacts in her eyes, it’d creep her out too much (luckily for her, she’s always had perfect eyesight). She might have a better education than me and be further along in her career, but I can put contact lenses in my eyes every day in a matter of seconds. It’s so small and so mundane, but it’s something I can do.

And nothing gives you appreciation for little things like taking Cognitive Psych. Did you know there’s something called prosopagnosia where people are unable to recognize faces even though they can see quite well? And that there is actually a thing called motion blindness? I can recognize the faces of all my loved ones and every person I have to work with, which enables me to do basic things at work, like make sure the parent of this kid gets that handout. And I can see motion, which means I can drive safely, among other things.

I have a new appreciation for all the complex things my body does just to keep me alive. The human body is fascinating and beautiful in all the things it can do. This is why I love science. It helps me see how blessed I am.

I’m also switching my focus from “I have to get my degree” to “I’m here to learn and I love learning”. This is part of why I’m taking longer to do my degree: because I want to really learn the material, not just memorize it for an exam and forget it once the class is over. I told my genius brother-in-law this and he thought it was a great idea.

And thinking like this improves my grades by making school fun. In a lot of ways, school is a hobby of mine. (“Expensive hobby,” my friends remark.)

And I’ve realized that we’re often taught that taking a break is being a quitter. Well, it’s not. Taking a break is nothing more than making sure you have the resources you need to tackle whatever comes your way. (Analogy: if your car is on empty, would you keep driving it until your car dies on the side of the highway or go to the nearest gas station to fill up? I think we know what the logical answer is to that one.)

And that sometimes, it’s okay to quit. If what you’re doing is making you unhappy and unhealthy, maybe it’s high time to step back from that and try something else. Maybe you’ll find a new passion in life. Or maybe you won’t, but you’ll just be happy.

So, I’m taking this summer to put myself back together again so that I’ll be refreshed and strong for school in the fall. And I’ve made the decision that I’ll probably take summers off from now on, so I have that time to rest and work on all these little fun projects I have lined up.

I’ve made this “I Can” list, for all the things I’ll have time for now that I’m not in university:

I can watch movies, and all the special features too.

I can read the books piled up in our bookcase.

I can work on my blog.

I can practice my piano.

I can write music and maybe even get something recorded.

I can take on some extra hours at work.

I can save up money for school. Or a new car. Or a real piano.

I can pay down my student loan debt.

I can cuddle my cat.

I can find a nicer place to live.

I can keep my room tidy.

I can do my laundry (which has become a luxury).

I can grocery shop and try cooking new recipes.

I can plan little trips with my friends.

I can be my best friend’s maid of honour.

I can take piano lessons, maybe even voice lessons.

I can babysit my nieces and nephews.

I can visit friends and family.

I can lay around, just daydreaming or listening to music, and squander my time in whatever way takes my fancy.

I can see the psychologist and get some answers, maybe get my anxiety and depression under control.

I can see the massage therapist (Yay!).

I can learn how to sew up the tears in some of my clothes.

I can write a book.

I can read old university textbooks at my leisure until I can wax poetic about their contents.

I can go to my kickboxing and martial arts classes regularly.

I can sleep at night.

I can go to church again.

I can spend all day on Pinterest if I want.

But most of all, I can DO WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT ON WEEKENDS BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE TO STUDY!!!

I love my “I Can” list. It makes me feel productive and like I have something to get excited about, instead of my life looking like work, work, and more work.

And these past few weekends, I did some of those things. I watched four movies in a row, without any feeling of guilt or “I should be studying”.

I finished reading the Two Towers and started on the Return of the King. I also finished reading a book on finances.

I took my mom out shopping for some work clothes.

I did my laundry. I cleaned up my room and the bathroom and scrubbed down the whole apartment.

I practiced my martial arts and did kickboxing and can already feel myself becoming strong again.

I videotaped my cat snoring and videoed her making these funny sounds she makes when she sees birds. I gave her lots of cuddles; she’s been lonely with me working and in school and with Mom working full-time too.

I went for a walk on a sunny day, and went swimming and played on the waterslide like I’ve been wanting to for ages.

I went on Pinterest, again without guilt. I read some blogs and worked on my own blog.

I had dinner with family and played card games. I babysat my youngest nephew, and later my two nieces and my other nephew.

I just sat around, listening to music I hadn’t listened to in years.

I spent a whole afternoon walking around my old stomping grounds with a friend of mine.

I went to church, got in touch with some old friends, made some new friends, and taught my mom some philosophy.

I helped my best friend pick out her wedding dress, and came along to do the registry, and goofed off making the wedding invitations.

I tinkered on my piano, sang some songs I wrote, and even got ideas for new songs. Which is incredible because I haven’t been able to write music for a very long time. I worried that maybe I’d lost that.

For the first time in a very long time, I have rested. And I’m amazed at how fast I’m recovering myself. And I’m excited to see what I’m going to do over the summer. Right now, I’m just going to focus on the little accomplishments, because it’s often the little things that we build our lives off of, the individual molecules that form the foundation.

And lastly, I just want to give a little shout-out to my family and friends. They’ve all been really supportive of me taking time off school. Even my sister, who I figured would be the most critical of it thanks to that “What do you mean you failed Info Tech? It’s the easiest class you could possibly take!” comment she made back when I was in middle school, has been really encouraging and said, “Sometimes, you just need a hard reset.”

So, here I am. Reset.

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

Reason Three: Because I’m Bloody Perfectionistic and Need to Re-Prioritize

I’ve always been a bit perfectionistic, as you might’ve already gathered. Teachers have commented on it since elementary school. I got good grades, but always took longer than the other students completing exams and assignments because I was so picky about it.

So most people think the reason I’m so obsessive over school and my grades is because I’m a perfectionist. Well, as you now know, that perfectionism was only a part of it and my financial situation was a key player in why I was in school and ultimately, since it was demanding I take a certain number of classes and get certain grades, amplified my perfectionism further.

Today, I really want to look at the perfectionism and here’s what I think it comes down to.

Comparison Demons

My siblings are all six or more years older than me and they’ve got all their ducks in a row.

My sister’s got her BSc (because no one wants to say they’re going to school for their BS) and is a nurse who loves her job. Her husband is finishing his Master’s and is applying to the top universities in the world for his PhD, even though he’s in chronic pain, not to mention is eligible for crazy scholarships that very few people worldwide are eligible for and keeps getting invited to these scholarly expeditions.

My oldest brother is finishing his Master’s and not only teaches high school full-time, but also teaches university on the side as well as raising three children and will occasionally do some carpentry as a side business.

And now some of my friends are graduating with their BAs this spring. And they’ve already finished their practicums! And they’re younger than me! And they started school later than me!

This is a big blow to my ego. I am just as smart as them, if not smarter, so why can’t I get to where they are?

But I Want a Career Now!

Another thing that gets me is I can’t become a professor until I’m a practicing psychologist. And I can’t become a practicing psychologist until I have a PhD. And in psychology, a BA is pretty much useless and the only reason you get one is to go to grad school. Which means I can’t really start on my career until I’ve got myself these degrees, which is very different from most of my friends, who all want to be elementary or high school teachers so all they need is a Bachelor’s in teaching and to do a practicum and they’re set. A Master’s or PhD is not mandatory for their jobs like it is for mine.

The Utmost, Ultimate Importance of Following The Plan

In my high school, we had this class called Planning. It was supposed to teach you about life beyond high school, but honestly, it taught me nothing that I needed to know. Planning class, as suggested by the name, emphasized the importance of having and following The Plan. We were taught long-term, mid-term, and short-terms goals and How Important It Was to have all of those.

And this didn’t just happen in Planning class. We also had this kind of stuff printed on, like, every page of the free agendas handed out to us since middle school and we were required to fill those out.

The importance of “not being a quitter” was imprinted on us.

For my grad year in high school, we had to put together a portfolio about stuff like getting healthy, getting a job, getting an education and stuff (again, it was really useless because it only taught us how to set these goals, not how to actually achieve them). Part of that included a five-year plan for our lives. Most of my classmates just made it up, but apparently I have too much integrity and so freaked out in front of my mom, saying “How am I supposed to know what the next five years are going to look like?! I don’t even know how I’m going to make it through this hellish year!”

“You’ll get your BA in Four Years”

Anyway, after graduating, I actually did come up with a plan. I’d turned eighteen halfway through my grad year and decided that I was going to have my Bachelor’s Degree by age twenty-two. After all, the BA is a four-year degree, right? That’s what everyone says.

Then, say, another four years for my Master’s and another four for my PhD and voila! I’d be a doctor by the time I was thirty. Better yet, if I did school through the summer, maybe I could get my BA in three years.

Obviously, that’s not what happened.

After completing my first semester in university, I started semester two because my mom pushed me to (because of the financial situation), but on my first day of class I felt so sick that I spent the first half the class in the bathroom and the second half in the university’s first aid room (this was because of extreme anxiety from a classmate who was stalking me and who filed a complaint against me for, I dunno, maybe looking at him funny? Or not looking at him at all?).

I then withdrew from classes, filled out some medical forms with my psychologist, and submitted them, figuring it wasn’t worth it and telling my mom we’d figure something out, and then moved from my hometown and spent the next year in a depressed stupor.

Upon returning to school, I’d really felt like I’d fallen behind. Which made me want to go to school through the summer to “make up lost time”, so I could get my BA in four years.

It was incredibly naive. I didn’t realize this at the time, but the only way to finish your degree (assuming this is a 120 credit degree) in four years is if you take two fifteen credit semesters per year and take the summer off or by taking ten credit semesters year round. Let’s do the math for this:

Apparently studies have suggested that in order to get good grades, one must spend three hours on the material for each hour spent in class. So, a three-credit course means you spend three hours a week in lecture, meaning you spend another nine hours reading and studying for the class. So, for a 3-credit course, I spend twelve hours a week on that course.

So, for nine credits, I spend thirty-six hours on school per week, practically a full-time job. Which is why nine credits is considered full-time around here. Meaning that if I take on a part-time job, the amount of time I am working is brought into overtime. Except I’m not getting paid for most of this work.

And that means for fifteen credits, you’d be spending sixty hours on school per week. That is, if you’re wanting good grades.

Obviously, when you’re spending that kind of time on school, you don’t have time for things like working a job, so you won’t have money for things like rent, and you won’t have time for things like grocery shopping or cooking, so you’ll have to be living with someone who takes care of your needs for you, which is a privilege not everyone has.

Either that, or you take out a huge amount in student loans that you’ll have to pay back after graduation.

Basically, to finish your degree in four years, you’d likely have to be living with parents or a spouse (with them taking care of things like rent and groceries) and be unemployed to focus on getting good grades in school. Either that, or you’re some kind of superhuman.

And when you’re poor, you need to either work part- or full-time while going to school, which requires you to take a lower course load, and when you have a disability, everything takes forever and life is pretty much one inconvenience after another, also requiring a lower course load.

So if you’re poor and have to work a job, or if you’re disabled, getting your BA in four years ceases to be a real option. Yet I still held myself to this standard because I wanted to buck the statistics and be the exception to the rule. (There’s this one statistic that says full-time students who work part-time get lower grades than full-time students that don’t work outside of school. I wanted to be the one student who could do both work and school and get awesome grades.)

I Must Get Straight As Because I’m Smart, Dammit!

And I wanted straight As so bad because, hey, all my friends have mostly As and I’m just as smart as them, so why aren’t I getting them?

It’s just that people generally think I’m so smart when they’re talking to me that I feel like if they knew what I was getting in school, that I got Bs and occasionally Cs, it’d be a let-down. But I guess that is better than the reverse: getting straight As and people look at that and think ‘Wow, she must be really smart’ and then they talk to me and think ‘How did she get those grades? She’s an idiot.’

And also, I’ve had so many people tell me that one day I will do great things. But I’m not doing great things. I do good, but I’m just an anonymous nobody who is constantly silenced and inhibited by fear. I am, at present, not doing “great things”. So, I feel like a let-down.

Stay tuned for Part Four, which will be much more positive, I promise.

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!