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!