Yesterday was life-changing. I’ve been chronically depressed and suicidal for quite some time, particularly over the past 6 weeks since losing my former therapist. At my last psychiatrist appointment I even asked about ECT, feeling desperate enough to try anything. My psychiatrist said she didn’t think it would help me, which was a crushing blow. Then I received an e-mail from my academic adviser.
I am in the midst of one psychology class this summer, and had 3 more psychology classes and an English class scheduled for fall. I just needed to complete those and take an exam for credit for one of the general education requirements, then I would be all set to graduate in December. This was very significant to me, as I graduated high school in 1998 and wanted to get college finished before 2018 ended.
The e-mail from my adviser pointed out my missing general education class, saying she had put some possibilities in my registration cart to choose from. I could not register for the course I’d been planning to test out of and no longer felt confident that I could study enough and pass the test. I ended up registering for a class that didn’t interest me at all, bringing my fall schedule up to 15 credit hours. Last fall when I tried 12 credit hours, I had a complete breakdown. Or maybe four of them, as I ended up hospitalized four times that semester and another two during the spring as I was trying to finish up the 5 credit hour course in which I had taken an incomplete.
My response to my adviser was that I had registered for the class, but don’t expect to make it to graduation anyway. After some probing, she ended up getting the e-mail that rambled about how awful everything is and how I don’t expect to be alive. Cue her request to meet in person.
Yesterday was that meeting. I walked in feeling crushed under the pressure. Not only did I have 15 credit hours registered, but two of my courses were on campus, leaving me to make the roughly 45 minute (each way) drive four days a week. I have extreme anxiety about driving, especially on the interstate and especially around that particular set of on/off ramps where the traffic is such that I chant “Please don’t die” as I merge in.
My adviser knew that my mother had driven me to campus for all the classes I had with her last fall. Said mother had just told me that if I couldn’t manage the driving she would be willing to drive me (close to 64 trips to and from campus) as long as we put the wear and tear on my car instead of hers. Even so, not being able to do it myself is hard on my self-esteem. My adviser helped me identify alternate routes to campus, which might take longer but involve less stress.
My adviser said that I seem to become more and more panicked the closer I get to graduation, and suggested that I aim to graduate in December, as scheduled, but apply right now to start graduate school in clinical mental health counseling next January. She said I’d be a shoo-in, which surprised and flattered me. Then she looked at my fall schedule and realized, as I had already known, that it was far too much. Another series of hospitalizations was almost inevitable if I proceeded with that plan.
My adviser then asked me which would make me feel worse: postponing graduation by another semester, or losing the 4.0 GPA that I’ve worked so hard to maintain? Even though the GPA means very little after graduation, and even though my therapist and I are working to reduce my perfectionism, I recognized that I could come to terms with graduating in Spring 2019 far more easily than with the sense of failure I’d get from a drop in my GPA. She told me to talk it over with mom, let her know afterward if I was postponing graduation or not, and if I was then drop the general education class and the last elective psychology class.
She enticed me with the fact that I could instead wait until spring and take both the general education class that I’ve already studied for and the criminal behavior class that she teaches. I don’t know if she knew how much I had wanted to take that class of hers, but given the number of criminal justice and forensics classes I transferred in, that should have been easy to spot.
Mom asked if I’d have taken the same advice if she’d given it, and I wouldn’t have, but that’s because she didn’t have the information and encouragement to offer me that I received from my adviser (who still wants me to go straight to grad school, just a semester later). I realized later in the day that this delay also benefited me in two other ways.
First, I had previously been a theatre major, and when I transferred they did not assign my theatre credits to equivalent courses, simply calling them “elective transfer credit”. I was only one class short of the English minor, so I decided it was easier to take that class than to try getting my transfer credits reevaluated. However, this has been nagging at me, as theatre was so important to me for so much of my life and I feel I’ve earned that minor. Now that I have more time, I will pursue trying to get my credits reevaluated.
Second, my college offers a leadership program that involves attending several seminars and doing a day of community service. It earns the participant an honor cord to wear at graduation, and the requirements have to be met within one academic year. I did not make it to enough seminars last year to complete the program, and staying in school that extra semester will give me another opportunity to attempt it.
So I felt a sense of relief. My adviser quite wisely asked if I wanted to die or just wanted to reduce my stress, and of course it was the latter. I just didn’t see a way out, and she found me a solution. The day continued to be life-changing even after that appointment ended. In the evening, a friend and I traveled about an hour from home to speak at a NAMI Family-to-Family class. My friend was speaking about advocacy, and I about my personal experience of mental illness.
In a way, I was experimenting on these students. In my previous public speaking experiences, I’ve written a formal speech, rehearsed it obsessively, and ended up reading from the paper. This time I decided to wing it. I was definitely less polished than in the past, but the students were very engaged and asking good questions, and when I said I was honored to be asked to speak they said that they were the ones who were honored. Multiple people came up to me afterward to praise me and offer encouragement to utilize my energy and passion to help others.
I’d been shying away from my volunteer work lately, mainly due to the depression, and I felt invigorated and inspired. I also felt a new sense of self-confidence about having gotten up there and spoken from the heart and not had to obsessively prepare in order to do a good job. I’m not sure where my volunteer work will go from here, but my heart is back in it.