Life-Changing Encouragement and Inspiration

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.

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Vacation Valium and College Chromebook

Late Saturday night I returned from a week+ vacation to Walt Disney World.  I had planned very thoroughly to fit in all the rides and shows and parades and random street performers, and then my mom encountered a medical issue and plans flew out the window.  We still had fun, we just didn’t get to do nearly as many of the fun things we expected to do.

Two days before vacation I had finally managed to get my follow-up appointment with the psychiatrist, and she prescribed Valium.  I was very nervous about taking it, fearing that she’d think I was taking too much, even though in reality I kept it down to less than half of the amount I was allowed and haven’t touched it again since returning home.  I really just needed help getting through all the crowds and stress of vacation.

My other stress was that I originally was scheduled to be taking a class right up to early August and we planned vacation in the short gap between the end of that class and the beginning of fall semester.  It turned out I couldn’t take that class and had a couple of months off, but vacation was already scheduled and paid for.  So I spent a lot of time receiving e-mails from professors about syllabi and Blackboard sites, and panicking that I couldn’t be at home preparing for the new semester to start.

On our way home we spent the night with my grandmother’s cousin and her husband and they were kind enough to let me print my syllabi and start writing assignments in my planner.  I still have one class in which the syllabus is not available (the semester starts today!) and my planner is already crammed full and I don’t know where I’ll fit those assignments.  I’m feeling very overwhelmed by the fact that I decided to enroll full-time this semester.

As we were riding in the car and I was trying to look at e-mails and Blackboard on my tiny little phone screen, I got very frustrated.  There was a simple assignment that needed to be written in Microsoft Word and uploaded, and I could have done it in the car if I could just figure out how to actually edit a Word document on my phone.  I also remembered that even as a part-time student I have struggled a lot with access to the computer.  I’m at my best academically when I first get up in the morning, but that’s the same time that mom plops down in front of the computer and goofs around online for 2-3 hours straight.  When I have to watch hours of video lectures and write on discussion boards and write papers for 12 credit hours of classes, there is no way this is going to work without me wanting to strangle her.

So I did the one thing I could do on my phone: read a bunch of articles and selected a convertible laptop/tablet.  I had very quickly decided it would be some sort of Chromebook, and my criteria were that it needed both keyboard and touchscreen, needed to be as small and lightweight as possible, and needed to be capable of running Android apps.  I found the Asus C100PA-DB02 Chromebook Flip.  It opens as a laptop but can be bent all the way back to use in tablet mode, or left partially open in a couple of ways so that it will stand up.  With a 10.1″ screen and weighing 2 lbs., it definitely meets my easy portability requirement.  And this is one of the few Chromebooks that has access to Android apps built in without having to enter a special Developer mode.

Our mail was on hold during vacation and I’m supposed to go pick it up this morning.  The Chromebook just arrived at the post office a couple of hours ago so it should be in the delivery that comes out around noon, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to snag it from the mailman when I pick up everything else.  T-minus 65 minutes until the post office opens!

Expressions of Aging

My great-grand aunt died in late March.  Her funeral was held on a Monday, when I needed to be at my practicum class at college.  While on campus, I was in the student union racing past some random booths that were set up for various organizations.  I saw one that said “social work” and turned around.  The Social Work program was promoting a contest they were running for images related to aging.  The winning image will be used on materials for the Social Work program that promote aging issues.

While at this booth I met one of the professors from Social Work and briefly spoke with her about my interest in the MSW program.  When I got home I sent two e-mails: one to this professor to provide a further introduction about my background and interests, and one to enter the photo below in the contest.

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I received a call today that my image had been chosen as the winner.  I had to fill out a form to get the prize, and the professor who ran the contest also wants to interview me for the department’s newsletter.  I am excited and terrified, but I think mostly excited knowing that my beautiful great-grand aunt is going to be immortalized on these brochures.

Rolling Smash Book Tote

I collected items for my college Smash Book all through fall semester and never worked on putting things in because I was so disorganized.  I’d also like to be able to take it on the go in case I have a lot of free time somewhere or visit a friend who has tons of stamps and punches and will need my other supplies in order to use them.  I looked at rolling scrapbook totes in the various craft stores and couldn’t convince myself to buy one, but then I got home and watched YouTube videos of how people organized theirs and fell in love with one of the ones I had seen at Hobby Lobby.  I also saw a clever idea in a different video about using plastic photo boxes for organization, so I ordered the tote and the boxes and eagerly awaited my chance to fill them.

Warning: This will be a very image-heavy post.

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This is the grey chevron rolling tote from The Paper Studio.  I ordered it online from Hobby Lobby when they were offering a 50% off sale.  I definitely wouldn’t recommend paying full-price.  The exterior has a plastic coating that makes it waterproof and easy to wipe clean.

The left and right sides each have a zipper pocket and a mesh pocket.  The back has a tiny mesh pocket to the side of the handle.  I’ve filled the zipper pockets with washi tape and the side pockets with roller stamps and ink pads.

Interiors of the front pocket and two side pockets.  The side pockets each contain a 5×7 Iris photo case full of washi tape.  One is thin tape in a variety of colors.  The other is standard size tape in school colors, plus a Smash Book tape and one from a Messy Box.

Contents of front pocket and side net pockets.  6×6 scrapbook paper, index cards, Mod Podge, and metal ruler.  Stamp pads from Messy Box and Let’s Color, Smash stamp, phrase roller stamp and date roller stamp from Messy Box, and a very old date roller stamp from my childhood.

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Here’s a view inside the main compartment.  It has an adjustable divider (which is held in place by Velcro) that contains various pockets and elastic bands for holding small items.  I’ve placed mine far forward with just the Smash Book in front of it, so that there would be plenty of room to fit in all the photo cases.

The front and back sides of the divider.  The back is holding Sharpie pens and metallic Sharpies, paintbrushes, Prismacolor accessories, and a few random writing utensils, plus some rubber bands and pencil grips in a clear pocket.  I haven’t come up with anything to put in the other clear pocket yet.  The front side has a lot of tools that will be shown in a separate picture.

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Here are the contents of the front of the divider.  Fiskars edging scissors, regular scissors, glue dot runner, stapler, tape dispenser, bone folder, rotary cutter, Prismacolor pencil sharpener, tiny sticky notes, erasers, Prismacolor blending pen, Smash scissors, corner rounder and hole punches, extra tape and staples.

Organizers inside main compartment.  Top left shows a marker board that I use as a surface for spreading glue and two Iris project boxes.  One contains large sticker sheets and some Smash Book inserts.  The other contains all the papers and brochures I’ve collected from college that might go in the Smash Book.  Bottom left shows my smaller set of Prismacolor pencils (48 count), watercolor pencils, and gel pens.  Right shows eight of the 5×7 Iris photo boxes with various supplies in them.

All the 5×7 photo boxes from the main compartment.  Top left ones contain small sticker sheets and small ephemera from college.  Top right ones contain chalkboard postcards, Tattered Tangles coloring sheets, and Smash Book smash pads.  Bottom left ones contain various pockets and a set of Smash Book ephemera that is school-themed.  Bottom right ones contain Project Life cards from the Kraft Edition core kit and the Childhood Edition-Wellington mini kit.

I worried a little in the back of my mind that I’d buy this tote and do all this organizing and then just sigh and say “So pretty!” and still not work on the Smash Book.  As it turns out, I’ve done 7 pages since I got organized.  I have completed pages about admissions and my goals, my first visit to campus for an advising appointment, and my orientation day.

 

The Day I Knew I Would Graduate

Early in 2015, I applied for assistance in job hunting from Vocational Rehabilitation.  By the time my plan was officially approved, I’d already been hired in my current job, but they retroactively paid for Joan, the employment specialist who had helped me.  Hank, the Vocational Rehab counselor, was available to help with additional problems.  A few months into the job, I was considered stably employed and my case was closed.

When the idea of returning to college started to become more than an idea, I e-mailed Hank to ask if there was anything Vocational Rehab could do to help.  I was mostly thinking of advice – helping find services on campus and the like.  I started school in August before I was able to meet with Hank, then we had to go through the lengthy process of writing a new plan for his supervisor’s approval.

In our final meeting to finish up the plan, Hank read to me the expectations of Vocational Rehab that I would have to meet.  One of them was to attend school full-time.  He didn’t notice, but I started crying.  I was about to tell him that I was wasting his time, and get up and walk out.  There was no way I could register for more than two courses for Spring and he was asking for four.  As I opened my mouth to excuse myself from his office, he mentioned that due to the nature of my disability and the fact that I also work, he could modify that requirement.

My state of panic subsided, and by the end of the appointment it was a state of shock and elation.  I’d been hoping for advice and encouragement, and expected that if there was any financial assistance involved it would be, at most, some help with textbook fees.  Hank gave me some conditions I would have to follow, such as maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA and following the university’s code of conduct.  Beyond that, my major responsibility was to file the FAFSA each year and accept any grants and scholarships that were offered.

With those conditions met, Vocational Rehab would pay the remainder of tuition and fees, textbooks, transportation (including the on-campus parking pass), and a commuter meal plan to cover the days I have to be on campus.  After follow-up with Hank, we have established that they don’t need to consider the parking pass until the start of Fall 2017 as my current pass runs through the end of Summer sessions.  We also will not be doing the meal plan as my scheduled classes are online for next semester, but it will remain in my plan in case it’s necessary when I take on-campus classes in the future.

That was the day I knew I would graduate.  I had taken a huge leap of faith by applying and enrolling in college when I didn’t have a reliable source of money to get through it all.  With every exam I take and paper I submit, I remember Vocational Rehab and am overwhelmed by gratitude all over again.

Food Bank Donation Tips

My college has a food bank for students.  You have to show a student ID, fill up your bags, and then sign and date a paper, with optional checklist to indicate what types of items you took.  Every two weeks you can get a bag of toiletries, and you can either get one bag of food a week, or two at a time if you only come in every other week.  Not long into the semester, they offered me a tote bag, which made it much easier to visit because I could carry the food with me to class without embarrassment, versus having to hike way back to the car and hide it in my trunk.

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I don’t think I ever filled my bags as full as I could have, even taking fewer than the allowed amount of bags some weeks when I was feeling particularly guilty about being there.  Over the past semester I’ve made several observations about suggestions I could make to people donating to a food bank.  These are especially applicable in a college setting, but the general ideas apply elsewhere too.

  • Please choose packages that have individually wrapped items inside them.  For example, instead of family-size bags of chips, get one of the variety packs of single-serving bags.  The food bank will split them up so people can take just a few and more people will get some.
  • Granola bars go quickly and there’s always demand for those.  Usually there’s enough oatmeal to go around, but consider cream of wheat, which also comes in single-serving packets.
  • Reconsider the choice to donate a bunch of canned vegetables.  Everyone donates the canned vegetables, and there’s an overabundance of them.  Think about more unusual vegetables (maybe asparagus?  hominy?), beans, and fruit.
  • Many people may not have reliable access to a refrigerator and/or stove.  Think about items that are in smaller packages to reduce leftovers, and items that can be eaten uncooked or microwaved.
  • There’s usually lots of soup, but if you’re willing to spend a little extra (or find coupons or a good sale), the single-serving soups in the microwavable containers would be really nice.
  • Dried fruit.  Just fruit in general, but things like raisins and fruit leather are rare to find and would make a great snack when people have to rush between classes all day.
  • Please no ramen.  I know you can buy a huge bundle of them for a very low price, but the idea of the food bank is for people to get at least somewhat healthy foods they can’t afford.
  • The microwavable cups of pasta and cheese are very popular.  There’s usually a good supply of those, but how about the similar cups of instant mashed potatoes?
  • Toiletries are wonderful, but would be even better if people could donate a wider variety.  There’s always plenty of shampoo, conditioner, and soap/body wash.  There’s plenty of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant, and a lot of these items last for quite a while.  Mouthwash is pretty rare, as are floss and the little floss picks.  I have never seen Q-tips there, and those can be bought in little travel packs that would be good for donations.  Also, travel packs of tissues.  As someone with extremely curly hair, I can say some of us would be very grateful for cans of mousse to tame the curls.
  • Also consider cleaning supplies and baby supplies (diapers, wipes, formula, etc.)  Even in a college, there are plenty of parents with young children, and this would be even more true in the wider community setting.

I started forming these ideas as a mental list, so that once I graduate and find a steady job I can go back and donate all the things I wish they’d had while I was a student.  Hopefully others will find these suggestions helpful as well.

Midterm College Update

I kind of disappeared for a while.  I’ve been super busy with school and work and other work, but wanted to check in and let everyone know I’m still out here.

I was scheduled for Abnormal Psychology for the full semester and Personality Psychology for the second 8-week term.  Abnormal is great.  So far I’ve earned 81%, so even if I gave up now I’d have a B-.  To get an A I need to complete the remaining short journal responses and average 45% on the last two exams.

Personality Psychology just started last week.  I’ve earned 11%, with another 5% pending for a 2-page essay.  I hadn’t written a paper in almost 10 years, and never in APA format, so I took my rough draft to the Writing Center to get help from a tutor.  I didn’t make all the possible changes she suggested, but did some work with citing sources and changed the topics in my final paragraph slightly to have something to cite.  The tutor was very helpful and I will definitely use that service again.  I did have to follow up with some formatting advice from a friend, which was also helpful.

On November 2nd I get to register for spring classes, which will be Lifespan Development and Cognitive Processes.  These topics are less familiar than the ones I’m studying now, but both classes are entirely online so test-taking is a bit easier.  I’m skipping out on the 3-week winter term and using that time to study for the credit for prior learning exams.

All in all it’s going a lot better than I expected.