Failing a class + mental craziness = breakdown


I wrote this immediately after my mental craziness post, but I broke it into two to make it easier. It’s a pretty long post, but for any of you that have time, I would greatly appreciate any comments you all might have to help me through this. I feel pretty crappy right now.

In a whole different story, I really need that which I ended the last post with, the help of Husband and our happy marriage, right now. Because you remember that post about how it’s not working, how I’m not managing to get to classes and I’m spiraling down again? Well, as kind as people’s comments were, I was brought back down to earth today.

Here, in this class that I am in, one of the ones that I missed last Thursday, the level I am working at is not ok. Coursework burnout is not ok, and depression is not an excuse…only enough for the professor to offer me some extra credit, perhaps, once he thinks about it. I literally am in danger of failing, I learned so this afternoon when the TA e-mailed me back, and again after class tonight when the prof asked to talk to me.

The thing is, I had realized in early October, right before all the crazy money issues began, that I needed to work harder, because I saw that others had much higher homework grades than I would have guessed the mean was and deduced that my poor scores were possibly too poor to get me through.

So I knew I had to work harder, and I managed to, for a bit. I managed to put my all into the homeworks that were due, and turn them in thinking I had really done my best. I managed to do that despite the fact that with that plus going to classes and babysitting and my other class and research I was only getting a few hours of sleep. I managed to do that despite the fact that during that week in which I did two homeworks instead of one, and did barely any research at all, Husband’s and my financial situation hit the fan in an unexpected manner and I actually was quite hungry throughout much of the days and arrived home at night weary and with hunger headaches just waiting to eat whatever cereal or pasta we had left in the cupboards. You might ask “Flicka Mawa, why didn’t you just ask someone for help? Surely someone could have lent you enough money to eat better than that.” And that’s a good question. I was just so busy trying to manage doing the homeworks for this class and so tired and hungry that I didn’t have the extra energy it takes to find a source of personal loans. On top of that, I don’t see an immediate end to the financial problems, and so I’m reluctant to borrow more money from anyone. I did get some help from my mom, and that was enough to refill the cupboards with cheap and somewhat tasteless food.

Anyhow, I digress. This is not meant to be a post about how horribly we have (not) managed our finances this year that Husband has been trying to start a company and work from home.

(Can we interrupt here to say that a group of people from my office just met up and talked about how they were going out together for dinner or a drink and mingled here for a bit and lamented the lack of another office mate and then left, without even thinking to say hi to me, let alone ask me if I would like to join them. There are multiple grad student offices in the department and so mine has only about 8 people that use it regularly, and these people are not only closest in proximity to me but among the friendliest to me of the whole department of grad students. Oh yes, I feel so welcome here.)

So anyhow, this is meant to be a post about schoolwork, and depression, and how I can manage to be failing a class.

So, after that week where I did manage to try really hard and attempt all the problems as best as I knew how, then there was a take home midterm, and I spaced out the work as best I could manage and tried very hard, spending many hours on each of the 5 problems. I got it back today, and you know what? I got a 51%. The mean was something like an 85. And those homeworks? Well one of them I neared a 75%. The other one, maybe a 55%. So apparently even that, that week where I thought I really gave it a lot, wasn’t quite enough, certainly not to make up for the poorly done homeworks I did before I realized that people were getting in the 90% range.

Granted, everyone sees this as a challenging class, but apparently everyone else is ready and willing to rise up to that challenge. I’m obviously extremely distraught over this, but I’m also completely amazed. Either my inadequate background from a different department has left me at a much worse starting point and thus it doesn’t take them as long as me, or they are all spending many, many more hours on their homework than I was ever planning to devote to mine. About twice as many, in fact, since I’m getting about half the credit for the work and they’re managing to get near perfect scores. Seriously, 85 and 90% on weekly homeworks (6-10 difficult, new problems each) in an extremely challenging graduate level course? Who would have thought that would be the norm. Don’t these people also have research to be doing, or at least more other classes than I have?

So where am I left? Not an impossible place, I realize. It could be worse. I could have no chance of getting my grade back up to passing status, and need to drop the course and then be less than full-time, or take an incomplete, or whatever it is they do with kids who fail courses here at my university. But there are a few weeks left, and there is still the chance of better – the opportunity to do what I need to do to get my grades up. So, I don’t really see any options but to do that. The thing is, this is clearly going to take a lot more time. I can’t give up the babysitting, because we are surviving on that influx of cash to buy groceries, meds, and subway fare each week. I suppose I could see how the other students are managing it if I replaced every hour I spend babysitting with an hour spent on the homework and reading for this class. Frankly, that sounds horrible to me though, so I don’t mind that we need the money and I need to work.

So what else am I doing? There’s my other class, but honestly I haven’t put much into that either, and had probably better e-mail that professor and TA as well. At least with that one I had already explained the depression issue briefly, so it’s not completely unknown to them. What else is there… Well there’s research – I could do less of that I suppose, but I really thought I was kind of just maintaining at an amount that barely passed for 6 credits worth.

And then there’s non-work time. That’s the only place I can see cutting down on, but I’m barely managing to not breakdown as it is. I guess if I am so busy with coursework and babysitting and research that I don’t have time to think, I won’t have time to stress myself out or breakdown. That worked for that one week I described earlier, but it’s not really that maintainable. I can probably handle it until the semester is over, since it’s really only 5 more weeks or so, but the other problem is that I will miss Husband. I already wish I had more time to spend with him, and what with my freak-out about our marriage and how much I depend on it, I don’t really want to put less time into that. I don’t see much of a choice though, so I think a combination of sleep and Hubby time are going to go out the window until late December rolls around. Wish me luck!

Good news: Just writing that whole post and thinking through it did help me to feel a bit better.  I can do this…I can do this…I can do this. 

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9 thoughts on “Failing a class + mental craziness = breakdown

  1. Wow, sorry to hear things are not going so well! I think talking to the prof and TA for the “in danger of failing” class was the right thing to do. Did you bring up the amount of time you’re spending on homeworks and such? The prof and/or TA might be able to help you figure out exactly what it is that’s not clicking yet. (As a prof, I would consider it a red flag if a student said s/he was spending enormous amounts of time on homework and his/her grade wasn’t reflecting that….I try to work with students in that situation to figure out *how* they’re working and help them channel their energies into more productive ways of learning the material.)

    Good luck to you, and I hope things improve for you soon. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate. Please remember to be kind to yourself and take care of yourself, too.

  2. Flicka Mawa, my first semester of graduate school, I signed up for a course that I was totally unprepared for. I did really miserably, too. I got a 35% on the midterm. I was convinced that I was a complete and utter moron, and that they had made a mistake by admitting me to graduate school.

    I can’t remember exactly what happened, but somehow I got the opportunity to drop the course and go below full time, well after the official drop deadline. I think it was right around Thanksgiving time, actually.

    I lived to tell the tale, and actually managed to graduate. Like you, I also struggled with depression throughout my graduate career, and I’d be happy to talk with you in more detail about that sometime.

    It sounds like a tough situation that you’re in, but good for you for reaching out and talking to the professor and the TA, instead of trying to hide from the problem! Do you have a sympathetic research adviser? If so, it might be helpful to talk to him/her, or another professor who might be able to help you out.

  3. Rebecca,
    Dang we have so many similar experiences. In this lucky case, it’s not even past the drop date yet. But I don’t know what going below full-time does. I meet with my advisor on mondays, and I have a great relationship with her and she is very sympathetic and knows all about my depression issues. So I’ll have to talk to her about it this week. The thing is, I care so much more about how she sees me than about how say, this professor or TA sees me, that it’s going to be harder for me to talk to her about it. But the drop deadline is this coming Thursday, so talk to her I will do, so that the drop option is still available, if it is somehow a possibility despite the fact that I in no way can handle not having the funding for the semester and I *think* that requires being full-time. In the least I am sure she won’t have a problem with me working less on research, I am just sad to have to make that choice since research is the reason I’m still in school.

  4. I’ll give you some of my confessions in the hope that they make you feel better…

    – I got between a 11 and 35 on every single statistics test I took (out of 100 possible points).
    – The prof told me he had never had someone score lower. He also told me he didn’t think I could do better and b/c of that that I didn’t deserve a degree from my (top ranked) institution.
    – That last comment pissed me off and derailed my ego for months. Actually, I still have bad dreams about it and I loath this professor. But, I plodded along with my own research and did the best I could do in that class.
    – Instead of failing it, I asked for an “incomplete” and literally took the class over again the next semester. It was torture, and I only showed mild improvement. Eventually the prof told me to stop taking it and he gave me a (barely) passing grade.
    – I’m still going to get a phd from this top-ranked institution. Despite all those terrible grades, I’ll finish with the same degree as everyone else.

  5. Yeesh, it sounds like you have an awful lot on your plate at the moment. Incompletes might do the trick- I’m sure there’s someone there who’s willing to work with you to bend the rules. Is it possible to register for extra ‘research credits’ to fill out the schedule, as long as your (awesome) advisor is on board?

    Is it possible that the other students are working together on the homework? It might explain their otherwise-inexplicable grades. I had a couple of really hard classes, one of which I did almost fail, and we all ended up doing the homework, and the take-homes, together. (It was allowed.)

  6. Wow, you’re posts are very touching, Mawa. I was randomly Googling students who were struggling with university just as I am right now (mind you, I’m in FIRST YEAR university…haha, how funny is this?!) I’m aspiring to be pediatrician, and to be quite honest, I’m scared. I’m afraid that I won’t get accepted into Med school therefore having to completely do something else with my degree. However, my problems aren’t even ALLOWED to compete with yours. You’re so strong for keeping at it for so long. As watershed said, “Despite all those terrible grades, I’ll finish with the same degree as everyone else.” And that’s very true, and that totally gave me a new perspective on things. I don’t know if you still blog or something, but I hope everything worked out for you. Thanks for your posts…they truly mean a lot.

  7. You sound completely obsessed by your course and it does not seem to be nurturing you or enabling you to develop. I recommend ‘the Idler’. A British publication. What is this obsession with work and conventional conformity through ‘education’& ‘qualification’ in being information overloaded by a computer based information and of course the perennially perverted unavailability of money whilst we are all supposed to clamour after it. I am supposed to be on a course tonight and can’t bloody face it. We are not alone the unconventional and the eating disorders seem to be universal too. Prozac would make anything feel ok; I missed three buses once and it was OoooKay. NO it was not. I was stoned on anti-depressants watching buses go past. Lose the chemical kosh and join your brain again.

    • Janet, I want to respond because of your misunderstandings regarding depression and anti-depressants. Prozac does not work to make “anything feel ok”, and it is not the same as say, alcohol, which often does work like that. Likewise, depression does not result because things are going poorly in one’s life, although that is sometimes a trigger for a major depressive episode.

      Prozac is not prescribed to make you happy no matter what is happening in your life, and if it is, the doctor is wrongly prescribing it. Prozac is prescribed because reams of scientific evidence have shown that there is variation in how people’s bodies respond to different catalysts. Some people’s biologies have a lower baseline level of neurotransmitters or have had something go wrong in their normal production and regulation of these neurotransmitters, and that is the physiology of depression.

      I am willing to bet that you accept that two people who do the same workout routine (imagine the same everything else, too – schedule, diet, exercise, etc) for years may not get the same results. The reason for this is that their biologies are different. Their genes are different, and they respond in different degrees to the same stimulation. For example, one may build more muscle than the other. Well just as that is true, it is true that people’s brains do not respond equally to the same stimulants. If you take two people and give both the same experience, such as a piece of good news, a hug from a friend, or even a thrill like a roller coaster ride, they will not have the same exact biological response. One will have a higher boost in neurotransmitter levels and brain activity than the other.

      This is not to say that these are excuses. You wouldn’t tell someone not to bother trying to build muscle just because they didn’t build it as fast as their training mate. But that’s assuming they are all within the range of normal. If the struggling trainee had a disease which hampers their ability to build muscle, you wouldn’t tell them they ought to throw out their medical assistance and physical therapy and just get in touch with the muscles they have.

      It’s often easier for people to make such assumptions about mood disorders because the biology is in the brain, and knowledge of neuroscience is neither as widespread or as visible as musculoskeletal disorders.

      According to a recently released US CDC report, at the time of the studies in 2006 and 2008, about 9% of Americans had depressed mood disorders.

      Incidentally, money is currency which is a representative of scarcity for the purposes of creating a productive economy. It is not the scarcity of it that is perverted but rather the fixation over amassing sums for the sake of amassing that is perverted.

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