Total Test Result Turmoil – or how the Academic Success Center can save your neck

It’s that blessed time of year again – mid-terms. Or, for our friends in engineering or music, the time of year when students in every other Faculty get a small and terrifying glimpse into every week of their term, mid or otherwise.

In the whirl of essays, labs and tests, it is inevitable that one – or several – will not go as planned and you’ll get a mark back that is much lower than you ever thought you’d receive.

Take heart, young grasshopper, life will go on!

Take heart, young grasshopper, life will go on! Source: Aleksey Gnilenkov (CC BY 2.0).

It is important to ask yourself though, and answer honestly, “what happened?”

Obsessing over every question on a test, or inwardly ranting about how you “should have known that, dammit!” is not a good use of your time or brain power, but asking yourself “In future, how could I handle that better?” is certainly not.

This is not meant to shame you if you didn’t do well, but there are ways to handle the fallout which will better ensure success next time round.

Consider the following questions:

  1. What is your mark, actually? If you failed a test, that’s different; but if you got a “bad” mark in your terms, where does that leave you? I came out of high school with the impression that an 84 was a disappointment. If you got a 75 and you’ve never seen marks that low, recognize that standards in university are different. Some may compare themselves to the class average, but I prefer rather to discuss my concerns directly with an instructor or teaching assistant. Perhaps they’re just tough markers. Maybe I didn’t understand the type of answer they were looking for. Maybe (and this is unlikely but possible) they misgraded it and speaking to them would get that rectified.
  2. How did you study? Consider making a trip to the Academic Success Center (ASC) if information isn’t sinking in, or you’re having trouble with motivation, memory or concentration. You can make One-on-one appointments with a learning strategist, but they have fantastic handouts and articles to help you with everything from motivation to time management while you wait for your appointment.
  3. If you didn’t understand the material at all, where can you fill in the gaps? Your Teaching Assistant and instructor are the first resources to try, but there is always University of Toronto Peer Tutoring, your College’s or faculty’s writing center (a directory is here), or YouTube.
  4. What stopped you from “getting it” in the first place? No one will be perfect in every subject, but if you can pinpoint the fact you find lectures hard to follow or don’t understand the problem sets or readings you’ve been given, that will help to isolate your particular challenges. Again, the academic Success Center is a great resource here.
  5. Was it an issue of running out of time during the test? Were you incredibly anxious and forgot things? Consider talking to someone at the ASC for support in managing your test-taking challenges.

At the end of the day though, the important thing to remember is that this is but one evaluation of several. It’s as much about your self-awareness as it is your ability to recall information. It feels bad when you get a bad mark, but it does not mean that you won’t pass the course, and it certainly doesn’t mean that your grades won’t improve ever or that you’ll be unceremoniously chucked from the University of Toronto with no friends or future prospects to speak of. It is but one bump in the academic road, and the only thing to do now is to keep on truckin’.

Stay strong, U of T, we will get through this.

U of T Student Deals & Discounts

If there’s one thing I still haven’t mastered in my second year at U of T, it’s the idea of having a “student budget”.  I mean hypothetically I know going shoe shopping in Yorkville after class with my grocery money isn’t smart – but actually being able to stop myself from doing so is a different issue.  But hey, admitting you have a problem is the first step to finding a solution right?

There are hundreds of articles online telling you how to save money as a student, and while these tips are great in theory, a lot of them can be hard to implement.  I know personally, I enjoy going out for food and drinks with my friends.  It’s something that I like to do on my off-time, and it’s something I’m willing to spend money on.

Two photo set. Photo on the left: young blonde girl sitting at an outdoor table taking smiling and taking a picture of the food in front of her, which is two large salads and a sandwich. Photo on the right: a photo of the author, a young girl with brown hair sitting in a restaurant looking at a taco in her hands before she eats it.

Wait, so you’re saying getting a good instagram picture is not justification for going out to eat…?

So how to you balance?  

Well it’s hard, and if I knew how to master it I would share my tips, but unfortunately I’m sitting here with a VISA bill that indicates I clearly don’t.

Luckily, as U of T students we have some awesome deals targeted specifically for us.  Different restaurants, attractions, and shops all around the city offer specific student deals and discounts to help make student living a little easier.

Check out my top deals by week day; (all of these deals require you bringing your TCard with you as proof of ID) 

Monday

  • Head over to Toby’s Pub & Eatery any day between Sunday and Thursday for 15% off food and drinks. Student favourites include their nachos and wings.

Tuesday

  • Today is the day to stock up on groceries. Head over to the Metro on Bloor St. for 10% off your purchase. This Metro is open 24 hours, so it’s easy to come by before or after your classes.

 

Photo of Groceries including Multigrain Cheerios, Kraft Dinner, Peanut Butter and a carton of Milk

It’s embarrassing how long I could live off of these basic groceries. Don’t be me – use the Metro discount!

Wednesday

  • Time to stock-up on inexpensive dry goods, or bulk candy and treats for an upcoming event or meeting. Bulk Barn offers 10% off to students on Wednesdays.

Thursday 

  • Make-up addicts (myself included), brace yourselves because Shoppers Drug Mart on Bloor offers 20% off to U of T students on Thursdays. Stock up on basics like shampoo and toilet paper, but also keep your eye out because shoppers can have great deals on things such as chips and soda too.
Photo of a whole wheat wrap with tomatoes, lettuce, tofu chicken and fake bacon with a side of fresh cut fries.

If you go to Fresh, make sure to try the “chicken” club wrap! It’s my favourite thing on the menu.

Friday

  • You made it to Friday, which means you deserve to celebrate! Fresh Restaurants and Spring Rolls Restaurants all around the city offer 15% off to students (excluding specials). It’s the perfect excuse to go out and celebrate the week, or catch up with friends you haven’t seen all week.

So these are my favourite student deals for U of T students!  Many of them are great ways to save on basic things you need every day, while others just provide a way for you to still enjoy yourself on a student budget.  If you know of any other deals I should include, leave them down below or tweet them to be at @Rachael_UofT.

Holistic Living for a Busy Schedule

My head can really get spinning. With so much going on, including schoolwork, tests, classes, extracurriculars and events, things can get crazy. Stress is a part of university life especially during flip-out times like midterms. But stress is natural and if you aren’t a little stressed about your university activities, you aren’t doing it right.

Let me explain; stress in controlled, healthy amounts is actually a good thing. Going into a mental tailspin, however, is not. If you have a balanced schedule full of activities you enjoy, the stress won’t feel like stress. It will feel like energy. This energy is good and there are many strategies to access it.

Two erasers standing vertically, with pop bottle caps for helmets and paper clips for rifles

Meed Bob and Ted, some veteran study soldiers from my first year. When you are overloaded with work, you can always count on your ability to distract yourself. (photo by Zachary Biech)

I’ll give you an example. Early October has been crazy for me. I’ve never spent so much time doing so many things all at once. In my opinion, it’s a little early in the year to have two midterms and a heavily weighted essay all in October’s first week. But here’s the strange thing. I’ve been working fifteen hours a day for a month straight and yet, my brain never went into code-red meltdown mode.

First reason: My schedule is full of things I love. There. Boom. Easy.

If you fill your day with your passions, it won’t feel like such a battle.

Second: My schedule is balanced.

Your schedule can’t be too heavy on the work and too light on fun and health-oriented activities and vice versa. All work and no play blahblahblah. But how much of each part of your life is necessary and what should actually be included in your day?

First Nations House has an Elder-in-Residence whom I’ve visited a number of times. His name is Andrew Wesley and he is Omushkego Cree from Fort Albany. Elders have invaluable, immense knowledge to share. The teachings I’ve received include protocol for ceremonies which have greatly helped me. At FNH as well as the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto there is plenty of help finding whatever medicines you may need. Also, you can talk with FNH’s Learning Strategist, Bonnie Jane Maracle.

http://www.ncct.on.ca/giftshop.php

Four small medicine bags, made of yellow, red, blue, and white cloth all pointing outwards in the four directions.

These are medicines of the four directions placed in my apartment to ensure it is a safe place to be. The entire atmosphere changed instantly when I put these up. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small dream-catcher with dark red, white, and teal beads and a multicolour cloth from a Métis sash

My special dream-catcher. The cloth is a small piece of a Métis sash, given to me by Bruce Dumont, President of the Métis Nation of British Columbia. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Elders in Toronto have also really helped me grasp the value of the medicine wheel in balancing life to maintain healthy relationships with the four parts of our beings. You can definitely explore teachings like these at university. There’s more to learn than I could ever teach.

http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/main.html

A small living room with tall white bookshelf cubes and TV stand, with a red coffee table and red doors in the white furniture, and with a white with blue ripples in the fabric

The original colour scheme of my apartment: balanced but needed one more colour of the four directions. Can you tell which one? (photo by Zachary Biech)

Here’s a beginner’s guide: life is a continual four-part cycle of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. Only you know what fills these areas in your life, but rest assured, they all should be respected.  Every Saturday, I spend four hours or so scheduling my week. Though massive, these schedules are balanced in the four areas and allow me to maintain physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness. They’re even colour-coded. Thus, I get more done, I’m healthier in the four areas, and the stress isn’t all that stressful.

A large agenda book with one page of colour-coded daily schedules and the other filled with notes for action items

A relatively light week (photo by Zachary Biech)

A close-up view of daily schedules with colour-coded action items and symbols that only I can understand

When in doubt, colour-code EVERYTHING. My system has become so elaborate, I have a whole new symbol language in there too. (photo by Zachary Biech)

A small memo booklet open to a page with meal plans for each day of the week

An example of my personal management system: The meal plan for this week from the meals section of my memo ledger. (photo by Zachary Biech)

My strategy for balance may not be a perfect match for you, but I think the idea of balance definitely is. If you approach university life holistically, and you fill your days with projects that you love, it’ll go way smoother.

A list of personal action items (music, exercise, ceremonies, reading) and a medicine wheel drawn in my large agenda book

Balance is a big part of my schedule. (Photo by Zachary Biech)

What do you do to maintain your wellness?

pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mezmorizing blue lava lamp

Some tools for balance: pictures of home, cloths for medicines, and a mesmerizing lava lamp. (photo by Zachary Biech)

Confessions of a Stress Queen

I’ve previously mentioned that I like to keep busy. I know it seems counterintuitive, but it keeps me at the top of my game!

Throughout this year’s Mental Wellness month at U of T, the campaign has revolved around coping and seeking help if you are experiencing mental health problems, as well as building coping strategies for staying mentally well. Feeling somewhat stressed or anxious about upcoming evaluations is completely normal.

This info card from Health and Wellness sums it up pretty well:

FullSizeRender (1)So yes, I like to keep busy, but here’s my crazy confession #1:

I am not Wonder Woman. I don’t always fly through my tasks with ease, grace and a killer positive attitude. I have been stressed out.

I don’t need to tell you that university can be overwhelming at times. I am on sleep-deprived night #3. The time is currently 4:17 AM. This blog post is due in 8 hours. And I still have to do the works cited page of my paper that was due yesterday.

This may seem like the textbook definition of stressed out, but to be honest, I don’t feel insanely overwhelmed. I mean, I’m stressed about meeting my deadlines, and I’m stressed about not getting any sleep, but even in this last minute, night-before-it’s-due frenzy, I still know I can accomplish the task at hand. I have come a very long way since the days when being stressed out resulted in crying a lot and extreme levels of procrastination. This Tumblr post signifies everything I was about in first year.

FullSizeRender

Source: http://ernbarassing.tk/post/58314048103/if-im-on-tumblr-more-than-usual-that-means-i-have

Crazy confession #2: I still experience stress all the time. Even without midterms (SHOCKER! I know.) So, when I do feel like I’m returning to that state of tears and extreme procrastination, I use some of the coping strategies I’ve learned along the way. Here are some of my ways of staying calm and cool in the heat of midterms:

  1. Use your support system! – Friends, family, loved ones, school services, professors. You name it. Sometimes all I need is to text a friend and blow off some steam by complaining about things.

    FullSizeRender (2)

    My friends are very supportive and encouraging of me <3

  2. Take a break! – Even with a time crunch, I like to take breaks because it calms me down. I let my mind wander. I watch an episode of my favorite TV show. I go out to eat with friends. Anything goes!

    IMG_5473

    Food is my favourite break <3

  3. Constantly self-assess – I went to a Mindful Monday session, and the instructor talked about being mindful of yourself. Similarly, I always try to think about where I am in the stress spectrum. Can I handle everything? Do I need to step back and take on less? Do I need to seek further help because it’s getting out of hand?

I know this doesn’t quite make me Queen of Stress, because I’m still coping and learning new ways to manage all the time, but it’s definitely a start! Maybe for now I’ll be the Princess of Stress?

It’s all about the free stuff: some resources to keep you going

If you’ve been tuning in this week, you’ll know that UofT has dedicated October to Mental Wellness Month, and we here at the Life@UofT blog are taking part by talking about our own experiences with stress and mental health. The hope being, that you can learn from our experiences and mistakes.

In my first few years, I thought I had to deal with things all on my own; and to a degree, I still feel that way—even though I know better. It’s not easy to ask for help, and sometimes you have to engage in some self-care. For some, that might just be sitting down with some soothing tea and watching television, get a massage, listen to some calming music, or even pop some balloons or some bubble wrap. For me, it’s always been a combination of these, but also a matter of learning to use the resources available to me.

It’s easy to think that resources are meant for other people: people who need them more. It’s just as easy to forget that sometimes we are the ones who need them. So here: let me lend a hand, and even if you think you don’t need it, please read on. Here are seven of the free resources that I use to keep on top of things during the school year:

Vintage photo of people looking at books, with an added speech bubble that says "Wowee, check out these awesome free resources, Mildred!"

1. Free Past Tests & Past Exams
I often have problems with my memory, so when it comes to midterms and exams, I can stress out a lot. Papers I can handle, but tests… tests are something else. Fortunately, the Arts and Sciences Students Union (ASSU) has filing cabinets full of past tests: literally. Just walk in with a T-Card and you can take a free peek at one of their many past tests, donated by students (find them in SS1068). (They also sell test packages around midterms). And, when it comes time for exams, you can always look at the past exam repository, to help you get a clue.

Photo of some of the files and past tests that ASSU has available.

From A(CT240) to Z(OO362), ASSU has you covered.

2. Free Essay Clinics
Essay clinics are run by professions, free of cost to you: professionals will look at drafts of your paper, and tell you how to make it better, and generally how to improve your writing, for free. And why not? You can only get better. Each college has a writing centre, and so do some departments. Find one to book a free appointment here.

3. Free Massages
Free massages, every Monday at Hart House. Enough said: click here for more details.

4. The Free Seed Library
It’s nice to take a break from studying every now and then, and I find planting relaxing (and science does say plants make you more creative). DG Ivey Library at New College has a seed library, part of the Toronto Seed Library. The idea is simple: you “check out” seeds, plant them, and when your produce is ready to harvest, you take some seeds from your yield and return them to the library for the next person to use. A nice, free way to relax and go green.

Photo of the Seed Library at New College, showing packets of seeds.

The New College Seed Library at Ivey Library

5. Free Math, Chemistry, Stats, & Eco help
Just like the writing centres: why not get free help from professionals? Get free tutoring in math, chemistry, stats, or economics. The resources are there for you!

6. Pop some Free Virtual Bubble Wrap
Okay, so this one isn’t provided by the university, but who can resist? Start popping here. (Also, you can get bubble wrap super cheap at Dollarama: just so you know).

7. Free Professor Office Hours
Nobody knows how to help you succeed in a class like the people running that class. Talk to your profs and your teaching assistants! They get pretty lonely when nobody comes by, and they’d love to chat and help you get through assignments and material. It’s also a great way to make friends (profs are people too!).

8. What about you?
I could go on and on with the other resources on campus I use, but I only get so many words per post, so why not help me out? So what resources do you use: do you have any tips or tricks to help you get through your year? Help me out and let me know in the comments!

 

Prepping your Patronus

For the few, unfortunate souls who are not familiar with Harry Potter, Dementors are creatures which “… drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them … get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you … you’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

It comes as little surprise to me to learn that J.K. Rowling created Dementors based upon her experiences with clinical depression.

dementor

A Dementor as seen at Warner Bros Studios. Sara de Prado (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Like depression, Dementors can be repelled. It takes a lot of skill, but a defense (called a Patronus) can be conjured. It is “a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon -— hope, happiness, the desire to survive — but  it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the  Dementors can’t hurt it.”

What does this mean for mere Muggles (non-magic folk) like us? We have no wands (so unfortunate) and although we may attend classes in buildings that resemble Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we sadly did not get our letters at age 11.

But as surely as Dementors were created from the memories of depression, Patronuses have a real “Muggle” element too. After all, we cannot feel hopeless when we arm ourselves with lasting happy memories and joy.

But happy memories and joy can be hard to come by sometimes: mid-terms can see to that. And if your mid-term stress and hopelessness makes you feel like you may never pass an exam again, or that you aren’t “enough” in some way and doesn’t leave when mid-term season is over, they can start to appear invisible.

What is a student to do?

Only you know what brings you joy, but I can offer you the things that may make these happy memories easier to find; maybe some of my suggestions will allow your mind to clear enough for you to recognize them for what they are.

All of the Community Crew will be writing about Mental Wellness Month this week, and we as a collective have many experiences. But we’re not you, and we know that not everything that helps us will help you in every circumstance. However, we hope some of our advice will be of benefit.

All of that said, here are the tools I use to “prep my Patronus”, or remind myself of the joy that is present every day for the experiencing.

Reach out

This is where I got into the most trouble in my experiences with anxiety and depression. I reached out to Counselling And Psychological Services (CAPS), but not to my registrar, family or many friends. I got some therapy and medication, but nothing that was getting to the bottom of my issues. It took four different therapists and a two-year break from U of T to get me to a place where I could return here, medication-free. Opening up to those closest to me is something I continue to work on, but it is not nearly the struggle it once was.

I can’t encourage this enough: you need to reach out. Whether your family is 15 minutes or 15 hours away, they care about you and want to help. Your friends will want to help you too, and it’s best to keep them in the loop as well. Your College Registrar can direct you to other campus resources, and can help you navigate the system should your health get you into academic trouble. If you feel you need help talking to any of these groups about your challenges, discuss this with any one of the following on-campus options for a support network.

For supports, there are several options. CAPS takes students as patients throughout the year: you just need to call them or pay them a visit in the Koffler Student Services Centre and they’ll set up an in-person or over-the-phone screening interview to see where you need help. Then they’ll match you with an appropriate professional: a psychiatrist or psychologist for one-on-one therapy on campus, or they’ll recommend other options. If you can’t get into CAPS, or prefer a virtual experience rather than a face-to-face chat, Good2Talk (for over-the-phone help), or Counseline (for online or over-the-phone support) are available. For a less formal group discussion facilitated by students, consider Peers are Here.

As students, we are very lucky in that we have a much easier time accessing support than the general public. Wait times are weeks rather than months. CAPS also has a coping skills group session for students on their waiting list, which is a step in the right direction to get as many students helped as possible. If you are prescribed medication, your UTSU health plan will likely cover its costs. If you’re apprehensive about taking medication, discuss this with the psychiatrist who prescribed it: it’s essential you’re on the same page as often as possible. Note that medication is not a solution unto itself (you will have additional supports to deal with root causes of your problems), but it can be a good stepping stone to allow you to see the rationality and possibility behind those treatment options.

As I said earlier, family and friends are essential resources, too. You don’t want the anxiety of keeping things from them adding to your already burdened brain. They don’t have to become therapists themselves though, if you don’t feel comfortable telling them every gory detail of your emotional state. However, having someone there when you need a tea break, a laugh, a hug or encouragement will never go unappreciated.

Whether you’re facing a major emotional battle or not, maintaining contact with the outside world is good for anyone, as I discovered in last week’s post. It serves as “maintenance” for mental wellness, as do all of the following suggestions for me.

Alternative Therapies

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) take explanation beyond the purview of this post, but I’d encourage you to look them up. CBT is a clinically proven method to take extreme thoughts like “I will fail everything” and neutralize them to “I have lots of work to do, but I’ve done well enough so far so will likely pass with C’s at the very least”. It’s a popular tool for psychiatrists. EFT is not so clinically proven (and can appear really wacky if you’ve never seen it before), but works for me. I don’t believe it can cure diseases as it’s alleged, but I do know it works for pain, anxiety, panic, procrastination, and creating motivation. Mantras (a certain phrase one can repeat to oneself for encouragement) are handy. Four-part breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be almost miraculously good at slowing one’s pulse (and anxiety along with it) and relaxing one’s body under high pressure.

Get Enough Sleep

This is the most over-looked coping mechanism available to students. It’s the one thing we need most but the first thing to go when times get busy. It gives our bodies the rest we need, and helps convert anything we’ve studied into long-term memory. Just ask anyone who has done an all-nighter: it might get material into their brain for a morning mid-term, but I can almost guarantee that knowledge is gone by the afternoon. Getting enough sleep takes planning of one’s day and one’s study schedule: make sure you see someone at the Academic Success Center if this is an area you struggle with.

Get Some Exercise

When you feel like crap there is little motivation to do anything. But moving is essential for good health: even jumping jacks or running on the spot in your room (or public study space, no one will judge) will do the trick. Take a walk with a friend. Find a gym buddy. Drop in or sign up for a Hart House fitness class or a class at the Athletic Centre and take something new. Your possibilities are endless.

Eat Well

We’ve all heard the various adages and good advice about eating all the right things: fruit and vegetables, protein, fiber, and on and on. But why then must it be so HARD? My head knows that an apple and almonds will fill me up better than a chocolate chip cookie or a muffin, but my taste buds don’t see reason. The reality is though that poor physical health and mental health go hand in hand: you feel good because you eat well; you eat well because you feel good. You eat badly because you feel badly and your brain says that fried foods and refined sugars will make you feel happy. They might for a time, until they don’t and you feel sad and sluggish again. Treats are great, don’t get me wrong, but daily doses of unhealthy foods won’t do you any good.

Make Music

Usually this means singing, but playing the piano or violin (if available) can help. I can’t explain why this works, but it changes something in me: I can go to a choir rehearsal completely stressed out and doubting the wisdom of taking two hours away from my study time, and can leave feeling ready to tackle my work. In the absence of formal rehearsing, singing with one’s headphones on is a good standby. As is air drumming to Paul Simon’s The Obvious Child or similar, or air-violin/air-conducting to something like the Third Movement of the Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Listen to Music

Whether it’s Drake, Alison Hinds, Bedouin Soundclash, Adele, classic U2, or a recording of a Hart House Chorus concert of which I was a part, there is a song or an artist for any given mood. Whether I need inspiration to be more motivated and ambitious, am feeling reflective, or am downright sad, music is where I turn. It allows me to feel something visceral for a while, until I can work it out in my head or reach out to others for help in doing so.

In conclusion

I use all of these strategies to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the situation in which I find myself. Not all work in all circumstances. I hope at least one of them will help you.

Until next time, EXPECTO PATRONUM!

How to Deal (2003) with Stress

Okay guys, let’s be real: University can be stressful.

And the award for “the biggest understatement of the year” goes to me!

A picture of me wearing a cap backwards, and pointing at the webcam.

I’m a winner!

Seriously though – university can be stressful; I’m not lying about that. Between your exams, assignments, tutorials, iClicker quizzes, extracurricular activities, friends, family, and everything else under the sun – it’s pretty difficult to find time to just, you know, breathe.

Trust me, I know. In honour of Mental Wellness Month at U of T (and midterms), I thought it’d be good to take a moment to talk about my experiences with stress. I want to talk about how I deal with stress – not how I dealt with stress – because stress for everyone is honestly an ongoing battle.

As someone with Depression, stress has always been something that I have dealt with, whether it is being stressed about things I should be stressed about, like exams, or being stressed for the sake of being stressed. Hi, my name is Ondiek, and I’m a stressed-out individual.

I won’t sugar coat it; it’s a struggle. Depressive moods, stress, and apathy are enormously difficult for me to avoid, despite how proficient I’ve become at masking it. I’ve learned since I started University being able to hide it not enough. I learned that as much as I wanted to; I couldn’t just lie down in melancholy waiting for my meds to kick in forever.

I’m pretty much Cameron Frye, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try my best to be a Ferris.

There are many things I do to deal with my stressful moods. First and foremost, I like to entrench myself in comedy. I love funny and ironic things even when I’m not stressed. Whenever I find myself in dark situations, the first thing I do is find something to entertain my trashy mind. Whether it is watching the 1995 masterpiece Showgirls starring Jessie Spano, or singing along to pre-“My Heart Will Go On” Celine Dion power ballads – I feel better.

If that doesn’t work, then I bake. Oh God, do I bake. I can’t tell you just how many loaves of chocolate chip banana bread I made while cramming at 2am. Baking just feels right when I’m stressed, y’know? For a few minutes I’m free from my stressor (stu-dying), and then I can get back to it while knowing that I have a treat waiting for me in 30-40 minutes. Sometimes I like to combine my love of irony and baking. While listening to the entire Jagged Little Pill album, I can eat my banana bread with a bowl of ice cream in angsty solace.

And if all else fails, I take a nap. For some people, sleeping while stressed is difficult, but not for me. I can fall asleep pretty easily, and I’m thankful for that. Sleep is a nice temporary escape from my troubles, and I rarely wake up in turmoil. Still, I always make sure that a nap is just a nap. There’s a fine line between taking a nap, and then oversleeping because you just don’t want to be awake, and I still struggle with that, so, I save napping as my trump card.

In the end, I still get stressed, but I know that it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I can take active measures to reduce that stress. My efforts make me a happier and healthier individual, and that’s good enough for now.

That Human Thing Where You Meet New People: My Social Anxiety and the Importance of Being Selfish

So here is the thing, I am really awful at meeting new people. I don’t know what it is, but anytime someone introduces me to their friend/significant other, I get all manic and loud and just, well, hyper. Keep it at small-talk level, add in a “oh WOW that is so fascinating” along with some terrible self-deprecating jokes here and there, and you have me.

And while it may seem like I am just really interested in whatever you have to say, I am really just trying to make it through the awkwardness of it all. In fact, as you are talking, my mind is usually all over the place with negative and intrusive thoughts such as:

“Did I really just say I hate wearing bras? Why did I just tell her that I ran out of shampoo two days ago? Haley, pull it together and stop being so loud. Just try to be normal. Gah, can it be anymore obvious that I have generalized anxiety disorder?”

What I wear to work (note the nervous eyebrows).

What I wear to work (note the nervous eyebrows).

 

What I would much rather be wearing...

What I would much rather be wearing…

To be clear, this is not just nerves. For days or even weeks, I replay past conversations in my mind because I am beating myself up over how annoying/abrasive/arrogant I was. I just laugh when people say I have a good memory because that is precisely the problem: I can almost never let anything that I did “wrong” go.

And this is me on medication.

And so, what is the point of me telling you avid U of T blog readers this? Well, I think the fact that I am so self-aware of one of my many anxiety triggers and that I am comfortable telling you all this (albeit, behind a laptop) is a MAJOR step from where I was in first year. Back in the day, I had no idea what and who were my triggers. Now, I know that I will get anxious when I meet new people and that is okay. More to the point, I know it is okay to step out of those unavoidable schmoozing situations for ten minutes and to say no when I feel like going out is too much for me. Plus, I know my psychiatrist at CAPS will be there for me at our next appointment.

Plus, I like talking to my friends who "get it" and understand my struggles :D

AND I like talking to my friends who “get it” and understand my struggles :D

For me anyways, I have found that being self-aware about my mental health and knowing my limitations is what keeps me on track. No matter how many degrees someone has, the person that knows you the best is you. So take advantage of you and be selfish when it comes to your mental wellbeing. Talk to folks who “get it” (yes, there are people out there), use the resources on campus, and don’t feel ashamed to go to your college registrar to ask for an extension. I am telling you in all cerealness, putting myself first was the best thing I could have done.

Cheers,

Haley

 

My Mental Health Story

It’s been 18 weeks since I wrote my introduction post on this blog. I remember sitting down at my computer to draft it and thinking that I wanted to portray the best image of myself. I wanted to be the epitome of the “perfect U of T student”, and I thought that maybe if I pretended to be that person long enough – eventually I would actually become them.

Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. I’m not perfect. 

U of T Graphic Reads: October is Mental Wellness Month. Learn ways to balance responsibilities, find relaxation, engage with your community, and be mindful. See the full schedule of events at uoft.me/mwm

U of T has dedicated October to Mental Wellness month. So, some of us on the crew have decided to share with you our own stories. Whether that’s how we deal with stress, what resources we utilize on campus, or just where we can go to clear our heads, we hope that it can bring you some comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and remind you that we’re more than just typing fingers behind a computer screen. We’re humans too.

Group shot of the community crew at an orientation event.

See! Real proof that we exist out from behind your computer screen!

My story begins when I was very young. I remember being in grade 6 and beating myself up over not getting the grades I thought were  mandatory. This obviously escalated in high school, and as the work load increased so did my anxiety.

But when I came to U of T, I started to be more  anxious about my social life. I worried about who I would run into in the hallways of my dorm or about what the person who was staring at me (albeit probably aimlessly) was thinking about me. If they hated me even though they had never met me. I grew distant from my new found friends and closed myself off from the world I had only just begun to feel comfortable in.

 

Just because someone looks happy, doesn't mean they are. It took my friends a long time to notice I wasn't well, because I insisted on putting on a happy face.

Just because someone looks happy, doesn’t mean they are. It took my friends a long time to notice I wasn’t well, because I insisted on putting on a happy face.

It took time, but eventually I reached out and found the help I needed. It started by telling a friend, who helped me tell my parents, who helped me find a professional I felt comfortable talking to.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. So for that reason, I don’t feel that sharing what specifically helped me, will necessarily help you.

Instead, I want to share two things; 

1. Talk to Someone. Talk to a friend, a family member, or one of the amazing counsellors  at U of T’s Counselling & Psychological Services. They offer amazing resources including in-person counselling.

2. I’m okay. I survived and dare I even say, flourished, in the rest of my first year. I got help I needed, and I’m still getting the help I need. I know it may feel like it’s never going to get better, but it will – I promise.

Left Photo: Rachael laughing with friend in hallway. Right photo: Rachael and female friend buckled-over from laughing outdoors in front of trees.

Eventually that fake smile turned into a real smile, and with time it even turned into a laugh.

So I guess my story should end with an ellipses and a “to be continued”. It’s still something I’m working on every minute of every day. Sometimes it means I skip a class on Friday to go home and see my parents, or sometimes it means I skip a social event to go to the library and do my readings. It’s about finding what works for you, and accepting that “perfect” isn’t an achievable goal. 

So stay tuned for the rest of the week here on the Life@UofT blog for stories, tips, and tricks from the rest of the crew. While you’re at it, make sure to check out the U of T Mental Wellness Month activities.

Looking Ahead, and Choosing a Path

Dealing with your program can be stressful. Choosing your degree can be hardest. This question can be easy for some people, but asking yourself what degree you want can force you to ask bigger questions as well.  For me, choosing my degree was a long process and was transformational as well.

Looking our from a small ridge towards the dense foliage of Philosopher's Walk, with a gleaming tower in behind

In the forest of life, there are limitless numbers of pathways you can choose from (Photo by Zachary Biech)

At the beginning of my second year, I declared my Public Policy major after much deliberation with minors in Political Science and Philosophy. I also took a Russian Language credit and loved it. Long story short, philosophy wasn’t right for me and the Political Science minor was redundant. So what do you do when you realize you want to switch POSts?

Looking west towards Trinity College, with the foliage of Philosopher's walk in front and the stone citadels of the college poking through in behind under a bright blue sunny sky

U of T is a big place, with many different opportunities; finding the one best suited to you is a whole other story (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Don’t worry, it’s easy. For me, the Russian Language minor was a no-brainer and I had always known in my heart I should be in Aboriginal Studies once I had the courage. So I changed my minor POSts the summer after second year, took an ABS summer credit to catch up and voila! A personalized degree path suited to my interests.  You have to do what interests you or you’ll never get the most of your program. So think hard and ask those tough questions: Are you really doing what you love?

A single great tree on a large green lawn with red flowers at it's base, and sunlight shining through it's leaves

Sometimes in the forest of opportunity, one small piece can shine itself on you, and make your pathway clear (Photo by Zachary Biech)

So what about grad school? Wow, tough question. The earlier you start asking yourself, the better. And whatever you do, don’t lose hope. There are many reasons not to enter grad school but even more reasons to go for it.

A pathway of green grass winding through a partially lit, partially shadowed greenspace of shrubs and trees

What happens along this pathway? Well, there’s only one way to find out… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Disclaimer: I am still undecided on where, when and what my further education will be. The how is always a tough question with no real answer. But the why? Well, here’s how I think of it: why not?

looking through an open iron gate, down a shaded cobblestone path with grand overhanging trees and bushes, towards the bright sunlight beyond

We may not know what’s at the end of the path, but the door is open, and it’s worth every step (Photo by Zachary Biech)

I have a few findings to share. ULife has a career mentorship program to get you connected with someone who can answer your questions. First Nations House has Aboriginal Law Mentorship services for undergrads interested in law school. The FNH staff can offer excellent guidance.

http://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/Mentorship-Resource-Centre.htm/

Law Mentorship Program: Are you considering law school? Join the Law Mentorship Program and get connected with a current Aboriginal U of T Law student mentor. You will learn about the law school experience and better understand the application process. Undergraduate contact: shannon.simpson@utoronto.ca Law student contact: promise.holmesskinner@utoronto.ca fnh.utoronto.ca

FNH Law Mentorship Program

Unfortunately, U of T has no graduate Aboriginal Studies program so if ABS is your direction, you may wish to look at other schools like Trent or York. However, Indigenous students in grad school at U of T still have the support of SAGE to keep connected.  Also, The Aboriginal Studies Department has a unique Collaborative Program in Aboriginal Health which is definitely worth exploring.

http://aboriginalstudies.utoronto.ca/propective-students/graduate-opportunities/

http://aboriginalstudies.utoronto.ca/centre-for-aboriginal-initiatives/supporting-aboriginal-graduate-enhancement-sage/about-sage/

Now back to law. U of T’s law program is very interesting. There’s a welcoming pathway for Indigenous students, status or non-status, through the Aboriginal Law Program which can include a Certificate in Aboriginal Legal Studies. There’s a huge array of scholarships, bursaries, and grants, and the faculty began offering a free LSAT course for students with financial need in recent years.

A view of the front of Falconer Hall, with a trimmed lawn, large garden, and leafy vines covering the Victorian-style brick building

Falconer Hall, Faculty of Law (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The four large white pillars of the main entrance to Flavelle House

Flavelle House, Faculty of Law (Photo by Zachary Biech)

http://www.uoftaboriginallaw.com/

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/student-life/student-clubs-and-events/aboriginal-law-students-association

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/student-life/student-clubs-and-events/aboriginal-law-club

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/admissions/jd-admissions/aboriginal-applicants

http://www.uoftaboriginallaw.com/FinancialAid.aspx

http://www.law.utoronto.ca/academic-programs/jd-program/financial-aid-and-fees/bursaries-and-scholarships/complete-list

It may seem overwhelming early on but that’s all part of the process. All you need to know is there are many good options out there and many supports to help you achieve your goals.

A doorway into Falconer Hall, with aged stone facade with leafy vines draped on the top

The door is open; all’s you have to do is walk through it (Photo by Zachary Biech)

What different degrees have you considered?

Does the path you are on allow you to do what you love?