How Things got Bad – Then got Better

Such was the advice I've needed over the past few days. I'm convinced that the most recent 25 views or so have been me hitting "replay". As suggested by my lack of (and tardy) posts, these past few weeks have been rough. Assignments have taken longer than expected. I’ve felt unable to be at full strength for either of my two jobs. And just over a week ago, I received some failing test grades. Now I have written about receiving poor grades, and preventing negative feelings, but this was so devastating that neither seemed sufficient to explain how I felt or help me get through it. The course in question was my final pick of the term, a course I needed to even out my schedule, but didn’t necessarily need for my program requirements. But it quickly turned into my most demanding. The lectures were hard to follow, and the course materials in an alternate format arrived a couple weeks into the course. This meant I had to rely on support from one of the course’s two Teaching Assistants. I also formed a study group of people I hadn’t met before to work through material and practice problems. Once I had access to it, I spent many a night reading the course pack and working through the examples it contained. And I still failed the first test, and just passed the second. The silly thing was that the tests didn’t feel too bad. I felt I was on top of the work and the material, more or less. To find I wasn’t — right when I needed to be splitting my focus between all my courses to accommodate mid-terms and finals over December — was a shock. What do I do now? How can I save this term? The final’s worth 60 per cent of the course grade — what if I don’t even pass that? And my other courses! They’re program requirements! Needless to say, I didn’t handle it particularly well. It made my other posts seem flippant. Here’s what I did after receiving the bad news:
  • Cried. To the course’s second TA whom I’d never met before (she had the test grades handy). To a friend I met for dinner afterwards. To my sister over the phone. To my mum over the phone. By myself. (I unabashedly cry in public; just ask the friends who went to The Fault in Our Stars with me…)
  • Got mad. Wondered aloud why I’d spent so much time on a course that wasn’t a program requirement at the possible expense of courses that were. Raged that I’d done solid (as far as I could tell) work and still come up short. Questioned why I left school in my hometown to come back to U of T at all. Hated that I’d even thought that.
  • Sulked. Tapped into my arsenal of therapy tools with some success. Finished an assignment for another course while questioning my intelligence. Did work but couldn’t concentrate well. Slept fitfully and napped for the first time all term. Watched too many Grey’s Anatomy clips on YouTube. Drowned my sorrows in a Grande Peppermint Mocha: my first Starbucks in a while. Spent too long flicking through my iTunes library to find an appropriately peppy song to get me going or reflective song to be in the moment with. Coldplay, The Dixie Chicks, Glee cast, Allison Hinds, Drake, Fleetwood Mac, My Chemical Romance, angry Taylor Swift, The Killers, Bedouin Soundclash, Lorde, and any non-Disney songs from the soundtrack to the Broadway production of The Lion King all made appearances on this week’s playlist. Considered adding Les Misérables, but figured that was getting too melodramatic. Found One Direction and Taylor Swift’s new stuff on YouTube. Questioned my claim to adulthood as a result.
  • Got sensible. Discussed matters with my parents, something I definitely didn’t do the last time I was here. Realized the gaping holes in my knowledge. Sought a tutor. Spoke to the instructor of the course in question and had a rational and productive discussion. Considered late withdrawal as a last resort. Went to lectures and took some of the best notes I’ve made all term. Used my very basic HTML  knowledge (just because I could) to write down a master to-do list of everything I wanted to get done over the next week for each course, my jobs, and any personal miscellaneous tasks. Noticed my rising panic and second-guessing ebb away as this list of concrete things to get done by a specific date came into being all in one place.
Though I constantly feared (and fear) a slide into behaviours of my past — where I eventually gave up on pretty much everything — this was not the case. It hasn’t been a great week by any stretch, but I’m slowly digging myself out of the hole I landed in, with much help from family, friends, and time. I wanted to share this with you because it not only has absorbed my mental energy all week, but it also is a thumbnail sketch of how things can get bad, but then get better with the proper tools and a bit of rational problem-solving. I will leave you with another inspiring classic movie quote to get you through the coming weeks.

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