Identity and career confusion

I have a confession to make. For so long I’ve been determined to complete my science degree and pursue psychology as a a career. I was certain that this was what I wanted and was going to do. Now… I’m not so sure.

I was forced to take a leave of absence at the end of last year and have tried to go back twice since then but haven’t managed to. I’ve been off for a year and still have a year and a half of a three year degree to go. I want to finish it, I do. I just don’t know if I can handle the pressure or if it’s the right course for me. If I could go back and tell my 17 year old self anything it would be to decide what I wanted to do then. because at least if I didn’t like it I’d know by now.

I chose science because I was indecisive and it left options open but what I didn’t consider was whether a high pressure environment was the right choice for me. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love my university but I wonder whether the pressure contributed to my declining mental health.

Right now I’m still not sure what I want to do. I guess that’s a common thing. It’s hard to plan out the rest of your life when there is so much uncertainty and I think it’s unfair that there is this expectation of young people coming straight out of school to know what they want to do.

This all has left me feeling disheartened and confused.

I’ve been considering doing a course in nursing or teaching, both which can be done as masters after my bachelors or I could choose to start a new bachelors degree. There’s also the option of completing a short course at tafe for 6 months and going back to university study at the beginning of next year.

The honest truth is I still don’t know what I’m going to do. Whatever decision I make, I feel like it’s not going to be the right one. I know I have to make one but at the moment it feels impossible.

My first day studying since being sick

What a day.

Today was my first day back at uni and I had less classes then I usually would, it being the first week, so I thought things would be okay but not so much. Something playing on my mind is that I can’t just choose 2 or 3 subjects I want to do ALL the subjects. Which is hard when you haven’t studied in a while.

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My day started off well. I had my first neuroscience lecture with the lecturer who I have idolised ever since starting uni. He was the one who inspired me to consider neuroscience as a real option and he was the one that motivated me and stopped me from dropping out after that first lonely semester. This guy is just one of those people  that are so passionate about what they do and yet also so funny and real that you can’t help but like them. If I wasn’t interested in this subject I probably still would have chosen it just because his lectures are so much fun and so thought provoking.

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Yeah so I was on a high when I went upstairs to my next lecture (research methods and stats). And here’s where things went downhill.

I tried to pay attention but when I looked up I realised I’d missed about 30 minutes without realising, couldn’t focus on what was being said and everything was just going over the top of my head. Not that the content was hard, just that I wasn’t mentally there. 

I sat in my seat panicking because I was at the end of the row and couldn’t leave, until it got to halfway where there was a break and I escaped out the back to go and break down in the bathroom. It was like all my dreams had been taken away at once.

I assumed going back would be the same difficulty as when I first started but today was so much harder. And what’s worse is that no one seems to understand when I tell them that. They think I’m being dramatic and should be fine but I’m not.

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I guess it’s just going to take time.

In other news, it was hilarious to see that o-week has morphed into a two week festival of everything from water slides to overnight sleepovers and parties on campus. The change makes me feel so old even though it’s only been two years since my o-week. My memories are of painfully lining up in the heat to be told all the free food was gone and then getting lost on campus. How things change.

Anyway, I’m out. This was just a quick update to let you know how today went. Here’s hoping things only get better.

Small steps are sometimes the biggest

Tomorrow I start back at university. It will be the first time in over 7 months that I’ve sat in a classroom and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. I’ve been hyperventilating and breaking out into tears all week because it just feels like to much and I’m worried I won’t be able to cope. I even considered deferring again or dropping out completely but studying is what makes me happy and hopefully this year is going to be different.

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first time back on campus during o-week wishing this was butterbeer

I’m in the (lengthy) process of registering with the disability department and developing an adjustment plan that will be sent out to all my lecturers. This means that if I need extra time or support the way to get it will be much simpler. Despite uni being the place that first referred me to mental health services, I still have not disclosed to them that I suffer from mental illness. In part this was because I don’t feel like I deserve any extra help and also, because I feared that having my diagnoses listed on my record would have negative consequences for my future. But I’ve realised that this doesn’t mean I have to use the support just that it is there and to my relief I haven’t been asked any specifics about what I’m diagnosed with, just what will help me in my studies.

One thing I am struggling with, is that I’m going back to uni on Monday x kg heavier than I was a year ago. I am embarrassed and uncomfortable in this body but I know deep down that the increase is a good thing. With this weight comes better concentration and mental capacity and hopefully the strength to cope with studying again. Last year I though I was fine and while my bloods reflected that, I was exhausted and looked like death. Every day I had to get out of bed was hell because physically my body was weak and compromised. And while I hate admitting it, so was my cognition. No one really knows how I lasted that semester because I was running on empty and despite what I thought at the time, it did catch up to me just not in the way I would have expected (insert many hospital and crisis admissions).

Now I know I still have weight to gain. I know that things could easily go downhill and I know I still have far to go. But I’m willing to fight this time. I’m willing to look after my health so that I have a chance at making this work. I’m not ashamed of my body or my history. With health comes strength and nothing is taking my studies away from me again. I’m going to make uni work this time.

Aside from the above, some other changes in my life have occurred. My old case manager left which (excuse me being dramatic here) pretty much broke my heart and I don’t think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to talk to her again.  I was assigned to a new one and we seem to be getting along. I have also begun seeing my gp regularly again and am on the waiting list for an eating disorder program. Small things but with a big impact all the same.

 

On being a mentally ill psych student

It takes a certain type of person to be attracted to helping others.

I don’t believe people can be drawn to the psychology field without at least a small part of them wanting to make a difference. Like teaching or nursing, this isn’t a profession that you go into for the money. If it were purely for financial gain or prestige then there would be more surgeons and lawyers. That’s not to say that people who enter those fields don’t do so because they want to help people, but rather that the wages associated with psychology don’t necessarily equate to the required effort and education.

It is no secret that like attracts like and when questioning the reasoning behind your desire to help people, lines can be blurred. Some people believe that the only reason anyone studies mental illness is so that they can fix themselves but I don’t believe this is true. Yes ,it can be helpful to understand why you are the way you are and how you become the person that you did but it’s also difficult.

It can be discerning to listen to ignorant comments from other students and even some lecturers who don’t understand because they’ve never experienced what you have. It’s hard not to want to stand up in a rage and yell because what they’re saying is wrong. It’s hard having to sit through explanations of your own symptoms and even discover ones you didn’t know you had. But some say that’s the nature of studying psychology. It’s a science that can be immediately applied to every day life and people will relate to certain things whether they are mentally ill or not.

It can also be triggering and confusing. You start to question your own upbringing and wonder whether your illness’ are valid since you don’t fit ‘x’ criteria. But having a good understanding of yourself is crucial to  becoming a good psychologist and can only help you, help others.

The important thing here is to acknowledge that you can’t fix yourself. If you are struggling with your own issues the best thing you can do is seek professional support and the sooner the better. To be a good clinical psychologist  you don’t need to be mental illness free (especially as many illness are lifelong) but it is essential that they are managed. Mental illness is treatable and you would be a hypocrite and highly unprofessional if you were to treat patients without dealing with your own issues.

Please don’t be afraid of your own history impeding your ability to become a good mental health professional. With lived experience comes great empathy and unique insight that not all possess. You know what it is like to be ill and to seek treatment. You’ve been on the other side of the system and have some understanding of what is and isn’t helpful. It is not necessary to have suffered to become a good health professional but it can be used to your advantage and the skills you learn while studying psychology can be applied to many different fields.

Yes, I am mentally ill and studying psychology but no, I will not let that stop me from becoming a great psychologist and you shouldn’t either.

2016; The year that was

,The year. The worst year. The year that was the worst year so far.

January-

My weight has declined rapidly. I am in the depths of my ed but I cannot see it. I feel amazing. Depression is nowhere to be found.

February-

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I started falling all the time

I am forced to have twice weekly physical check ups, weekly therapy and blood tests in order to stay out of hospital. I see a dietician for the first time but don’t stick to the meal plan because ‘I’m not sick’. I struggle with turning 19. I am miserable.

March-

I return to uni against everyone’s advice and do well for a while but it’s difficult and I can’t concentrate. I am isolated from my peers by my illness. Inevitably I  gain most of the weight back, leaving me full of self hatred. I stop my meds. Stop talking to people. Stop going to appointments. Start skipping classes.

April-

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Depression roars it’s ugly head. I throw everything into study.

May-

I start on medication #2 (escitalopram) and sleeping pills again because my head is too loud. I recommit to therapy. Almost exam time and I become incredibly suicidal. I don’t study because I don’t plan on sitting them. I’m failing my classes. My exams are deferred.

June-

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Admitted to an adult psych ward. First time in hospital and I’m terrified. Everyone is so much older and I feel like I’m making everything up. I am kept physically safe but there is no treatment. Out after a week but nothing feels better.
July-

 

I get to vote in an election for the first time. Struggle through exam time. I’m not getting better. A culmination of things lead me to taking a large OD and ending up in hospital. I have a bad reaction to a medication they give me, and hallucinate but then I wake up the next day and I’m fine. Covered in bruises from being restrained, but fine. I’m glad I don’t remember this. Have to have my heart monitored in hospital for a few days. I am angry at being alive. Have to defer uni. The pressure eases.

August-September

I spend these months holed up in my room miserable and wishing I was dead.

October-
I am stopped from making another attempt and am transported to a youth ward. The nurses are lovely and the patients are kind but being locked up without my normal coping mechanisms causes me to stop eating.  I trick everyone into thinking I am fine. But when I’m allowed out after a week I really do feel good. Strong. Maybe I can do this.

November-
I’m starting to feel better and positive about the future. My meds are working and I’m seeing my friends again. Things are great.

December-

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Coasting along. Starting to make plans for next year. Didn’t think I’d still be here. I’ve stopped taking my meds again but I feel happy and stable. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that things might get better.

Hello, it’s me

It’s been a while. This is just a quick update to say that I’m okay, I’m alive and still going strong.

I’m now in my second year of university. I had to drop down to three subjects because it was the only way I could avoid having to defer this semester. Long story short, I got quite ill at the start of the year both physically and mentally which led to a million appointments and much concern about whether my body would be able to hold up. It did. I did.

I’ve been feeling a little lost and haven’t had the ability to think about the future or much motivation for anything. I’ve been meaning to update this blog but I haven’t had anything to say. Life is difficult. We try and cope the best we can. What else is there to say? A lot. But the words haven’t been coming.

I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with studying or not. I want to but I have to weigh up whether it’s worth it.

Anyway, I’ll update properly soon and I have a few ideas for future posts so stay tuned!

I’m not okay but that’s okay

 

I’ve spent a lot of this year pushing things aside and telling myself that I was on top of things. But, boy was I wrong about that. Recently I took the difficult step of reaching out to someone and while it hasn’t immediately fixed everything, it’s a start.

Throughout this year my mental health has deteriorated quite a lot and it’s been a struggle for me to come to terms with. Unlike many people, I didn’t make any close friends in my first year of university and I’ve spent a lot of it on my own which I believe has contributed to my issues. Because of this I felt like I didn’t have anyone to turn to and it got to the point where my grades had dropped so much that failure became likely. I turned to a student advisor who was probably the nicest person I’ve met this year and I believe that she probably saved my life through the conversations we had. She reassured me that I wasn’t the only one struggling and helped me take the next step which was a referral to a counselling service, they’ve since referred me to a more specialised service and I’m currently waiting to see if they will accept me. It’s difficult because I don’t currently have any label for what is going on and I’m imagining worst case scenarios. Hopefully things start to look up for me soon and I can get back into living my life the way I want to.

Right now things are going okay(there’s that word again ironically) and I’m awaiting my results to see whether I will need to get a late withdrawal or repeat an exam for any of my subjects.

For anyone reading this, I just wanted to say that you should never feel ashamed for any illness or problem that you are having. It does not make you weak or any less capable than anyone else. Some people that you can turn to when you are finding things difficult may include; a tutor, teacher, counsellor, psychologist, GP, friends, family, a Headspace centre… There are plenty of options.

If anyone wants to chat about anything, I’m always here and I’ll do my best to give advice where I can.

 

Where has the year gone? -things I’ve learnt

It’s an odd feeling, waking up and realising it’s October and that Christmas is just around the corner. I can still remember the nervous excitement I had at the start of the year. A lot has changed since then, and a lot hasn’t changed. I’m still the same person with the same values and the same priorities, I still get incredibly anxious about using public transport and I still spend too much time watching netflix instead of studying. There have been some little changes; my newfound love for veganism and botany, and some things that have been constant; converse I’m looking at you. But what has been great about this year is that I’m enjoying learning, putting myself in new and scary situations and am opening myself up to new opportunities.

It’s okay to not be okay. This is only something that I’m starting to realise now.  I’m also beginning to come to terms with the fact that asking for help is a good thing. I’ve spent many a night wishing that I was ‘normal’ and could manage things on my own but nobody is perfect and asking for help is something we all need to do at times. Whether it be from a friend, family member, stranger, coworker, tutor or doctor.

You can fail your way to success. Each time you fall down, you learn from it and you become a stronger person. I recently received my first truly ‘bad’ mark since starting university and by that I mean throw your laptop across the room and pull out the ice-cream and tissues bad. But it’s okay, I like ice-cream. I didn’t intend to tell you this but hey, I won’t be the first or last to have failed something at uni. I got a mark of 36% on an assignment (worth 5% I don’t even know why I was upset) that I was sure I would get at least a H2A on and it made me doubt whether I deserved to be a student, but I do deserve to be where I am and one bad mark is nothing in the grand scheme of things. I just might have to work a little harder. If Steve Jobs and Bill Gates can drop out and still do amazing things then there is hope for the rest of us.

You are not the person you were yesterday. This year I have kept finding myself stuck in similar situations and it was only once I’d thought about it 2 million times that I realised, that what had changed was my opinion about the whole thing. Sometimes we do stupid things twice but the person we are when we do them isn’t going to be the same and we don’t have to do these things. We can choose not to.

Honestly, 2015 has been a little up and down for me (so far) but I’m proud to say that I’ve come further than where I was a year ago. I’ve changed from the clumsy, naive, western suburbs girl who somehow stumbled into this prestigious uni, to a slightly less naive, clumsy adult who still needs help to make her own medical appointments. One thing at a time (:

I know it’s only October but it’s been a year since I finished high school and it all feels like a dream. I hope you are all well, and feel free to contact me or comment on my posts at any time x 

-S

How to take notes at uni

A year ago, I had no idea what one was supposed to do during a lecture. To be honest, I didn’t really know what a lecture was. I’ve come a long way since then and I thought it would be a good idea to share what I have learnt through trial and error.

The best way for most people to learn during a lecture is by taking notes. You may think that you’d take more in by merely listening and paying attention, but unless you have a perfect memory- if you do then go ahead- you’re going to forget things. Lecturers won’t include everything in their notes so it is important that you jot things down in a way that will make sense to you later.

Method 1: Printing lecture slides

I started off by printing out lecture slides and annotating them. This caused two problems; 1. The slides are not always up the night before and 2. I was using a ridiculous amount of ink and paper. Maybe this was due to the sheer number of lectures I had per week (usually 3 for each subject) but it just wasn’t going to work for me long term. I organised these notes by punching holes in them and putting them into a binder- another problem, I hate binders. Time to abandon method 1.

Method 2: Handwriting

This second method worked well for a while. I bought myself some spiral exercise books (on sale from BIG W- plus they were coloured!), and set to work writing down everything that was said. Writing is definitely a better way to remember information and this would work especially well for subjects like maths and chemistry where you can draw diagrams. After another week, I became overwhelmed by the amount of content that I just wasn’t getting down. Some lecturers would talk too fast or move through the slides too quickly, not leaving me time to write. I’d go home and look over my notes but they’d often be messy, unclear and incomplete. This wasn’t an issue for all of my subjects- so I kept handwriting notes for chemistry and my breadth subject- creative writing.

Method 3: Microsoft word

I caved and bought a macbook air- something that I thought I would never do because it meant giving in to the uni stereotypes and also, they were just plain expensive. I explored other options but they were either too heavy and bulky or too small for my liking. At first I hated it and I felt guilty for spending my money on this thing that I didn’t know how to use, but now I think this was the best decision that I’ve made since starting university. One thing though, I did switch the function of my control and command keys to make the transition from windows easier. I have now converted to being a mac user and I wouldn’t change a thing.

What I do is compile my notes into one separate word file per subject. This has an advantage because when I’m stuck during an online test I can just click ‘ctrl’ and ‘s’ and search through a whole semesters worth of notes. I use the headings that you see under styles because word has this nifty feature called the document map pane that allows you to see all of your headings and subheadings and navigate through your document with them. To access it click: view -> sidebar -> document map pane

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Here is an example of what my notes like like with the map pane open. Note: I now only tend to use Heading 1 for the title of each lecture and no other style headings because I find it a lot easier to not have to collapse the headings for each lecture (see the little arrows in the map pane? Well you have to click them to hide the subheadings. Too much hassle if you ask me).

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My technique has changed dramatically since my first semester(above). Sometimes, as you can see below, I go a bit overboard with highlighting but I find that this helps me keep things organised. I highlight different things in different colours and insert pictures from the slides when I need to. A lot of people don’t do this but it stops me from needing to look back at the slides when I’m revising. My notes aren’t perfect, they have occasional spelling mistakes and aren’t complete sentences. I also use shorthand eg. b/w for between and w/ for with or when.

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Method 4: OneNote

Something I learnt very recently is that you can annotate lecture notes in onenote, without actually having to write onto the pdf document.

You first create a notebook, then you can add different tabs up the top per subject and create a page for each lecture or class in that subject. This is basically an online version of a normal notebook and is extremely useful for keeping lecture and tutorial notes together. You can even insert assignment dates and other information. The best thing is that when you go to reivse you don’t need to open up your lecture slides and notes because they are already together.

Here’s an example of how you might organise your notebook;

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You can then insert your lecture notes as a PDF printout. Click: Insert-> pdf printout->search and upload

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This is an example of my annotated slides. As you can see, I’ve written next to the lecture slides and highlighted key parts. You could use a key for this, highlight in different colours or write in shorthand.

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Method 5: A combination

I use different methods for different subjects. I’d advise writing for subjects like maths or chemistry, or ones where you have enough time to write things down. Typing allows you to go back and edit things but it is a lot of work and sometimes I wonder if it is worth it. Annotating slides is a way to balance paying attention and getting the important things down, but then this does mean that you may not have all of your notes in one document or notebook. I find that with OneNote things aren’t as streamlined and I’d rather have my lecture slides and notes combined instead of next to each other.

At the moment, I’m typing notes for three subjects and annotating my subject workbook for another. This wasn’t included in my above methods because I don’t think it’s a technique that will work for many subjects. I’m also rewriting my notes at home so that I can memorise them and have something easier to look at come exam time. However, it’s ridiculously time consuming. In the future I plan on using OneNote and just rewriting my notes at home.

Finding a method that works for you takes time and a lot of it involves trial and error. I’m almost a year into university and I’m still finding my feet! What methods do you find useful? Are there any that I have missed?

Happy studying!- S

A long overdue update

I want this to be a positive update but it’s not. After my last post, things went downhill quickly. I lost contact with the few friends I had made last semester (*reminder to get contact details of any possible friends, or you know anyone who looks friendly *) and being in such a big course, I felt like I had to start from scratch again. I’ve never been a particularly social person but it’s like a big part of my life is missing. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find my ‘place’ again and maybe that’s a sign that I’m not in the right environment at the moment, but I have to hope that one day everything will work out.

I’m not working at the moment, in fact my anxiety has meant that I never have. I’m 18 years old and have never worked a day in my life- and I hate that. I need to be earning money so that I can have a future but I also don’t know how I’m going to manage that with studying. The only conclusion that I can come to is that I might have to drop my subject load. It’s not something I want to do but if I have to, then I have to.

In regards to my grades, I’m a lot more confident now. I’m hoping for one or two H1’s in some assignments that I poured my sweat and blood into, and I wrote my first ever lab report for psychology (part 1 of 2). The whole time I was writing it, I was thinking, ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ And it’s exciting.

So, yeah. This isn’t a very eloquent or insightful post but then again- not everything is.

‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music’, Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s not all negative, I promise. (Many thanks to the amazing professor who introduced me to the mind of Nietzsche)

-S