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.

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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.

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

Dawn of the second day (or in this case- semester)

It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on what’s been going on, but that’s primarily because not a lot has happened.

Second semester seems much the same as the first one with the exception that i have some idea of what I’m doing now. Not that it really helps!!

I changed my subjects, (switched chem for a second bio) not because it was too difficult but rather because I was getting tired of my number of contact hours, and I think it was a good decision.

I’m also still in the early stages of making friends in tutes , which is what I’ve found most difficult, but other than that things are going well. I intend to write a post about how I organise my notes and also an update on how I am in the near future, so watch out for those! I will pick up the pace with this soon 🙂 I’m just trying to get back into studying again.

The turbulent road from VCE to university

By now the first semester of this year is officially over and everyone is on holidays. This will be the first ever semester break for all of those other first years out there and I’d just like to say congratulations on transitioning to university! You did it! We did it. In this post I’d like to talk a little bit more about myself and to reflect on how things have been thus far.

In high school, I wasn’t the popular kid, the sporty one or the artist. I don’t know how other people saw me, but I like to think that I was un-categorisable (don’t tell me that’s not a word because it should be). Who knows though, perhaps that is a category in itself? I went to a government school in the west of Melbourne and I’m proud of that because it’s meant that my peers and I have never had anything handed to us. In school, I did a bit of everything. I was a student leader, I took piano lessons and was in my school’s senior ensemble and even, briefly, a choir. I went on a leadership camp in the country for a term, travelled to Japan and even took part in a philanthropy program.

But the thing is- I’ve never really excelled in any particular area. I changed my subjects so often that most of my VCE subjects were done without units 1/2. I completed Further Maths and History Revolutions in year 11, and Maths Methods, English, Japanese, Biology and Psychology in year 12. I liked the challenge of science subjects, but enjoyed the thought that goes into humanities. My grades were reasonable (though this was not always the case) but I’ve always done better studying what I enjoy.

However, when my mental health declined (think anxiety and depression), these grades that I had always been used to, well they plummeted. I came close to failing exams and sacs (thankfully my school’s pass mark was 20%), I would fall asleep in class, come late almost every day and rarely did I even look at my homework. In year 12 I had daily anxiety attacks. I’d go days without sleeping or eating properly and if anyone asked, I was ‘just tired’. I didn’t think I’d graduate. But I’m so glad I did. I stuck it out, maybe not with the scores that I know I could have achieved, but I got into my dream course and that’s all I could have asked for.

I believe that VCE is a lot more stressful than it needs to be. For me a lot of that stress came from my teachers as they would often tell us that we could be doing better, and as a perfectionist better meant not good enough (I’m not saying that it was unfair for them to do that but rather that too much importance is placed upon student’s outcomes in their final year). It’s common knowledge that people learn differently and we all have different strengths yet somewhere, someone decided it would be a good idea to rank us all against each other and tell us that our future depended upon it. Kind of ironic. I wish that someone had told me that I did not need to put so much pressure on myself. Where there’s a will there’s a way- as they say. I also wish I had known that you don’t need to have everything planned out straight away because that’s what life after school is for.

I wasn’t sure about university at first and if you go back and read the first posts I made on this blog, it’s obvious that I found it difficult. Nobody tells you that tertiary education isn’t suitable for everyone or that it can be bland and unenjoyable. They tell you that it will be a time of discovery and partying, yet leave out the fact that for many people, the adjustment can be tough. Don’t get me wrong- I love uni, but it took me a whole semester to get to this point. The difficulties had less to do with the actual workload and more to do with making friends, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be in my course and with travel time.

Forming friendships, especially when you’re shy, takes time but to anyone out there struggling with this don’t be disheartened because it will happen and sometimes the best friendships take longer to form. It’s just a matter of taking those in class relationships out of the classroom and even in a course with a large cohort it’s possible. In regards to not feeling like I deserved to be in my course, I’ve only started to realise that this is the right place for me very recently. It’s difficult to gauge how you are going when you only get a few marks back during the semester and the expectations at university seem foreign at first but after receiving my exams results, I’m feeling okay. I can do this and those H1’s? They’re within reach. Public transport is still horrible and if I could live on campus I think my performance would definitely benefit but living at home isn’t so bad. The train rides have just become a part of my daily routine and I barely even notice them anymore (Okay, that’s a lie, just ask me again in peak times when I usually end up sandwiched between people with nothing to hold on to).

So then, how is life after high school going? It’s going reasonably well. My passion for knowledge, which was cruelly crushed during VCE, has been rekindled and uni makes me happy. It is difficult, there’s a lot of work which I know will only increase and I miss having my friends nearby, but I’m glad that I’ve made it this far. At university it feels like the world is at your feet and that you can do anything because really- you can. For the first time in a really long time, I feel free.

Thanks for following my journey and here’s to the next time we talk  -S

(PS. I Apologise for any spelling/grammatical errors that occur as a result of my writing this in the middle of the night)

The case of the missing students- Exams and other things

Suddenly wild coffee cups appear on South Lawn in the absence of any humans, that’s because they’re all in the library studying right? No. The open textbooks and macs are there but the empty chairs suggest otherwise.

So then, where are all of the missing students? Have they been abducted, murdered, have they found some secret place to sleep or are they taking a trip in the Tardis to relearn the semesters work? It’s one of life’s biggest mysteries.

It can only mean one thing: Exam time.

Things I have learnt after my first exam period:

  1. Make sure to set ALL of the alarms
  2. Sleep will be impossible
  3. The uni will find out the worst possible timetable and you will get it
  4. 8:30am exams are a thing
  5. So are 5:15pm ones
  6. But don’t worry, they wont let you in until after 6pm
  7. The REB has a pretty ceiling
  8. It is okay to rock up in trackies or a onesie
  9. You will feel like a penguin beforehand
  10. 3,000 people is a lot
  11. You need to study harder during semester
  12. That thing you thought wouldn’t be on the exam- it is
  13. Caffeine withdrawal is a thing
  14. But that first cup after exams is heaven
  15. People will tell you how confident they are afterwards
  16. You’ll be pretty sure you’ve failed
  17. You might not actually fail

 

Absence makes the mind grow fonder

It’s been a while since I’ve updated! But the semester has flown by and a lot has happened since my last post.

First, things got pretty difficult

I was struggling to make friends and to adapt to the fast pace after 3 months of not doing anything. What really got me wasn’t the travelling or the lectures but the BREAKS! I confess that a few tears were almost shed when I discovered that I had to spend an hour eating lunch alone each day. As someone who struggles with a lot of anxiety, this was a big issue. I was too scared to explore the uni and I thought that everyone was judging me. Of course they weren’t, and if they were why would it matter? Then I discovered the systems garden, an oh so magical and peaceful place, and north court (north of union house) where I could eat in peace. it wasn’t just the lunch though, I struggled with the work and I felt that everyone else was above me academically.

Of course I wanted to drop out

I came home crying for the first two weeks. What nobody tells you is that starting university is hard. It’s a world away from the structure of VCE and you’re doing it all on your own. I thought I was going to fail and that I’d be kicked out for not getting high enough grades. I also wasn’t enjoying myself. The content wasn’t what I expected and some things such as the biology pracs were pure torture. You’re taking marks off me because I can’t slice a eucalyptus leaf thinly enough when it’s inside a piece of carrot? That actually happened. I left that day vowing that I would never go back but I did and it was worth it.

Then things got better

I discovered that the lecturers change and that the whole biology course was not about cells or plants and that although my poetry was terrible, other people had difficulties with it too. Then again it was pretty bad (I’ve burned all evidence). People started recognising me in lectures and I began to make friends in my lab classes-though I still didn’t learn everyone’s name. The content got better and I began to enjoy what I was studying. I could do this.

I found my favourite coffee shop. House of Cards- if you were wondering.

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Wrote a rather bad but sensual essay on a sunset. I enjoyed my time philosophising and came up with what I thought was a rather insightful essay. My tutor thought otherwise.

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I visited an art gallery- The Kaleidoscope Turn at the Ian Potter Gallery at NGV. To be fair I probably spent more time taking photos than I did researching the psychology assignment but I was learning after all.

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Here’s where I leave you. I just wanted to reiterate that my experience did improve drastically and I’m now looking forward to the future and am considering a career in academia (in psychology of course). A lot can change in 12 weeks.

The end of a beginning- my first week at the University of Melbourne


My first week at uni is now complete, well technically it’s been 6 days.

I’m completing a bachelor of science with this semester’s subjects; psychology, biology, chemistry and creative writing. The first day was hard, I’m not going to lie, and it ended with me going home vowing that I’d never go back again. Tuesday was much the same but I did go back. And Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Slowly I got through it.

Monday morning I made sure I had researched what time train to catch and what buses and trams, and set out for my first ever lecture- an 8am one.  Awkwardly waiting with my phone I was not prepared for the sheer number of people in my lectures. Going from sitting in a classroom with 24 other students to being in a lecture theater with approximately 500 was nothing short of terrifying. There was the problem of who to sit next to, where to sit, and of course what was one meant to  actually do during a lecture? I’m still not sure about that.

On Tuesday I suffered my first anxiety attack at uni in,  funnily enough, a psychology lecture. The music that was playing beforehand was loud and terrifying to my anxious ears. It was bound to happen at some point. Luckily nobody noticed that my heart was going a million km/min.

I decided I’d make some friends and so I did. I chatted to people in my lectures- then I lost them. I chatted to people in my tutorials but they didn’t seem to like me much. I tried to find the few people who went to my high school- no luck there. Keeping friends at uni is difficult and so my first week was quite a lonely one. I ate my lunch alone, in a different spot each day and wandered around camps yelling at my phone and the lost on campus app when the wifi cut in and out.

My first biology prac was an experience. I have absolutely no idea what it was about and I can’t remember what I did but I do remember feeling like I wasn’t smart enough to be there. Going to a prestigious uni wasn’t something that really influenced my decision. Instead it was the location and lack of a career path. That’s why I was quite taken aback when I started and left feeling quite small and alone and honestly, dumb.

Sorry if you just read all of my rambling and here’s hoping week 2 is better!!