My Conversations With A Wise Puffling : Part I

How did you get out of your rut? I know it is a long process, but how did you start?

I went to counselling. I tried to quit and my tutor said no, and referred me; and in the waiting room was another masters student who got incredible grades, sobbing into her scarf because she didn’t think she was good enough. (It) made me realise I wasn’t alone. I made myself timetables for study, but let myself off if I couldn’t keep to them but I think the thing that helped me enough was talking to my lecturers. My tutor organised my workload to accommodate my depression and anxiety, so I didn’t have to attend two classes (which in fairness I had pretty much already done) so I studied at home and passed with flying colours (very satisfying because that lecturer said I couldn’t do it). they were all really supportive – but those two weeks when I didn’t talk to them were hell.

You know that feeling when you put off something so late that you feel it’s too late and you just kinda give up? That has been the story of my 20s.

The thing about that being the story of your twenties so far, is that you get to write the next chapter. I think I had an advantage because I grew up in academic staff rooms – so I knew what help there was and how to get it, and that the lecturers cared more about me being okay and doing well than about my missing lectures.

I just get this crippling fear of facing people that I just can’t seem to be able to get over.

The simple answer, of course, is just to get on with it – and I know that isn’t as simple as it sounds. Maybe go to the counsellors about that instead about the academic stuff?

The thing with counselling as with any other pep talk directed at me is the effect is too short lived. I just relapse in literally no time. Nothing works with me.

Although, what helped my confidence most in the last couple of years was making those youtube videos (and going to theatre club), possibly because it’s public, but it’s safe because you don’t have to see people’s faces while you’re talking. Sounds like they were just dealing with the symptoms – not the roots, like your fear of facing people. and your overwhelming self-doubt.

Exactly! It’s a vicious cycle! I procrastinate and feel guilty later, and when I feel guilty, I procrastinate some more.

You say you relapse (and I believe you), but in the time I’ve known you you’ve also applied to a bunch of universities, learned more German than I did in three years of high school, travelled to a different continent, learned to cook (and cook well), and written a blog – maybe you just need to let yourself off the hook a bit.

You don’t have to be perfect, just be you. Ten minutes a day is better than none. These last two months I should have written 100,000 words and published two books. Mostly I played computer games and read fanfiction. Procrastination (I read somewhere) is a form of controlled panic – it certainly is for me.

Also the same with classes. I missed a class. I thought I’d prepare in advance for the next class so I’m confident, but when I didn’t do that, I missed the next class too. And now we are a month into the semester. I’ve already missed 4 or 5 classes.

So it’s a symptom, not a flaw.

A symptom of?

Anxiety/academic/social terror. It’s why I put off ringing people until the last possible second, and why it’s taken six months to get this book prepped instead of two. Think about it this way: if it was Kare or Appy or Emilie or Minu who were in the position you are, what would you advise them to do? Here, I’ll give you a real example from my uni:

“Novi, I’ve been skipping Human Osteology because it’s overwhelming. Holger wants us to prepare a presentation on one paper a week (has to be different from everyone else’s, too) and it takes about six hours, and with everything else I have to do, I just don’t have time. I’ve just missed the sixth class and I’ve got an email from Cathy, my tutor asking if I’m okay. I have class with her, too, and I missed the last two weeks of Soil Science (which I love) because I’m too embarrassed to tell her I just can’t cope. Mum keeps ringing and telling me to quit if I can’t handle it, and I’m half tempted – all this stress would go away. But I can’t go home, she drives me insane. Also, I’m here because Grandad’s paying for it and he’s so old and so sick. I can’t let him down. I don’t know what to do.”

First thing I’d ask you to do was to write down all that you had to do. Just put it down, short term, long term, whatever. Then sort them into the Eisenhower Matrix.

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Once you do that, the tasks are spread out and it does not seem as messy as it was in the head. Then organise the day in such a way that you spend 8 hours on Critical-Immediate, 4 hours on Not Critical-Immediate, 2 hours on Critical-Not Immediate and an hour on Uncategorised.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. He had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. He eventually went on to be President of the USA in the 50s and his method became popular as the Eisenhower Matrix.

I’ve never heard of that system before, that’s pretty cool. And that’s very good advice!

I have never succeeded at implementing it though. Doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.

Haha yeah, it wouldn’t work for me – I’d spend all my time making beautiful and detailed timetables with it and do no work.

Same! Also, what bothers me is I don’t know why I have anxiety issues. When I think about it, my life does not suck like so many others in this world. I have been blessed with ability (mental as well as physical, as in I have no disability to complain about, not that I’ve seen people with disability lament about it). I had a near-perfect childhood, I had no traumatic episodes growing up. I got into some top notch unis millions of people can only dream about. Yet I continue to fuck up. Like, what is my problem?

None of those things mean you can’t have depression and anxiety; nor do they make you less deserving of help, or pathetic because you’re okay, and other people aren’t. The fact that other people are suffering other and worse things doesn’t negate your suffering. That’s literally the first thing my counsellor told me – you have anxiety because you have it. It’s a bitch, but it’s just there – it doesn’t need a reason.

Also, I suspect – like me – you’ve always been a bright, high achieving student. As soon as kids like us leave school, suddenly all the good feels we got out of doing well at school are gone, because the academic system is different – and the world doesn’t work that way either. The counsellors said the number one group of people who found life at uni hard were people who had previously done well at stuff. It’s utterly disconcerting – so much of our self-worth is caught up in perceived success.

You asked before how I got out of the rut and I suppose the answer is I let myself off the hook: I don’t have to have a job in archaeology, pass this course with 90%, be amazing at statistics, get a publishing deal, have a job at all to be successful. Just being present is enough. Life’s hard enough without me beating myself up about it at the same time.

A day when: I get a few hours work done, where I maybe do one or two house jobs, where I’m clean (ish), when I get exercise done, when I talk with friends, when I leave the house – if I get two out of those done it’s a good day. If I manage to hit all the bases in one week, that’s a good week. I mean, if I was in uni right now, I wouldn’t be getting high grades, but I’d be passing, and that would be okay too.

The hardest thing about it is starting – once you start, you may find it gets a little easier each time.

All that you said right there… That is so true!

Haha, here’s to the messed up normal kids.

Returning to the uni example: it solves the workload problem; but I’m so scared of talking to Holger, he’s the Dean of School (and a total dick, frankly), and I don’t want to talk to Cathy either. I feel like I’ve let her down badly, and I’m too ashamed to talk to her. I now I’ll run into them if I go into the department, and all of my classes are in there – and I can’t keep missing classes, I’ll fall behind even further.

Yeah, I don’t know how to get around that without just admitting that you messed up but showing up anyway. That’s exactly the situation I put myself into in the previous two unis. The second time it was so worse, I stopped eating at the students’ mess, because I’d run into batchmates who’d ask how I was doing with my thesis or why I wasn’t attending classes. And I didn’t know how to cook. So I starved all day, and went out to eat at 1 am in the morning when everybody slept in the dorms. I was locked up in my room for days together, binge watching TV shows and sleeping all day. I lost weight, self esteem, self confidence… Yeah, not a good idea.

Yeah, that’s not good. I won’t tell you what the guy on the forensics course did who did that until you graduated but don’t do that to yourself – literally even if the lecturer screams at you for ten minutes, months of torturing yourself is so much worse. This is my advice – which you can take or leave; and you know we’ll all be there for you whatever happens (unless you turn into the guy on the forensics course, but frankly, I can’t imagine you being that guy in a billion years):

Let yourself off the hook; you’re not responsible for the bad things happening to other people, and they don’t negate how you feel. It’s okay to just be, it’s also okay to have failed in the past – doesn’t mean you will now and ultimately, it’s okay to fail – but I know you don’t want to, so this is mostly directed at not, but it’s totally okay to fail, and fail, and fail better, and keep being the awesomeness that is you. Make yourself that timetable and resist the urge to colour it in. Find a friend or a housemate you trust enough and get them to go to your academic tutor with you – or try the counsellors again and explain you need help talking to the dept as well as dealing with anxiety and stuffs. Give Appy and Emilie your list of exams and coursework and let them boss you around so you get it done (they’re better at timekeeping than me). Start. Every day, just start. Even if you hate it – even if you’d rather stab yourself in the eye with a fork. Do ten minutes, then do twenty, then do ten again if you have to. Drink copious amounts of chai. Investigate other teas. Go to class. Watch cricket. Come and moan at us that it’s all horrible, and get us to help with essays or testing you by asking you to explain concepts. If you have a presentation, send me the script to review, make a youtube video of it and publish it as unlisted and we can give you tips (and some of the horror of doing it will recede a bit).

I will. Thank you so much for your time. What did the forensics course guy do?

Don’t thank me for my time, it makes me suspicious. I’ll tell you when you graduate.

Now I can’t wait to graduate!


Continue to My Conversations With A Wise Puffling : Part II. Also read: My Little Opinion.

2 thoughts on “My Conversations With A Wise Puffling : Part I”

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