Staying Clam During Midterms and Exams

Over the last four years here at UOIT, I have personally tried multiple things to keep me from having a break down during stressful times. Through many attempts I have come up with a short list of things you may find useful to give yourself a little well deserved break during midterms and exams:

  1. Try going for a short walk or run, exercise helps clear the brain and gives you a boost of energy.
  2. Read a chapter of your favourite or current book.
  3. Call up a friend or family member to have a quick chat with them.
  4. Try a new class – if you have a gym membership.
  5. Treat yourself to your favourite candy, sweet, or something you have been craving.
  6. Every 2-3 hours take a little break, even if it is just a stretch.
  7. Plan ahead, create a little study guide before you crack down on the studying.
  8. Stay on top of class readings or find someone who is willing to share notes.
  9. Eat! During stressful times we all forget to eat sometimes but, eating helps us retain information and gives us the energy boost we may need to keep on studying.
  10. Get enough sleep, generally 6-8 hours of sleep is recommended for young adults.

And I think the best tip of all that I can share is to breathe!

Good luck on midterms, papers, and of course your final exams come December!!

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My Struggles With Anxiety

At the age of 15 I found myself in my doctor’s office listening to him explain to me that my feelings of nervousness and depression were slightly more prominent in myself compared to the population of children my age. I remember sitting in his office that day answering what felt like a million questions and filling out survey after survey, asking me about my feelings – something that no one had ever done before. Even though I knew it was his job, something about his guidance to my realization of the roots of my emotions made me feel special, and my feelings warranted. I finally felt like a normal person. It was after this that he diagnosed me with social anxiety.

The actual definition of social anxiety is “an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations.” For me, it was the feeling of panic every time I left my house; the constant notion that the cashier at Forever21 was secretly judging my outfit and waiting to go on break and gossip about it with her coworkers; the struggle of always walking with my eyes glued to the sidewalk to avoid eye contact with anyone. It consumed me. No matter where I went or what I did, I could never truly enjoy myself because I was out of the comfort of my bed with the covers pulled up over my head and all of the lights out.

I was finally able to understand why I was feeling that way for so long – all because of this one visit to my doctor. Even though it did not fix all my problems, being diagnosed gave me closure and the courage to take the first step in getting treated. I signed up for monthly sessions with a mental health counsellor who gave me the tools needed to change my unhealthy thinking patterns. I remember getting so frustrated with him constantly asking me to explain “why” I felt like if I left the house I would get made fun of; but looking back on it now, I realize that he was only doing it to show me that my worries were unreasonable. Showing me that there was no actual proof that it was going to happen, it was just my mind convincing me that it would.

Although changing the natural reaction of your brain can take a long time, I find myself taking pride in the small changes I see in myself every day. Struggling with mental illness has taught me to always look for the positive in any situation; no I may not have been able to go to the mall today, but at least I went on a walk around the block – and that is good. I no longer try to hide the fact that I get very nervous in social situations, I just acknowledge that it is difficult for me and I try my best to conquer it.

I strongly advise anyone who may be feeling worried or stressed out to go and talk to someone. There are so many helpful personal on campus who are ready and more-than-willing to help you. My progress only started after I was able to go and speak to someone about my feelings, which has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I am looking forward to the day that I am able to leave the house without worrying about who I may run in to, or what may happen if I trip and fall in front of everyone. But until that day, I am taking pride in the little things, and I believe everyone should do the same, regardless of whether or not you are suffering from a mental illness.

Recovery isn’t a destination, it’s a journey

The title is something that has taken me years to realize and fully understand.

When I was 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I had a pretty severe depressive episode, and I basically dropped out of high school for the semester. I failed the Ontario Literacy Test, failed all my classes, and fell behind.

At that point, i didn’t want to try. I was convinced I’d always feel this way, feeling hopeless, sad for no reason, angry, irritated, and relentlessly exhausted.

By the time I went back to school in September 2010, I was actually doing so much better. My medication was working, and I was actively trying to better my mental health. There was a point I could confidently say “I’m not depressed anymore”, and I thought that’d be the end of it.

But I was so, so wrong.

Depression is a fickle thing. Many people experience it in different ways, and sometimes a person experiences another depressive episode so different from their previous one, they don’t even realize they’re having one.

This is what happened to me quite a few times over the last six years. Each time was different, so it was difficult to even realize. Or in a couple cases, I was just simply in denial.

And this is why I think recovery is not a destination. Recovery is an on-going process, filled with unexpected and unwanted bumps, detours, and backtracking.

Since that one time in 2010, I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself that I was recovered.

Recovery is about finding what works for you. What coping mechanisms help you best, medication or no medication, meditation, yoga, therapy, etc. It’s about actively working to better your health, but also being able to realize when you’re hitting a small bump, and life gets a bit rocky. That’s when you’ve taken what you’ve learned so you can get through this rough patch.

I didn’t realize until just a week ago how far I’ve truly come, and the progress I’ve made in six, almost seven years.

My life has been hectic since July or August. My dad was in and out of the hospital, and currently he’s there now. He’s doing well now, but for months I worried constantly. When the semester started, my mind wasn’t focused on school. I fell SO far behind, and my first two midterms were subpar marks. Its been almost a month since those first two midterms and I still haven’t caught up.

Years ago, getting below 70% meant I failed.

But at some point, I had to cut myself some slack. I was fighting so hard just to stay afloat, and not succumb to the darkness of worsening depression. I realized that the marks I got were actually pretty good considering all that was going on.

Sometimes I’ll still be upset that I didn’t do so well, but I find it so much easier to see it in a more realistic view. How on earth could I expect to get 80s on my midterms when my focus wasn’t on school, I was missing classes, and putting studying on the back burner?

Honestly, I’m incredibly proud of myself. I very seriously considered dropping classes. But I didn’t want to delay my graduation. I was in a tough spot, but I knew I’d get through one way or another. And now I’m more determined than ever to get through the semester.

My experience is going to be different from yours. The recovery progress is slow, and perhaps unnoticeable for a long time. Sometimes you’ll take five steps forward, and two steps back. Sometimes it’s one step forward, and ten steps back. Sometimes you just don’t move.

I don’t write this as a way to brag, and I hope it doesn’t come off that way. I just hope someone, anyone, realizes what I did about recovery and progress. And I hope it inspires even just one person to keep trying, to keep going, no matter how little progress you think you’re making.

You’re stronger than you think.

Scared to let people down

I have always had a fear of letting people down. For the majority of things I have done in my life, I didn’t do them because I wanted to, it was more because I knew it is what other people wanted me to do. Whether it was because of friends, boyfriends, and even my family, I never really did anything with out first getting everyone’s approval.  I have struggled my whole life questioning if what I would do or the choices I wanted to make would let anyone down. I have always felt the need to make everyone happy even if it meant that I was not going to be. I feel this really held me back in life and stopped me from following my dreams and doing what I wanted to do with my life. If people would ask me for favors or to help them I would always say yes, no matter what – whether it was to help them with homework or go somewhere for them or do something for them the answer was yes,  even if I knew I didn’t have time to help them or I could not afford to. I was always scared to hurt their feelings or to disappoint them. Knowing that I would disappoint people really affected me, and therefore I always tried to do whatever I could for them even if it was going to negatively effect me in some way need. This issue I had for not being able to say no, and not wanting to let people down caused me to fight a lot with my self and the future I wanted.

Both my dad and mom have been in the business field their whole life and both my sisters followed in their footsteps. I always felt I was the odd one out in my family being the only person who did not want to get into business.  I always knew I wanted nothing to do with business. I knew it was not for me, yet I always fought with myself wondering if I would disappoint my family, especially my dad. My father is a man that no matter how well you do, he wonders why you did not do better. Growing up, it was tough always trying to live up to his expectations (now a days I know better, all he wanted was for us to be the best person we could be). Whenever I spoke about any science programs I wanted to get in to, or any university, it was as if I never had his full attention. Yet the day my sister got into the same program at the same university as my dad had, he was so ecstatic and proud. I had never really seen him react like that. I guess I was jealous and a little hurt because at that moment I felt like no matter what I did in my life, whether I were to become a doctor, a lawyer, a hair dresser, or even the prime minister I though that I could never really truly make him as proud as he was in that moment with my sister.

A part of me always knew my father would be happy with whatever I decided to do with my life, yet another part of me, if not most of me, kept wondering if I followed in his footsteps, took the business route and when to the school he went to like my sister did, would he be any prouder of me or think of me more highly? I spent months contemplating what I should do with my future; do I do what I want to, or do what I think everyone wants from me. It was an extremely emotional and frustrating time leading up to university. I took a year off just because I needed to figure out what the right thing to do was. I know it might sound ridiculous while reading this, that I put my life on hold because I was not sure if following my heart was the right thing to do. I assure you now a days I realize it too, but at the time it was not so clear to me. It was not clear if I should do what my heart desires and if I do happen to disappoint anyone then to bad so sad for them, or do I do what I though would make everyone else happy, even if I was not?

That year I took off, it did put my life in perspective for me with the help of friends and family. I came to realized that no matter what I do, I will never be able to make everyone happy, and that the only truly important thing is that I make sure I am happy with my actions and choices. I came to realize that if people truly care about me, they will be happy for the things I do with my life as long as I am happy. When push came to shove and I chose UOIT as the university of my choice and the thing I feared most never came true. My father was very proud of me and has been since, because of the sole fact I did what I wanted to do.

So all this to say that I learnt no matter what, as long as I do what makes me happy, everyone who loves me and stands behind me will be proud of me. The last thing I should ever do is to put my life on the back burner because what I want is not what other people want from me.

The Midterm Migraine

The first few weeks of school are usually pretty easy and stress-free. Then October hits. Assignment after assignment, midterm after midterm. Every 3 days you either have a paper due or a midterm worth 30%. There are sleepless nights and endless amounts of caffeine. You feel like you’re never going to get everything done on time, and in the slight chance you do, the mark you receive won’t even be worth it. Every second you don’t spend doing homework feels like a waste. I don’t have time to eat dinner this paper’s due in 4 hours. I can just catch up on sleep once I write this midterm. Although these may seem like the only options during this stressful time of the school year, these are not the only, nor the best route to take.

Put down down your textbooks and take 30 minutes to watch your favourite TV show, or play a couple card games with friends. Eat snacks while studying and make sure you’re eating 3 proper meals a day. Trade in a cup of coffee for a glass of water every once in a while. You need to take care of yourself, especially in such stressful times. You won’t be able to function properly without sleep and food. You may think you’re better off studying than sleeping the night before a midterm, but the amount of information you will retain in these last few hours will not be nearly as much as you hope for. Plus what good does studying all night do if you fall asleep during the test?

Remember that you are not alone in these stressful times. Everyone else has a million things due this week and only 24 hours a day. Talk to your friends and classmates, make study dates and schedule breaks. Try not to stress about everything you have to get done, and rather just start tackling the first task on your list. Keep up with your studies but not push yourself to hard. Do your best and everything will work out. Good luck!

Overcoming Stigmas of Anxiety Medication Use

For as long as I can remember, my family has been very strict and opinionated on the use of medication for any kind of mental illness. “You’re faking it” or “It’s all in your head” are the kind of things I was told all throughout my childhood. With those kinds of mind sets I had no idea that I even had a mental illness ,let alone that something was seriously wrong with me. I lived a good portion of my life going through constant and severe panic attacks over the ‘littlest’ things you could imagine; I couldn’t walk by myself, I couldn’t let my sister go off on her own without me having a freak out, I could not get into any form of trouble at all or I would absolutely lose it. Each thing that was so seemingly small and minuscule to others was like the end of the world for me and I didn’t know what was wrong.

I went through my daily life in constant horror and terror and could not live my life the way a growing adolescent should. Yet every time I brought up my problems I was told that I was “too paranoid,” or a hypochondriac, that I belong in a straight jacket…the list goes on. No one took me seriously and so I continued to live in a world full of pain, fear, and confusion.

Fast forward to my entrance into university: I was ready for a fresh and new start. I was already living my life basically as an adult because of the childhood that anxiety had stripped from me, so I thought I was super prepared. I mean I could do anything because I was already on my own in my world at home so I could totally live on my own, right? Well that wasn’t exactly how it went… somehow my anxiety got worse and spiraled, then, the depression set in. I couldn’t and wouldn’t get out of bed for anything. I was failing, I was sad and I just did not know if I even wanted to be in the program I was in anymore because I was failing. I mean, I had never failed anything…ever. I was a smart and hard-working student despite all of the hurdles I had to overcome at home.  However, being on my own and having so much freedom and having to self-regulate myself destroyed me. I was lost, more lost than  I have ever been and I had no one to turn to. Even if I did tell someone, my family never ever talked about this kind of thing so who would have believed me? I didn’t know who I could talk to or who would be able to help me. I felt as thought I was never going to get better… Once again my life was shrouded in sadness and overwhelming guilt…the panic attacks just kept coming.

I was so behind in classes that I would give up because by the time I caught up there would be more and more to do. I was drowning. I had to get my life together and it had to be fast because if I didn’t move fast my University career that I worked so hard to get would be done and over.

Finally I woke up. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and made an appointment with career services because I had to figure out my life and what I wanted, not what anyone else wanted for me. There I met Waleska Vernon; she was the most positive light force in my life that helped me realize that not only could I reach my full potential in my program, but that I wanted to be there and I wanted to work hard and succeed. She allowed me to open up and tell her everything that I had been through, my anxiety journey and she didn’t judge me, she just listened. She took me on as a counselling client and I saw her every week; we worked through anything I felt awful about: my emotional regulation, breathing exercises, my career questions. Basically to everything and anything she had an answer and if she didn’t she worked damn hard to find it for me.

I had someone who finally cared about my well-being and because of that I cared too. When she asked me about medication options for anxiety, I couldn’t believe that was even something I could do. She encouraged me to make an appointment and that I guess is where my story ends… I have been on anxiety medication for almost three years now and the anxiety may never go away but these meds have allowed me to live a happy, non – erratic and healthy life. And without Waleska I wouldn’t have been able to succeed or do the things I have accomplished in my life to date.

Waleska left a year or so ago and I had to open myself up to someone else, which wasn’t easy but I did it. But I should thank her because without her I probably wouldn’t be at this university, my anxiety would have taken over and I probably would be back at home working some minimum wage job (which I do now but hey it pays the bills) and not getting my undergrad which I know I deserve. So my take away message I suppose is: do not let anyone tell you that your problems do not matter; cause they do. Only you can make the changes you want to see in yourself but opening up to anyone who will listen and who you trust a great deal can change your life for the better. Do not be afraid to do things for yourself because at the end of the day you know what is best for you. Screw the haters my friends, love yourself and overall know that you are worthy of living a life you want to live.

Peace

Now is the time of year when it becomes real.

Midterms, papers, and presentations. Law school applications due at the end of the month which means personal statement writing, LSAT prepping, stressing about assignments, and lots and lots of tears. Each year I think to myself this is the most stressed I have ever been, I will never endure stress like this again. Yet without fail, every year becomes more stressful.

And each year, I beat myself up for being stressed – which ironically only makes it worse. But when I get my head out of the clouds (or nose out of the books) I realize this is normal. This is okay. Everybody gets stressed and overwhelmed, everyone has fears and anxieties about both the present and the future. Undergrad is a time full of uncertainty and questions, a time of change and challenge.

But knowing that my peers and friends are going through similar experiences and can relate, knowing that I have a source to turn to and vent or rant or cry is comforting. It isn’t always easy opening up about my fears and anxieties, but lifting it off of my shoulders and relying on my support network is absolutely worth it.

I’m not alone, and that gives me peace.

Program Uncertainty

Being a first year student can bring lots of stress and uncertainty as you adapt to your new life at university. Everything is different and new to you. New people, new classes, new professors, new ways of learning. It’s hard at first to take everything in, trying to adapt to the new and exciting life that university has to offer. First semester begins and the school work can add up quickly as you try to juggle friends, sports, clubs, activities, family and any other functions.

My first year of university I was in health sciences. I thought that this would be the right program for me as I am very into sports and being active, so my original plan was to become a physio therapist. My first week of classes was quite easy as it was review from high school and I figured that I would actually do pretty decent in my classes. However the third week of school was quite a shock to me. Suddenly I couldn’t keep up in classes and was so unsure of the concepts being taught. I tried so hard in class to focus and take notes but it didn’t seem to help. I dreaded going to class and hated the material that was being taught. However, I figured it was just because I was a first year student and wasn’t used to the work load that university has to bring along with the content. I toughed through it and continued to hate school. Midterm season came around and I did everything I could to try and grasp the tricky concepts that were taught. I went to PASS sessions, office hours for the profs, got a tutor and spent a lot of my time studying and doing homework. I wouldn’t sleep much as I stayed up studying every night and wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was so nervous for midterms. I was the most stressed I have ever been in my life. After I did everything possible to understand and prepare for midterms, the week of midterms began. I wrote 5 midterms and felt confident coming out of them. However, once I received my marks I was so devastated. I failed 3 midterms and barley passed the other 2. I wasn’t as devastated about the marks but at the fact that I spent so much time working towards something that was not working for me and that I hated. No matter how hard I studied and went to additional help, I couldn’t understand what I was learning. I hated every class and hated being there. I decided it was time to call my parents and have a conversation about changing programs.

I originally was looking at school for business when I was in grade 12 as I was always good at it and enjoyed it. However I was unsure of what I wanted to do when I applied to university in grade 12 as most people are, so I applied to a variety of programs. Even though I was best in business and enjoyed it, I figured that the health sciences route was the way I wanted to go. Looking back now I wish I would have stuck to my gut and went the business route, but everything is a learning experience. So when I called my parents just after my first set of midterms I told them how much I hated the classes I was in, was doing terrible and was not interested in the subjects at all. I could not see myself in that program for the next four years. I told them how stressed I was because I was doing so bad academically in school and felt stupid for not understanding how to do anything that was being taught. I didn’t want to say anything at first about my stress and how upset I was because I assumed most first year students felt the same and it was just because of the adjustment. As soon as I told them though I felt so much better and was glad that they offered me help.

I knew that health sciences was not the best option for me and wanted to change programs. I was embarrassed to tell people that I wanted to change programs because I felt like it made me sound stupid and insecure. I didn’t want people to think that I changed programs because I wasn’t smart enough to be in the program or think that I failed out. I hated the program, the classes, and could never understand the concepts. It was definitely something that I could not spend the next four years studying so I knew that I was making the right choice. I ended up dropping two classes and kept the three that would transfer over to my new program. Come January I started in business and it was so much better for me. I loved the classes, understood the concepts and just really enjoyed what I was learning. It’s not that business is easier than health sciences, it’s just different and something that I enjoy way more. I am so thankful that I switched programs when I did and didn’t try to stick with it in a program I hated.

The moral of the story is, lots of people go to school and decide that the program they are in is not the right choice for them. It is nothing to be embarrassed or insecure about. If you’re not in a program that you enjoy and cannot see yourself in it in the future, then switching programs could be in your best interest. There are so many different career choices and programs to go into so it’s hard to know which you would like best. Sometimes once you get into the program you realize that it isn’t right you and need to change, that’s okay! It’s better to change programs than to be in one that you hate and that causes you a lot of stress. Looking back at my experience now, I realize how glad I am that I changed programs, as I am much happier and like my program so much better! Everything is a learning experience however, so don’t regret switching programs as it shows you which field is not the best for you and which is!

A Fear of Falling

Whether it being a fear of falling apart, falling short of expectations, or simply falling behind, it is always there. Lurking underneath the surface.  Though there are emotional components and bouts of self doubt and confusion, what I am talking about is university.

We all want to do well in the eyes of our family/friends, teachers, and our selves even. But it’s never enough is it? To just do well. Deep down we know what we want, to be the best or at least be amongst the best. So when you do well (maybe even better) you feel like you’re flying, you hear those around you talk about poor grades (though you know it was probably because they didn’t study and that they are very smart people, who only need to work hard to do well) and you play off your mark. Half prideful, half nonchalant. You don’t want your own spot light, but you want to stand out. You want to be recognized for your hard work, the sleepless nights, the endless amounts of coffee, your lack of social interaction. And all for a mark. An amazing mark, but a mark, a grade, a shiny gold spot on your record saying: “look what I can do, I am a valuable member of the university and society, hire me and give me money so I can have a life of my own and be one of you”. Someone who follows a path, sticks to it and… I don’t really know yet what comes after, I’m still on the path myself.

Anyway, this keeps happening. Gold star, after gold star, great mark after amazing mark, rewards, certificates, newspaper articles, money. Constant validation, praise, and placards to be put up. And then you start to feel it. A dullness, a grey that settles in. You still want the rewards, but the work feels like its piling up. The questions start. “How am I going to pull this off?”, “How can I keep doing this to myself?”, “Do I really deserve to take a break?”, “What will my parents say if I fail?”, and more importantly, “What happens if I fail?”. And that’s when the spiraling starts. Down and down I go, where I stop nobody knows. Because if I don’t do well in my undergrad, how am I going to get into a good school to do my Masters? What about my PhD? Will I even be able to make it to then? Will I burn out, drop out and end become some unexpected burden/freeloader my parents never saw coming. Leaving people asking: “What happened? ____ had so much potential”

These fears can be consuming trust me on that. A mixture of highs and lows. Hyper activity at 3:00am mixed with an inactivity at 4:00pm during the day. But what can you do, but power through it all. The discomfort, the anxiety, the agitation, the irritableness, the relief, the love, the joy, and the utter confusion of it all. This is just my experience with failure, or more or less a fear of it. And it’s silly, but sometimes what gets me through it all is just a little voice in my head singing, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”. Its not for everyone, but it is for me.

So take breaks (try scheduling them), it’s okay to fall behind on your readings (trust me I have), because you will make it, to wherever your path may lead you. Wherever you may want to go. Take care of yourselves, trust yourselves. It is okay, and just keep swimming.

Well wishes, LR

Here It Comes – My Struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the days grow darker and the nights get longer, I find myself caught in this tug-of-war of emotion. I love the dark, the night, the fall and pre-winter seasons for their atmosphere and weather. But once November and December is upon us, I feel it creep in. It can’t be stopped and it can’t really be contained, it’s a slow rolling wave that comes toward me slowly and crashes over me like a hard hand. Here it comes, my seasonal depression.

I feel the exhaustion, the fatigue, the “Why get out of bed today?”, the sadness, the need to curl up and never move. The anxiety of “I can’t miss school today!” and the depressing thought of “I just want to sleep forever.” The only thing to truly get me out of bed is work, and even then I only wish I could stay home. I don’t want to interact with anyone, I don’t want to go outside, I don’t want to exist in any capacity than sleeping and the Internet. My grades drop, I stop studying, assignments are left until late, I slack off at work and sleep days away. I feel this as the snow falls, the Christmas lights go up and the trees come down, nothing becomes light again until April or May, when school is done and the winter has gone.

I never understood what this was; why I hated Christmas time outside of Christmas day, why I never wanted to leave my house, why my body hated getting up in the morning. Was it the cold? Was it the snow? Was it the unhappy memories of fights over Christmas with my family? Or was it my already existing depression becoming worse with the lack of sunlight?

My doctor knows this occurs to me. Or at least, he does but not the full extent. I haven’t been formally diagnosed with depression or seasonal affective disorder. I find myself pushing myself to suck it up, like I always do. I tell myself I have no valid diagnosis, so I shouldn’t be allowing this to happen to myself. But I don’t allow it. I’ve mentally taught myself that because I lack a diagnosis, I don’t have the right to feel the way I do. But when your family and friends notice how starkly different you behave during the summer compared to the winter, when they ask you if you are okay and if you are alright all winter and comment on your change in the spring. Is it so wrong to think something else is here?

I look forward to the day I can sit down with a psychiatrist and explain all these feelings I endure when the days are dark and cold. I hope to one day hear that I was right and it is alright to know yourself. While others may take offense to my presumptions, I know me; and I know that winter is possibly the hardest time of year for me mentally.

Good luck and much love.