07 February 2010

Where do you go for help when you're so different?

One assignment does not an academic career make. However, one assignment can bring into focus something I've been feeling anxious about since the semester started. It's honestly been since 2000 that I really, seriously spent any time working on things computer science related, for a particular purpose. It was during that year that my life really began to fall apart and dreams became nightmares-- and then things got really bad. Think seven years bad luck. Maybe I broke a mirror somewhere?

In any case-- I received a less than good grade on an assignment in one of my upper level major courses this week. I'm afraid to look at the entire assignment, the note on the top of the page was so chilling: "Come to my office so we can discuss your answers."

I have managed to get my schedule more or less into my head, and find all of the buildings I have classes in. I know places to get coffee, to get food, to print stuff, and even a few good places to study. I spend less time every day on getting from one place to another, simply because I know where things are and have started finding shortcuts. So the physical being on campus part of me is doing all right. Once that's over, it comes down to what I do in the classroom on my assignments and tests.

It's been a while since code spewed forth from my fingertips. A long while. And while I'm not being asked to produce any code now, I am being asked to think like a programmer, which I haven't done for a while either. When you have to break your life down into "things I have to do to survive" and "other things", and coding doesn't fall into the survival category, your skills lose some sharpness over time.

I got a chuckle the other night when, at a meeting of geeks whom I'd never met before, someone asked me "what school did you transfer from?"; my answer was to list the schools I'd attended, and by the third school, the other geeks in the room were chuckling and nodding in recognition. Maybe I'm not so alone after all, but when someone asks what research I want to do, I don't have an answer, either. (In my head, I say to myself "this semester's project is to re-learn how to be a hotshot programmer. But I'm reluctant to admit that in the company of other geeks.)

I know that what I need to do is go talk to my professors and TA's, explain the situation, and ask for suggestions on what I should do to get a grip on the courses I'm in. I am afraid that they will say something like "Perhaps you should consider majoring in something else." Do I really think any of them will say that? Um... well... let's say I'm worried, be it rational fear or not. PTSD makes a person look around for the most dangerous possibility, which in this case is the worst possible thing I can hear.

I'm also afraid to ask because I'm not sure what to ask. How will a TA who is half my age answer the question "I'm sort of stuck and feeling sort of lost here, what do you suggest I do next?" Do I ask the TA, the professor, other students... who? (I'm actually considering visiting the campus counseling office, and my TA's... still working up courage to do both. Still want to be here, but I want to do well, too.)


  1. Good luck-- it's tough to face these uncertainties even without the complications of PTSD. I found my professors to be very understanding, and campus counseling is generally a good idea. If all else fails, does your school have something like Student Accessibility Services? PTSD counts as a "disability" for which provisions can be made. I went through SAS when I needed a reduction in my course load. They have the power to make things happen.

  2. Thanks :) I'm not sure yet how to talk to professors about those complications, but that's because I've never had to do so. At the community college I attended, saying I was having a bad week usually was enough detail to slide a little when necessary. And in the more distant past, I just didn't do anything.

    There is a counseling center here, as well as a SAS-type office, both in the same building. I may stop there today and start the process (whatever the process is.)


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