28 June 2010

Falling off the horse, part 2: time to ride again

This post is a continuation of the situation described in part 1.

I failed two classes during spring semester 2010.  That means two things.  First, I'm on academic probation in fall semester, and I have to get my grade point average above 2.0 in fall.  Second, because I didn't complete 2/3 of the credits I attempted, I have not maintained satisfactory academic progress and I have to convince financial aid that I still deserve student loans and grants.  This process involved me talking to both my dean and my advisor, and me writing an appeal letter outlining what I intend to do differently in the future so I pass all of my classes.  My advisor also sent a letter to financial aid stating that yes, I have a valid academic plan for the future.  Now, I wait for word to see if my appeal is granted (and indications from my dean and advisor are that it will be granted).

I know I'm not alone in this situation, because my dean and my advisor both said so.  College students (even those without PTSD to worry about) have difficulties just like anyone else.  Sometimes things don't go as planned.  A few years ago, before I'd been diagnosed with PTSD, and before therapy, I'd be completely freaked out right now, thinking that my college career was over and that I'd soon be kicked out of school.  So, a few thoughts if you find yourself in the same situation (and a few reminders to myself):

Pay attention to the letter or email you receive-- there are steps you must take, approval you must get, and paperwork you must turn in, and there is always a deadline.  There is also always a phone number to call, so call.  People in financial aid, the dean's office, your advisor, etc are there to help you.  They want you to get paid, they want your butt back in class in September, and they want you to do well.  You do have to follow the right procedure, and to do that you might have to man up and tell the person on the other side of the desk that you got a letter and now you have no clue how to proceed.

If you're going to meet with a dean or your advisor, have a plan before the meeting, even if it's just a few bullet points that list things that gave you trouble during the semester.  Mine read something like this:
  • Trouble concentrating in large lecture halls; felt closed in, too much noise and banging around, too many people all at once; especially during exams
  • Long bus commute to campus (45 min one way), stressful ride (full bus, felt very unsafe, arrived at class triggered every morning)
  • Worked too many hours, didn't get enough sleep
  • Didn't feel comfortable meeting with my professor and didn't know where else to get help with assignments
You may not have all the answers to fix these things, but you do have resources-- that's why you need to pay attention to the deadline on the letter.  These things that caused you problems during the semester are what you need to fix, and you need help to fix them.  Talk to your advisor, your dean, or whomever it is early, so that they can refer you to other people who can help you.   You will most likely have to make appointments, which can be hard in summer.  I've found that although less classes are in session, academic support staff are very busy during the summer months preparing for fall semester.   If you're just discovering that you are dealing with PTSD, you need to talk to a Vet Center or the VA hospital, and it takes time to set those appointments up.  (Side note: tell your doctor or counselor that you are having trouble in school.  They may be able to offer suggestions that will help, and you may need documentation at school later on.)

It is easy, I think, to feel like you're the only one having trouble, but you're not. 
Your most powerful weapon in dealing with having messed up a semester is the sentence "Can you help me straighten this out?"  Your backup weapon is "Can you direct me to someone else who might be able to help?"  These weapons never jam and never run out of ammo, so use them early and often.

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