Mental Health

January 25, 2021

Last Firsts

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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I am happy to report that I have just started my final semester of my undergrad degree. 

I am equally as happy to report that I just survived my last first week of school breakdown. 

This time last semester I wrote my piece on almonds (See: Every Almond Counts). It was about the importance of the care we give others and ourselves. I was really proud of this piece once it was finished, but I wrote it in the heat of a very tough moment in my life. I was overwhelmed beyond compare. I was starting up school in a pandemic for the first time and it super wasn’t going well for me; working almost full-time hours at the group home, working as a teaching assistant and had a co-worker call me out of the blue who was upset with me. It was rough. 

Anyhoo, I just had my semi-annual beginning of semester breakdown today. So, naturally I thought I’d write about it. It got me thinking about a few things (surprise, surprise). 

In the midst of it, I kept reminding myself that this was the last first week of classes; meaning that this was my last first week of school breakdown. This is good motivation for me because Shy Liza HATES doing things for the first time. I could not hate starting a new job more. I do not like going to new places alone. I’m really bad at first impressions. The first week of classes stresses me out beyond belief. I hate having the whole course load of work in front of me. It freaks me out that I don’t have a routine. It makes me nervous that everything is new. New professors. New classmates. New assignments. New readings. New schedule. It is a week of firsts, which doesn’t really vibe with Shy Liza. 

This being said, I feel incredibly freakin’ grateful that I have gotten the opportunity to go to post secondary school. I try to not let myself forget this. During my little episode of overwhelmed-ness this week, I reminded myself of why I really do love post-secondary, and especially my program, Disability Studies. I reminded myself that there was no need to cry because I know my profs are on my side. I know I will graduate. I know I will complete all the assignments. I always do. But because this is my very last semester, I am running low on courses in my program to take because I’ve pretty much taken all of them, and so now I simply need credits to take me up to the required number of classes. So, I am in a few Disability courses, a Thanatology course (study of death and grief) and a Psychology course.

In my Psych class I am being expected to read and teach myself what feels like hundreds of pages a week (if not more), complete three hours worth of lecture material and complete weekly assignments. I am spending what feels like every waking hour learning about abnormal child psych. While this is interesting, I dread doing this class. In the first lecture the prof identified this class as very hard – he said this was going to be a super intense class so we better buckle up. (This class = primary reason for breakdown).

On the other hand, in one of my upper level Disability Studies classes, I had a professor say to the class ‘Pandemic learning is making me overwhelmed, so I can only imagine how it is making students feel, that’s why I worked really hard to adapt this course to make it more manageable for you all during this time.” I would hazard a guess that this does happen in many other post secondary programs. Now this isn’t a post to bash Psychology programs, I’ve taken lots of these classes and loved them. This isn’t a post to convince everyone going to post secondary to choose Disability Studies. It is a post to talk about the education system and my thoughts on pandemic learning.

Even though my profs are adapting online learning; I still work hard in my program, I write lots of papers and study for lots of tests. I work really hard. But, I think what makes my program different is that it isn’t just educating students it’s educating humans. Humans who can’t just grind all the time. Humans who feel deeply about the world around them and can become drained because of it. Humans who do more than school. Humans who need to be challenged but also need to be met where they’re at. Humans who will go out into the world one day and won’t remember stats. Humans who like to know people are on their side. Now I’ve only every taken one degree. I can’t speak for other programs. But I think university is supposed to be this time when students don’t sleep, study into the wee hours of the night, etc, etc, etc. Students are supposed to eat, sleep and breathe school. I think we need to change this narrative. Especially now, as we are adapting to learning online and self directed learning and working from home. 

We are carrying the weight of the world. We cannot be expected to carry the usual weight of textbooks, papers, statistics, and assignments. This year is different. We are different. The same goes for working from home. You are carrying the weight of the world. It’s okay if you can’t take on as much work as you usually can manage. Give yourself some grace. Give the people around you grace. 

If you are an educator; please acknowledge the heaviness of the world right now.

If you are an employer; don’t forget the workload needs to be manageable with the load the world is placing on us. 

If you are a student; you are growing more than just academically this year, honour that. 

If you are a parent; you can’t do everything for everyone. Remind yourself of this often. 

So, if you need me until further notice; I will be reading my psychology textbook. I will challenge myself to accomplish this intense form of learning in this intense season of life. Sure, if I were a prof this is not how I would approach a class amidst a global pandemic (I would take more of a Disability Studies approach), but I suppose I am a little biased. I will also give myself grace. I will put watching The Bachelor on my to do list. I will get outside everyday. I will rest when I need rest. And work hard when I’m feeling motivated. For in my last first week of school, I am starting to realize I am so much more than a student. And the education system needs to recognize this. School can challenge us, school can help us learn work ethic and perseverance. School should not teach us to give up things we enjoy most, ignore personal relationships or to get by doing the bare minimum simply because we do not have the time – pandemic or not. 

I can confidently say I am not going to graduate university remembering one stinkin’ thing from this psych class about the scientific method or brain development in children. I will, however; because of my program graduate a better human. A person who knows that my worth is not defined by my productivity and my grades. A person who challenges the worth our capitalist system places on the grind and stereotypical productivity. A human who has the skills to fight for a better world that makes everyone feel like they have someone on their side. And I think I want to spend my last term celebrating the human I have become, rather than being upset over one tricky credit.

So, this week as I had my (hopefully) last first week of school breakdown. I want to remind you that school is important. Work is important. Family is important. The news is important. You can cry (like me) when you feel overwhelmed. But you can also remind yourself that watching The Bachelor is productive. Napping is productive. Eating a cookie is productive. Painting your nails is productive. Doodling is productive. It is productive if it is good for your soul, heart, mind and body. Whoever said that students and employees needs to grind all the time to be productive and worthy – could not have been more wrong. I have been shown and reminded of this very clearly this week. This psych class will challenge me but I’m not going to let it upset me. I am going to enjoy each last second of being a student before I get catapulted into the real world and face those inevitable breakdowns.

It took me until my last first week of school to figure all of this out. But I’m happy I finally did.

Liza McClelland

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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