Thursday, December 3, 2009

Do I Get A Brownie Badge?

Yesterday at one of my last classes for the semester (really one of my last EVER in grad school) I overheard a first-semester student lamenting to another student "There is no way I am going to pass this semester. I don't know what happened...I just couldn't handle it. I don't know what to do...maybe I should talk to my professors? I don't know how to tell them what went wrong because I don't know. I have ADHD and dyslexia but it doesn't seem like it should have been this hard and I think I'm going to have to drop out of the program...".

BEEP! Wait, stop right there, did someone say "I can't handle grad school because I have ADHD and dyslexia"!?

Just so happens that I am a shameless interrupter, and so I walked up to her and said "I'm sorry, but I was totally eavesdropping and I just want to tell you: you can do this".

She looked really a little startled.

I told her: "This is my last semester and I was just diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year. It really sucked sometimes but I did it. In fact I did it with a 3.8. I basically had a melt down at some point in every semester but you know passes."

She said "I totally had a melt down weeks ago but I didn't tell anyone...I just felt so dumb. "

So I asked her what parts she was having a hard time with and we talked for a long time. Predictably she had a lot of difficulty with reading. I know that the same strategies won't work for everyone but I told her what worked for me, so while I'm in the business of recounting this tale, I'll map out my strategies here, like I did for her:

1) In grad school, it's highly unlikely that anyone's going to quiz you about idiotic little details. So do you have to read all of those heinous articles word for word? Hell no. If reading is as shitty for you as it is for me, print out the article pull out a highlighter and use it to read and highlight just the first and last sentence of every paragraph. Occasionally this might help you get sucked into the reading, but even if it doesn't it will give you the overview so you can keep up with the discussions.

2) Don't stress over the stuff you hate...use tricks like the above to keep yourself moving forward until you get to the next oasis of a project that actually interests you where you can hyperfocus to your hearts content.

3) Communicate with people. If you're having a hard time with your classes, talk to your profs or your advisor about it. They may be able to help you strategize, or connect you with people who CAN help you with that if they just don't know what to do or say to help you. To my surprise, when I was having a hard time this semester, because of medication problems, I discovered that BOTH of my professors this semester had psych issues of their own and knew exactly what I was going through with meds not working correctly. Which brings me to 4...

4) Don't assume you're the only one with these issues. You're not! Hooray! Doesn't it lighten the load just knowing that nobody else is normal either? Does for me...makes me see the world as "us and us" not "us and them".

5) If you're having a hard time with a group assignment, let your professor know or if you're comfortable just talking to your group mates about it, then do that. If you have a hard time with some part of the assignment, maybe you can request to work on a part that plays to your strengths?

6) Use your early enthusiasm to your advantage. I pick my topics for the semester's projects on the first day of class and then spend the next 2 weeks blowing my wad looking for articles for those projects and putting them in a folder so that a few weeks down the road when I'm verging on a melt-down I can talk myself off the ledge with "oh yeah...shit, I really don't want to do this assignment but I already dug up all the articles"...makes it WAY easier to plan and to get work done as the semester wears on (and oh, how they wear on...).

Do you know how good it felt to be able to say to someone "Hey, I went through this shitty experience and I survived and YOU CAN TOO.". Do you have any idea how nice it would have been to hear those same words from someone else when I was at the end of MY first semester having a total melt down? It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. And do you know how nice it was seeing HER face literally relax as we talked and light up when I said again, before I left (leaving her with my email address in case she needs melt down support down the road): YOU CAN DO THIS.

And she can :)

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