I want to put on paper (so to speak) something that has been brewing in my mind for months and is important enough that it will not go away.
In the fall (2016), I had to deal with a very significant family crisis. One so important and all-consuming that I left my apartment, my campus and my city, in order to go to Ottawa to be with my loved ones. Most of what happened “on the ground” as in, in my sister’s bedroom or at my boyfriend’s parents’ house where I lived while outside Toronto, is still painful and I am not sure I am ready to talk about it here. Like most issues, its resolution is still in the making months later. I read something recently about needing to be able to understand your own experiences, for them to not be painful anymore for you to be able to really help others move forward with their own issues. So, anyway, when that time comes, I’ll probably blog about it.
Until then, here is the heartfelt thanks that I want to give the professors I had first semester who helped me cope when I really needed it…
When my heart was breaking in two, when I felt pulled in two opposite directions (one home and one to school/my normal life), I was lucky enough to have a bunch of really supportive and really amazing professors. One let me cry in her office for a good thirty minutes; she listened to me as I sobbed and snotted on tissues that she kept handing me. Another hugged me and told me about his own issues so I wouldn’t feel so alone. Another told me that I needed self-care and quick (!) because I was putting myself on the edge as I tried to be the rock for someone else.
My particular situation was that the crisis wasn’t happening to me directly, but rather to a member of my immediate family who I needed to support. I had no real paperwork; just a note from my own counsellor who could attest to the fact that I was a mess.
But none of that mattered because I lucked into some pretty understanding profs who accommodated me and made me feel I had the space to do what was important. The thing is, when your whole world feels like it’s imploding, you don’t need a professor to insist upon a doctor’s note – to insist upon bureaucracy and paperwork.
You need someone to tell you that it’s OK that you need to disappear for a while. You need someone to tell you that the fact of the matter is, you should disappear for even longer than you think you may need because even when your crisis is over, you’ll need time to recoup – and that that likely will not happen on campus.
You need someone to tell you that your participation mark will be made up of self-care on your own time – as long as you promise to check in. You need someone who will suggest that you make a chart, a 1-10 scale of your well-being so that you do not internalize others’ trauma while you try to be a care-giver. (If you are interested in what the 1-10 scale is, please let me know, as I would be happy to share.)
I am infinitely thankful that all of what I just enumerated is what I got at Glendon in my time of crisis this fall and I feel it’s important to share the things that people do right by you, because as Gertrude Stein once said:
I do understand the reasoning behind the notes and the paperwork all: there are some (very) rare people who may want to take advantage of a system that is put into place to help those with real needs. But some needs cannot be explained away with a doctor’s note – especially mental health ones.
Ultimately, the work got done (with a delay) and I finished my semester. I was drained, but knew that everything had gone as smoothly as possible given the circumstance. All of this to say, “thank you” to my professors who have been positive forces in my life. Without you, my first semester would have an even harder slog.