Group learning is not for everyone

As a person who has taken multiple classes involving group projects, as well as a person who struggles with social anxiety issues, I know my limits. Returning to school to finish my legal assistant degree this semester was a bigger challenge than I had anticipated. Perhaps if it hadn’t been coupled with a new job, which has presented its own difficulties, it would have been a little easier to manage.

My daily triumphs are small, yet tremendous. I have a child I am trying to raise with no support (aside from my parents, right now), and another whom I have little contact with (mostly my own fault on that one). I am working as an intern, writing as a contributor for a blog. I had another writing internship back in December, but I decided two internships, plus a job and 10 credit hours of school seemed a little overwhelming so I gave one up. The reason I take all of these things on is because of my ambition. The reason I cannot handle them all is my mental instability.

Right now, I am in the depths of the first episode I have had since I began my final semester. My bipolar mood cycles always begin to build when I am working really hard toward something. I can feel myself getting more stressed as time goes on; but instead of dealing with it, I ignore it and hope it goes away like shadows when the sun sets. What happens though – almost inevitably – is the shadows resurface, and usually with a vengeance.

It began about four weeks past the start of the semester, which coincided with the start of my job. Obviously, I was aware the new transition of the two positions would be a trigger. Yet somehow, no matter how much I mentally prepare myself for something, it never compensates for the actual events that are to come, no matter how mundane. Traffic, for example, or waiting in line at the coffee shop. Things I am typically grateful for the right to access, such as a job, a car, or even something as innocuous as coffee, can cause irritation if I fail to see past my mood swing at the moment.

This week, we returned to class from spring break. I, however, did not make it into class yesterday because I injured my back while coughing and sitting in a chair doing homework. Prior to that, I hurt my back while sitting at a computer at work. Ironically, part of why I wanted a desk job was so I wouldn’t injure myself! This comes after years of waitressing, which is physically exhausting over time.

Tonight, I made it to class, but it seemed just as much of a failure because I didn’t stay to complete the assignment. I want to say I couldn’t have stayed, but I could have. I chose not to stay because I felt overwhelmed. Sometimes, one needs to choose one’s health over one’s (educational) wealth.

Before class began, a peer in my group said, “I’m not interested in politics…because I am moving to France”; that put a bad taste in my mouth. How can I be learning about the legal system, about law, with a person who thinks moving to another country means the next American presidential elect is not important? The truth is, sweetie, France is part of the world, and anything the United States does affects the world. It’s called global warming, not American warming. It is this type of ignorance which I simply cannot disregard. It is sad and selfish. This is a person who I am supposed to be working with, in a group, calling my teammate? As for the other group in our class, that’s a horse of a different color.

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Let me backtrack. This class is very small; I believe there are eleven of us altogether. I came back to school after almost two years to finish this degree, so things are slightly different now. All of the students know each other from before, which was not that big of a deal until the week before spring break.

One of the younger students and I had a disagreement about whether she was too young to know who Siegfried and Roy are. My argument was that it wasn’t that long ago; she said it was before her time. I said I guess it wasn’t relevant to her at the time, whatever age she was. Fine, moving on…until I am standing right behind her and her group – there are only two groups – when I hear her make a remark to her group about how she wouldn’t want to ask “that new girl” for anything, i.e., a book they needed.

Okay, take a breath. First, of all, I am not new. I went to school here before you even graduated high school, girly. Second…I called her out for talking about me to everyone and it became very uncomfortable. Ever since then, including tonight, the group has edged me out of the way anytime I am working in a place they want to go to find their own work, even if I was there first. Only one person in the opposite group has remained cordial with me, K. Taylor. Despite the French defector’s attitude, my group is quite amicable. However, that does not change my position on group learning.

I understand the premise behind teamwork, and I especially understand why it is necessary for this particular class. Our professor needs to ensure we are capable of research with access only to law books, I get that. My issue is with the structure of the group projects. Because there is such a small class size, we are divided into only two groups. In my previous class (the prerequisite) we had the same structure, but it was not as competitive. For some godforsaken reason, this class feels like a race every time we work in groups, which, for me, is not conducive to learning. I struggle with racing thoughts enough without encouragement. Competition is distracting and delays my concentration on the assignment at hand.

I recognize that the nature of law is generally adversarial, but in practice, the idea is that one (hopefully) doesn’t get bullied out of the way when trying to do research in the library for the case she is working on. I admit, some of it is my own difficulty with groups in general, but it is more than this. Some people thrive in a group setting because they are social. Others like groups because they get to lead and prove themselves to their peers and superiors.  Then there are those who just go along with what everyone else is doing because they are lazy, don’t care, or don’t know very much. Finally, there are those who would rather work alone.

I fit into the latter category because the frustration of trying to get through each day is enough to make one want to snap without the aggravation of feeling bullied by one’s classmates. I will make it through this semester, and I will graduate. If I must endure the difficulties posed by participating in these assignments, then it will still be worth it because I will have earned my degree. However, I can only hope that in the future, alternate assignments will be available for students who are not as capable of participating in group projects, so that people like myself will not have to struggle as I have.

Here it comes . . .

well, it’s just my nineteenth nervous breakdown.

Work. Yes, it stinks for everyone. There is always one person who seems to make life unbearable. Here it is, my fourth week and the dream job I was doting on in my last post turns out to be less dreamlike than I had initially hoped for. It’s also the third week of classes and I already have an exam in Women in European History. I have legal classes four nights a week. I also write for Author’s Nest as a contributor and have been trying to squeeze in time with my daughter. So, of course, I’m beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed.

I was keen on the fact that this semester would be hard. It’s the last one, and I graduate. Awesome, great, excellent, but I still have to do the work. It’s good, but there are moments when it is not so good. I think a big portion of this has to do with the difficult personalities I am encountering in the workplace. Being blamed for doing something wrong when I haven’t even been trained how to do it once is a large part of the problem I am seeing here. There is also a large imbalance of power in the workplace which creates tension. I personally have no power, so it’s not an issue with me or what I am doing.

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The real obstacle for me is how I react to it. If I know this person is antagonistic, then I will essentially win if I do not react, and only act obedient and helpful. Any attempt to reason with this person will not be successful because the behavior is a deep-rooted issue that comes from within, not so much from outside stimuli. Although I know all of this in my head, it still makes it difficult to focus on doing my job when I feel like I am always on the defense around this person, which causes me to react to certain behaviors negatively.

My mother is concerned I am going to blow up on this person at some point if I bottle up all of my emotions, because, after all, I do still have mood swings. I can feel my anxiety coming on when I think about work now because I don’t want to deal with the negativity in the workplace. Fortunately, I have an outlet now (this blog) to express these difficulties, which gives me a healthy way to cope. Writing has really helped me explore different ideas, so I have more insight into different situations. Of course, the great benefit to that is learning how to deal with difficult people in a better way.

A New Beginning

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How happy it makes me to relish the fact that 2015 is over, finally. In 2014, I faced homelessness, so I believed that 2015 could only be for the better. In some cases, it was better. After all, I was able to graduate from college and get out of a shelter situation (with my wily womanish ways). My daughter got to attend a great program through her school. Best of all, Bernie Sanders burst into the limelight and gave many people a glimmer of hope, especially me.

My mind is whirling with the many challenges ahead of me in 2016. I just started a new job, one that I could have only dreamed of obtaining in Indiana. Next week, I will begin attending classes again so as to finish my legal assistant degree in May. I am so close, but now my dreams have gotten even bigger. I want to do more than I ever have before.

It is almost as though my great losses have inspired much more in me than I could ever have expected. My brother’s death made me want to reach out to people in a new way; it also forced me to find a healthy way to grieve, which turned into the Borderline Bipolar Project. Losing a person in such a manner truly changes a person, no matter who you are.

I believe that experiencing homelessness again, and having to find a way out, also changed who I am. My mother has made a good point about my failed relationship with “the wrong Nick”. She recognizes that without him, I probably would not have graduated from college (even though I was only 3 credits shy of earning my general studies degree).

So for better or worse, 2015 was a learning experience, a very important one. I know now to avoid relationships that have no real meaning behind them. A loveless partnership agreement between two people living as a couple is a terrible idea; at least, I learned a valuable lesson.

And I’m still learning, every day. That’s what matters most. That is how we break free from the chains of cognitive slavery, through mindful habits and self-awareness.

St. Nick’s Presence

Phone May-December 2012 131

I went upstairs to ask my mother a simple favor for something mundane. My stepfather was playing his piano in the other bedroom and neither one of them heard me come up the stairs. My mother jumped when I entered the room, she had been crying quietly to herself. “I hate it when he plays the piano,” she said, “it makes me sad because it has an underlying tone of melancholia. But I can’t ask him to stop because that’s all he has…” to deal with the loss of our son, is what she meant.

I have lived in my deceased brother’s room for three weeks now. At first, it tormented me to an almost unbearable point. Then, I began to focus on other things besides my brother being gone and successfully landed a position at a patent agency, which is so amazing. In fact, it was almost meant to be, but I will discuss that in another post.

Since then, I have seen my mother frustrated and angry at our broken mental health care system. My stepdad is declining into paranoia and depression from taking anti-depressants and too much anti-anxiety medication. I understand where they are coming from, but I cannot help them deal with this intense feeling of failure that they both seem to suffer from, other than just being present and mindful of the situation.

I understand why they feel the way they do, but perhaps they could also look at it from another perspective. I was “this close” (holding two fingers closely together) to dying myself after an attempted overdose in October 2013. What saved me was the goodbye note I wrote to my child on the back of her school photo. I looked at it while I was waiting to pass into oblivion and it brought me back, just like in “What Dreams May Come” (Robin Williams). I almost died back then, but I didn’t and now I am here to help them get through this. Does that mean anything to them? I think so, but it’s still difficult.

I suppose it saddens me that (sometimes) they appear more hurt about my brother being gone than they are glad that I am here. My relationship with my parents has always been bittersweet, so I didn’t really expect things to be any different, especially now. Yet, I still wish sometimes that I hadn’t been torn away from my mother twenty years ago over a load of laundry. Maybe if I had been around, things would have been different. It’s all in the past, though, so there isn’t any point in pulling out the should’ve card. It doesn’t help anything.

Since it is Christmas, I am trying very hard to focus on the good things in my life because it is so easy for me to be consumed by unhappiness if I let myself. After living with “the wrong Nick” for so many months, I really began to believe I was worthless. That was just a reinforcement from others from my past, especially my snotty, wanna-be model cousin. Maybe she’s different now, but I doubt it. People don’t really change unless they see the error of their ways.

That in itself is why my brother died. Too many people did not realize they weren’t helping him and he got lost along the way. I miss you, Nicky. No matter how much strife we suffer in this life, it is always worth it if we can find the good in something. If we only focus on the bad, there is no reason to go on anymore. I still have a reason to go on, and for that, I am blessed. Not by God, but by life.

The Mourning Moon

Mourning moon
Yorktown, Indiana

It is time to let go now

Time to move on

Let this old life burn down

And get the heck out of this town

 

That golden doubloon

Cheering me on

I will be gone very soon

This will be our last full moon

 

I have a great sadness

That still holds on

But there is also a gladness

There will be no more madness

 

How does one say good-bye?

And just walk on

Without batting an eye

Or taking a moment to cry

 

After the tears will come relief

Keep truckin’ on

And hold onto that belief

That I’m turning over a new leaf

Domestic Violins

IMG_20120814_102136I play my fiddle away

Knowing that I have today

To fight against you in dismay

That looming, giant upright bass

You tried to smash it in my face

That’s when I pulled out the mace

It really is such a shame

When we first met you were so tame

I wish I’d known it was all a game

Life is sometimes really strange

Now it’s time to rearrange

Maybe I’ll go beg for spange

I will play my harp today

In hopes that I can get away

Not right now, but someday

6 Reasons Why You Need to Sign Up for Health Coverage Now

It’s November now, and that means that it is, once again, time for open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace. This may come as a subtle reminder for some of us, but for others it can be life-saving. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), “research shows that more than 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental disorder at the time of their deaths.”

People with mental disorders often need treatment and do not realize it, I personally have been one of those people myself. In fact, my counselor continues to insist that I should get on Latuda for my mental health issues. However, after many years of experimenting with medical drugs and having my brother die while taking prescribed psych medication, makes me hesitant to jump on that train very quickly.

Aside from how I feel about meds, there are lots of you out there that need ‘em, and badly too! Now is the time for you to get medical coverage, so you can start getting healthy and move on with your life. If you’re ready to do that, the AFSP Webinar on Obtaining Mental Health Insurance Services has some great information and resources to get you started.

If you are not ready to take the plunge into the marketplace quite yet, consider this:

  1. It’s the law. You need to have coverage in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act. People who choose not to get covered end up paying a penalty at the end of the year. So why not just pay for health coverage?
  2. Life is unpredictable. The average cost of a hospital visit will put anyone without insurance in the red, big time. If you break your leg this winter, you could end up filing for bankruptcy in the spring.
  3. Federal law now requires mental health services in health insurance plans. This means no extra work trying to figure out if your meds will be covered by your plan.
  4. There are different levels of coverage, depending on your needs.
  5. With the tax credits that are available, most plans are reasonably affordable.
  6. If it’s still too expensive…People who are considered to be living under 100 – 400% of the poverty line can usually qualify for some type of government assistance, such as Medicaid or Medicare (65 and over).

Now that I have convinced you why you need to sign up for health coverage, keep in mind that open enrollment ends on January 31, 2016. Special circumstances may allow you to enroll throughout the year but now is the prime time. So get signed up, before the holiday rush and tax season. By the time all that stuff is done, you know won’t want to deal with your insurance too. Take care of it now, you will thank yourself later.