What I Learned from the Worst Semester of My Life
The 2017 semester from January-April was the literal worst for me. So, so bad on every level. I suffered academically, socially, and both my physical and mental health fell to the wayside. Never have I ever struggled the way I did in the early part of this year, and while it’s terrible to think about, I think it’s important to reflect on your negative experiences in order to move forward positively.
Let me set the scene. Christmas break back in my hometown was as wonderful as you hope Christmas break to be. I was back in my home for three long weeks, surrounded by my parents’ extreme festive decorating, the likes of which I had never seen before.
Winter in Edmonton is generally awful, and so long you think it will never end, but December is undoubtedly beautiful. It’s cold, surely, but the snow is white and fluffy, and festive cheer abounds throughout the city. Free from responsibilities and surrounded by friends, family, and holiday cheer, I returned to Victoria for school on a high.
Not long after returning, I was hit with a wave of homesickness that I had never experienced even in the loneliest moments of my first year away from home. My frustration with my housemates was at an all-time high, and my academic success was at an all-time low.
It might sound silly, but before that semester I hadn’t really had to work that hard to do well in school, but suddenly I was taking third-year courses and statistics, and I was confronted with the reality that I had never really learned how to effectively study.
About midway through the semester, right before reading week, I came down with strep throat. I may have reached my lowest point when I had to trudge to the clinic for a diagnosis on foot because that very day the buses stopped running and even campus shut down because of the unprecedented amount of snow. Coming from the land of 7-8 month winters with no snow days, it was more than a little infuriating.
Following reading week there was a brief interlude of happiness when I travelled to China with a youth leadership organization and experienced a level of freedom and elation that I had never had before.
I think the contrast of how low I was feeling in Victoria contrasted so distinctly to the happiness I felt in Shanghai and Suzhou culminated when I told my friend that I was afraid to return at the end of the 10 days because I didn’t want to go back to my depression. I cried on the flight home.
When I did return, I felt better than before I left but worse than when I was away. By some miracle of will, I managed to force myself to resume attending classes that I had felt too anxious or depressed to attend before and salvage what I could of my grades.
My parents were so worried that my mom told me I could come home if I wanted to, that I didn’t have to stay in Victoria if it wasn’t making me happy. Somehow I knew going back to Edmonton would be worse, so I hunkered down to weather the storm of my personal struggles and pushed through to the end of the semester. I managed to do alright in all my classes except one, which I failed. It was the first and only class I’ve ever failed in my life, and while it spoke to just how bad the semester had been, I was just relieved that it was over and that I could try again the following semester.
In reflecting on all of this–and believe me, this isn’t the full story–I’ve come to realize that while I did manage to overcome my struggles in the nick of time, I didn’t really do much to help myself. There are so many resources I could have tapped into that I didn’t, and I’m still not sure why.
I could have gone to my professors to explain my struggles, and I’m sure most, if not all, of them would have been understanding and be willing to go through my assignments with me so that I could learn where I went wrong and how to improve.
I could have told my parents just how badly I was doing. I never told them in so many words how much I was struggling, but my mom, in particular, has a sixth sense about that kind of stuff. If I had expressed earlier how my health and academics had taken a turn for the worst, maybe they could have helped me sooner, or more effectively.
I could have reached out to the mental health services on campus. I still have my eye on the counselling services, because while I’m doing infinitely better after a fantastic summer and a so-far-so-good semester, I know that you shouldn’t wait until you haven’t left your bed or spoken to anyone in days before you seek help. I think I had convinced myself that my problems weren’t bad enough to warrant counselling, which is just silly. It’s not a competition of who can suffer the most.
Overall, I’m glad I stayed at UVic and in Victoria, despite my struggles. While I didn’t go to any of my profs about my problems, I did approach some of them about my travel opportunity and they were more than willing to make accommodations. If I hadn’t done that, and if they hadn’t been amazing individuals who are encouraging of their students, I never would have made it to China. I don’t want to think about where I would be if I hadn’t taken that trip.
I also spent the summer in Victoria, about which I will eventually write a post because it was probably the best summer of my life. This first month and a bit of returning to UVic for my third year has already been better, and I was actually eager to be back on campus to nap on the sunny quad in between classes and learn about the sociology of sexualities from the UVic Chair in Transgender Studies.
If you’re like me, and were or are having a hard time, please learn from my mistakes and get the help you need. Even just talking to a friend about what you’re going through no matter how major or insignificant it may seem in the grand scheme of things. You matter, your health, success, and happiness matters, and you should do everything you possibly can to achieve those things for yourself.
Learn more about UVic’s mental health resources on the student mental health site.