My struggle for support in academia

With all we know today about the severity of mental health conditions, it’s baffling to me that it’s still so difficult to navigate systems that are supposed to be in place for us, and that includes those available in universities. My recent (and still ongoing) experience left me feeling so many things – defeated, frustrated, angry, pathetic – but, most of all, it motivated me to start this blog and share what I’ve been going through. I’ve been in university for some time now and I understand the processes involved with declaring myself a student with disabilities and accessing my accommodations, but it’s not an incredibly user-friendly process for the average person, let alone for those of us who struggle with attention, anxiety, or processing disorders. Academia is not inclusive or accessible for a lot of us (which is a shame because I personally love taking classes and would gladly be in school my whole life if I could).

Here’s my story:

I began taking medication for my depression and anxiety roughly one year ago, and it immediately began to help reduce the severity and duration of my symptoms. It helped me function a lot better and I performed in school the way that I knew I could (I even took on a year-long class at my synagogue and a semester-long Jewish Fellowship program while taking on a full course load at school). However, this past February changed and I went through a two month crisis period – my anxiety had gotten worse, my agoraphobia was out of control, and I dropped three classes.

Exams came around and I felt a little bit better. I wrote the first of my two exams feeling confident, but my panic returned two days later when it came time for the second exam. I couldn’t make myself leave my bedroom. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like my chest was going to explode from how fast my heart was beating. I was sweating and shaking and getting dizzier and dizzier every time I tried to stand up. I thought I was going to throw up.

I didn’t know the exact process for requesting a deferred exam due to illness, so I quickly searched it on my school’s website. It was pretty simple: fill out the online petition and then submit a note from your doctor confirming your illness. I also checked a box to indicate that I would be sending in a letter of support from my counsellor at AccessAbility Services (they manage the accommodations for all students who declare disabilities), because I had written about being registered with them. I then made an appointment to see this counsellor and talk to her about it. I think quoting myself from right after it happened is an effective way to show how I was feeling at the time:

“I missed an exam for mental health reasons and my accessibility counsellor said she can’t submit a letter to the petitions office for me to write a deferred exam because I didn’t go see my non-existent mental health practitioner on the day of the missed exam. She then hurried my crying ass out of her office with the following (baffling) words of encouragement: “practice makes perfect”.

So the person whose literal job it is to advocate for me refused to do it. I’m stunned. I have no idea what to do now.”

I’ve spoken with her a lot about my frustrating with being unable to see a psychiatrist. My family doctor has sent in multiple referrals for me but I haven’t gotten called back yet, so he’s been the only person managing my case. I’d also like to point out that I made an appointment with this doctor today, June 14th, and the earliest he could see me is August 3rd. It’s impossible for me to see him on any kind of short notice. I was also in the midst of a panic crisis, so it was pretty ableist for my counsellor to suggest that leaving my apartment was the first thing I should’ve done when I knew that I couldn’t… leave my apartment… By some stroke of luck, my brother told me that he’d made an appointment for the next day with our doctor so I tagged along and quickly had a Verification of Student Illness form filled out.

I submitted my petition near the end of April and its status is still “pending”. I dropped out of my summer classes because I couldn’t pay my tuition – my student loans are frozen until a decision is made and I couldn’t come up with $2000+ on my own. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not I want to ever go back – what would I do if I didn’t? What would I do if I did?

I’ll keep you all updated on my school situation whenever something finally happens with it. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my mental health (more about that in another post) and enjoying the beautiful summer months.