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Tests and Tragedy: Coping with College when Trouble Hits at Home

December 10th, 2007 admin

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I tried to write a detailed post this morning about how to cope with trouble back home while you are away at school, but I struggled to really put into words what it feels like, how much it hurts, and how to cope with it.

Two years ago this week, I was preparing for finals as my dad prepared to go into a surgery that we hoped would remove all traces of cancer from his body. Though I took all my finals and my dad made it safely through surgery, the weeks leading up to those days—and the months of hospitalizations, chemotherapy, and pain that my dad experienced afterward—were some of the hardest of my life.

Though its hard to give good general advice when everyone copes differently, there are a few things you should know if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Know Your Limits. You need to decide how much you will struggle in school based on whatever is going on with your family or friend. Decide if you think you can make it through the quarter/semester, or if this is such an extreme situation that you need to drop a class or take a break from school. Talk to a parent or adult that you trust to help you make this decision.
  • Tell Your Professors and/or Employer. Don’t feel like it is a cop-out to explain your personal situation to your professors and/or employer. Your professor may be able to offer you additional help, or refer you to someone who can tutor you if you find yourself struggling to keep up in class. Your employer needs to understand your situation because he/she may notice a change in your mood, and because you may need time off to visit home.
  • Search Out Support. The best support I got was from a friend who had been through a similar situation—he was able to help me understand that my feelings were normal, and was empathetic. You should also find out what your school has to offer. UCSD’s Student Health Services offered free sessions with a psychologist to all students, and also had student support groups for all different kinds of issues.
  • Reach Out to Others. One thing that is almost guaranteed to lift your spirits is to focus on helping other people instead of on your own worries. I made a lot of phone calls to my mom to cheer her up, and they cheered me up, too. Don’t feel that you have to help just one person or that you have to do a lot of big things—small, random acts of kindness to others will help you get outside your own pain, and even a small break from worrying is worth the effort.
  • Rest and Nourish. The health of your body affects your emotional state—you are much more likely to feel sad or fearful if you are tired. Worry, fear, and depression all take a lot out of you, so take good care of your body. Pay attention to what you eat, and try to keep eating healthily and on a regular basis. Also, understand that you might need more rest during stressful times—you might need to go to bed earlier or take a nap.

Remember, everyone copes in different ways. My younger brother couldn’t stand to go visit my dad in the hospital—it was just too painful for him. I was on the opposite side of the spectrum, and only felt good when I was sitting by Dad’s bed in the hospital.

If you have been through something like this, I encourage you to leave thoughts, ideas, and experiences in comments for your fellow readers—it really helps to know you’re not alone.

Photo: together by scol22

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Entry Filed under: academics,homesickness,life 101

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Elizabeth  |  February 26th, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Thank you so much for writing this! I am in my first year of college and right before my senior year of high school, a lot of major tragedy hit my family, including deaths and my mother’s second bout of breast cancer. We have just been dealt two new blows and I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately. Reading this article has helped me so much….there are things here that I didn’t even think of that could help me so much!

  • 2. Sangeeta  |  August 1st, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Thank you so much for this website. I’m reading this after failing a year of college but I swear…college was unbearably painful this past year because I underwent a breakup and then went into depression. maybe you could write about how to handle that? thanks anyway, it’s taught me a lot

  • 3. Jamie  |  August 1st, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I’m so glad that you found this article helpful. It was hard to write, but it also felt good. Sangeeta, I think an article about handling breakups and/or depression in college is a great idea. I’ll get right on that!

  • 4. Daniel Alderman  |  June 28th, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Absolutely true.

    My mother died while I was attending school. It was very difficult, and I wound up dropping my harder classes because I just couldn’t cope with it. School itself is very stressful and losing a parent is one of the most stressful things a person can go through.

    Tell your professors. Tell your dean. They will, hopefully, be very understanding and provide you with options that will relieve some of the stress.

    I thought that I could just get back to it. I gave myself the corporate mandated (at least at my old corporate job) three days of mourning. I’d only missed one biology class and I went into class and told my professor what had happened before class. She was very compassionate and told me to get out of there. Three days was not enough, she said. We’d talk later. It was a great relief. She wound up letting me drop the class and retake it. I had no idea it would take 2 weeks to be functional again…

    Good advice. Thank you for posting.

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