When School and Life Collide

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Asking for help when life gives you lemons.

Sean Stoker | Editor-at-large | @theroyalthey

Photo illustration credit: Ben Hammond

Juggling school, work and a social life is tough enough already. When huge life events coincide with your schooling its overwhelming.

Last semester I learned this first-hand. It was only two or three weeks into school, and I wanted to hit the ground running. I hit a minor speed bump right away, when I came down with a terrible case of bronchitis, having to spend my time coughing my head off alone in my apartment and missed about a week of classes. Then, just as I was feeling a little bit better and thinking I would be able to pick up where I left off, my world was turned upside-down.

My older brother, whom I was very close with, suddenly and unexpectedly died. That’s an event that’s devastating regardless of how busy you are, but try committing to the rigors of academia when all you want to do is hit the pause button on life so you can shrink away and deal with all your issues.

I saw my grades slipping, and fell farther and farther behind in my assignments, and I started to feel like a major wuss. In my eyes, the rest of my family, though they were in just as much if not more pain than myself, seemed to be able to get things done while still coping with the ordeal. What was wrong with me? I couldn’t handle 12 stupid credit hours?

After a particularly taxing day of classes, I walked toward the library hoping for some privacy as I took out my phone and dialed my parents. That’s right, I had to call Mommy and Daddy to make it better. As my parents answered the put me on speakerphone and I told them I was contemplating dropping a class or two.

At first they were concerned, like I was, that I was taking the easy way out. I couldn’t argue with them on that, though I was still lying beneath a mountain of overdue homework that I felt helpless to make up. I started to apologize, explaining my feelings of feebleness because I wasn’t able to keep all my plates spinning while people that had it worse off were doing relatively fine.

It was then that my parents understood where I was coming from and offered their blessing on my choice. They told me to snap out of that kind of thinking. The truth was, all of us were trying our best to keep the world spinning and we were all needed a little help.

As we continued talking, tears streamed down my face and I realized that the second floor of the library was not the best area for privacy. But I couldn’t go anywhere else because if I walked to the bathroom, someone would no doubt see me and I’d have to explain what was wrong.

I leaned against a wall to hide my face, letting tears fall directly to the ground. If you’re a guy and you value your masculinity, you know how humiliating it is to cry at an inappropriate time, and out in front of everyone, let alone with the added drama of holding a phone to one’s ear. I can’t imagine what my fellow library-goers thought was happening.

Though humbled in a library for everyone to see, I understood that day that there is no shame asking for help, and no problem with relaxing my schedule when I had too much on my plate. I went directly from the library to my academic counselor and we worked out which class I could safely drop for the semester, even though it was after the final date to drop classes.

Though it may not work for everyone, I was able to get a refund for the class I dropped by going to the registrar’s office and submitting an appeal for exemption to the deadline. This can take a load off ones mind if school is currently too much. If your circumstances are extreme enough to warrant an exemption, the registrar and your professors can work with you, though you will still need to put forth your best effort. You can ask those around you for help leveling the playing field, but you’ll still have to play the game.

After all, life happens. Whether they are positive or negative, major life events —whether it’s the death of a loved one, marriage or divorce, disease, or even just moving out of your parents’ house for the first time—are always stressful, and anyone who currently has too much life to handle should have no qualms about getting a helping hand.

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