09 January 2009

Scholarly Stoicism

I’m about to go back to school. It was only the other day that I realized that I have actually finished only one out of the last three semesters. I didn’t realize that I had been so long out of the usual run of things.

I’ve hated school ever since I was little. On the night before high school graduation I remember sitting on my bed by the window and feeling deeply shocked that it had all actually ended and that no one could make me go to school anymore if I didn’t want to. I couldn’t believe that that thing that had made my life so miserable for so long was actually going to go away.

Now I’m applying for grad school. Things change. University is different from high school. I’m still extremely frustrated by the general education curriculum, though. I hate having to take classes on things I already know and am bored by. Soi-disant “Health and Wellness,” for an example. I will, at the ripe age of 28, get to learn how to use a condom, why drugs are bad and be forced to take exercise in groups. I already know these things and exercise on my own. I don’t partake of any illegal substances (and frequently give obnoxious lectures on why no one should) and I don’t even sleep with men!

But these things are no what make me nervous. I’m much more worried that I’ll lose my mind again and have to drop out. If I do, I see no hope of going on with my education. I’m not sure I’d even have the perspicacity to finish my BA. After all these years of forcing myself to go to classes and study hard, whether well or ill, the thought of giving up so close to the end is sickening. Yet, I can’t stomach the thought that I would have to spend another year of my life trying to complete these (to me useless) classes.

Many people to whom I speak of this say “What’s the rush? Take your time.” The rush is that I’m tired of taking my time and I’m tired of being in undergrad. If I take any more time, I’ll lose it. That’s the rush. It’s like asking what the rush is to stop being in chronic pain. Of course, one can only expect so much insight in this area from a bunch of people with doctoral degrees. They liked being in school. Why should I expect them to be able to comprehend the rush?

But why should I take on so much if I’m afraid to do so? Clearly my professors and psychiatrist and therapist would stand behind me if I wanted to take three semesters to finish. The answer lies again in fear. I’m even more afraid to give myself more time and thus more chances to screw up. I’m fairly certain that at this point I can hold it together for eighteen weeks. I’m not so sure about another fifty-two weeks.

My parents pleaded and badgered me into going to school each morning for fifteen years. In that whole decade and a half they never worked out that I might not be the problem. It never, as far as I know, occurred to them that perhaps school was the problem or that my continuous litany of why I didn’t want to go to school might have some useful content in it. It was always assumed that it was a behavioral problem and thus, because it was caused by my behavior, my problem. Now we all know that it was bipolar disorder. But those long years of constant remonstrance have taken their toll: I still assume that it’s all my fault.

As my parents and indeed my teachers and friends and sister and psychologist and so on saw the situation, there were only a few possible solutions: leave it alone, try to bribe me and try to punish me. None of them had much effect. I don’t want to make the same mistake about school. As far as I know there are only a few possible solutions as to how to get through the rest of the undergraduate education. I can suck it up and be stoic. Actually, that’s the only one I can think of. From experience I know that it sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, which means that it is probably more correlative than causal to my ability to go to school.

One factor that I know to make a huge difference is the bipolar disorder. I can’t go to school in the throes of it. It seems to be more in remission than not at the moment and I don’t think that I am ignoring contradictory evidence. But is that a sufficient criterion for determining whether I’m ready to go back to school? And when I do go, how else can I deal with it except to be stoic?

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