Pissed off

I am pissed off. And sad, but mostly pissed off, at a lot of things. Like this about no funding being available for counseling for two little girls who saw police kill their uncle. Or this, the Department of Corrections saying that they aren’t going to respond to an OIA request about the treatment of trans women in prisons because they’d have to look at their files and they don’t think it’s a good enough use of their funding. Or the violence that whiteness is constantly inflicting on everyone else because I don’t even know why, we’re too fucked up to deal with our own crap without shitting on everyone and shooting up churches.

Partly that’s all just sort of sitting there simmering in the back of my mind and coming out in something really trivial though. I’m pissed off that I just sat the last exams of my degree, which has had me studying constantly for like three years, no summers off, just two or weeks here and there between semesters, no matter how sick or unstable or insomniac I get, which is a fucking huge achievement, and I don’t even get to be proud because I’m too busy being terrified that now I have to face the job market and the punitive welfare system and the patronising “how to look for jobs” programs they make you take. It sucks because as hard as studying was and as burned out on it as I’ve been getting I kind of wish it wasn’t over. At least with university, it’s predictable. You put in the work. You study. You do your assignments. And you earn your grades. It’s all based on what you put in, pre-defined standards, they even give you marking schedules showing what they expect of you.

But looking for work? Especially the specific kind of work I need, most particularly part time work? There’s no control in it. You have to scour through everywhere to even find places you might fit and then you do whatever you can to impress someone who at the end of the day has a huge stack of applicants to pick through and you just have to hope they decide, on some arbitrary criteria that centres around looking at a couple of pieces of paper and hopefully talking to you for ten minutes or half an hour, that you’re the best there is. It would be like if you enrolled at university and then had to go through all the papers looking for the two or three that let you actually get an A grade and then once you’d signed up for them you had to beat everyone else because there’s only one, and if you didn’t manage to do that you don’t get your degree and everyone has the gall to act as though it’s your personal failing, because there are plenty of As out there if you want them. And it’s not just how people judge you, there’s also the government watching over your shoulder reminding you that if you don’t submit enough assignments they’ll take away the only money you have to live on.

I don’t even actually know if WINZ will let me only look for part time jobs without a medical exemption. You’re supposed to be available for full time work. I’m fairly close to needing to go to the doctor again anyway so I can get it, but what a hassle.

I don’t know. I’m just finding the world to be a very terrible place at the moment. There are too many people who don’t care about anyone else’s quality of life, or even their lives at all. The mental anguish, the torture, the terror, the lives taken violently through murder and colonialism and poverty and disinterest, they don’t even mean anything to society at large. It makes it hard, sometimes, to find the motivation to keep going.

What next?

It feels really, really surreal to nearly be done with my degree. And terrifying, mostly. Right now I have a single 2000 word essay remaining for Politics of Protest and then three exams mid-way through next month, and… that’s it. I would love love love to do post-grad next (I even know what I want to write a thesis on if I can swing it) but right now I am so burned out on studying. I haven’t had a real break from it since I started my degree, because I needed the income from the student allowance over summers.

Unfortunately burned out or not I still need income. Which means that as soon as my exams are done I’m going to have to start looking for work, which is the terrifying bit. I have so much crap stacked up against me in this department:

  • I’ve been variously diagnosed with endemic/major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and social phobia. I’m not sure how many of those are current, but I expect to be medicated basically forever. Which means…
  • There is no way I can jump straight into full time work. None. That would be a recipe for disaster. But…
  • Part time work is ludicrously hard to find, especially if you’re not looking for entry level retail or something. Meanwhile, the budget has just increased work obligations for sole parents – they’re now expected to look for part time work when their youngest child turns three. Where are those jobs? I don’t know, but I’ll be competing with like a million people for them.
  • I really prefer to avoid phones. I hate them with a passion.
  • Since I’ve been focusing on studying, I haven’t worked for the last two years since I moved up here. During that time most of my references have moved on to I don’t know where.
  • Relatedly, I don’t have any references for the time from approximately birth until after #eqnz. That was the year I turned 26. I suspect my CV is just going to say I was studying and working low level retail jobs off and on.

I really don’t know how this is going to work out. All I really want to do is take a break from everything, but that just isn’t going to happen. It’s exams, then dealing with WINZ and job search, then work. That’s it.

Design flaws

Assuming I passed all my summer papers, I only have one more semester until I finish my undergrad degree. Which is great, except that because I only have three papers left I don’t count as a full-time student – the EFTS value is 3.75, not the required 4. Luckily this is one of the situations where limited full-time comes in. As long as you’re doing at least half of the full-time course load, you just get the university to sign a form and send it to Studylink and voila, you get treated like a full-time student.

Unfortunately they won’t do this until results from summer school come out. Because if I didn’t pass everything, then I wouldn’t have less than a full-time semester of papers left. The problem is that semester one starts on February 23 and my exams were the 9th and 10th and results just don’t happen that quickly. Further, the allowance is on a week’s lag, so if you’re meant to start getting it the week of the 23rd, you won’t get your first payment until the week after that. Not just the allowance, but also course related costs, which means no textbooks until at least a couple of weeks in.

Before anyone asks, I have money in my savings for exactly this sort of situation and I expect it will be back paid when it finally does go through, but I’m pretty sure the timing for semester two means the same thing happens then and considering students basically live hand to mouth I can’t be the only one affected by this.

Plans for the future

So in somewhat exciting news, I may be able to afford to do post-grad after all. This involves, essentially, a private grant to cover part of my living costs (the rest taken from the living costs portion of the student loan) which would increase my income to a little bit more than it is now.

Given that I hadn’t really been expecting to be able to do post-grad this leaves me with a lot of questions to answer.

  • Do I want to continue straight into post-grad?
  • Do I want to do a particular project I’m interested in regarding those who are cut off from immediate whanau and how this affects their sense of “Maoriness”?
  • Can I justify that as a social policy post-grad?
  • Is the fact that it will be quite heavy on interpersonal communication and interviews going to cause me problems and stress?
  • Am I likely to be able to come up with an alternative topic that interests me as much but doesn’t involve so much interpersonal communication?
  • If I do this, should I continue where I live now, or move?
  • Should I go to Palmerston North to be closer to the uni’s resources and my supervisor?
  • Should I try to live alone, either in halls, in a share house, or a tiny tiny flat?
  • Should I stay in Wellington but maybe move closer in to the city and the Wellington Massey campus?
  • Can I get through another X years of studying without a break, without flipping out?
That’s quite a lot of questions I don’t really have answers for.

Age is a number

The polls have closed in Scotland and the count has started. Aside from the excitement of a nation voting on whether or not to become independent (peacefully!), there are a few other quirks about the referendum that have drawn notice. One is that 16 year olds were eligible to vote.

Some people think this is a bad idea. Some think it’s “insane”, even. Typically the argument is that the brain of a 16 year old isn’t fully developed enough to understand the consequences of their actions.

I am extremely uncomfortable with that argument for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that that’s exactly the same argument that was used to deny women and various ethnic groups suffrage in the past (and in a couple of places even today). This will be rebutted with the assumption that our knowledge of the brain is better now, but during those previous debates they assumed their knowledge of the brain was correct too. The fact is, we know very little about the brain. They’ve just found a woman in China who’s 24 years old and has no cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for fine motor control, balance, motor learning and speech. Normally when this happens, the person dies quite young. In her case she had the symptoms of a minor to moderate impairment – difficulty walking, slurred speech, late development of both (speaking at 6, walking at 7). Why? Science doesn’t fucking know. The assumption is that other parts of the brain took up the slack. The brain is the least understood part of the human body.

Basing civil rights on mental abilities is really gross. It’s lead to intelligence tests that were rigged for failure. It’s lead to people with any sort of mental impairment being barred from voting (and the history of insanity is pretty fascinating for how mental impairment has been assessed over the years). There are plenty of adults who don’t grasp consequences very well who are nonetheless strongly encouraged to vote. You can vote with a concussion if you want. You can vote no matter what your educational level. There’s no obligation to even read up on the candidates or parties, you can go in there drunk with absolutely zero clues about any of it, pick two options at random, and it’s still a legitimate vote. The fact that we have a tradition of satirical political parties should be some indication that this is not some holy rite that only the most worthy should be blessed enough to take part in.

Meanwhile we let 16 year olds make all sorts of decisions that affect their future in dramatic ways. Pick school subjects, drop out, have children, leave home (in certain circumstances), drive. Car crashes are a major killer, particularly affecting Maori youth, especially rurally.

If 16 year olds are allowed to participate in adult society, and be quite strongly affected by decisions made there (eg youth wages, employment law, tertiary policy, apprenticeship schemes), I think it’s a little outlandish to consider the idea of allowing them to vote to be “insane”. 16 year olds are fairly likely to be taking or have taken civics classes fairly recently, and still have that information fresh in their minds. They are a lot more intelligent than people give them credit for. Not all of them will want to vote, and when you look at the places where they’re allowed to you’ll usually find that at 16 you’re able, but at 18 it becomes compulsory (either to just enrol or also vote), or 16 year olds are only able to vote in particular kinds of election but not all of them. But 16 year olds are right on the cusp of entering the adult world and the decisions people make here tomorrow will affect them strongly. Very strongly, considering some of the areas that have been policy focuses lately. Someone who’s in Year 13 this year and hasn’t turned 18 yet won’t have a chance to vote until they’ve already been in the workforce or higher education (ideally), raising a small child (also pretty hard work), or stuck on a benefit (increasingly more realistically) for two and a half years. That would have been me if you shifted my birth year – I didn’t turn 18 until just after I started university. And yet they have no say whatsoever on who gets to define the terms of their participation for those nearly three years. Looking at it through a civil rights framework, I just don’t think that’s fair. I want to encourage young people to take an interest in politics early. Maybe if we can catch these 16 year olds, it will be one of the factors we need to improve youth engagement. That can’t be a bad thing.

Clawing back

This time last week it was like the world was ending. There are certain things I’ve gone over in my head a lot, trying to figure out how to explain them to people who haven’t experienced it. I should be able to; there’s a strong literary thread in my family, I wrote a lot during high school and attended the Christchurch Young Writers’ School. (That might not be what it was called, I’ve been out of school for a while.) But I’ve tried, and in this respect having a breakdown is much like the Christchurch earthquakes – I can string words together but it all comes out as cliches that do nothing to really convey the complicated mess that it is. After the earthquakes there was too much emotion, all happening at once and none of it making much sense. During a deep depression there’s not enough. They’ve actually studied this, interestingly. People who suffer damage in the part of their brain responsible for emotion start to have difficulty making decisions. It makes sense if you think about it – if you have no emotional investment, you might think you’d become more logical, but how do you assess which outcome is better if you have no metric for deciding what is “good”? And that’s sort of what emotion is, a lot of the time. And when you’re depressed to that level, nothing is good. There is no ideal outcome, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hopelessness. I felt like schoolwork was impossible, I cried a lot. It was pretty much my default time-killer, really. Staring out the window at the empty yard gotten too unfulfilling even for my apathy? Might as well cry for a while.

By mid-to-late last week I was starting to get a bit of myself back. It’s hard work. I had to force myself through a lot of it, particularly dealing with the consequences for uni. I had help – I’d spent a couple of hours clicking through the Massey website looking for the most appropriate people to reach out to and couldn’t ever work up the momentum to actually email any of them, so in the end someone else emailed someone on my behalf and forwarded it to me. That worked. Once there was a point of contact in my inbox I only had to reply, and it didn’t matter if it was objectively the best person or whatever. In the end I dropped a paper, and then I worked as hard as I could to finish the assignments due for the two papers remaining. I will be the first to admit that those two assignments were not my best work. I think I actually put the wrong student id number on one of them, and I’ve been typing that thing out over and over for two or three years.

Don’t get the wrong idea when I say I worked as hard as I could, though. This isn’t the study habits of a diligent high school student trying to pad out their college application in America where you need a little more than a C average in Bursary (or whatever the NCEA equivalent is) to get into a decent school. I didn’t feel…. connected to it, really, like I have done in the past. That feeling that, yeah, I’m working on an assignment, I’m applying my learning and preparing for the exam if there is one and one day I’m going to use this knowledge or the experience of gaining it in the job market. I like most of my classes and I’m pretty used to that feeling. This was more that I consciously knew I had to get the work done, but I didn’t feel like it was very urgent. Not more urgent than staring out the window at the empty yard. The word vacuous comes to mind to describe that state, not so much a fuzziness as a general disconnection from reality.

Okay, here’s a metaphor. I have an Asus Transformer, the screen slides into a dock on the keyboard and clicks into place and lo, my tablet now looks like a laptop. Around the little sockets on the bottom of the actual tablet bit the plastic casing is of course thinner than it normally is, because it can’t cover that socket, right? So for the last couple of months, around one of the sockets the plastic had cracked at one end and poked out a bit unless there was pressure holding it in place, which there is when it’s docked. Recently I began having trouble docking it though. It slid in, but it didn’t click like it normally does, like when you’re doing up your seatbelt (make it click!), and if I wasn’t careful I’d knock it out of place. I could push it in but then it would be out of alignment on some other edge. Eventually I realised that the little bit of plastic had come off at the other end as well and it was sitting inside the dock on the keyboard, preventing the tablet from getting in far enough to make a proper connection. It was recognising the keyboard, I could type fine, it used the extra battery just like normal, but jog it the wrong way or accidentally kick it or something and nope, no longer connected. Sorry.

Obviously this allegory does not go much further. I can’t just tip my keyboard unit up so the plastic falls out and everything locks together again the way it was meant to. But it might be a little easier to understand than the other words I know, things like depersonalisation and derealisation and dissociation (of the three, probably derealisation is the most accurate, though it’s really meant to describe something slightly different.)

I submitted the second assignment today and I still have reading to catch up on. I actually had done a little bit of reading during those five awful days, because it was a way to pass the time and didn’t actually require much effort and, most importantly, the binders were right there. But I’m still behind in both papers and I’ll have to work on that this week. Right now I’m a little burned out for the day though, I’ve been reading too many articles and thesis abstracts and trying to assess them on a critical level to at least reach a level maybe vaguely acceptable in a third year paper. Mostly I just want to sleep for a long time. I don’t have many of the extra strength sedatives that might accomplish that left, though. I had to break into them last week after spending half an hour on the phone with a student advisor in the morning when my flatmate had some friends over in the evening. It sounds stupid, but hearing their voices, and particularly when they all would all laugh and the volume shot up, was unbearable. I ended up clinging to my pillow trembling, chest hurting from the way my heart sped up anytime a noise came that was louder than the general background levels. And more crying. After the drugs kicked in I was able to briefly duck into the kitchen to shove some ice cream and canned peaches in a bowl, after one had left and another went to pick up their dinner order and I only had to face three people. I almost couldn’t do that, but when you don’t eat enough as it is, occasionally you get to the point where you know you need to get some calories into you as soon as is feasible. And I didn’t know how late they’d be staying.

The struggle to convey an experience is pervasive, I think. Mental illness is terrifying because it’s isolating. If you could only find a way to describe it, it might lose some of its power over you, so you grope around for words that will tap into… something… you don’t really know what. A common spirit? Empathy? A quiet, disquieting feeling that haunts everyone when it’s dark and you’re all alone?

Maybe it doesn’t, though. You can’t know until you try to explain and see the reactions – whether people look at you afterwards with understanding, or whether they pull away like insanity is catching.

Making the hard calls

I mentioned that I was in touch with someone from Massey; this happened very quickly after I started to recover from last week’s crash. Luckily someone else set it up, because the Massey website is enormous and poorly designed and makes me want to cry in a corner far more than it makes me want to figure out exactly who the appropriate person to contact is and then email them out of the blue.

So, yesterday I had a 25 minute phone call with this student rep. And if you know me, you know I HATE phones. I actively refuse to make phone calls if I have any kind of choice and if I get a call without expecting it odds are about 50/50 on whether I’ll answer. But we managed some level of productivity despite my neuroses. She wanted to get a better idea of exactly what kind of support I have up here and what problems/diagnoses I actually have and then made lots of suggestions. I managed to write some down, so hopefully my notes will still make sense later. I dropped one of my papers and she said she’d check with someone else whether I would still qualify as full time without it since I study over summer, and she’s going to send me some forms for fees to be carried over, which means that I could take that paper again next year without paying for it again. I’ll have to take those forms to the doctor, but I need to go soon anyway for a new scrip. I’ll also ask him if there’s any particularly good places through PHO I could get counseling for free; if not, Massey lady will hook me up with student health at the Wellingon campus.

(I did get an email shortly after the call – I am still full-time, just. You need to take 8 papers a year, which usually means 4/semester, but 3 over summer means 2+3 the rest of the year is enough.)

Here is how phone calls affect me for the rest of the day: after a while, every single noise was stressing me. The cicadas. Some guy doing yard work with a power tool. A bunch of my flatmate’s friends came round and it was nightmarish; I could hear them talking but they laugh louder than they talk, so that set off my heart going faster than usual. I ended up huddled at the end of my bed trembling until I heard one visitor leave and one go to pick up dinner. That left flatmate and one other person, which I decided was my best shot to get something to eat and some juice to take my lorazepam with.

If I end up in a sharehouse, I feel I need a bar fridge. Leaving my room to get food is just too hard when I’m struggling.




These are my study materials for semester one. You can’t quite tell from the angle but it’s almost a foot high – the bottom package is the size of the middle one and the stuff in the binder combined. Overall it’s over 3000 pages.

My flatmate is 34 weeks pregnant and will likely be premature. Her midwife wants her to be at least 36 weeks, so, sometime in March.

I originally applied for more financial aid in November, knowing that the best time to move would be in the mid-semester break in February and wanting to have time to save some money first. I’m still trying to get it.

There are plenty of people in my classes who work full-time and have kids and still manage to study. I’m not one of them. I had never completed first year before, let alone done a 300-level paper, let alone two at once as well as a 200-level, and I know that dealing with WINZ affected my work over the second half of summer, especially in NZ Land Wars. I don’t really want to be trying to study with a baby in the house. I just don’t. Excitable dogs barking is hard enough.





Thoughts for the future

It occurred to me last night that if I can’t find a decent place to live in Wellington, I could spend my last year of uni up in Palmerston North. (Approx mid this year – mid 2015.) The rent is much cheaper, and while the public transport system isn’t very comprehensive it’s flatter so walking or biking wouldn’t be as much of a problem. I’d have access to the Massey library in person, rather than having things sent out to me which is enough of a pain that I rarely do it. If I took even one paper internally I’d also get free bus fares – though if I was really lucky I could potentially arrange with the teacher to “be” internal but not actually have to turn up unless I’m able. It might also make it easier to connect with teachers and build up contacts that might be helpful when I’m looking for work.

Downsides include the cost of moving things up there, of course, as well as the fact that Palmerston North is a dreary hole populated largely by students, military families and the soulless. And while I don’t know where I’ll end up working after school, chances are decent that it will be in Wellington which means then either moving everything back or selling bits of furniture and buying replacements. I’m unlikely to want to take a job there even if I’m offered one. Also, all the mental health support I’m fighting to get access to is in Wellington. But it’s a very feasible option that I think is worth considering.