A reader asked:
I developed PTSD last year and took time off college, and I’m about to go back for the first time since then. I’ve been auditing classes for a few months now though and I’m suddenly terrified. I can barely read anymore (I can’t focus and it’s often panic inducing). I dissociate in class and sometimes even have highly humiliating episodes in lectures. I never retain anything and it feels futile and I’m afraid I’m gonna flunk out. If you have any advice I would appreciate it so much. Thank you!!
Since I don’t know you, all I can do is guess – but here are a couple of possibilities that comes to mind:
Do you find evaluation triggering? Like, tests, quizzes, papers, things where you have to prove that you mastered the material? Or knowing that you’re being graded?
If so, I wonder if maybe a full course load might be too much for you right now. Being terrified is exhausting and time consuming. So is dealing with being triggered a lot. That plus a full course load might be taking up more time than you have.
It might be better to start by only taking one course for credit. That could give you space to work on figuring out what’s triggering and how to deal with it.
Another possibility: If you’re missing material because you dissociate in class, you might be able to get a notetaker as a disability accommodation. Or you might try recording the lectures (which is a disability accommodation you can get even if recording isn’t normally allowed). Similarly, if you find a particular *kind* of assessment triggering, you might be able to arrange a modified form (eg: if taking a quiz in-class causes you to dissociate, you might be able to arrange to do a take-home instead.)
You might also try collaborative note taking:
- It’s a good strategy for anyone to try who is having trouble paying attention in lecture
- But it might also be helpful for you if your episodes are the kind someone can help you avert if you see one coming on
- Because then you’d already be communicating with your notetaking partner, so if you see a problem coming it might give your the opportunity to get help
Another possibility: Are you dealing with a triggering or cognitively incompatible teacher?
- For some people, teachers who teach in certain ways can be triggering
- Or can be so hard to understand that they exhaust you in ways that take away the cognitive abilities you need to do school
- Or can be hostile to you in subtle but intensely destructive ways
- Or any number of other serious points of incompatibility
- If you’re having a debilitating reaction to a particular teacher, it’s probably really important to not take classes with that teacher, even if it looks like a good idea on paper
(There’s a range of different things that work for different people, so it would also be good to seek out different perspectives.)