When I was in the 5th grade, I stole a book off my mother’s bedside table. It was Rites of Burial, the true story of serial killer Bob Berdella. It was totally not appropriate reading for a 10/11-year-old and even had a small section with crime scene photos of his implements of torture. I should have been terrified just pages into that book, plagued with nightmares after the first chapter. Instead, it made me feel alive. I mean, here was this human embodiment of pure evil, who tortured and murdered young men, and there were people out there who trained their entire lives to somehow track this man down and stop him. There were investigators, criminologists, profilers, crime scene technicians, whole teams of people working together whose main goal was to gather whatever information they could in their field regarding these crimes so that all of these smaller pieces could form one whole, and lead to the arrest of a monster.

By 10th grade, I was torn. I had dove head-first into true murder and serial killer books as a passion and collected Max Haines’ books as basic starters to a list of famous murderers. A big part of me wanted to train and study and learn to go out there and catch these monsters; another part wanted to sit behind a desk in a tiny office, surrounded by papers and research, and write about them. I spent the next three years reading anything I could get my hands on in our tiny school library and collecting the few books I could get at the tiny bookstore in town. This was in the days when the internet was still new and scary, and no one knew what it would become. I was being told that writing wasn’t a practical career unless I got into something like journalism or teaching writing.  At the same time, I was being told that post-secondary teaching and journalism were dying careers that would soon be completely taken over by the internet. I actually let people convince me that there would somehow be maybe two dozen journalists in all of Canada, and they would write the news for every single Canadian, who would read their news online.

By the time high school was coming to an end, everyone else pretty much decided what I would do with my life. I had applied to a school for English Writing and Psychology and had to pick a third option to apply for. I was talked into applying for International Relations and Developmental Studies. Both the writing and Psychology would have been great fits for me and would’ve let me figure out which I wanted more: the writing or the investigating. Instead, I let my parents pressure me into the International Relations program. They figured that this would lead to some high powered, big salary job in the government doing Very Big And Important Things. I had no interest in this at all but never bothered fighting them on it. Instead, I quietly hid all of the correspondence from the University over the summer, including my tuition bill. The day before classes were supposed to start, they finally asked me when my tuition was due. I told them it wasn’t because I wasn’t going. I gave up before I even started.

I spent the next few years just…. existing. I wrote a little bit for a time, had a job as an absolutely horrible monthly Arts and Culture columnist for a local magazine. Spent a lot of time in dark, dingy bars writing poetry in corners by candle-light. I got into the local goth scene and listened to a lot of German industrial music (which is still a weakness of mine). And I got engaged to a horrible, abusive, unsupportive shell of a man. After finishing my first novel (a horribly crappy first draft of a love story/zombie science fiction trope), he burned the only copy and permanently deleted all the files I had for it. I gave up on writing, on any sort of future, on myself pretty much.

Even in the years after I had the strength to leave him, I let myself be pressured into things I didn’t fully want. I went to school to be an administrative assistant. I had been out of school for a few years and was pressured into doing something that could lead to a career in the next year or two. I went to school, did my classes, got good grades, and spent way too much money on pizza and weed. I went for one year, just long enough to get my certificate. I had a sort of super personal tragedy incident thingy happen that year (that’s a whole other post altogether for another day when I’m feeling much braver), and decided against going back for the full diploma and spending another year with some of my classmates. I got a job as a telemarketer at a photocopier dealership and worked my way up to service dispatcher for the for service technicians in just two years.

While I was working this job, the show Criminal Minds premiered. Aside from having the sexiest nerdy young genius ever to appear on network TV(sorry Doogie!), it transported me back to that very first book. Mum still had it on a bookshelf in the basement, and I stole it from her again. I had already started taking a few night classes at the university I had dropped out of years before, studying Political Science this time because I was told it was a Good and Practical Degree that would get me a Very Good and Important Job doing things I had no interest in. I was told that was what being a grown-up was: waking up every day hating your life, going to a job you despise, and forgetting every dream you ever had. A few episodes into the series, I had applied for some psychology courses. That summer, I quit my job and went back to school full time to study Psychology and Criminology.

I wish I could say that the passion I had when I was 11, that I had when I was 16, that I let die in my early 20s, that it suddenly came back to me in full force. It didn’t though. I spent so much time letting everyone else convince me of what I should do with my life, that I lost it. People were still telling me that Criminal Minds was just a TV show, that people like that didn’t really exist. I knew that I wasn’t going to study and wind up flying around the country on a private jet solving crimes, like some federal Mystery Machine. But I also had books by  John Douglas and Robert Ressler and knew that this career was out there. Instead of grabbing the opportunity and running with it, studying my ass off and finally doing what I had been interested in since childhood, I partied in a frat house for years while getting better than decent grades, but not good enough to make me top of the class.

And where has all of this gotten me? After more than a decade of just convincing myself that everyone else knew what’s best for me, and giving up on whatever dreams I had, I’m sitting here at my computer desk, in the house that me and the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend (and the always awesome Bowser Kitten) share with at least three other people. It’s a Tuesday afternoon. I got up at 5:30am and started scrubbing the kitchen and bathroom. I worked my ass off cleaning until almost 11am, before deciding to relax on my last day off of the month. Instead of the Awesome Important Job everyone thought I would get, or a job that has absolutely anything to do with my interests, I’m working 6-7 days a week as a Customer Service Representative in a store that sells beverages that require ID to purchase (*technically not allowed to say where I work, according to our Social Media policy). I’m sitting here in a pair of old tights that are wearing out at the seams, but I’m too broke to replace them, and what is supposed to be a “dress” but looks more like a long hoodie on my fat ass. I’m eating reheated McNuggets and drinking cheap red wine that I’ve been crying into for the last hour. Sometimes I think, “Hey, I’ll do some free courses online, get ahead at work” and do some stuff with addiction or wine knowledge, but my heart isn’t in it. I get distracted reading notable deaths for the year on Wikipedia, or reading old academic articles by famous criminal profilers. I’m 35 years old, and my eyesight disqualifies me from serving in the RCMP as an officer, which is the first step in getting into a career in profiling here. I’m too old, too inexperienced, and too much of a failure to really do much these days.

The thing is, I can’t blame anyone but me. Days like this, I wind up sitting here thinking about the stupidest things that have happened in my life and thinking, “What if I had handled that differently? Would my life be different?”. What if I had the nerve to go to University for psychology right out of high school? What if I had studied harder in University and got a job in academic research? What if I studied this stuff harder when I was young, and wound up researching and writing as some sort of child prodigy? Hell, from there my “what if’s” get even stranger. What if I took Grade 13 Sociology instead of Cosmotology when I was in grade 12? What if I made more of an effort to talk to people in high school? What if I I actually talked to the guy I had a crush on for 4 years in high school instead of just being his partner in drama and never practicing with him, so we bombed out final performance? What if I wrote more in grade 9, grade 8, grade 7, grade 6? What if I kept in better touch with my friends from grade school? What if I never lost touch with my best friend’s grade school crush, who I was really good friends with? Then, I start reading Stephen King’s Insomnia, which just messes with my head more. What if fate is real? What if my fate isn’t to actually do anything real with my life, but to exist just so that I can randomly talk to a person on the street one day and delay them just enough that they run into another person, who then runs late for an appointment and takes a cab and talks to the cab driver, who turns out to be an Actual Important Person?

Basically Sunshine, I’m a mess, and there’s no one else to blame but me. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know what there is that I can still do with my life. Most of the things I want to do are either out of my reach because of finance or age restrictions, and that tears me up inside. I put off so many things because I let other people decide what was best for me when I knew what I wanted at the time. Don’t wind up like this, Sunshine. If you have a goal, a dream, any sort of point to aim for, then just go for it. Pour your whole heart and soul into it. Don’t put things off thinking that you’ll get around to them eventually, or that other people know what’s best for you better than you do. Travel, learn, love, take risks, make history, make memories, and create the life you want and need. Otherwise, you just may wind up 35 years old, half drunk in a rented bedroom while your cat tries to eat your pants and your “Amazingly Awesome” boyfriend needs constant care and detailed instructions on how to be anything close to amazing or awesome most days.

Don’t wind up like me. That’s why I have this blog. If you can’t be a good example, at least be a terrible warning.

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Back to School How-To

Hey there Sunshine!  It’s the middle of the night, going on the very early morning hours. I had a bizarro day (may have witnessed a very injured and mentally unstable young man steal a wheelchair and run away from a hospital ER), and that’s making my anxiety go through the roof tonight. When the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend was heading off to bed, I had to sit up in front of the TV for a bit doing my deep breathing, because I was sure I was about to have a heart attack.

Oh well, hope your night is going much better!

This whole combination of bizarro situations and ridiculously high anxiety DID remind me that school is starting soon, though. I moved a month into high school to a whole new city, to a newly opened high school. Somehow, my parents thought that the fact that the school was new meant that no one there knew each other yet, so I should have no problem making friends. Had to finish my fifth and final year at a new school back in my hometown. After a few years off, went back to college, only to leave after only getting my one year certificate (instead of the 2-year diploma) due to an incident there. Years after that, went back to university as a “mature student” and spent more than 5 years working on my degrees, only to let anxiety get the best of me and not apply to graduate school.

So believe me when I say that I KNOW back to school anxiety.

The thing is, there are so many different things that can worsen your back to school anxiety: financial woes, social anxiety, moving to a new place, the unknown in general, education itself, fear of the future……….  I keep seeing these articles on how to handle your Back To School Anxiety, but they only have band-aid solutions to things.  Sure, lavender might help you relax, but will it help you save money on school supplies and textbooks? Eating lots of veggies is great for your all-around physical and mental health, but how will that help you meet people? Companion animals are great, but most dorm rooms don’t allow them.

So what’s a student to do?

Hopefully, I can shed a little light on that for ya’ll. I researched things back then for myself, and research them now for friends and roommates. I’m digging through my ancient external hard drive, stacks of old half-used notebooks (I dare you to find a troubled writer who doesn’t have at least half a dozen of these in their home), and my very large pile of Research I Printed To Read Later But Never Did. I’m combing Tumblr blogs (I’ll have links to a few that are super helpful), old PowerPoint presentations, and that forgotten “Stuff For My Blog” folder in my Bookmarks. Basically, I’m digging through all my shit to find that shit that works best for you.

So, I’ll try and pour as much of this anxiety-fuelled awakeness into my research for now. Hopefully, I’ll have some posts for you on this all this week, while you’re getting ready for Back to School.

 

ALWAYS know the rules!

Playing this crazy game called like is a little like…… playing the Game of Life. There are certain rules that need to be followed. If you don’t follow then, you risk failure.

This is especially true when you’re looking at your course load for school. Not every school has the same rules regarding grades, required courses, and how their Degree Audits work. Just because you think you know what you’re doing when planning out your degree, doesn’t mean you actually do. You ALWAYS need to check these things out!

Case in point: I know of someone who was working on a second degree. At one point, she was told that she needed three more courses before she could graduate. Since she was committed to a full year of part-time studies due to her job, she split the three classes between two semesters, and filled in some of the gaps with courses she had already taken.

THIS is where things get a little hairy.

You see, she decided that, since she had already passed these courses, she didn’t need to pass them again. At some schools, when taking the same course multiple times, the school will take the best mark you get and put it on your transcripts.

Not this school.

Here, if you retake a course, your make the second time around is the mark you’re left with. It doesn’t matter if that mark is better than the first time, or worse: that mark is the one you get.

When this person took her courses the second time, she didn’t bother actually taking them. She focused all of her time on her last three courses, and her job. She didn’t even write the exams for her other courses. So, she failed.

Fast forward a few months, and she checked to see why she didn’t get a letter about graduation yet. Low and behold, she was three courses short! It took months of negotiation with the University to straighten things out.

She was lucky. The University forgave those three failed courses. Don’t count on that happening for you.

If you want to retake a course, check with someone to see how this will effect you overall in the event of failure.

Get The Most Out of EVERYTHING You Can

Yes, once again I’ve been gone for quite some time. While I am working part-time at a liquor store, I’m still looking for work. There have been quite a few obstacles in my way, that it turns out I could have taken care of a lot of these obstacle while I was still a student. Which brings me to today’s post: Certification matters!

When I was a University student, the school offered a variety of workshops, seminars, free classes, volunteer opportunities, and all the things that you need to prove that you are an educated, responsible grown-up person who deserves a job. And, for the most part, we all ignored them. I did quite a bit of volunteering, but didn’t bother trying to get that put onto my Co-Curricular Transcript (a transcript of school-approved clubs and societies, and the different positions you could hold in each). In five years, I went to maybe a handful of workshops and seminars. For the most part, I figured that I didn’t need them, since I already knew what they were about.

There were Microsoft workshops offered at one point. For a very small (less than $30) fee, you could take a weekend workshop on a specific Microsoft Office program, and receive an official Certificate upon completion. Back then I thought, “Hell, I know Microsoft Word! I type essays, and wrote out a resume, and even create meeting minutes for one of my clubs! Why would I need  to waste a weekend learning about it?”

Turns out I needed it for that CERTIFICATE. After school, all those jobs I thought I could get easily wanted PROOF that I knew how to use that program. Instead of paying $30 back then to get that piece of paper, I am taking a $225 workshop. Yes, $225!

It turns out, all those things I had shunned in my University days actually mean something afterwards.  Sure, I joined clubs, but never strove to get a leadership role. I used Microsoft Office programs, but never got proof that I can use them. I worked on-campus positions, and volunteered with students and staff, without securing professional references. Basically, I wasted my time.

So take the time to get those little bits of experience (and paper) that will propel you higher than your peers. It’s not always good enough to type out papers and volunteer; you need proof! Get a certificate, a letter, some sort of documentation that proves your knowledge. And while you’re at it, make as many contacts as possible.

(I’ll cover making contacts and creating a portfolio at a later date. They are both VERY important things that never seem to get taught to students.)

Time Budgets

Sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done.  Other times, it’s like there is absolutely nothing to do for hours on end. And in Netflix time, you’re 23 episodes in to Supernatural and decide you have just enough time for another season or two before bed.

No matter how you spend your time, though, just remember: you have 168 hours to use each week.

That’s right: 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, equals 168 hours in every week.

I know that seems like a lot and not enough at the same time, so just take your planning one step at a time now.

1) What commitments do you have?

This is where you factor in the things you absolutely must do on a set schedule: classes, labs, work, and other things you simply MUST be in attendance at. Write these things down in your day planner (don’t know how to use one? We’ll get to that another day). Add up how many hours you have in your week that you just cannot use for anything else, because they’re already scheduled.

2) Check your “time sucks”.

Yes, “time sucks”. These are the things you might forget about, even though they’re unavoidable. This could be anything from commuting to and from campus, getting to and from different parts of campus, or those awkward bits of time between classes (seriously, who thought a 15 minute break between classes would be productive?). Make sure you figure out roughly how much time these will take up.

3) Now throw in your basics.

Everyone needs to sleep. Some people only need 5 hours a night, while others need a good 9 hours to feel productive. Figure out how much sleep you need, and factor that into your schedule! Don’t forget the time it takes you to prepare and eat your meals. And (many people forget to factor this in) most of us don’t just roll out of bed looking (and feeling) fabulous. Make sure you factor in whatever time you need to get ready to start your day. (Personally, I need at least 1 1/2 hours to wake up, shower, have my coffee, check email, and get myself looking presentable)

4) Now you can plan everything else.

Take a look at the hours you’re not using yet. THESE are the hours for you to do everything else you want to do. This is when you study, socialize, volunteer, party, and marathon Netflix.

5) Be realistic.

Don’t schedule every spare moment for studying. You’ll burn out pretty damn fast. Don’t plan every day to keep you on campus from 8am until 10pm. Don’t plan nothing but work and studying, with no fun. No matter how dedicated you are, you need to take a break from time to time. Frequent breaks ensure that you won’t burn out too fast. If you see that you have a rough couple of weeks, make sure to plan a night out (or a night in to relax). If you see that you have an easy few weeks, try to throw in a little extra study time to work on things you’ll have less time for later.