Part 1 – The University of Auckland
I was going to write about school and education generally, but for now I’d like to focus in on one part of my life and one institution that made me feel worthless, drove me to dark places, and never really tried to sympathise or make accommodations for me.
The University of Auckland
Here’s my Academic Transcript from the University of Auckland. At all stages of this education I was undiagnosed for ADHD/Autism/Dysgraphia/Dyscalculia – I had a diagnosis of depression and I had Crohn’s disease at this point. The latter will become a major feature of academic and medical trauma.
[I’ll cover a part of the seven year gap in the second part to this, but want to highlight here how badly I was screwed over by this system. Specifically University of Auckland]
2001-2002 – My First Attempt
The first semester, I never attended lectures. I was straight out of high school, doing a degree I thought my family would want of me.
9/11 had affected me in a massive way – I had my hyperfixation on US politics basically amplified permanently by this event – I know so much about the US political system – and it’s all useless information for me.
By the end of the first semester when I reached the age of 18 I was heavily abusing substances. My life was falling apart.
I had to withdraw in Semester One of 2002 due to falling too far behind, and not having any mental health to tackle study, I was working a fulltime job as a Barista to afford to live on top of my full-time study – this is not unique – most students still have these appalling conditions.
I applied for compassionate withdrawal and the university denied me. This was the first time I had to eat the costs of a full semester of study I would never complete or even have a hope of completing. I was lacking “evidence” for approval, and it went on my permanent record – I was told many times of how bad this would look despite being in a severely compromised mental state.
2009-2011 – My Second Attempt
2009. One of the worst years of my life.
I returned to University of Auckland at the age of 26. I had become inspired by Barack Obama’s victory in the United States. He gave me hope. [This would become a huge disappointment obviously for me].
I wanted to work at the United Nations – as I believe this will help as many people as possible. I was looking at 5+ years of University. In order to get accepted into most of the programs at this point in time you needed a Masters degree in some sort of International Relations or Politics. I was going to study Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Arts conjoint degree, then do a Masters in some field related to this.
I am able to study from home here due to having an amazing Mum.
The first semester everything went perfectly, aside from the fact in essay exam subjects I was constantly marked down for having incorrect sentence structure, and I know from research that markers also implicitly mark down for bad handwriting – which I had due to dysgraphia. In spite of this – I managed to achieve B+ in the two essay subjects [International Relations and Law and Society]. Everything is on track.
[Side note: Sociology allowed me to name the things in society I had hated since seeing the movie Fight Club at 16 – it’s here I first learn about Capitalism, what it is, how it manifests, why I hate it].
Second Semester – Crohn’s Disease is the worst…
[CW: Crohn’s disease complications – graphic medical descriptions – trauma]
Unfortunately at this same time, I have been pushing through constant Crohn’s disease pain for several years at this point on a medication not suitable for the type of Crohn’s disease I had, due to a private gastroenterologist who wouldn’t stay current in science.
In the second semester I realise that I feel full all the time, then I realise I haven’t had a bowel motion in days. I am very sick at this point. I don’t realise how sick until the morning I started vomiting up black stuff. My Mum takes me to the doctor. At this point I am 86 kilograms.
I go into hospital. I have to wait five days for an MRI despite being unable to eat, and digest food. The reason for this is that the MRI machine room has flooded. I keep attempting to get better by eating food, and requesting laxatives. Nothing helps. They were looking at getting me an MRI at Auckland Zoo if it wasn’t resolved by the 6th day, luckily that didn’t need to happen.
The MRI comes back, it’s the worst possible news in regards to Crohn’s disease – my bowel has closed completely for a 20 centimetre section. No food can be digested. I will I have to have an operation to remove this bowel and join the sections back together.
The pain management team offers me an epidural but tells me that there is a chance that it could go wrong and have serious complications – they say it’s 5%. I am terrified of the implication of having something inserted into my spine after a lumbar puncture taken by a student when I was 20 with pneumonia as their first ever attempt. I consented when delirious with a 40 degree fever, it wasn’t pleasant and the worst thing you can possibly hear during this is “no not there” from the supervising doctor.
I was really terrified for the first time ever going under that I wouldn’t wake up.
The surgical team was amazing – they did an exceptional job here, I don’t need a stoma because the resection is done so well.
However, I get out of surgery and I am in the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life, and my pain tolerance is very high from living with chronic illness. I am on fentanyl and ketamine, but they can’t give me enough to stop my pain without knocking me out. I am in the recovery room for 4 hours.
Eventually they put me back in the ward. When I wake up I am in excruciating pain again, I have a pain pump but it doesn’t give me enough pain relief. I page the nurses multiple times but the “pain management team” is not available as it’s night time or the nurse refuses to call them – for some reason my recollection here is not the greatest… I spend the entire night in absolute agony, I do not sleep during the night.
I have my fentanyl increased the next day, however I am hallucinating due to the ketamine. I think the pain is a video game, and if I survive the next night I will be ok. Then I wake the next morning in the same pain again. I don’t know how to talk to anyone about this. I have my Mum with me in hospital most of the time – it’s been hard for her to watch me like this.
My recovery is slow. I am fed via lipids pumped directly into my heart via an IV line in my neck as I have dropped below 50 kilograms and I am suffering from severe malnutrition. All I can taste and feel in my mouth at all times is oily texture. It beats the alternative which is death, but I am broken.
I get visited by friends from my Law class, when I am well enough for visitors. The look on their faces tells me everything I need to know about how I look, I haven’t seen a mirror or shaved in weeks, the only bathing done by the amazing nurses on staff. [Nurses were the best part of the healthcare system – still are].
I reach out to the University of Auckland. I keep them as informed as I can, I am massively behind at this point. On top of this StudyLink has been trying to cut my student loan payments while in hospital – due to being in hospital. I had to fight this too.
I get discharged from hospital. Most of my muscles have atrophied and I can barely walk. I need to get back to University or I will have to wait an entire year to get into second year Law. I am depressed. I am sick. I am pushed well past any reasonable limit. There is no psychological support after having this major life event happen. I had a physio and that’s it.
The University makes some minor accommodations for me, but I realise it’s an impossible task to overcome – I still need to finish within the semester, and the one month on top of being this sick is too hard to overcome. I ask to withdraw, it ruins me mentally – they refund no fees.
I am treated like garbage in the welfare system as is everyone else – Paula Bennett made this a fucking nightmare. I am made to attend “how to get a job classes” and to fill in a form sheet while waiting for the new year to start. I am sick. I am sore. I am humiliated and dehumanised. The system is still like this. The majority of you voted to keep it that way.
[CW: Suicide ideation]
I somehow manage to have the mental fortitude to return. I decide to pivot into Psychology – I took an intro paper in 2009 which I had to withdraw from and it became a hyperfocus subject. I had the hope of becoming a clinical psychologist. Yes, I realise this would be more than just waiting to get into Law school, but I questioned whether the UN was even worth it after studying International Relations in the previous year.
One weekend a close family member has had a significant concussion. I won’t go into further details for their privacy. This means I move out of home and into flatting. I have to work 20 hours each weekend doing tech support on a rotating roster that has me coming in at 08:00-18:00, 14:00-00:00, or 00:00-10:00. It rotates every weekend.
I am still severely depressed.
It’s here I realise that I have ADHD after studying it in Individual, Social and Applied Psychology. I tried to get diagnosed in the public health system and was refused. I believe all the bad things I thought about myself. I am given venlafaxine that makes me want to end my life constantly and I can’t leave bed. I have no accommodations made for my depression, and I only end up attending labs to make sure I get the grades.
I think I am 90+ kilograms at this point having rapidly gained weight from a diet of fast food due to lack of time, and well… ADHD.
In one of my psych papers I end up writing an essay on whether being homosexual is either genetic or social. I am bi, I get extremely fucked up from this experience. It causes me to doubt everything about myself – academic science effectively erased us for most of it’s history. As someone who believed heavily in science, I was just ruined from this essay.
I get increasingly burned out. I haven’t given myself any time to rest since my operation – I have to get a degree – this has been drilled into me for years. I have ADHD, I am working and studying 60 hours+ a week to maintain grades and try and focus on my course. My grades are slipping – but it must just be due to personal failings like laziness or a lack of intelligence (due to the fact I have not been diagnosed with ADHD – internalised ableism takes years to undo).
My Crohn’s disease has returned again. I have a massive flare and have to push through it. I am put on prednisone, this ruins my mood. I make it through this year, but I just keep getting worse.
I force myself to go to summer school – I am trying desperately to make up for my lost time. I start studying Criminology. I realise I want to do Criminology and Psychology. I still want to be a psychologist. I still want to help people.
In the first semester I finally break. I have a massive Crohn’s flare that makes me end up in hospital. I have to withdraw again. No fees refunded. I can’t continue. I am depressed to a level I have gotten used to.
2020 – My Masters and Third Attempt
I qualified to get into a Masters program (I will discuss how in Part Two). The course seems incredible, but it actually is deceptively bad, and in some ways what happened saved me from destroying a part of who I am.
COVID-19 hits – the weekend that it really got bad in New Zealand is the weekend after the two week period that I can withdraw from the course for free.
I call first thing on Monday morning – having not attended any classes at 9am when the University opens and ask to withdraw – going on advice from the WHO about people with chronic illnesses and asthma as the New Zealand government forgot about disabled people until level 4. They deny me – they say I will forfeit half my fees if I do so.
I get a Medical Certificate from the doctor and send it in. They do not process it for months. In this time I get emailed from my tutors asking where I am, and why I am not attending class. I explain that I haven’t been able to attend and that I notified the university.
The University of Auckland sends me a “tell us how we’re doing” email. I fucking told them. A few days later my withdrawal has been processed and my fees refunded. The course related costs I took get transferred to WINZ debt as “Fraudulent Student Loan”. Fuck everything about this system.
Someone asked me why I don’t have qualifications and seem to know so much about ADHD and Autism… and why I didn’t want to pursue University education.
This is why.
The system is broken, it doesn’t care about students, it cares about bleeding people dry for fees – and penalises the disabled. I will never return to a University ever again, unless by some miracle these problems are fixed and if I do, it will never be the University of Auckland.