|Kermit does his "chem grad student" |
Source: mlkshk Tumblr
At the time, I would wake up at 6:00AM to take the first bus into campus, fortified by a "breakfast" of junk food and soda. I'd work 5 hours, eat a frozen microwave meal, work 6-8 more hours, then stumble home for a burger and a beer. Between coffees and colas, I was averaging seven caffeinated drinks per day. I developed facial tics, put on weight, and felt chronically ill.
Now, sprinkle in some "life events." A building move. A group switch. A death in the family. A sudden, out-of-the-blue contact from a long-forgotten relative. Financial woes. Managing an undergrad. Writing an ORP, two papers, and fellowship applications at the same time (not recommended). All occurred in about 3 months, around the holidays.
I distinctly recall the first time I felt creeping doom: I was driving back to lab after dinner, and my vision blurred. My heart began to race, and I felt trapped in my own car. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to pull over, and after about five minutes the symptoms subsided. So. . . I drove to work, anyway. Ugh.
A few weeks later, more bad news: a potential postdoctoral gig fell through, with no replacement in the wings. The economy seemed headed ever further downwards; no one got jobs. My lab work had stalled, with a few (small) fires to boot.
One evening, I got up from the dinner table after a long discussion with my S.O. and realized, quite suddenly, that I couldn't walk. I lowered myself to the ground, heart thumping, knees wobbly, a rush of grey spots clouding my eyes. I began seeing darkness. That's it, I thought. That's how it ends.
I laid there for some time, writhing. I tried to sit up, but couldn't. When I could finally stand, we went immediately to the ER - not covered under student insurance, btw. I spent the night hooked up to a EKG, and was advised to seek counseling in the next week.
What followed was completely new to me: Group sessions. Medication. Crisis intervention. It took me several months to get back to normal working hours. I felt trapped in seminars, and took seats near the exit. I didn't drive much. Every few days I'd have short spells like the initial attack, but never as serious. I suppose I was lucky.
Things got better with each progressive year. I defended. I lined up a postdoc. I got a job after a lengthy search process. Luckily, I had a loved one with a "real job" to help me. I don't wish to consider what it would have been like to go it alone.
Grad students: if you feel like you can't take it anymore, or don't feel like yourself, seek help! Don't feel stigmatized, and don't hesitate. Certain decisions can't be taken back. Always have someone to confide in, and always make time for yourself, even if it's ten minutes a day.
There's a lot more life to be lived on the other side of grad school.
Note: I wrote this as a response to Chemjobber and Vinylogous Aldol's "Grad School Mental Health" discussion. For more posts in the series, check out their sites.