I am trying to be very open lately. Even more so than I have been here, which includes increased utilization of Instagram and Twitter. In that spirit I had an exchange with another graduate student in my cohort this week that I am going to share here; because finally typing some of it was a realization for me.
To preface, the cohort-mate asked how I was doing as an offset of another email-conversation a group of us were having, and a comment I made in that context. I replied by sharing with her the metaphor I posted here. She responded with:
“Damn, Britni. I think I just finished reading an extraordinarily articulate description of clinical depression. I’m not a doctor (I don’t even play one on TV), but I do have some background in this and that is what it sounds like.
What type of support do you have? How is [Mr. Liar] handling this?
Have you considered relieving yourself of this PhD burden, at least temporarily, until you can get to a better place and then maybe re-evaluate your trajectory with this program ?
Kind of like, get out of academia and get yourself in a fresher space. Like a space where you can smell cows and horses and new mown hay and where your biggest concerns are taking care of animals (4-legged) and growing vegetables and picking fruit?! Lay in the grass. Sit in the sun. Take long walks in the countryside and do yoga. Put the angst you have about being stymied with this PhD crap away in a little box and put it on the top shelf of your closet for awhile (or maybe forever). You’re young! There is so much more to life than this program we’re in. Give yourself a break, for goodness sake!
Honestly, I’ll understand, if you nicely let me know this is none of my concern, but let me know if I can help.
You, barely functioning, still equals most of us functioning at full cognitive capacity. You have so much to offer. I think maybe (at this moment) your being a student at VT in this program, is not where you can be your most authentic self.”
And, since I had just met with my counselor and am working on sharing more and being more honest with everyone, I let myself word-vomit all over the page. Normally this isn’t something I do with a classmate. But I’m glad I did.
“Oh, I have moderately severe clinical depression. We’re treating it. We reached a dose of prozac where I can feel anything other than emptiness again. I still feel like I’m constantly treading water, but I’m no longer drowning and get a breath of fresh air again for the first time in years. Unfortunately, whatever cognitive difficulties are going on are driving the depression and not a mere symptom of it. The antidepressants have certainly helped improved my blind groping, in that I come am willing to search for the puzzle pieces again and even come up with the puzzle pieces occasionally. But alas, I am fairly certain there is something else going on as well. We just haven’t made any headway in figuring it out.
I have thought about stepping down from my PhD and finishing off a masters instead. And, its still on the table, but I’m going to ride out my PhD for a bit longer, now that I’m taking baby-steps forward again. Honestly, I don’t let much of the usual grad-school stress even get to me much anymore. I’m doing the very best I can to stay afloat, and if the grad school has something to say about my progress, they can talk to all my doctors and my counselor about it. Thankfully my committee has been nothing short of spectacular, and hasn’t asked for anything other than try to take care of myself. If they weren’t so understanding and supportive I would have had to step out of the program a long time ago. Unfortunately, I am quite unable to physically, let alone financially, just take time to hang out with animals, grow things, and do yoga. And I’d probably find it rather dissatisfying. Not being able to preform how I desire and think I should be in academia contributed a massive amount to my depression. Thanks to counseling, I’m now a lot kinder on myself and more accepting of my abilities. But I do feel best when I am able to get something academic done. The other day I had a fantastic conversation on twitter with some instructional designers, edtech folk, & digital pedagogy folk, and that’s the best I’ve felt in a long while. My ability to participate in that sort of discussion, and especially to articulate what I want to say, is just few and far between these days. Twitter is actually helping me get back there a lot, though not at a PhD level, it’s more of a lateral step that I am happy to be taking, because its engaging more than I had in the previous year. And I crave that engagement. …I just also need to know when I’m hitting my threshold for mental and emotional involvement,not push myself over it anymore, and be satisfied with what I was able to do. Its a very fine balancing act. But I honestly don’t think I would be happy if I wasn’t in academia. Especially since I can’t physically do anything from my BS or MS – let alone mentally at this point. And being productive, and making life better for others, is such an essential part of who I am and who I need to be to be happy. It’s just doing to either take me a while to get back to where I was, or a lot of acceptance of the new me, and figuring out new ways to get where I need to be.
I do love hearing your thoughts though, because I know you give them out of love and concern for me. Thankfully, I have a fantastic support network – [Mr. Liar], friends, doctors, counselors, committee, I wouldn’t be where I am now with out all of you. ❤
Haha, I do wish me barely functioning was where others are at full cognitive capacity. We haven’t had much of an in-person chat in a while, let alone and academic one, but boy the difference between the me you had classes with and the me now, cognitively, is striking. I’m good at faking it when I need to though. I won’t argue that I’m not still smarter than the average bear, so to speak, but it sure does take a hell of a lot more effort and is a lot slower than it used to be.
I have no doubt that I still have something to offer. I am going to shake things up, share my opinions, be out there making noise. It just is going to take longer than I ever expected. Which is fine, I am young after all. I’ve got plenty of time to cause trouble. :p”
I’ve emphasized the parts that I consider revelations. I wasn’t putting much thought into them when I wrote them, I just wrote how I was feeling. And once I wrote it, it hit me how important it was to me. I’m sure I’ve known academia is important to me, after all you don’t stay in school as long as I am if it isn’t, but realizing being in academia is a critical component to how I see myself, my future, and where I wanted to be in the world hit me suddenly. And that’s not to say I want to be a professor – I’m still torn on what I want to do when I finish my doctorate, and I’m not worrying about it too much because who knows what will being going on at that time. But the tenets of academia and science speak to me. I want to always be seeking, questioning, constructing, discovering, and sharing. I want to help shape the world into a place I think is “better” for all of us who live in it. And honestly, I’ve been a scholar for so long, I don’t know if I know how to be anything else, and don’t want to be.