This story was submitted anonymously. Jolene is using a pseudonym to protect her privacy.
I’ve never been an easy-going, relaxed type of person, but I’ve also never thought of myself as someone with… problems, or issues. You know, someone in need of therapy. However, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect over the years and I’ve started to understand myself and my experiences differently. And like many others, I’ve realized that the story of my mental health journey is also the story of my grad school journey.
Grad school started with an exciting bang for me. I got into my top choice of school, and was keen to begin. I had succeeded at everything I’d ever tried before, like winning awards for poetry and creative writing and earning high grades in biology classes, so I really had no inkling that doing my own independent research would turn out to be hard, and that I would struggle with feeling for the first time in my life like “I suck at my job”. But over the years these feelings did emerge, and they damaged my mental health.
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But that’s not where this all started, at least for me. It started with a guy. At some point during my master’s degree, I found myself, for the first time in my life, in a relationship that really seemed to work. I’d fallen in love before but never with anyone who reciprocated, thanks to an annoying tendency to fall for my straight female friends. So I fell hard for this guy. Life was great and I was happier than I had ever been.
Then it all ended when I was dumped out of the blue.
I went home after the breakup and cried. And I cried, and cried, and cried. Three weeks of crying turned into six weeks. I’m not sure how long this lasted, but eventually I started to come up with excuses not to leave my house. I certainly wasn’t doing any academic work, and I cancelled on most of my commitments saying I wasn’t feeling well. I showed up under-prepared for the occasional but unavoidable meeting with my research supervisor. When a deadline (e.g., conference presentation) approached that I couldn’t see a way out of, I usually managed to pull it together in the 24 hours beforehand, aided by caffeine pills. But mostly I ended up spending the better part of three or four months at home, watching TV. Lots of TV.
When I realized that that I was sinking into an unhealthy depression I sought out help at my university’s counselling clinic. The chance to talk to someone helped, but the funding for counselling tapped out after six visits and I was told that if I wanted more therapy, I would need to use my own money to pay for services in the community. This sounded scary, expensive, and exhausting, so I didn’t seek out more than the basics available to me as a grad student.
During this time, I was lucky enough to meet Spencer. Spencer, fortunately, seemed to like me more than the last guy did, and I de facto moved into his apartment within a few months of meeting him. Going home to be alone after spending an evening together with him wasn’t appealing. Pretty soon, the thought of going home at all started to seem like a lot of work to me. So, I kept on with my daytime TV watching schedule, but transitioned to doing this at Spencer’s place instead, in my pajamas (actually they were his pajamas). Sometimes I didn’t leave his apartment for three or four days. It became normal for him to come from work and find me sleeping in his bed or watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy.
This was Part 1 of a three-part series featuring Jolene’s story. Click here for Part 2 – here’s a preview of what you’ll read:
But getting back to my old self was hard – no, impossible. All those months of finding excuses not to do my research now made me wonder if I actually could do it. My thesis was no longer just an academic challenge; it was an anxiety-inducing terror.