This 2 part series is an anonymous contribution by a member of the AMHC community. Stay tuned for Part 2 of their story coming soon!
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On Sunday, August 15, 2010, I packed everything I owned into a 10-foot U-Haul and drove across the country by myself to start a Master’s program. I left everyone and everything I knew. I began graduate school on Monday, August 23, and I met Alex on Wednesday, August 25.
We did almost everything together. During his free time, he even sat with me at the library while I wrote my Master’s Thesis just to keep me company.
I graduated with my MA on Sunday, May 13. Alex met my family. We introduced our moms to one another.
We moved in to our first apartment together on Thursday, August 16. I began my PhD on Monday, August 27.
Alex’s brother moved in next door. It felt nice to have a family away from my parents, and to have a new home even while in graduate school.
Alex and I were engaged on Saturday, December 14. My parents flew in to celebrate.
About halfway through my four-day preliminary exam — 32 hours of testing in all — I was ready to walk out and never look back. I was over-worked, over-tired, and over graduate school. I hadn’t slept in 48 hours, and my mental health had been waning for weeks. But Alex was there. He encouraged me not to quit in a way that also made me feel like it would be okay to walk away if I needed.
I passed my doctoral exams on Friday, March 14, thanks in no small part to Alex.
We were married on Wednesday, December 31.
Two years later, I passed my dissertation defense on December 9. Alex took the day off work to come and be in the room. He radiated encouragement.
On May 14, I gave the commencement address at my graduation ceremony. Alex was trying not to cry, but he totally did.
On June 13, I was offered a Visiting Assistant Professor position from a prestigious research institution 500 miles from home. Alex was so proud; he encouraged me to take the job and felt confident that we could make a long-distance marriage work for an academic year — just eight little months! He had started a new job a few months earlier, and neither of us felt that it would make sense for him to uproot himself.
I accepted the job on June 15.
On Wednesday, August 16, I found myself in another 10-foot U-Haul with some of my possessions, all of my books, my dog, and my partner. He helped me shop for furniture, moved me in, and helped me see that everything was going to be okay.
On Sunday, August 19, Alex returned home. And for the first time in 7 years, I was alone.
The semester began on Monday, August 28. I quickly fell in love with my students and my colleagues. I designed my own seminars, got to do some creative work, and I had a flexible schedule. I was accepted to one conference after another; I won grant money; I got articles accepted for publication. I was doing a bang-up job.
I was miserable.
I’d become cripplingly depressed; an absent-minded and withdrawn person I didn’t recognize. I worked from home every weekend, and days passed without my realizing it. I missed my partner, but I also felt guilty for missing my partner like I was some sort of academic failure for not being satisfied and fulfilled by my work itself. I started worrying that I was no longer the person I imagined myself to be: strong, independent, and fearless. I felt weak, co-dependent, and afraid of everything.
I started thinking about death — not my own, but the death of everyone I loved. I suddenly became terrified that I would go home at the end of this year and everyone I knew would be gone. Spouse? Dead. Family? Dead. Friends? *Poof*.
I’d never struggled with my mental health before. I didn’t even realize I was struggling until I told Alex I was terrified he would die while I was away and had been crying myself to sleep planning his eulogy. Hearing myself saying that out loud was…a surprise. I know lots of people live apart from their partners for years. I know partners stay behind while their spouses go to literal war zones, far from their families. I know all of that. And yet…there I was. Not ok.
[To be continued]