Depression, Anxiety, and Grad School: My Monsters

I’ve yet to tell many professors about my anxiety disorder, though it might in some ways make my life easier. It’s just a personal thing, and I’ve gotten flack from family and friends who I’ve discussed this with in the past. The consensus seems to be that life-especially when you’re a mother and graduate student-is supposed to be difficult and drive you crazy, and that if it’s not then you’re not working hard enough.

This article doesn’t really take into account that many students come to grad school with anxiety and depression issues already, but I think it’s more important that at this point we just expect grad students to have those issues. I say I have GAD and depression, and the answer is generally something along the lines of “welcome to the club.” I can talk medication with most students I know, because we’ve almost all been medicated or are medicated.

Some of this, I think, is a general public attitude toward people with anxiety and depression issues. To those who haven’t suffered from anything like it, or who have been able to use alternatives to medication successfully, it seems like whining. It’s difficult to see, and much like ADHD, these things are often misdiagnosed and over-medicated, which leads to a belief that it’s not real.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone holds these views about depression/anxiety or will not be understanding. I’ve actually encountered far less understanding from people outside the program who know about my depression and anxiety than the few faculty members and other students I’ve shared it with. I think this is an overall cultural stigma that carries over into academia.

I’m having a very, very hard time studying for comps, as the last few years have been full of changes and circumstances that have left me exhausted. I’ve lost a grandmother and a cousin who was also a friend, and I’ve moved to a new city. I could’ve stayed in Waynesboro a year or two longer, but I underestimated the effect moving would have–and either way I was commuting upwards of an hour to classes while raising the Little Jedi and studying.

I’m very nervous about taking another exam. I failed my quals exam the first time I took them, and I have a snowball of anxiety every time I think about taking comps. Unstructured time is also difficult for me, as it’s another chance to think about all the worries, and I spend more of my studying time than I should just worrying. It’s difficult for me to explain all of that to a faculty member who I know has a lot going on as well, knowing also that while my circumstances might not be ideal, there are worse to be in. Anxiety also makes me rather intimidated in front of some of these folks. Sometimes I mean to say all of these things and just can’t get them out.

I should probably come cleaner about that with my committee, but it’s a double bind–some of it of my own making–between sounding like a whiner and/or procrasinator and being realistic about what I can accomplish.

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  1. You mean you haven’t developed a maladaptive coping mechanism where you have memorized everyone’s studentID/SS numbers to know their grades when they are posted so you feel better about your own grades? Do they still practice that barbaric ritual? Grad school is on the one hand a beautiful thing and on the other hand one of the most horrible stresses not publicly acknowledged as a stressor known to mankind. Hang in there.

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    1. Thank you for your support. I am minding the shop here this week. That was a scheduled post, but Diana will be back this weekend and I am sure she will appreciate your comment.

      I’ve been through grad school up to the Master’s level (B.A. in English, M.A. in Political Science with thesis, considering a PhD. in Mass Communication. We are interdisciplinarians.)

      I don’t know whether they still practice that ritual or not, but I will share something with you. The graduate studies changed my life. Changed my entire way of thinking for the better. Gave me cognitive skills that seemed like superpowers until I mastered them. But I had to have therapy to get through it. So, I am inclined to agree with you about the double-edged nature of it. I am pulling for Diana to hang in there, and I believe she will do it.

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      1. Hello Gene’O those are not easy degrees to come by, good luck with considering a doctoral degree. Tis not for me! I wondered why Diana was posting this yet in Vegas. Congratulations on your accomplishments I am sure Diana will get through it, I hope she doesn’t have the weekly Wednesday night breakdown like I did but hey, I survived and she will shine too! Thank you for minding her shop and helping mildly confused bloggers like myself.

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        1. Ha! No, I wasn’t writing this while I was in Vegas. Last week, with its flurry of getting ready to leave and grading papers before the break and trying to still get in comps reading was an anxious week.

          Currently, the privacy rules are so tough that you couldn’t get that information—except that everyone posts their grades on Facebook. lol If you don’t see a grad student post about his/her grades, that generally means the grades weren’t good. Funny thing, privacy.

          Graduate school, though, has made me think critically about everything from the literary work I’ve been learning to the above social media and the culture of revealing everything while we scramble to maintain privacy. It’s changed the way I think, and I enjoy that. But it has definitely been complicated by anxiety.

          The fact that I’m so close to the end-just comps and dissertation-and could miss the mark just adds an extra little oomph to the cocktail of anxiety.

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  2. Graduate school is tough on it’s own, and with depression or anxiety ….. yi!

    I can understand the need to question how much to tell your committee.

    I struggled with depression while doing my Master’s. A friend (in the program I was in) urged me to talk with the director of our program, — even though we all had some frustration and anger at him, she thought he’d be understanding about that. He told me that he’d been thinking of kicking me out of the program. wow, haven’t thought about that for a long time!

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    1. I didn’t tell anyone about it except in cases where I was having trouble meeting objectives and was able to tell them in confidence by way of explanation. I told several professors, but I did not tell my committee.

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    2. Yeesh.

      Ultimately, because my director knows, and because she’s always been about 150% in my corner (which is why she’s my director), I feel something like comfortable with the situation. I wondered if everyone needed to know, but honestly I don’t think so–not unless there’s a legitimate, I-can’t-do-this-because situation. Need to know basis, essentially.

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