Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reason I'm Leaving #4 - My Mental Health

(Please see the edits and links to additional information at the bottom of this post.)

I've never been someone who was prone to depression or anxiety. In that, I'm very lucky. I've had my ups and downs, of course, and anxiety problems run in my family. But overall, I've never had major problems that a monthly check-up session with a wonderful therapist has left me unable to overcome.

Based on conversations I've had with other grad students, though, I've begun to realize that my experience wasn't typical. For years, I've noticed that it has seemed like every other student in my program was on antidepressants, or was desperately seeking out recommendations for psychotherapists, and in a few cases, even checked themselves into a mental hospital or attempted suicide.

For a long time, I thought that people who applied to graduate school and who kept on going through the Ph.D. were just more prone to depression and anxiety. It is easy to be somewhat isolated in academia, and to work long hours. I used to think that people who suffered from depression or social anxiety disorders (for example) might select into an occupation that allowed them to spend long hours alone at home. I thought academic types were just "odd," and that along with that "oddness" came this tendency toward mental illness.

But the more I've read, the more I think that the causal direction might actually be the opposite. That is, that grad school can make otherwise mentally healthy people depressed and anxious.

And based on some research reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education over the past few years, it is true that rates of depression and anxiety are far higher in graduate school than in society at large. The original Chronicle articles are behind a paywall; however, the major findings are summarized in this blog post. Quoting from the post:
"At the University of California at Berkeley, 67 percent of graduate students said they had felt hopeless at least once in the last year; 54 percent had felt so depressed they had a hard time functioning, and nearly 10 percent said they had considered suicide, a 2004 survey found. By comparison, an estimated 9.5 percent of American adults suffer from depressive disorders in a given year."
Now, of course, clinical depression and anxiety disorders are real, serious illnesses that require treatment. And I have no doubt that those illnesses can be found in different proportions in different segments of the population. Depressed or anxious people may self-select into given occupations, and may be less able to leave a job that makes them miserable.

However, I refuse to believe that somehow a particular graduate program manages to attract more than 6 times as many people with depression than other occupations.

And the more I've thought about it ... I think academia might be a contributing factor to these mental health problems. (Edit: I'm not alone in thinking this, either.) That is, I think that grad students don't come in more depressed and anxious. I think that grad school makes them more depressed and anxious.

Academia is isolating. It is stressful. It requires long work hours with few tangible rewards, and a great deal of criticism and negativity (from journal reviewers, advisors, colleagues asking questions during presentations, and tremendous levels of competition for every award and fellowship out there).

It requires students to work those long hours for very, very low pay. It often requires students to respond to advisors who are either overbearing or standoffish, and who might leave them feeling as if they are inadequate or doing something wrong. Then, at the end of the graduate school journey, students face an uncertain and arbitrary job market ... and if they fail to get a job, the possibility that they will be fully unemployed the following year with no support from the department that was supposed to support them until they got a real job.

And all the while, you are likely living and working far away from your family, friends, and the support networks that you've relied on throughout your life.

Isolation, low pay, a stressful job with incredibly long work hours, and few tangible rewards for doing good work (but regular reminders of the times when your work is not up to par).

Honestly? I'm surprised the depression and anxiety rates aren't even higher.

I've seen how my own mental health has taken a hit during grad school. And I feel better and happier than I have in years now that I've decided to leave. I'm leaving academia because I want to feel good, not depressed and anxious. And being out of academia has me feeling good. I choose good mental health.

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Ed. Note: If you are in crisis, please go here to find links and phone numbers for people who can help.

Others have written very eloquently about this problem. Here's a great post from Conditionally Accepted, which includes many links to other posts and resources about mental health and graduate school. The Guardian (UK) has recently published two good pieces about mental illness and academia. Other good posts on this topic can be found here and here. From the last link:  
It's not healthy to ignore your needs.  It's not a right (sic) of passage.  It's a travesty that mental illness is "the norm" for graduate students.  And it needs to be stopped.
[...]
Being overworked and putting ourselves and our needs last is unhealthy.  Let's just call it that.  Just shout it out and breathe easier.  It's not okay.  When you aren't getting sleep, food, exercise, and time with your family, you aren't meeting your basic human needs.  Remind yourself of these things.  Call it what it is.  Demand change.  That's not easy but it's a start.

And if you think that it's time to think about jumping ship from academia and saving your mental health, several of us postacademic bloggers have set up several resources to help. You can find an entire website (How to Leave Academia) devoted to helping you make the transition here, and can purchase our e-book of stories and support from fellow postacademics ("Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia") here or here. - JC (1/5/2014)

44 comments:

  1. Spot on. Graduate school definitely breeds mental ill-health (ranging from depression to insanity, and everything between and beyond). Some grad students are just better at hiding it than others.

    Personally, I can enjoy myself with lots of social interaction or in isolation. In my experience, the clincher comes when isolation is combined with losing interest in your topic and being forced to work on it all day every day. This operates as a positive feedback mechanism, whereby one loses interest in a topic due to being forced to work on it nonstop, and being forced to work on something non-stop only sucks (and gets worse with time) when it is something you have come to dislike.

    Even taking breaks from schoolwork (ie. take Friday night off) leaves you feeling guilty and not able to fully enjoy the break.

    All in all, the fact that mental ill-health is so rife in grad school should be emphasized way more by faculty and administration in grad programs, so students can try to avoid the problems or deal with them as they arise.

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  2. Your second paragraph perfectly describes how I've felt in graduate school. Personally, I definitely need at least a little bit of social interaction on a regular basis (perhaps 1-2 times per week), but I'm also fine spending time alone.

    However, being forced to spend time alone with a project/topic you're bored with ... combined with the feedback loop that tells you that you have to work constantly on it even though it makes you miserable ... and that you should feel guilty if you take an evening to yourself? It's a terrible situation, and is just asking for self-blame, feelings of worthlessness, and anxiety to take over.

    Even if you're in a 9-5 job that you hate, at least you get to leave it behind and go home for the evening when the workday is over. Academia gives you no such luxury, since you're expected to be working every single second.

    The normalization of mental health problems in graduate school ("we're all depressed and stressed out - it's normal!") is a real problem. Certainly there are plenty of people who genuinely struggle with mental illness; however, any job where a majority of the "employees" exhibits symptoms of mental distress should really look twice at itself, I think. Sadly, academia does not.

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  3. Here here... and any professor who encourages students to accept extreme unhappiness as the norm should really look twice at his/herself as well. I can't imagine being an authority figure over a student and seeing them in such pain, yet not trying to help - instead, just telling them that this is how their life is now, and they should learn to like it.

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  4. Good for you! I wanted to finish now, because I knew if I took a semester of I would never go back, and I didn't want to lose the time, energy, and money -- tuition, and job-money-never-made. It's been incredibly depressing, for all the reasons you outlined. Glad you're happier!

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  5. Congrats on finishing! Honestly, I would have finished up if I'd had an interview for a job I actually wanted. But after seeing what types of jobs were out there for me (not to mention an advisor who went MIA), it just became easy to stop working. And once I stopped working, lo and behold, I felt such an immense sense of relief and happiness that I simply couldn't ignore that reality. As I've written elsewhere ... I'll finish if I have to, but I'm not doing it just to do it, since it makes me miserable.

    Good luck!

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  6. JC, your blog is really honest about problems that our typical grad students may have during 5+ years of research. I can honestly say that I hardly drink at all before I got into grad school. But for some reason, I developed this drinking habit during grad school. And it is not just me - I noticed that most grad students really drink a lot, and some of them even have a bottle of grad-student's-little-helper stashed right in their office. In addition to this drinking habit, I also feel constantly depressed. I think I am one step away from actually taking anti-depressant or seeing a psychologist. I think the source of my misery comes from the fact that I feel worthless in grad school. When I used to work as a RA, even though I sometimes have to take sh*t from other MDs or PhDs, I never feel that I am a failure. I always felt like I earned the money that they paid me, because I was a hard worker, I put in more hours than I have to in order to get the job done. I even went overboard doing analyses and writing manuscripts which resulted in several publications. I was good, I was a star in my former boss's eye, and now, I can honestly tell you that I even try to distant myself with other fellow students, because I feel I might just get kicked out and the last thing I need is their judgment. Our school is one of the top-notch schools in social science. But the fact is, we lost 4 students last year due to various reasons. One of them even checked herself into mental institute. And guess what - there was no kind words from anyone in my department when the news spread out. Everyone shook their heads and said that she must had problems before she arrived to our department(she was a transfer). It is sad that the atmosphere in my department is so cold and business-like - they expect that you have a specific research idea before you arrive, they expect that you have all the skills to do your research. They don't give you much time to find interesting topics or introduce you to interesting topics in the field. Now I got a horrible research project shoveled down my throat. My advisor constantly checks with me about the progress of that project and I really want to tell my advisor that I think that project is shit. I don't even believe that it would work. Anyway, I am sorry for writing such a long complaint. I just feel so angry and I can't confine to anyone - certainly not to anyone in school. Grad school is like a jungle no matter what they tell you. They jump on you if you give the slightest image of weakness. They chew you up and spit you out alive. Anyway, here is my two-cent - don't go to grad school unless that is your life goal and you have a specific idea about what you want to do in grad school. Grad school is not about doing labor work for your boss in exchange for a PhD degree, it is not about as-long-as-you-work-hard-you-will-succeed, it is about coming up with an idea (and I good one) and able to put that idea into practice in the form of research. It is partly based on your intelligence, but it is more about perseverance. Whether you have the ability to get back on your feet when you feel like a loser. With that being said, I still want to leave grad school. That is just sad..

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    1. "Now I got a horrible research project shoveled down my throat. My advisor constantly checks with me about the progress of that project and I really want to tell my advisor that I think that project is shit. I don't even believe that it would work."

      I feel ya! I am stuck with one of those horribly designed research projects, and need to write a damn good manuscript to go for publication.

      Delete
  7. if only this weren't so incredibly true, it'd be funny. thank you for this blog.

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  8. I read your blog when I was in graduate school and I felt you were spot on. Graduate school for me was very isolating and made me feel very low. The fact that I could never escape it, really started to beat me down. Luckily I found a few things outside of work to make me feel like I was normal. It got to the point for me, when I would come into my office I didn't even want to turn on the lights, I would just sit in the dark all day, because I just didn't care. My fun time was when I would take a break at lunch to sit outside and just look at trees and wish I could be as carefree as a leaf on one of those trees. Fortunate I had a very supportive girlfriend that could see the bigger picture and often would have to help me stay positive, but without her I would have been very low. Graduate school was not a positive in my life, I have graduated and have a job now but, I'm still get very depressed when I even think about it.

    I wish I would have had someone to tell me what graduate school was really about before I accepted.

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  9. I am only in my first few months in and I am looking for my way out.. Academia is a terrible job prospect for me and I am already using the " grad student helper" nightly... I have a project based masters and i am considering just working with that degree.

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    1. Thanks for reading!

      I will say that for all of the angst that grad school caused me, I do NOT regret having my masters' degree. It impresses prospective employers and qualifies you for a lot of jobs that a bachelors' only would not.

      And while there are nonacademic jobs that require a Ph.D. it also seems like having a Ph.D might cause some employers to look at you skeptically - as if you're just waiting to go back to academia someday.

      So in my humble opinion, if you no longer have good job prospects in academia and aren't focused on running your own research organization someday (or something like that), leaving with an MA can be a terrific decision.

      Good luck!

      Delete
    2. I've decided to take leave from my program after just 1 semester for the very reasons this blog has written about. Even worse, my program does not offer a master's so while I would have stuck out the two years for that acknowledgement, I've decided to just call it quits now. I have already been through the depths of morbid depression and anxiety and going home to re-evaluate my interests, while an uncertain prospect, is already making me feel a lot better than the thought of being here for 5 years with no benefit to myself unless I actually finish.

      Maybe the program will realize that offering a terminal master's is a better option than just seeing student's drop out with nothing.

      Delete
  10. I moved to a new city to pursue a graduate degree. I am currently only two and a half months in and I have never been more depressed and anxious in my life. I am not that interested in the program, I am not happy with my living situation, and worst of all I left my family, my two year old daughter, behind to do this. I am missing her so much I cry everyday. I just don't know if this opportunity is worth all this misery. Even if it is only temporary. Nothing feels temporary when you are going through hell.

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    1. My honest advice is that if you are already this miserable, 2 months in? Cut your losses and go home.

      It won't get better - in fact, I'd say that it will probably get worse. I don't say that to scare you - I mean that honestly. The first few months are when you are supposed to be excited for your new opportunities and meeting new people and being introduced to new ideas. Later on is when the melancholy slips in for a lot of people - they have less contact with their classmates and are working on more and more specific projects with more and more isolation.

      So while I can't tell you what to do, I would say that it's quite possible you've just made the wrong decision for yourself, and there is absolutely NO shame in deciding that and going home.

      Good luck to you...

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    2. I am in your same situation. I left my family and moved out of state and not only that I really don't feel the degree I chose is what I really want to do. Going through this can be stressful and yes who wouldn't want to have a masters, but I rather be back home with my family and maybe think about doing another program in my state.

      Delete
  11. I feel so relieved to realize I am not the only one going through hell. I am in the 4th year of PhD and I have been depressed for over two years now. Two months ago I started taking anti-depressants. Prior to the PhD, I don't remember being this miserable or anxious.

    I admire your courage in deciding to quit. I don't think I can do it. I have gone this far and I feel the need to follow through to the bitter end be it graduation, suicide or getting kicked out.

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    1. Can I ask why you feel compelled to finish? Is it just because you've "come this far," or do you have a real reason that you want to finish?

      If it's the first one, I'd argue that you shouldn't stay in something that is keeping you this miserable just because you started down this road. You only have one life to live, and you do NOT have to be miserable just because you started something.

      You may find this helpful ... someone sent it to me last year, and I love it. It's the transcript of a podcast called "The Upside of Quitting," from the Freakonomics folks. Sometimes, quitting is the best decision. And if you're on meds and miserable and anxious, quitting definitely sounds like a better decision than sticking it out, to my ears:

      http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/the-upside-of-quitting-full-transcript/

      Finally ... if you are feeling suicidal, I beg of you to go to your campus counselors or to call a campus helpline. If you don't have one nearby, call 1-800-GRAD-HLP to find someone to talk to who specializes in talking with grad students who are struggling.

      There are people there who can help you, and I PROMISE that it gets better when you leave. Good luck and please, please take care of yourself.

      Delete
  12. Thank you so much for this blog. I wish I had known about it my 2nd-4th years of grad school which was hands-down the darkest time of my life. Talking about being unhappy is a huge taboo in grad school and one of the biggest problems in my opinion. I've had GAD all my life, but grad school exacerbated it to insane levels and there was a period in my third year where I was having lots of suicidal thoughts. I've been on antidepressants for about a year and benzos for a few months, and that plus regular therapy has made life a lot better for me, but I do not believe it would have come to this if it weren't for grad school.

    I am currently in my 5th year and my advisor has been informed that I am leaving in the spring, with or without a PhD. Having that end point in mind has really improved my mental health, and I enjoy my project enough to work on it for a few more months. After I graduate I plan to start a business and never hear the word "academia" again. I can already tell that your blog is a godsend for folks like me going through the anger/guilt/sadness phases of leaving. Thank you so much and hope to read many more posts from you!

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  13. Hello, thanks for the blog. Being a graduate student of history, I am all too familiar with the woes of graduate school. Day upon day passes of isolation as I fumble through 800 to 1000 pages a week and long drawn out research papers. My personal life and relationships have been sacrificed in the name of academic repute. People outside of the feild cannot understand the.pressure, rigour or sheer time expended in such a program, ultimately weakening our ties. I often wonder if I would regret leaving, and forever mourn the dream of being at a University. Sometimes I feel as though marriage, strong relationships and a decent career in public history would satisfy me. I often feel my subject fills a void in my life. But based on my unhappiness I wonder if it is causing the void by dissolving my personal life and self confidence. I have a love for the subject but must it be so all consuming.

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  14. Glory be to God! All I can say is that this is so true! I haven't done any work this entire semester and yes I am going to just flunk out of grad school gladly. This degree was not what I wanted to do in the first place but I was pressured by the department plus the fact the my B.S. didn't open any job opportunities. So what did I do? I applied to the university I wanted to go to for grad school before final grade came out. Got accepted two weeks later. Said bye bye to a M.S. degree and decided to do a one year Post-B for Nonprofit Management and then BAM Im out. My husband actually saw me have a break-down and he did not know what to do! Therefore I am doing what I feel is best with me and not to the expectations of others! God Bless!

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  15. I wasn't prepared for any of this. No one ever told me about how isolating this can be. I was aware that my brilliantly talented older sister had suffered a nervous breakdown through her research but she picked herself up and willed herself to complete her Phd with excellent grades. I guess I believed that being introverted meant that this life was ideal for me. Its been 3 years and I can't believe how life has washed over me. And while it seems like I've stayed with my books, notes, dwelling on my research I've barely started to scratch the surface. To add to that is the absolute misery of just my own company most of the time. Cursory glances and casual hellos, no friendly faces appearing at my door to just say hello. I read this piece on Salon and it just resonated with me- I AM this woman! http://www.salon.com/2012/11/30/grad_student_living_in_terror/
    I'm giving it two more months- and then I'll probably leave.

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    1. I read that Salon article today as well, and thought about posting something about it.

      Even for introverts, I think that the isolation in academia can be extreme. And no job - nothing - is worth making yourself this miserable and lonely and anxious.

      Be well, and remember ... your health and well-being matters more than your job.

      Delete
  16. Hmmm. I got counselling during my PhD but that wasn't because of problems due to graduate work, but other, earlier problems. I am eternally grateful that I got counselling at that time of my life because I was allowed a retrospective suspension of studies for it - in other words, my supervisor and teachers treated it well. Because postgrad work is a time when you have to sit and reflect critically on things, it can indeed bring up or exacerbate mental health problems, but I felt at the time, and still do now, that I would rather have had that counselling then in that setting than in a different environment where there is pressure to earn a lot of money.

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  17. I am thinking about seeing a counselor. I'm just overall not happy here. I fought very hard to get into grad school. Now I'm here and it just... Life isn't good right now. I feel guilty about the fact that this is what I think I thought I wanted but this is not at all it. I was in the working world. I have never been this broke in my life. Paying rent wipes me out for the rest of the month. How many times have I had to pick between eating dinner or paying the light bill. I refuse to take out any more student loans but I guess its just as well I owe almost every family member and friend at least some money just trying to survive. My advisor only talks to me to tell how I screwed up yet again. I realized something was wrong mentally when over Thansksgiving break I spent Thanksgiving Eve through that next Tuesday under covers in my bed. I cancelled all outings and only left the bed to use the bathroom. Keep in mind theres not food in my apt because well I had to pay the water bill. To get through finals I had 3 hours of sleep in 4 days. Second week of school I have already had 2 all night long nights and I am just so done. NOW today I am supposed to be doing a procedure. And theres no instructions for how to do it no guides nothing. I'm going to get in trouble AGAIN.

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    1. I think it is wise to seek professional help. Your university should offer some form of free counseling. I had similar experiences in my second year-I never really drank before but I found myself constantly wanted to block out reality in any way-sleep,drinking, denial, etc. My life improved exponentially after talking to someone for a while. I can relate to your frustration about feedback-my adviser never says anything positive; only negative. I now try to filter these out and ignore them, but I would not have been mentally strong enough to do this when I was as depressed as I had been earlier.

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  18. Thank you so much for your blog post an an attempt to shed light on one of the most confusing and depleting exercises of all time. I am currently in my last year of a doctorate in the liberal arts. I have dealt with a horrifying list of scenarios at my university. Several times over the past 5 years, I have felt I was among immature children. Behavior I might have expected from a middle school playground has been an almost weekly experience. Morale is low in my department, and the bitterness of the faculty often comes out in casual cruelty or abuse towards grad students. My ex adviser was a terrible bully who refused to do even the most basic requirements of the job. No feedback. No reply to emails. (Other things I dare not mention here, for fear someone knows someone-and the details are unique.) I think one of the most difficult problems is the static nature of the status of grad students in the eyes of those who are meant to mentor. As far as many faculty in my department are concerned, we are there to serve them at any cost. I was so surprised to find a culture of hazing in my department, but this is the way most faculty interact with students here.

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  19. I have started a blog purely to provide support for grad school drop outs!!

    http://dropouthub.blogspot.com/

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  20. As a one time PhD student you should know to cite your references! What is this study at Berkely?! I want to read it!

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  21. I am currently a PhD student and this article is spot on but there are ways around it. The article mentions feelings of isolation that leads to depression. I hear what you're saying because it's a rough experience but what I found is that isolation is a choice. One important thing that I did was I rented an apartment next to a bar that I like. I've been going over there a few times a week to relax and in doing so, have met a lot of amazing people outside the academic world that now function in the same way that my wife, friends, and family do back home. I don't have time to be involved in lots of different social functions, but I always have time to take 30 minutes and grab a beer with people who have nothing to do with the academic world. Since I live next door, it's a built in system, so it's really easy to fit in my schedule. This is just one example of something I did to help create a community of supportive people, which fights the isolation. It's very simple, but it was a game changer for me. Take care!

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  22. I am glad I discovered your blog today. I know it has been years since you wrote all these posts about leaving the academic world but they have made a big impact on me. I have been feeling so alone. I am not even at PhD level yet but I hate my Masters (it is research only - no coursework - and thus gives me an idea of what a PhD would be like) and reading this has finally given me the courage to get out of my pyjamas (yes, that's the state I'm in) and go and withdraw from my program. I am so glad you refuse to remain silent and that someone is actually talking about the difficulties of post-graduate life and the academic track. Thank you.

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  23. Just found this blog while taking a break from writing a paper from hell. I'm at the end of my first semester in a Master's program in a professional degree. I can echo the same things as all other posters. It's not a PhD, but I do feel extreme bouts of anxiety and hopelessness. Like another poster, I too left my family and friends for this program. I moved across the country and the isolation coupled with stress from the program is pretty bad. I had no idea what I was getting myself into prior to starting. The silver lining is that a Master's is only 2 years and I hope I'll adjust or be able to deal with this anxiety for that period of time. After reading this, there is no way in heck I'll pursue a PhD after my Master's.

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  24. I stumbled to this blog today, and I am really glad I did. I am into my second year of a program I "chose" because my B.A. in Sociology/Social Work wasn't getting any job leads.. at least without a Master's and even then it's not a guarantee.
    It is hard to complain because I don't want to be the spoiled millennial who can't tough it out for three years. I absolutely hate grad school and the rural city I am in. Due to financial cost, a rural school was my best bet. If I could drop out without feeling like a failure I would.. but just having a B.A. in the south won't cut it. I can not wait for this to be over. When my children get of age, I will not force college as the only option like my parents did me.

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  25. Hi, I have been thinking about leaving my program 6 mths in. I was lucky yo get a scholarship to study, and often look around at other students looking all busy with their work, and to be honest.......I dont feel moved. I feel guilty that I am not at all interested in doing a phd and thus have no motivation for reading and looking for theoretical gaps and theories. I honestly dont want to spend the next 3-4 yrs of my life feeling this way, as I dont even want to go into academia. I too, as mentioned by other people here, left my country and family, to move to a different continent. I dont mind the country that im in, just that I would prefer to work at a job here, coz that way I could actually 'LIVE' and enjoy the sights and sounds around me. I kinda feel bad that I will be letting my family down....maybe...but honestly....i cant force myself to like it coz deep down, in as much as I dont wanna admit it....I dont think I want it, hence see no point putting the effort in that will leave me drained......

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  26. So glad I saw this blog. I completed my Master's in clinical psych last year and immediately started a 5-year Doctoral program. My Master's was tough but it was 2 years and I walked away with a pretty degree and some really good work experience in a hospital. Then I moved 1500 miles away from friends and family to start this new program and am wondering if this was the right move for me. As one person said earlier, I feel I am too far into it to turn back, and maybe my feelings about it are temporary and I will have some sort of epiphany soon which will change my view. But maybe not. I guess it doesn't help that my cohort makes me more anxious than the actual school work. I will continue to read this blog and hope that one day I will make the best decision for me - either stay and get the doctorate or go and be content with my master's.
    Oh, and I had never been on any psychiatric meds prior to now, but I was recently put on a stimulant because I haven't been able to focus, which is rather frightening for someone who doesn't even like to take a mild muscle relaxant.

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  27. Thanks for the post, and I'm glad to read all these comments and know I'm not alone. I'm a third year. I am having a problem in my project making a construct that is supposed to be SUPER easy (like, literally, should take a week) and I have been working on it over 8 months with no more ideas. It's incredibly unfulfilling. I feel so depressed and frustrated and anxious when another round inevitably fails, and I get really upset about all the time I poured into it. It just doesn't feel worth it sometimes.

    Luckily, my boss is kind and understanding about it and is going to try it himself. Honestly, though, I don't think he'll get it to work because I know I'm doing everything right. I'll still cross my fingers, though!

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  28. I'm so glad I ran into these posts. I am in the first semester in my second (and hopefully my last) year in my masters degree with a thesis. I moved away from my hometown to do this and I seemingly question my decision to be here everyday. The lack of social interaction (and friends) and lack of progress in research has put me in compromising position.

    For the past month, I have literally been in a state of high stress, to the point where it is almost paralyzing. It's hard to get up in the morning, I'm always tense and easily agitated. I feel like I lost myself in this environment. I'm always living in a constant state of fear; the fear of not graduating on time due to research, failing the last of my classes, and the possibility of staying in this horrible environment longer. Combine all this with homesickness, I am one miserable person.

    I will say that academia is one of the worst environments to work in. My peers seem disconnected from the rest of the world, as they literally have to sell our souls to our research in order to be successful. I'm not the type of person to do this, as I have so many other outside interests outside of my field.

    I wish somebody can tell me things will get better. I am so close (I think), but I feel so burned out that I don't have energy to spare. At this point, I am just surviving and weathering the storm at this point.

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    Replies
    1. This is my exact story, I am at the same time-point as well. I wish I knew what I was getting into, however, the person (eventually) walking with the diploma will be a wiser and stronger person.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm in exactly the same position. My anxiety has affected my work and daily life. I'm considering if I should tell my professor about it.

      Delete
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  31. Thank you for writing this. I finished my PhD in May, started a tenure-track job, and now I am struggling with terrible anxiety. I keep asking "what is wrong with me?" and "why can't I do this?", which is why I appreciate this blog post so much. The only thing wrong with me is the horrible, cruel advisor I had to work with for years.

    Seeing that other people have experienced the same struggles as me helps me to feel less shame about my anxiety.

    I have been thinking about taking time off for my mental health, and I appreciate your honesty about what you have been through and your experiences.

    ReplyDelete
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  33. Wow -- so happy I stumbled along this blog post. It really resonates with me. I completely believe in the idea that hard times make you stronger...but geez. Sometimes they just beat the crap our of you. I am in my 4th year in a Ph.D. program and after initial relief at getting into a program (I applied several times) and initial excitement about being in grad school, the novelty started to wear by the 2nd year and totally disappeared by the 3rd year. I thought I would adjust eventually to being half a country away from my social support system and would develop one here...but nope. Outside of a contact or two, I continue to be super unhappy and isolated. I flirt with the idea of dropping out when I feel particularly low, but I'm pretty certain it's a choice I would regret for a long time. I once heard a simple quote about perseverance that I like: "we conquer by continuing." That's what I feel like I need to do. Anyway, my main concern right now is that I have let caring for my health and I'm afraid that it will lead to permanent health consequences -- perhaps not until I have a heart attack or stroke in the future, but it's still concerning. Upon hearing this, it's easy for others to chide you into caring for yourself. As if it's that easy. Cooking takes time. Exercising takes time. Meditating for stress takes time. Time is my most valuable resource!! Where do people think I can get this time?!? I think my comment has turned into a rant or diary entry, so I'll stop here. But thanks to the author and the commenters for helping to normalize my experience a bit.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Agree with this paragraph:
    "Now, of course, clinical depression and anxiety disorders are real, serious illnesses that require treatment. And I have no doubt that those illnesses can be found in different proportions in different segments of the population. Depressed or anxious people may self-select into given occupations, and may be less able to leave a job that makes them miserable."

    ReplyDelete