A little help
January 22, 2012 10:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm at the edge. How do I pull back? Do I pull back? Snowflake details follow.

I'm living a country song. My wife left me. I'm in a Ph.D. program, but I'm doing terribly, and I hate it. I have friends who I like and who like me, but it doesn't really seem to matter. Peers think I'm smart, but I don't think professors do. Every sexual encounter I've had since my wife left me has made me more depressed and miserable. I find sex with women other than my wife disgusting. I'm drinking like crazy. I don't have any qualifications for jobs outside of academia. I loathe myself. I think I'm a sniveling child. I need a way to come up for air, and I just don't see it.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's really not much info to go by here.

Regardless, you might want to see a therapist about these issues (since you don't mention if you are already seeing one). It will more than likely be very helpful to have him/her to talk about this.
posted by Trexsock at 10:28 PM on January 22, 2012

Stop having sex for a while. When you pursue women to have (unfun) sex with, isn't it just a diversion -- isn't just a way of deferring having to deal with reality? It's time to face that reality. Surprise! It's really not that scary. It's just you... as you are now, which may not be what you expected, but that's okay. You get to decide what you will be next.

If you find you can't get through an evening without drinking, find a friend you trust with this information and ask if you can spend some time with them -- a few days, whatever -- to interrupt your pattern. If that doesn't work, you really should look into meetings and/or support groups. But if you have great friends, this is the time to lean on them.

With regards to work and your degree -- you don't have to decide right now. Or tomorrow. Or next week. You're in survival mode, deal with tonight first (I recommend going to sleep ASAP, actually... morning is always a little better). Tomorrow, deal with tomorrow: not drinking (just for one day), not having sex that depresses and disgusts you (really, just for one day), occupying yourself with things that keep your mind busy, tending simple things that you've been neglecting.

That's tomorrow. Enjoy it the best you can. Don't let yourself get pulled into worrying about the future. If you feel like your life is destroyed, you can only rebuild it one little day at a time.
posted by hermitosis at 10:36 PM on January 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's a great thing that you're reaching out, and I think it's a very good sign that you will be able to find a way to make things better for yourself. But it is also very possible that some help could really benefit you too.

I think one of the better people to try to help you right now is a mental health professional. You could find some resources for this through your school, or through your primary care physician. You can also find a therapist near you here: Psychology Today - Find a Therapist; you can find a low-cost or free therapist or clinic (if your income level qualifies you) through SAMHSA; you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:36 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

You know, as much as they are mocked by people outside the target demographic, the reason country music songs are popular is that they resonate with masses and masses of people. And that's basically because we've all been there. And divorce is a wretched process, outside of the heartache of your partner leaving you. The only good news is that it gets better; there will 100% come a day when this will all be water under the bridge.

To hasten that day, you have to make good choices in the midst of the shitstorm. Quit the drinking and the sex. Talk to your advisor; take leave if you need to. Get some support. Reach out to friends and see a therapist if you need structure.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:45 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, I think that studying for a PhD is one of the most depressing experiences a human being can go through. Something about working incredibly hard for an indistinct and possibly nonexistent reward. Unlike the divorce, you have a choice in this. Drop it, or put it on hold, while you figure things out -- even if you have to work jobs you're overqualified for for a while.
posted by miyabo at 10:50 PM on January 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oh, man, not good to hear that you're a PhD student. Events that send the mind reeling are SO MUCH WORSE when you don't have guardrails.

Consider looking for work outside academia. Something with a 9-5 schedule 3 days/week if possible. (You ABD or what?) Academia is awful and in my opinion, only three kinds of people should do a PhD: those with stellar mental health and time management skills, those who are doing it just to go get a higher paying 9-5 job (eg, engineers), and those who can't not. You don't sound like any of these. So start getting out ASAP. This "omg what do I do with myself??" issue will be much more minor if every day at 9 am you have to be somewhere.

But hermitosis is right, don't make big decisions until you've sobered up and come up for air. Maybe in the meantime, create as much external structure as possible: library, study group, second job...
posted by salvia at 10:52 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, did your wife leave you because of serial adultery or alcohol? If so, do not pass go, head straight to AA, SA, or another similar detox program.

And I take back what I said before: do not quit school until you figure out what kind of mental health support you need and how to get it from another source.
posted by salvia at 10:55 PM on January 22, 2012

Random advice from a stranger on the internet: see a psychiatrist, get a diagnosis of depression (I assume), take a medical leave of absence, go do something that this both physically active and fun or at least meaningful.
posted by metahawk at 10:58 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dude, if you weren't depressed before all this stuff happened, you are now. Seek assistance. Specifically, go to the student counselling centre and get help. You are not alone - you are not the first vastly depressed grad student living in a country song, nor, unfortunately, will you be the last. (My country song was mostly about death, but I still finished, with that support.)
posted by gingerest at 10:59 PM on January 22, 2012

And I take back what I said before: do not quit school until you figure out what kind of mental health support you need and how to get it from another source.

Just adding to this, the counseling resources at your university may actually be better-positioned to help you navigate what you're going through than a generic therapist (and are likely free or low-cost). If it turns out leaving your program is ultimately what's best for you, that will still be true when you've got your head a little bit more above water.

Graduate school definitely has a way of exacerbating problems; I'm nearly done, and nearly every person I know who's been through it has had at least one crisis / breakdown before the end. You sound as though you feel very alone, but you're not. Lots of us have been there. Reach out to your friends and peers, if you feel you can.
posted by gerryblog at 11:15 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't make any rash moves in your current state. This includes quitting the program. How far in are you, anyway? You need to hang on to what you have at the moment until you're able to feel well enough to think rationally about your future.

You need to cut way back on the drinking (sounds like you're self-medicating) and get some help for your depression. Go see the university shrink and I'm betting you'll get put on anti-depressants. Take them, you need them, and after a few weeks you'll be able to see clearly again.

It's totally normal to feel depressed after a divorce, especially during a PhD program. Don't beat yourself up about it but at the same time make sure you don't allow yourself to slide into alcoholism, unemployment, homelessness, and worse. Go get the help you need, your future self will certainly thank you for it.
posted by hazyjane at 11:50 PM on January 22, 2012

You NEED to tell someone at school what's going on. Find someone you trust: your supervisor, an academic counselor, some random professor, it doesn't matter. You don't even need to go into detail. Tell them "I've been having personal issues recently that have been seriously affecting my work, and I need help". Copy and paste that into an email if you have to.

That first step is the hardest, but it's necessary. When I bottomed out in grad school it took me months before being straight with my supervisor. But once we had a frank conversation about things we developed a plan that got me through to graduation.

Maybe that's what will happen for you, or maybe it will be better to take a temporary withdrawal to sort your shit out. The point is the current situation in unsustainable, and all you have to do to break out of it is to tell someone.

I also avoided telling my friends and my parents about how much I was struggling because I didn't want to disappoint them. But lying to them just put more pressure on me, and coming clean to them ended up being an incredible relief. If you aren't relying on your support network for help, you should be.

I found lots of support in the AskMe archives when I was struggling in grad school. Peoples' answers to the question should I drop out of grad school were particularly helpful to me, mostly to make me feel like I wasn't alone.

Admitting you need help is the strongest thing you can do right now, and people will respect you for it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:54 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your school most likely has a counseling services department. Within this department will likely be PhD support groups. The things you mention related to your PhD were the sorts of things we discussed in mine. The group will not solve your problems, but it will really help put things into perspective and, if your facilitator is good, you will gain the tools to help sort through these issues.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:17 AM on January 23, 2012

You shouldn't drink right now, it will be very bad for you.
posted by thelonius at 3:10 AM on January 23, 2012

Can you take a leave of absence from your program?
posted by anniecat at 4:58 AM on January 23, 2012

You need a big old time out. Can you get a leave of absence? I'd take it if you can. If sleeping with other women makes you feel bad, stop doing it. I'd also suggest stopping drinking, alcohol is a depressant and is not going to help in anyway shape or form right now. You need a boring 9 to 5 job that you have to schlep to every day too keep your mind just busy enough while your heart/soul etc heal. Routine where you are bounced around off of other people and still need to make some connections with other people, no matter how small is wonderful for this sort of thing and helps stop you sinking deeper down into feeling bad, a lot of time alone while you are working on your Phd not so much. Gather your forces, be kind to yourself. If you do nothing else, stop sleeping with other women, stop drinking and go see a someone to talk to.
posted by wwax at 6:53 AM on January 23, 2012

I'm sorry you're feeling sucky. This happens to lots of people, but that may not make it suck less when you're in the throes of it.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help you through - your school's counselling office may be one, and you may also have access to an "employee assistance program" through the university as an employee. It may take a little while to get in to see someone or to get the right help, but asking is definitely the first step.

Take a medical leave of absence to figure things out. This is relatively normal and not going to scar your career forever, however shocking it may feel to you now.

Right away:

Tell some of your friends you need help - probably social activities with out alcohol, like the movies and dinner.

Exercise daily - walk in parks, swim, join a violent team sport, do yoga, whatever is going to get your blood moving and the endorphins flowing. This is a HUGE part of beating back the demons of depression.

Mindfulness or Meditation is also a really good self-treatment for depression.

You don't have to fix your life overnight, and being kind to yourself means accepting that you (we) don't always make the best choices. But you can change your circumstances and get through this.

Good for you for reaching out.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:01 AM on January 23, 2012

First thing you do, right now, is you pick up your phone and call the university's student counseling service and tell them you need to see someone TODAY.

Second thing you do, you meet the counselor and ask him or her to help you draw up a list of what to do next.

The list should include concrete, short-term actions (like: call a friend when I leave here and tell him what's going on with me and ask if he's free for dinner. AND/OR, Email my advisor and say I need to speak with him at his earliest convenience. AND, Go to the grocery store and get the following items of food to make healthy meals for the next three days. AND, Pay bills tomorrow that I have left sitting around.). Also think of ROUTINE actions from here on out to nurture and care for yourself: daily exercise. Eat three meals a day. Be in bed by midnight. Wake up at 7:30AM.

I recommend this because it gives you a sense of CONTROL, one that you can feel badly lacking after such a profoundly awful, life-changing event. Once you have regained some small feeling of control over your life, you can start confronting your grief. (Bonus: feeling in control again will also keep you from doing things that you know, rationally, will make you feel awful, like sleeping with random people and drinking way too much. These latter are ways in which we try to blur our awareness that we are out of control and miserable!)

Big hugs to you. You will be okay, but it will suck for a while. Happily, as a student, you are in a situation where help is available to you. USE IT!

*Final note: if you feel weird about going to the counseling center, don't. I know for a fact that the vast majority of visitors at MY university's counseling center are -- yep, you guessed it -- doctoral students!
posted by artemisia at 10:01 AM on January 23, 2012

A leave of absence might affect your access to your university's medical services, so please see the counseling services first.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:03 AM on January 23, 2012

Nthing calling your school's mental health services. You are not alone, and what you are experiencing is very common. That's not to minimize what you are going through, but to point out that grad school promotes feelings of depression and despair.

(I am also a PhD student and last year joined a therapy group for grad student women. It was tremendously helpful, especially for helping me feel less alone and giving me strategies for dealing with my issues.)
posted by apricot at 11:41 AM on January 23, 2012

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