I have never disliked school before.
June 14, 2012 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me be less sad, plz.

Hi y'all,

I can't believe I am about to say this, but here goes: I am a grad student, and I am depressed.

Shocked, you say? Well, I knew this was a distinct possibility when applying; I was wary of doing a PhD, so I am doing an MA in English with tuition remission and a little bit of funding (so no debt, at least). I moved to a nice city, near my boyfriend and lots of friends. Despite all the warnings, it was very hard to give up my dream of at least giving academia a shot, so I thought that doing a masters in this position would be a taste, with a shot at some teaching experience and a very finite end.

What actually has happened is that I am totally, totally depressed. I am NOT good at being alone for long periods of time and at doing well with large unstructured blocks of time (and I am already kicking myself for trying to take on grad school when I knew it would be hard in this particular way ... I thought I could handle it, but clearly I can't. I feel like I tried so hard to avoid falling into this trap of being depressed in the humanities, but here I am, despite my best efforts.) I am spending this summer taking classes, and the isolation is killing me. Though I was ready to move on from my old job and to take on a new adventure, I miss the camaraderie of an office environment and the regularity of having to be somewhere at 9 am each day. I am supposed to begin teaching in the fall, which should be great but still stressful. Furthermore, while I have a nice support network here, I so miss my old city (NYC) and the fun I used to have when I was there.

On top of everything, as my posting history indicates, I bulged two discs in my back, which are getting MUCH better but seriously, that has really put a damper on this whole experience (to put it mildly). I had to put a bunch of classes on hold while I recuperated, developed an ulcer from all the painkillers, and generally had the worst semester ever. I realize this is probably a large source of my depression, but I have a hunch there is more to it than that. My body is feeling better, but my mind is not.

MeFites, I would love to stick it out for another year, but I am withering away. I have lost an obscene amount of weight, cry often, and generally feel tired and un-enthused about things. I keep thinking that if I had a *job*, not long empty days in the library, it would be easier to get back on my feet. I *hate* waking up in the morning knowing I will have to spend most of the day alone. I am seeing a doctor, a therapist, going on meds, doing physical therapy, and plan to start volunteering soon, so there is definitely hope. Those things helped me when I was down before, and I am going to give them a shot. I don't want to make any rash decisions while I am so low, and I don't want to just quit only to spend months sinking further into depression while unemployed. I will talk to my advisor soon too, to get some perspective. I still think I would be a good teacher, so I don't necessarily want to give up teaching in the fall yet if I can try to stick it out. But I cannot go on like this. (And I am not planning to go into academia, so no need to lecture me on that front.) :)

Thanks, y'all.
posted by bookgirl18 to Education (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there anyone who is doing the same coursework as you that you could schedule study time with? Even outside of your course of study, you could arrange groups of people to get together and hit the books, take regular breaks, etc.

Is a very part-time job or volunteering opportunity out of the question? Would a small amount of routine, no matter that it's just an hour a day or whatever, be helpful?
posted by xingcat at 12:46 PM on June 14, 2012

Is there any exercise that you can manage at the moment? Swimming, or even just walking?

Along with getting enough sleep and eating well, nothing has been as helpful to me in managing depression as regular exercise.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:52 PM on June 14, 2012

There's a wealth of information on AskMe about depression and about quitting grad school / making professional changes while depressed. You seem savvy enough to find that stuff on your own.

Instead, I'm going to try to address your request above the fold. You want to be less sad. Here are some things that work for me.

Try giving this a listen a couple of times to let it sink in and become a thing you can repeat to yourself over and over again.

MeFite LobsterMitten has a bunch of awesome joke threads from AskMe in their profile. Read through some of those.

If animal-based slapstick is your thing, look through the archives here. It always puts a smile on my face.

Then go talk to your advisor and your therapist.

Good luck. You'll be fine. Just breathe.
posted by gauche at 12:57 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to spend a lot more time being social. Your boyfriend, your friends -- are they a big part of your life? Do you plan to do fun things with them? And -- can you make friends with others in your graduate program?

You sound lonely, or more lonely than works for you. I'd address that right away. If graduate studies aren't for you even after your social life is revived and you are feeling more yourself, then I'd look at whether this is the right path for you. But meanwhile, I think you need to have scheduled good times with people you like and enjoy, and who like and enjoy with you.
posted by bearwife at 12:59 PM on June 14, 2012

Are you spending long empty days in the library because you need to be in the library to do research, or are you just going there to study?

If it's the latter then what about getting a low-key job as a receptionist somewhere, where they mainly just need a warm body to greet people occasionally and most of the time you can do your work?

In college I had a job working at a neighborhood gym. I worked maybe 10% of the time and did whatever I wanted the other 90%. That gym was like Cheers. Seriously, like the gym denizens would yell each other's names out when they came in the door. That made me Sam Malone, with 0 effort on my part. Making friends was not at all one of my priorities that year and I had a lot going on, it just happened naturally because of the circumstances. So I would recommend it for you.
posted by cairdeas at 1:09 PM on June 14, 2012

I like xingcat's ideas, especially volunteering. Where I live, "literacy" programs usually turn out to be largely ESL, and they would gladly take in a walk-in to help out over the summer. You can meet interesting people and feel very useful. If you go into a public library they usually have signs up. (Right now the signs are officially recruiting for the fall, but only because that's when most people want to start.)
posted by BibiRose at 1:10 PM on June 14, 2012

Maybe you could band together with some trusted colleagues/friends and form a support group. For reals -- I know someone who had a dissertation support group they seemed to find helpful, and I wonder why that sort of thing's not more common now that everyone knows what grad school can do to your mental health.

(Come to think of it, I suppose the social student group I frequented when I was in my master's program was like an ad hoc support group; I affectionately called it a drinking and complaining club.)
posted by clavicle at 1:25 PM on June 14, 2012

Any chance you could get a pet? I used to be overwhelmed by the loneliness of grad school, and getting a cat seriously made a huge difference. Huge.
posted by ootandaboot at 4:23 PM on June 14, 2012

You might want to ask your adviser whether it'd be possible to get access to an office space that's shared with other students. If that's available, it makes studying all day feel quite a bit more like going to the office -- you can structure your hours, and interact more with other students and the staff.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:50 PM on June 14, 2012

I can share some perspective with you: graduate school in the humanities is profoundly depressing! You are depressed because your environment causes depression: isolation, little money, little support, no structure, no job prospects, and too much work. I'm not saying you should quit, but if you do quit don't feel bad. People change jobs all the time, and that's basically what you'd be doing, even if academia tries to program you to view it as a failure of some sort. It's just a choice to change careers to one where you'd be happier.
posted by citron at 9:03 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

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