[LifeFilter] Help me help myself
November 6, 2005 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Help me help myself. I have had social anxiety for almost as long as I can remember and for the last few had also been depressed as a result. [Gory details inside]

A little background: I had come to the US as a graduate student in 2000 and just a little into my studies, suffered what can only be termed as a full blown nervous breakdown (triggered by a particularly miserable class presentation) I've spent the last 4 years trying to overcome my demons and it is a tribute to the American education system that I was allowed to defer my studies while undergoing treatment for depression and social anxiety. I think I have overcome my shyness/depression to a very large extent and would go as far as not labeling my 'shy' any more. But this has taken a huge toll. As in 4 critical and potentially productive years of my youth and academic life. I just can't get this out of my head. Originally I had intended to have a career in academia, but am not so sure anymore. How big a hindrance would these four blank years on my C.V. be, during which I was essentially 'comatose' from all the SSRIs that I had been taking. The same problem would hold even if tried looking for a job in industry/planned to apply for a Ph.D. program. I've read a few other questions on Me-Fi that ask the same thing. But as an international student, what can I expect? Its been specially hard, explaining this to my parents and family back home for obvious cultural reasons.

Any advice, insights, shared personal experiences, words of wisdom from the Me-Fi community would be welcome. I just want to move beyond this thought of having wasted 4 years of my life. I worry that this might cause me to relapse back into depression.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The years weren't wasted if you are now able to deal with stress in a more positive way and to achieve your goals, they were well spent.
posted by fshgrl at 5:21 PM on November 6, 2005

I've not (yet) experienced what you've gone through. But if it's any comfort, please know that every person has gone through some dark periods in life. And most have some episode/experience/behavior that wouldn't look particularly flattering on a C.V. So when you're sitting across the table from someone in an intimidating situation, and the subject of your "four blank years" comes up, know that the other individual likely has a whitewashed era in his/her background as well--and it could be much more embarrassing than suffering from depression and social anxiety.

Or just tell them you took some time off to write a novel.
posted by Kibbutz at 5:22 PM on November 6, 2005

Do not say you took time off to write a novel, unless you have a novel to show for it.

The thing about academia is that when it comes time to get a job, your cv will show only academic experience regardless, so "blank" time is not uncommon on a cv since anyone who took time off of school to get a real job will also have missing years.

If anybody asks, however, you should tell them the truth. You took some time off to deal with health issues and returned when you had recovered and could devote your full attention to your studies. It may also be possible to have your advisor indicate such in your letters and save you the trouble.
posted by duck at 5:52 PM on November 6, 2005

Lots of people take a few years off of school before finishing school. People in academia and industry alike should think nothing of it.

Four years isn't a very long time, really. Consider consider that time spent an investment in your future health and happiness. Good luck with school!
posted by Eamon at 5:58 PM on November 6, 2005

I recently spent 3 years in a Ph.D. program and ended up dropping out due to many factors. It was a very rough time for me. It was hard to shift into job-search mode, and one of my concerns was that people would wonder why I spent 3 years getting a master's degree. They mostly didn't ask about it. I think people know how hard it is to get a doctorate.

Part of my reason for leaving was that I gave several shitty presentations, and this led me to conclude that I wouldn't make a good teacher. But I didn't die from this, I just realized that presenting difficult technical material wasn't something I was good at.

I can't tell what you're planning to do with your life now, but it may be time to recalibrate your expectations. I encourage you to think about what things you've been happiest doing, and to pursue those. You've been through a tough time, but you're still alive and in good health, so nothing is lost. (Hopefully you've gained something from your struggles.) Do what you think you should, not what you believe your parents and family think you should. It's likely that your happiness is the thing that matters the most to them. And if it isn't, then maybe the problem is with them, not you.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:02 PM on November 6, 2005

I don't know what you are expected to put on your CV for a career in academia, but I am in law school and I have been advised to confine my resume to jobs that have been law-related in some way. For example, the job I had at Blockbuster in college isn't on there. Is it possible that one might reasonably assume that during those four years you were working in an unrelated field, maybe earning money for grad school (paying your way through school always sounds good)? Did you work at all during this time, even part-time? If so, it might make it easier to put that spin on it.
posted by amro at 7:12 PM on November 6, 2005

As everyone's said, academia is ideal for someone with gaps in their resume - every non-traditional student has such a gap, some waaaaaay longer than four years. It's taken for granted that older students have overcome obstacles to get where they are; there's no need to enumerate yours (even if congenital shyness convinces you that people must know). It's your performance now that matters, and congratulations on figuring out how to work around your demons.
posted by ellanea at 7:55 PM on November 6, 2005

Don't volunteer the information, but if they ask, tell the truth.

It really isn't a big deal. I'd be surprised if they even asked why you took the time off. Most people have some gaps like that: for work, travel, whatever. Gloss over it with any part-time work info, if possible. If they press the matter, which they won't, tell them you were treated (succesfully) for a depression-related illness, and had to take a break from your studies.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:43 PM on November 6, 2005

For your CV, use a functional format. This will put the focus on your skills and experience, not dates.

Skilled recruiters will notice the date issue. If they ask about it, just say you had some important health issues. Tell them that you are pleased to say that you are now well and that you are eager to move ahead, flex your muscles and deliver for a firm. You can say much the same thing for grad school.

Don't volunteer your personal medical information to recruiters or educational institutions unless pushed. Even then, just use "important health issues". Many people still think depression is something you can "get over" and that it can't be as difficult as "real" illnesses. So avoid the situation by simply saying health issues. THey cannot legally press you on this point, AFAIK.
posted by acoutu at 1:01 AM on November 7, 2005

Don't tell the truth. Tell them you wanted to experience life from outside the academic sphere. People love labels. They are addicted to them. Better to let them think you are a maverick than a nut case. Besides, it's often the same thing, just depends on how you look at it.

Telling the truth is good when you want people to know who you are. Potential employers not only don't need to know, they probably don't want to know.

Don't define yourself, or let others define you, by who you were yesterday. You are in charge of who you are today, and how people see that person. Put you best face forward.
posted by ewkpates at 7:56 AM on November 7, 2005

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