Patterns in Depression and Dysthymia

Once, a few years back while in a therapy session, my doctor mentioned to me that although she didn’t like to label, she had diagnosed me with dysthymia. At the time I didn’t think much of it, figuring it was just a particular diagnostic class of depression and that I didn’t need to know the details. But for a number of reasons recently, I decided to look into what it meant. In short, dysthymia (sometimes called chronic depression) is a form of mood disorder which has similar symptoms to depression, but they are often milder and last longer, for years. For me, the symptoms could be described as varying levels of hypersomnia, hopelessness, anxiety, guilt, loss of interest, sadness, and excessive crying, although many people experience it differently.

I’ve always felt that I was particularly sensitive to environment, in that in certain surroundings and social groups, the effort it would take to pull myself out of my self-critical thought patterns and incessant negative thoughts was more than I could manage. So I carefully considered the location of my university choice so as to put me in the place I felt most comfortable. For me, that place is a big city: a place so abundant with people that although I am surrounded by them, very few of us have the time to observe our neighbors closely, care about their choices, or actually express to them that we are uncomfortable with their differences. To me, this is the place where I can be me, find others like me, and find the inner strength to not worry about whether or not I fit in and am liked by the people I encounter each day. Living in this city filled with life and energy quells my anxious thoughts and helps me to be both carefree and driven. I feel at home here, and I love to show my acceptance of all the varied people who are my neighbors. And I can find any service that I need quickly, while not having to return to the car culture that my youth was so entrenched in. I firmly believe that this is both a great place to be and a great place for me.

Dysthymic people can also suffer from major depressive episodes, in this case termed “double depression.” I think I’m beginning to see some patterns to when my stronger depressive episodes develop. This last few months, there have been similarities to the depressed period which had originally brought me to my therapist in the first place. It seems that I am very sensitive to my social environment. When I was skating, it meant my home club and coaches. In school this meant my classmates and professors. At work it’s my coworkers and bosses. While some uneasiness may kick in right after a switch (new semester, new job, etc.), I’m often buoyed for the initial period by my love of new things. To me something new is something to learn from, and I love learning. But after the newness wears off, generally 3 to 6 months in, things get bumpier. I often start to really notice the people around me, and in many cases I start to fixate on the feeling that I don’t belong.

As I write this, I can remember so many times when this has happened. The first instance when I felt this way to the degree that I was not in control of my thoughts was when I was 17, and my training routine at the rink had changed. I was skating full-time at a club that I had rarely felt quite right at, and I was not able to spend much time at my favorite club, the place where I really felt at home. Many of my closest friends, skaters at that club, had moved on to other things. My coaches had decided to teach exclusively at this place that never felt as homey, and I found myself surrounded by ambitious young skaters. I was unable to value the maturity and strength that my skating had, and I only saw myself as a giant among little girls in a sport where smallness is an advantage. The bulimia that had began less than a year earlier spiraled out of control, and by the end of the summer I decided to quit, thinking that taking myself out of this environment, this competitive skating world, would help me heal. At the time, I didn’t realize how long that process would take.

Years later, when I was a junior in college, it was the beginning of classes with other driven students from my major field of study that led to this place. At first I did well enough, enjoying the challenge and the new things to learn. But as the semester wore on, the attitude of my professors and classmates wore me thin. By Christmas I couldn’t bear to attend the Holiday Party for fear that my professors would secretly be laughing at me for thinking I had a place in the department. By spring, I was missing classes and homework assignments because I couldn’t bear to turn in what I thought was such poor work or even to get out of bed and face the day. At some point I got low enough to feel that I was out of control and that my school success was in danger, and I wrote an emotional, pleading e-mail to my Dean. And so began that road to recovery.

Having been acutely aware of my environment, when I found myself struggling not long after having entered my first office job, I figured it was pretty normal. I was in a new environment, a foreign environment to me, and it would take me time to learn the ropes and find my place. But now I think it’s more than that, and I’m beginning to see the similarities to other situations that have led me to this emotional place.

This time, I was nervous about the new setting and lifestyle. But for the first 3 months, I was happily engrossed in a high priority, fast-paced project. I drew energy from this and didn’t concern myself much with the coworkers who weren’t on the project. There were many instances of a coworker’s statement or behavior being an unpleasant surprise to me, but the good parts outweighed the bad, and I could almost say that I was loving my job.

Then, in July, that project’s major deadline passed and I didn’t have much to do for it anymore. My work day slowed down, and I took on more varied tasks requiring interaction with more of my coworkers. And the feeling that I didn’t belong grew stronger.

Now, It’s been 6 months since I started this job, and I’ve been feeling somewhat out of control of my thoughts and emotions for the past couple of months. By the end of August it was pretty clear to me that I was having more difficulty than normal, healthy people do. This was compounded by my period of no health insurance (I had to wait 3 months after my job began to get health benefits) and the difficulty I had in obtaining my antidepressant prescription, which I’d been on for over 5 years. I managed to get the Rx, but not without significant stress, cost, frustration, and two hospital visits.

It was at the second of those emergency visits (I had tried but been unable to find a psychiatrist that would see me, a new patient, on short notice, and my therapist was out of town) that I realized that my struggle to adjust was outside the bounds of healthy behavior. I confided in the doctor that I had cried at work almost every day the prior week, and she said that sounded like the meds weren’t working. She let me go home with a prescription and the promise that I would go to my new psychiatrist appointment the next week  and come back in if I couldn’t make it until then. To top things off, this particular visit marked the first day of our “staycation,” and I spent the whole day in the hospital (the wait was over 7 hours!). I resolved to shake the feeling that I couldn’t even properly enjoy a vacation from work, and Husband and I made the best of the rest of our time off.

Since then it’s been a struggle, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. My insurance has kicked in and I’ve found a psychiatrist that I feel comfortable with. We increased my dosage in September, and things have gotten only slightly more manageable. He said if things were still rough by this week, I should go back in and we’ll try a combination instead. So I will do that this week, and try it out for a while. Between him, my therapist, and the support of my husband and friends, I will get out of this rough patch too.

*Edited slightly from original posting

Settling in to the summer

The last few weeks have seen an interesting hodgepodge of demands on my time, but I think I’ve managed to secure enough babysitting hours to stabilize the financial situation a little bit until we get our next cash influx, which should be a few weeks away now. Financially we’re in what Husband is calling a “famine cycle,” but I think I’ve succeeded in keeping it from getting as bad as it has been in the past. I pulled in all the cash from any savings account we had, enough to bring our bank account in the black again, and now I can put enough cash from babysitting into the account to keep from bank fees and bounced payments when some of our unavoidable bills are processed. This feels a little better, although it’s still really stressful as a significant portion of our bills are going unpaid, and thus our debt is just growing further.

I found a new occasional baby sitting gig, watching a 2 month old. I’m happy to be around a baby again, as the toddlers at my other gig are now 20 months and 3 1/4 yrs old. And so far, the baby seems to be a pretty easy baby, although I haven’t spent too much time with him yet. His parents are both musicians, and I’m going to be helping out while his momma gets some practice time in. So I get to listen to some great classical piano while I’m working, too! It’s pretty soothing. So far the baby and I seem to interact well – he likes my smile and my laugh.

So this is what my weekly schedule is shaping up to look like: 5-10 hours with the 2 month old, 10-15 hours with the toddlers, unknown number of hours in the lab (I’m a “part-time staff associate” for the summer), and 10-20 hours on the startup company. I’ve been taking time off from lab work the past few weeks to focus on helping to get the business pitch ready for our next attempts to secure funding, but I begin lab stuff again this week. We have some new summer undergrads who I will be meeting on Thursday and begin training on Friday. I’m looking forward to new potential mentees!

As for my mental and physical health, I’m struggling, but fighting hard. I’ve been a revolving door of various infections, viruses, and other stress-related sickness. I feel the pull of the bed, with the comfy covers and the promise of sleep and dreams, but I’m managing somewhat to get myself to do work. Last week I felt myself wanting to sleep an awful lot, but on Thursday I fought hard against the desire to stay in bed, and it was a good step. I went out and ran some errands in the neighborhood and then went to Starbucks and did some work there, and by the time I returned home I felt somewhat rejuvenated. When I get stressed out too much, I try to meditate and relax. When I feel like sleeping but know that I’ve had enough sleep, I try to get out and just do little things to get myself going. It’s these small skills that I’ve been cultivating to fight depression, and I’m definitely getting better at it. These struggles with depression and anxiety haven’t been easy, but I am definitely able to see progress in my ability to deal with everything and to fight my way out of the depressed state. I know that I’m dealing with everything that’s going on now in a much, much stronger way than I would have even two years ago, and for that I’m proud.

On failing the quals … again!

I failed the quals again, on my second try, and now I must leave the program. I learned this on Friday, May 2nd, (it started with an ominous e-mail late Thursday night, leaving me unable to sleep or relax or frankly function well at all until I met with the committee chair on Friday) and was sort of reeling from the information for a while. I originally began this post the weekend after that, but I was busy dealing with the actual life decisions and the immediate need for fun and relaxation, and I forgot to come back to it until now.

I’m still pretty shocked and fairly pissed at the faculty of my department. The other person who had failed the first time and been encouraged to stay and take it again also failed this time around too; I ran into him on my way home from meeting with the committee chair and he was on his way to meet with him. Perhaps I had misinterpreted, but I had thought when they asked me to stay and try again that I just needed to show a good faith effort to do better this time around. After all, I had to stick around for an entire year in order to take the exam again, including a semester after receiving my Master’s degree. And for that year they funded me on a departmental NSF grant. They had invested in me and they had been the only ones to educate me (I stayed at the same school as I did my undergrad). They had accepted me into the graduate program even after my struggles with depression throughout my undergrad years, and they had encouraged me to stay and try again when I failed the first time. I really thought that I’d be fine as long as I studied hard. And I did study hard – but I still failed.

So, you may be wondering, what happened?

Things I don’t know:

  • Whether they deemed my performance better or worse than last time (i.e. what they were looking for). I took a different approach to studying this time around. I started studying before anyone else who took the exam this year, and it was my second time taking it so I had a better idea of what the experience would be like (but apparently no better of an idea of what they were looking for me to do). After I failed the first time, I was left with very little feedback. I asked to see my exam, but it wasn’t allowed. While he offered me some details about which subjects I had performed better and worse on, I had no idea if I had actually gotten things wrong, if they were unhappy with the place(s?) where I had to write “This is what I would do if I had the equation to start,” or if it was just that I hadn’t finished enough of it. This time, I felt more prepared and knew more material going into the exam, but there were still gaps in my knowledge. I felt (and still feel) like it was somewhat of a crapshoot, and all I could do was hope they’d either keep it to the most essential topics or that I’d be lucky enough to have recently reviewed the more obscure topics.
  • Whether I got things wrong on the exam or merely didn’t finish enough of it. This time, I’ve been somewhat unable to think about and exam my exam performance too much. It’s just too painful. So I didn’t ask any questions when I met with the committee chair.
  • What kind of departmental politics are going on and how they may have impacted the faculty’s decision to fail myself and my peer. Earlier this year, the faculty considered getting rid of the qualifying exam. Apparently some of the faculty think that we should still have it, but that it should be extremely strict, with no room for “Well he did better than last time” or “She’s a great researcher.” Those faculty think that in the past they had sometimes been too lenient. They cite departments at other schools (Princeton and MIT) where 1/3rd or more of the class is cut after the quals. On the other end of the spectrum, some of the faculty advocate completely getting rid of the quals. Some of these arguments and views may have been formed after last year, when 11 people took the exam and 3 of us failed. One person was taking it for the second time and passed, but I heard their performance was only marginally better. Of the three of us that failed, 2 of us were encouraged to stay and try again and the third was just told to leave. Later, there were complaints of politics playing a role in who got to stay and who didn’t, and I think this may have led to the viewpoints that it should be stricter. Meanwhile other professors saw that those of us that had failed were excellent researchers and had of course passed (and done fairly well in, I’m sure) the courses on which the exam was based. My understanding is that it is still possible they will get rid of the exam next year, or at least change its format.

Things I know:

  • I struggle with this exam format. I’ve written about this before. It was a closed book exam, 4 hours long. There were 6 questions, giving us about 45 minutes per question. Most of the questions were very detailed, and I just couldn’t work through them fast enough. I left some serious chunks undone because I ran out of time. Also, my subject uses math heavily, and while I’m good at and enjoy math, I’ve never been good at memorizing equations (or memorizing anything). For most of my undergraduate education (at the same institution with many of the same professors who wrote the qualifying exam), exams were open book. That worked for me because I’m very good at using the available tools and information to solve problems, but I don’t see the point in memorizing anything that isn’t used so often that I memorize it without trying. This time around, I had written out about 100 flashcards of equations I thought I needed to memorize to be prepared. While many of the questions on the exam were fairly central to their subject matter, about three of the six were what I’d consider to be detailed specific cases which ended up requiring the use of equations that hadn’t even made it into my flashcard pack. One of the questions began with and required an equation for a special case that I had not memorized, and I was left completely crippled on that question.
  • I succumbed to the pressure during the exam. I had been studying for months, and I knew this was my last chance at the exam, and there was a lot of pressure. As I was working through the exam and finding it challenging, I began to get increasingly flustered to the point where I did shed some tears and I considered handing it in unfinished and walking away. I was distracted by how upset I was and unable to focus on trying to solve the problems in front of me.
  • I’m a great researcher. I’m organized and self-driven. Because I began researching in my advisor’s lab as an undergrad, I’d made significant progress on my projects and we had thought I might be able do the degree in a shorter time than average. As a member of a small lab group, I’d managed as many as 4 projects at once, while most of my peers were only in charge of one. I’d voluntarily taken on managing and mentoring the undergrads in my lab. And I’m first author on a paper with my advisor that was published in the main journal for the subject area last fall. Many of my peers were struggling to come up with a project and to write their thesis proposal, and I already have a draft from a year ago when I used a class project to write it. And my first poster drew compliments not only on the science but on the easy organization of information and appealing visuals.
  • Some of the faculty are sad to see me go. I know this because they’ve either told me directly or they’ve told my advisor.
  • I contributed significantly to the department. I’m the founding president of the department’s graduate student association; in fact I was the ONLY grad student to even respond when the committee chair was looking for students to get a GSA started, and I went and recruited others to work with me. I’ve interacted directly with the graduate committee chair and the department chair, and I’ve often contributed my ideas and insights when they were looking for feedback or evaluation. Also, whenever prospective students visited I gave them tours and made them feel welcome.
  • There are lots of places I can go from here. The graduate committee chair who gave me the news reminded me that I could still apply to other programs and that it wouldn’t go on my record or anything so it will just look like I just left with my MS degree. If I ever want to, I can return to grad school in the future, and I will be better able to choose a department that fits me.
  • I am looking forward to trying out other directions. I wrote about this before the exam in my post on my career path, but I am excited about exploring other research areas (perhaps some women in science research?), popular science writing, teaching and tutoring, or maybe research or project management in industry. I’m also considering working full-time for Husband’s company in the fall, doing a combination of marketing, project management, financial management, and online community building.

Overall, this was a pretty bad experience, but certainly one that I’ve learned from. Some days I am happy and excited about exploring other opportunities. Other days I get a bit down from the shock and emotions of it all. Always, I have my husband, family, and friends supporting me, and for that I am both happy and thankful.

On self-doubt

On Wednesday, which happens to be when I wrote that post about lack of motivation, I had class. I’m only in one class – this one – so you would think I’d be able to handle it, but still it’s not going that smoothly for me. This class is, I would say, very advanced. I am taking it at a different institution in NYC, and so the experience feels more “different” and “other” than usual. On top of that, it uses a fair amount of linear algebra, which I never took but have needed for at least 3 courses now, so it’s got an odd history as a sticking point with me and I always struggle with it. I am convinced that I should have taken it as an undergrad, and I think that it should either be required for my major (it is at some universities) or that at least someone should have advised me that if I wanted to study advanced theories in my discipline, I should take it. Neither happened, and I did not take it, because I did not know that it would be needed, or even that it would be any more useful than any other math course that was not recommended in the department’s advising materials or bulletins.

Enough about linear algebra…

And furthermore, this one class I’m in now marks the first time I have ever been in a class where I am the only female. Now, I recognize I am lucky that I haven’t encountered that yet – I know that things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago, and even some of my peers currently tell me that in their undergrad departments they were in classes that had no women at all. But somehow I find that it is on my mind sometimes, when I’m there. The class has 12 other students, at least half of which are foreign students, and the professor is about 70 years old, and (of course) a white male. He is a big name in the field, and as such it is an excellent course to have the opportunity to experience, to learn this subject from him. But it somehow feels very surreal to me. It’s hard to place; it’s not really outright upsetting, but it just feels…odd. Strange.

When I was leaving class this week, a student said hi to me, and went on to note how I had been absent from class the week before. Aside from wondering where he was going with that, I also thought about how I wouldn’t have noticed if he was missing, but that I’d be hard to miss as the only woman in a room full of men. And that made me wonder, if these sorts of thoughts come up often for members of minority groups.

I’m not saying that this is a big deal, and certainly in this class I have never witnessed any discrimination, but it does make one think about the subtler aspects of …bias. The part where a person’s mental conversation is occupied with thoughts of how they are different. It makes me think of what it might be like to be part of a smaller minority, and thus feel more…alone.

With regards to the class, though, it’s mostly the material that intimidates me. I realized that part of my lack of motivation was a fear that I would encounter too much difficulty and find myself unable to overcome it. But I did manage to get some work done, and then I went to class, walking in embarrassed to both be late and to have missed the last TWO classes (heck, I’m even embarrassed to admit that here). I must look like a horrible student, I think to myself, as I shuffle towards a seat in the back of the small room, as if there were really anywhere to hide.

Distinguished Professor (here I imagine you read his name with a deep, authoritative voice) looks over at me and nods hello, even though he’s already started the lecture. I realize it’s a fairly friendly smile and that maybe I’m not that horrible of a student (I did email him and we talked about what I had missed), and settle into copying the notes and figuring out what’s going on. And do you know what? I understood it very comfortably. As the lecture progressed, some students in the class asked questions, and I realized that I knew the basics of the answers even before they were explained. As he lectured on, I realized that I could handle this class, that even here in week 7 I still knew what he was talking about, at least most of the time.

After class, I called Husband and told him this. It was a good thing I did, too, because the next night when I was a bawling basketcase over how overwhelming the quals are and how I couldn’t really handle a PhD program in my discipline, he was able to remind me that I was just telling him how I had not needed to be so intimidated by the class because I do understand what’s going on. I do usually tell him these things anyhow, but now I have the added incentive that I know if I tell him when I’m feeling confident, that next week or the week after when I am paralyzed with self-doubt about my abilities again, he can remind me, as he did last night, that I was just telling him how I am proceeding alright, getting my work and studying done, and that I can understand the class material and I do understand the core material of my discipline better than I did last year. And it will take me a while, but eventually, I’ll remember that I can do this.

The Return of the Quals…dun…dun…dun…

Things are going well, but I’ve been really busy. The past few weeks I’ve babysat around 20 hours a week, managed a graduate class which requires a background in linear algebra, which I am weak in, put significant time into data analysis for one of the projects I am working on in my research, and I’ve also put some time into studying for my quals, take 2, which are on April 25th.

I have mentioned before how I failed my quals once already, so this time if I fail, I’ll be kicked out of the program. The program should have little incentive to kick me out: I’m first author on a paper with only myself and my advisor; I’m on a fellowship through a program the department participates in which is funded by the NSF; and I am now the senior lab member in the group of my advisor, who is up for tenure starting this spring-ish (ish because the tenure process is so very fuzzy and confusing to me). So I don’t think I’ll be graded particularly harshly, but I must do better than last time at least, to show improvement. They said I was “very close to passing” last time, so doing just a little better than last time should be worthy of a passing grade.

Anyhow, I’ve been studying for that, and it is overwhelming in its scope. I feel that I need to know everything I learned as an undergrad, when I was so depressed it was affecting my work and my learning, plus one class from my first semester of grad school, which was a little over a year ago now (and during which time I was busy getting married and taking a week off for my honeymoon). And I need to know all of that so well that I can do any problem they might toss at me within 45 minutes and with no books or resources to assist me…so that I can do 6 problems in 4 hours in a closed book exam with only my brain and my calculator. Is it just me, or does this seem like an archaic way of deciding who is worthy of a doctoral degree and who is not? I mean, in a modern world, with so much information at your finger tips that you can look up the Navier-Stokes equation in Wikipedia, isn’t being given minimal time per problem and not even any books, as inferior as those are to computer programs and internet resources, just completely out of touch with real, applicable situations?

To have at an instant thought all of the many equations I have learned in these classes is overwhelming to me. I enjoy and am maybe even good at research, but that is largely because I love solving problems and am very good at using the resources available to me. I am not, however, a memory bank of equations, nor do I have such a deep understanding of my subject that I can just draw up all of the equations out of the most basic of principles and relationships. Last time I tried to focus on the concepts, figuring that understanding well the meaning of each equation would help me to remember them, but sometimes I was left without the details of a needed equation. So this year, I’m not only going through practice problems, but I’m also being sure to memorize all of the equations, as mundane as I feel that to be.

As always, I am still spending time relaxing, chilling with my husband or meeting some friends downtown. I didn’t quite get so much sleep though, but I got a bunch this weekend, so I’m feeling more rested now. But I better go to bed, because I have to get up at 6:30!


Well, I’ve had a chance to catch my breath. Last week after meeting with my advisor, the assistant dean of student affairs, the class professor, and my therapist, we all decided it was best for me to drop the class down to audit status. This puts me at less than full-time, but the dean checked and assured me that since it’s so late in the semester, I won’t lose my very important health insurance. This was somewhat finalized on Thursday evening, and I was able to relax a little bit after that. I went out with a good friend on Thursday night, and then slept in til 11 on Friday (not babysitting because I had a bad cold).

On Saturday I ran a lab for 6th to 8th grade girls in an event the women in science club on my campus held. The labs were short and it was challenging to make anything in my discipline very accessible to 6th graders, but I had a lot of fun and I think I got the basic idea across. I wasn’t really able to get feedback from the students, but I hope they had a good time. There were no major messes or accidents or misbehaving girls, so I think that went well enough.

I took the rest of the weekend to just relax and catch a breather, and now I can say my cold is nearly gone, and I feel a lot better. But then this evening I heard from my other professor, whom I had emailed to check in on about the class I am still in, and he wrote back that at this stage I am passing but probably in the D range. Great. So when all you wonderful readers reiterate that grades don’t matter, do you mean even D’s? Will no one see my transcript and ask me “how did that happen?” I think my semester GPA will be ok, because my other 6 credits are research and I should get two A’s for that. Should I really not be concerned about getting a D, or should I ask for extra work to bring my grade up to the C range? I don’t think I turned in all of the homeworks, so I could perhaps just do the one(s) I missed. What do you think, oh ye blogosphere science brains?

Failing a class + mental craziness = breakdown

I wrote this immediately after my mental craziness post, but I broke it into two to make it easier. It’s a pretty long post, but for any of you that have time, I would greatly appreciate any comments you all might have to help me through this. I feel pretty crappy right now.

In a whole different story, I really need that which I ended the last post with, the help of Husband and our happy marriage, right now. Because you remember that post about how it’s not working, how I’m not managing to get to classes and I’m spiraling down again? Well, as kind as people’s comments were, I was brought back down to earth today.

Here, in this class that I am in, one of the ones that I missed last Thursday, the level I am working at is not ok. Coursework burnout is not ok, and depression is not an excuse…only enough for the professor to offer me some extra credit, perhaps, once he thinks about it. I literally am in danger of failing, I learned so this afternoon when the TA e-mailed me back, and again after class tonight when the prof asked to talk to me.

The thing is, I had realized in early October, right before all the crazy money issues began, that I needed to work harder, because I saw that others had much higher homework grades than I would have guessed the mean was and deduced that my poor scores were possibly too poor to get me through.

So I knew I had to work harder, and I managed to, for a bit. I managed to put my all into the homeworks that were due, and turn them in thinking I had really done my best. I managed to do that despite the fact that with that plus going to classes and babysitting and my other class and research I was only getting a few hours of sleep. I managed to do that despite the fact that during that week in which I did two homeworks instead of one, and did barely any research at all, Husband’s and my financial situation hit the fan in an unexpected manner and I actually was quite hungry throughout much of the days and arrived home at night weary and with hunger headaches just waiting to eat whatever cereal or pasta we had left in the cupboards. You might ask “Flicka Mawa, why didn’t you just ask someone for help? Surely someone could have lent you enough money to eat better than that.” And that’s a good question. I was just so busy trying to manage doing the homeworks for this class and so tired and hungry that I didn’t have the extra energy it takes to find a source of personal loans. On top of that, I don’t see an immediate end to the financial problems, and so I’m reluctant to borrow more money from anyone. I did get some help from my mom, and that was enough to refill the cupboards with cheap and somewhat tasteless food.

Anyhow, I digress. This is not meant to be a post about how horribly we have (not) managed our finances this year that Husband has been trying to start a company and work from home.

(Can we interrupt here to say that a group of people from my office just met up and talked about how they were going out together for dinner or a drink and mingled here for a bit and lamented the lack of another office mate and then left, without even thinking to say hi to me, let alone ask me if I would like to join them. There are multiple grad student offices in the department and so mine has only about 8 people that use it regularly, and these people are not only closest in proximity to me but among the friendliest to me of the whole department of grad students. Oh yes, I feel so welcome here.)

So anyhow, this is meant to be a post about schoolwork, and depression, and how I can manage to be failing a class.

So, after that week where I did manage to try really hard and attempt all the problems as best as I knew how, then there was a take home midterm, and I spaced out the work as best I could manage and tried very hard, spending many hours on each of the 5 problems. I got it back today, and you know what? I got a 51%. The mean was something like an 85. And those homeworks? Well one of them I neared a 75%. The other one, maybe a 55%. So apparently even that, that week where I thought I really gave it a lot, wasn’t quite enough, certainly not to make up for the poorly done homeworks I did before I realized that people were getting in the 90% range.

Granted, everyone sees this as a challenging class, but apparently everyone else is ready and willing to rise up to that challenge. I’m obviously extremely distraught over this, but I’m also completely amazed. Either my inadequate background from a different department has left me at a much worse starting point and thus it doesn’t take them as long as me, or they are all spending many, many more hours on their homework than I was ever planning to devote to mine. About twice as many, in fact, since I’m getting about half the credit for the work and they’re managing to get near perfect scores. Seriously, 85 and 90% on weekly homeworks (6-10 difficult, new problems each) in an extremely challenging graduate level course? Who would have thought that would be the norm. Don’t these people also have research to be doing, or at least more other classes than I have?

So where am I left? Not an impossible place, I realize. It could be worse. I could have no chance of getting my grade back up to passing status, and need to drop the course and then be less than full-time, or take an incomplete, or whatever it is they do with kids who fail courses here at my university. But there are a few weeks left, and there is still the chance of better – the opportunity to do what I need to do to get my grades up. So, I don’t really see any options but to do that. The thing is, this is clearly going to take a lot more time. I can’t give up the babysitting, because we are surviving on that influx of cash to buy groceries, meds, and subway fare each week. I suppose I could see how the other students are managing it if I replaced every hour I spend babysitting with an hour spent on the homework and reading for this class. Frankly, that sounds horrible to me though, so I don’t mind that we need the money and I need to work.

So what else am I doing? There’s my other class, but honestly I haven’t put much into that either, and had probably better e-mail that professor and TA as well. At least with that one I had already explained the depression issue briefly, so it’s not completely unknown to them. What else is there… Well there’s research – I could do less of that I suppose, but I really thought I was kind of just maintaining at an amount that barely passed for 6 credits worth.

And then there’s non-work time. That’s the only place I can see cutting down on, but I’m barely managing to not breakdown as it is. I guess if I am so busy with coursework and babysitting and research that I don’t have time to think, I won’t have time to stress myself out or breakdown. That worked for that one week I described earlier, but it’s not really that maintainable. I can probably handle it until the semester is over, since it’s really only 5 more weeks or so, but the other problem is that I will miss Husband. I already wish I had more time to spend with him, and what with my freak-out about our marriage and how much I depend on it, I don’t really want to put less time into that. I don’t see much of a choice though, so I think a combination of sleep and Hubby time are going to go out the window until late December rolls around. Wish me luck!

Good news: Just writing that whole post and thinking through it did help me to feel a bit better.  I can do this…I can do this…I can do this. 

Mental craziness

This is a long post but if anyone has time to read the whole thing and leave me some words of encouragement about the class failing part, I’d greatly appreciate it. I could really use it right now.

Yeah, so I’m still here. I had a crazy weekend, mentally, in which my mind thought all sorts of crazy things that I knew at heart were untrue but couldn’t help worrying might really be true. Like that Husband doesn’t really love me. How silly is that?

Well, actually, the culmination of things that I experienced and read on Friday and Saturday, combined with some major hormonal unbalance, made this episode of absurdness understandable. On Friday and Saturday I went to a conference on careers in science and technology. I haven’t felt too strongly that I’d like to go into industry, but I went to two panels on industry. While the work sounded interesting, I really got the impression that all of the people in the type of research jobs that I’d be interested in weren’t balancing their jobs with an outside life. The one panel that was most interesting had 5 people, 4 older males and a young Asian woman. The men all had wedding rings and the woman did not. The moderator was a married woman, so I talked to her after the panel. I also spoke to some of the panelists after as well, and I still left feeling like industry, in my field at least, wouldn’t be that different as far as flexibility goes. Still, it might be easier to get back in after part-time than in academia – I don’t know.

Saturday I got to meet Jenny F. Scientist. She was nice, and it was my very first time meeting a blogger friend in real life, so that was cool! Then I went to a panel on academia, and I did learn some interesting stuff there, mainly because they had a panelist from a small liberal arts college who had been in a major R1 university for her PhD, so I was quite interested in hearing her story.

Additionally, I read a book over the weekend: Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation Can Balance Family and Careers, by Mary Ann Mason. It’s a recent book by the author of the Do Babies Matter? project, and this one looks at women combining parenting and careers in academia, journalism, law, and medicine. It was definitely a good read, and it certainly had stories of women who were happy with the choices they made, but still, it disappointed me to read that the odds are still against getting back on the full-time track you want to be on after having taken part-time or time off to raise your children. Also, those women who had kids and had been successful in their careers all emphasized how important their husband’s support and help had been, and how they couldn’t have done it without them. Although expected, as a feminist it disappointed me to read that as well, because historically so many capable women find themselves with less than supportive men.

Somehow the overwhelming amount of information that seemed to me to be saying I couldn’t really do what I wanted, that sacrifices made in career would be more permanent than I had hoped, was very disappointing. It’s been a stressful semester anyhow, and somehow on Saturday night I was getting to that completely stressed stage where I just had all these crazy thoughts that were completely untrue. I went to sleep and woke up on Sunday and felt a little better, a little more sure that those were untrue, but still very unsure as well. At this point, I really felt like a crazy person – like one part of me was able to tell myself “no, flicka mawa, that’s ridiculous and completely untrue” and the other part of me was just so effective at beating me down, making me believe in the crazy thoughts, that I felt sad and worried and scared all day. Since Sunday, the ratio of reasonable thoughts to crazy ones has steadily increased, until I felt back to normal again yesterday. And believe me, it was such a relief to have my normal thoughts back! To again feel confident that I am in an amazing marriage and that Husband loves me and that no matter what else, I’ll always have him and my marriage to help me through.

University and Depression part III, or: How my 3rd semester is (not) working out

So some of you may have seen my post, University and depression part I: the undergrad years. I have not yet written part II, which is going to be all about my first year of graduate school on the Masters/PhD track, up to and including failing the quals. Well, logically then, part III would include my 2nd year and beyond, and since I wrote a post about how things are (not) working out right now, I thought I may as well have it be part III of the series.

So yeah. Two words. “Not Working.” That’s about what I think about how my grad school life is going right now. Ok, maybe that’s drastic. But I’m just…not into…doing the classes. I mean like, really… not managing to even go to them all the time. Or put a full effort into the homework. At this point, I’m really just concerned with doing well enough in them to pass, but I’m not even that confident that I am. I’m feeling a bit like I did in some of my classes as an undergrad – sleeping through class begets not turning in homework on time begets being embarrassed to talk to the TA and professor which leads to more of the same.

It would be hard to imagine why I’d stay in school for another four years, but I see a very immediate end to this business with the classes. The rest of my work as a grad student is going fine – in fact, better than fine. I think I’m really in a great place to get where I want to go in my research and my (hopeful) career in academia. I’m a second year student, which at my school means the final semester of my master’s work before I go on to residence units and full-time research. This past summer was full-time research, and I got started and made progress on a lot of projects. My adviser was happy with the work we got done. The paper that we wrote together was published in print in September. All of these things have combined to make me really happy about doing my various research projects, so at this point I really think things will be better when I reach next semester, with my master’s in hand. But I have to actually get there somehow, and I am still completely unable to get into the classes. On top of that, I’m seeing now that I’ll be getting sick more because I’m working with the baby and toddler all the time, and I have a fairly weak immune system, so I’m even more tired and drowsy all the time. I’m sure I can make it through this, but right now, I’m barely getting up the motivation to go to class and do my homework, and it’s hard.

Deep sigh.

Small steps

Well, the semester is going, and I’m only in two classes, but still I’m having a bit of a hard time with it. Both classes are not in my own department but rather are in a related department; the material covered in one of the classes is a basis for a method I use in my research and thus is very important to me. The other class is a more general overview which will include the specific technique that I use, but much of the material isn’t too related to my work or what I plan to do.

I don’t regret being in these classes, but in both I am the only person from my department in them, and I feel as though I have a very different skillset to start than the rest of the class. Also I don’t know anybody in these classes either, which doesn’t help. They have regular problem sets due each week and I feel like I’m still stuck at the beginning of the learning curve.

It just feels pretty foreign to be in these classes, and I’ve got so many things going on in the other parts of my work and life, and I just feel tired and slow and I’m not always sure what I’m doing here. I’m feeling a bit depressed again, I think….dull, I believe, is a good way to say it. It’s like my feelings and emotions and excitements are all dulled – the only thing I feel sharply is sadness and sorrow, even though I can’t often articulate why. Part of me feels overwhelmed by the classes. Part of me is stressed over money. Part of me yearns stronger than ever to have a baby, so much so that combined with my other stresses, fantasies of quitting school and having a baby and staying home with the kid have returned. I barely have time to write stuff here, and I miss it, because I see my writing as me-time, self-reflection time. But when I’m home all I can bring myself to do mostly is play my new favorite game, MySims. ….well, such is the way I am.

I am proud about one thing though – I missed some classes this week becaus I just wanted to stay home in bed. But the good thing is, the sign of improvement, is that afterwards I e-mailed the professor, someone who I had introduced myself to but have never taken a class from before, to explain that I suffer from depression and that this week I was rather down and didn’t make it to class. I told him I just wanted him to know why I wasn’t there and that I had downloaded the lecture slides and was going to go through the sample problems done in class. I had been debating whether to send this e-mail or not, but I decided to, and afterwards I was glad I did because he wrote back a friendly response telling me not to worry about it and to stay well.

It’s hard to talk about my depression, especially with virtual strangers that I respect as I do professors, but it’s so much better to just do so, because then I can stop worrying that they think I’m just a major slacker. Still, the fear barrier of “How will they judge me? Is it better to speak, or not to speak?” has often kept me from talking in the past, so I’m really glad I got this out of the way so early in the semester. So, pat on the back for me!