It is the Sunday after I have finished my first year of graduate school, and even though I should feel relieved and joyful, I just feel exhausted. Maybe it’s my body catching up from all of the lack of sleep and stress I experienced the last month of my life.
Graduate school is extremely difficult, which I’m sure any of you who have done graduate school know, and I’m sure those of you whom never done graduate school can at least imagine. Well, anyways, it’s draining, in every aspect: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and I’m exhausted in every aspect.
And the weather isn’t helping, either. 45 degrees and raining? Towards the end of May? Get out of here Milwaukee. You’re drunk.
I’m sitting here forcing myself to write because I need to start writing again. I miss it. My mind misses it, and my soul misses it. Writing was and still is my outlet, my way of staying sane, and I had neglected it for so long because, let’s be honest, graduate school was kicking my ass.
I started to lose myself this second semester.
I took on another job, while keeping my teaching job and still taking three classes. Confessions: I also had thyroid issues (or thought I did). I also had issues sleeping, because, (another confession), I struggle with depression and anxiety.
Yep, my brain’s a hot mess. It’s hard for me to admit that, but it’s the truth.
Admitting it is kind of freeing though. I have these problems, more reason why I should write.
So, here’s what I learned in my second semester of graduate school about myself and about the world.
I am not perfect, and despite how much I want to do everything on my own, sometimes, I do need help. Also, being human is a shared experience, even when you feel alone in this world.
There was a point in my semester at which I was sleeping very few hours, about 5 or so, but even that time that I was sleeping wasn’t well rested sleep. So, I would wake up feeling like I hadn’t slept at all.
I wasn’t eating properly (and I’m still trying to teach myself how not to neglect my body when I’m crazy busy).
I even occasionally forgot to shower for a few days in a row. (Yuuuuk, right?)
I would lose track of the days and even the times. I was in survival mode. One thing done, next thing.
I was severely behind in my school work, and the stress and anxiety I was already feeling about school tripled. So, I did it. I finally admitted to myself that I needed to get help, even if it was just at school for the moment.
So, I did something that was extremely difficult for me. I broke down crying in front of my French professor, admitting how behind in my school work I was and admitting that I was having health issues that were affecting my ability to focus and to complete my work, on top of having two jobs and trying to balance two other graduate level classes.
It. was. embarrassing. I became a person that I am not, a terrible student, who only did the minimum and would cut all the corners she could just to get by.
At this point, I was having an identity crisis too because I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me in the mirror. It’s not like me to be that student.
I was ashamed of the fact that I had become that student.
And the worst part, I finally got in to see an endocrinologist about my thyroid issues. After the blood work came back, she said all of my levels were normal. What? My levels haven’t been normal for a solid 3 years, how and why would my thyroid have corrected itself over the course of three months, the last time I had access to my medicine? What?
Though there is still a part of me that questions how that’s possible, it means one major thing: that my trouble sleeping and the constant exhaustion aren’t caused by not having been on my thyroid meds for three months but rather by my anxiety and my depression.
Daunting. And embarrassing.
I felt the entire world falling onto my shoulders. I didn’t want to have to deal with this again. depression. anxiety. the evil twins. the two things that make you feel like you can’t even function and that make you feel super weak and that make you feel like being super weak makes you an unworthy human being.
I spent one night crying endlessly. I don’t think I even got a shred of sleep that night. Scared, and at a loss for what to do. I didn’t have time to seek out a therapist, not if I wanted to solve one of the major problems causing my anxiety, getting caught up on my school work. It was extremely difficult for me to get up every morning. Those covers were my best friends. Under them, I could hide.
But get up every damn day I did.
Having the distraction of school and work were the two things keeping me going. So, that’s what I focused on. I threw myself into my school work, determined to catch up.
And catch up I did. I did almost an entire semester’s worth of papers and projects in four weeks. I pushed myself even when I felt like I couldn’t go any farther. I pushed myself because I was determined to finish what I had started. And though it killed me to not be able to give my absolute best performance, I did it. I pushed myself, struggle and all, to the finish line.
If this had been a race, I’d be the one halfway falling while running through the finish line, in last place, of course.
But, I did it, and that is the one thing that I am focusing on, the mere fact that despite how much shit I was going through physically and emotionally, I. still. made. it. I still finished my first year of graduate school. And with that, I feel satisfied. I am proud of myself for finishing when I could have easily just given up and taken a withdrawal from my French class. When I could have easily just stopped going to work and going to class altogether. When I could have easily just stopped eating and let my depression and anxiety completely consume me.
I was not the best student.
I was not the best teacher.
But I did it, and I finished. I crossed that finish line, even if it was just me stumbling through it.
And the best part is that even though my French professor didn’t really help me much other than being a listening ear and pushing back one assignment due date by a week, just the fact that I was able to open up to her and have her listen to what I was struggling with was a relief. It reminded me that I am human, and so are others. Being human is okay, and it’s what connects us all. And it’s what got me through this semester, just having a human moment with my professor, despite how epically difficult it was for me to admit that I was struggling. I felt relief just from recognizing it and putting it out on the table. I felt like I had a little bit more room to breathe again.
Another thing that I learned because of this experience is that graduate school isn’t necessarily about the grades but about what you learn and what you experience.
Through this time of being what I would consider an awful student, I eventually had to ask myself the hard questions. Why are you stressing so much about your grades? Yes, good grades are fantastic, but what could you possibly gain from stressing yourself to the point of a complete mental break-down that will most likely put you in the hospital?
So, I started asking myself, why are you even in graduate school? It’s not to get good grades to show the world on paper a letter that is supposed to have your worth tied to it. No, I’m here to learn and to grow. So, am I doing those things? And the answer has always been yes.
Yes, I have been learning so much in graduate school, not just about the subjects I was studying but also about the world and about myself.
I was learning how different the world is from how we picture it, despite the fact that I consider myself a pretty open minded person.
I was learning how imperfect being human is and how absolutely beautiful that is, because it brings us into relation with one another. And it’s those relationships that get us through all of the crazy of this life.
I feel like my brain has been pushed in ways that I didn’t think possible. I’ll admit it. I’ve always been good at school, at being a student. I’m kind of a brainiac. I’m the book smarts nerd, the ultimate book worm. However, I found myself getting confused with concepts that were completely new to me. I love learning about Linguistics, but it’s science at it’s core, which is something that my brain has always had a bit of struggle with. I’m much more attuned to literature and the culture/relationship side of language, not necessarily the science of it.
But I was doing it. I was pushing my brain, and for once, I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class. I wasn’t in the top. There were days in my Second Language Acquisition class that I was completely confused, and there were moments when I was clearly the only one confused. That is not a feeling that I am used to. It was an eye opener for me, that no matter how smart a person is or how much of a crazy school brainiac they are, they, too, have room to learn and to grow.
So, yeah, struggling with my grades (and by struggling, I mean getting Bs. Alright, I’ll admit it. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist), opened my eyes up to the fact that my grades weren’t everything because I was still learning so much.
I feel like I’ve achieved what I came to graduate school to achieve: to learn, to grow, and to redefine myself. And, all of that I am for sure achieving, despite my struggle in achieving it.
Admitting these things is difficult for me. I don’t like to feel weak or to admit that I’m weak, but that’s part of my journey right now. I have to learn how to be weak and how to make myself strong again. I have to learn how to be okay with asking for help, because I’m not perfect and because we were never meant to do life completely alone. No one is perfect. No one is 100% strong 100% of the time. And I’m crazy for trying to continue to convince myself that they are. I need to give that shit up.
So, here it is. I struggled with graduate school. I am a hot mess, and life is fucking confusing. But, I’m making it. I’m still breathing. I’m still waking up to a new day every day. I’m still here, rebuilding myself. And I have no shame in that.
I have no shame in my humanity, and I am stronger because I am weak.