Avoiding Avoidance Tactics

After politely being declined funding and support to further my graduate degree from the university, wouldn’t you know it’s not exactly great for mental health problems? Actually that shouldn’t be a question mark. Easy fact: massive failure is enough stress to make even the most resilient person depressed.

I’m not exactly falling back into old missteps, but it did become very hard to leave my bed and do anything besides zone out to the soundtrack of six seasons of the Good Wife all with the occasional spurt of suicidal thoughts. So with the insistence of my psychiatrist, we upped my anti-depressant dosage. The results have been the most wild reaction that I’ve had in over a year to meds. I’ve gotten some nice insomnia (expected), loss of appetite (better than nausea?), hot flashes (my newest sleeping habit is covering myself in frozen peas) and paranoia about leaving the house (my personal favorite that I like to label as flavorful safety measures). Yet I’ve never had problems with dissociation during medicine increases or decreases.

I’ve felt a plethora of types of dissociation that are too long to go into now. But this- this is unbelievable. It’s like I can feel everything start to leave my body so I start screaming and trying to grab a disembodied hand. I plead to stay. I try to reason with it. I repeat the address and every fact that surrounds me. And true to over counseled patient form, I even managed to spill out the mantra that these are painful emotions but I cannot leave- dissociation is a coping mechanism and not a useful one.

It terrifies the living shit out of me. There aren’t enough rose colored glasses in existence to make the shrieking tears something that isn’t worrisome. If my therapist sees it as psychosis she’ll refer me to another therapist. I need to tell some one because the silence just amplifies feeling like I’m crazy.

I’m doing everything I can to not ever feel by nerves float away from myself again.

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Inconsistent Insecurities?

The same exact joke that made me feel like eating my body weight in pizza five days ago had the miraculous casual tone of sitcom banter today.

There is a joke among my lab mates that my adviser likes me the least. Very reasonably so and not reasonably so.

Reasonably- I completely butchered my first two papers that I wrote in an attempt to summarize literature review. Butchered is putting it nicely because I was factually incorrect, tonally deaf, and had the organization of a toddler who can’t identify colors yet. I failed one of my core courses and dropped out of the other one last semester. I nearly had a break down in her office and I was only a few scratches away from piercing the skin on my left arm (which she was well aware of but decided to ignore). I’m not the best at replying to messages. And most embarrassingly, I tell terrible pun jokes that make her cringe.

And I know COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY. Seriously there are fifty million quotes biblical to Buddhist that share that sentiment. I get it. But for the joke it makes sense.  My other lab mate went to Carnegie Mellon with a double major in material science and chemistry. When I wrote a seven page paper, she wrote a twenty page paper. She fixed a website I had spent a couple weeks trying to fix in a single afternoon. With all the deepest respect and admiration, she is probably the smartest person (and most mentally stable) person I have ever met. The other lab mate is a freshman undergraduate who is sweet, and fulfills all expectations set before her, and has absolutely no strikes against her.

So the running gag becomes that if our adviser has longer meetings with us she likes us more, if our adviser tells us something about herself she likes us more, or even something as dumb as putting emoticons in emails she likes us more.

What unreasonably (or maybe reasonably, the jury is still out on a lot of these) I tell myself is a lot less playful and a lot more subjective. I tell myself that I’m too neurotic, I try too hard, and I take up too much effort. If my adviser knew that I had overdosed within the past year or that I used to self harm that she would know that I was too much of a risk. Or my personal favorite my adviser thinks I’m an incompetent idiot and wants me to stop taking money and finally get kicked out of the program.

Last Friday when my lab partner took a picture of my desk with the caption “slacker”, I nearly lost it. I not only when through the usual thoroughfare, but I also threw in some nice new ones to really upset myself. What if my professor starts yelling at me or completely gives up on me? What if I get too upset and she calls the cops on me to have me put in a ward? Why do I always seek the approval of older women? Oh right I had a mildly abusive mother. Man I can’t believe I’m still dealing with that shit. Nothing says fun on a Friday like spiraling through all my insecurities.

But I took the the weekend off. First one in a couple months that I haven’t worked at least ten hours. Watched quiet indie movies that had been cluttering my netflix account. Got my hair cut. Bought girl scout cookies and Ben and Jerry’s half baked. What could have easily been an isolated nightmare was really enjoyable.

Today I tried asking my lab partner about how to confront our professor about her less than stellar poster design. She turned her office chair back away from me muttering, “I’m not going to deal with that now, if not ever…”

I laughed without any guilt, “Well I’m her least favorite anyways, what’s the worst that she could do?”

And I really meant that as a joke and not self deprecation for once. The confidence will probably not last long, but it’s nice that the insecurities are quieter for now.

Where I Start

I wish I was starting this out as some altruistic guide to those looking to start their grad school journey, or as evidence of poignant thoughts that I am narcissistic enough to believe demand to be recorded. Instead, I’m in my living room sitting next to my cat, irritated that I forgot to take my antidepressant, and debating whether it would be too sad to make a grilled cheese sandwich for the third time this week. I skipped classes today because I fell asleep after taking an advil to combat the blood clots from my less than benevolent uterus. The awareness of my inadequacy as a grad student and as a newly minted adult is harder to ignore than my period cramps- it seeps into the eye contact I make with my adviser and the desperate laughter after dark punchlines of my inevitable failure.

There’s no ignoring my past: a degree in mechanical engineering devoid of organic chemistry and quantum mechanics, a couple voluntary hospitalizations, several romantic relationships that ended with me convinced that I was a heartless bitch, and a family with enough health problems to consistently hit max out of pocket for five years now. None of those things were particularly easy, and many of them produced enough anxiety to keep me awake for days on end, but I fear that this may be more difficult. This week alone was it’s own brand of hell, surviving the breakup of the first woman I ever loved and then trying to make it through a meeting with my adviser being able to explain the most basic concepts of my research (a task I had managed to butcher twice already).

So here I am, marking the start line. This is where I admit that I have so much to lose and so much to gain. This is where I allow myself to be every bit as miserable and ecstatic and crazy as I need to be to get through this. And maybe whatever happens I can see the miles I ran in appreciative wonder.