Perspective

With all the stress, depression, busyness, and chaos that is grad school, you may be wondering why anyone would subject themselves to such a life. We all have a reason for staying. You have to have these reasons to keep you going when times get hard. And believe me, they will get hard.

A PhD isn’t something you go after when you can’t get a job and have nothing else to do. If that is the case, you’ll either fall in love with research and stay, or drop out after a Masters (which is still effing awesome and nothing to be ashamed of btw).

I had a bit of a wake up call in therapy last week when I was talking about how I felt that grad school had ‘robbed’ me of my life and things that make me happy. My psychiatrist looked at me and asked me why I came to grad school. He pointed out that some people are in grad school against their will (for whatever reason: ambitious parents, degree requirements, etc). He then asked if I was forced to come to grad school. I wasn’t. I came of my own free will. So he asked again, why?

I was forced to sit and think about why I came to grad school. Sure, there are the reasons I joke about, love dat college lyfe, didn’t wanna get a job, yada yada yada. But those aren’t reasons to go to grad school and spend the better part of 3 years debating about staying vs. leaving (spoiler alert, I decided to stay).

The real reason I came to grad school is because I am unsatisfied. I am unsatisfied with the amount of knowledge I currently have. I am not satisfied knowing x + y = z. I am not satisfied knowing that your computer saves files to a hard drive or that rubber bands are stretchy because they are a polymer.

There is a real need to know the very fundamentals of how the world works. I need to know that rubber bands are a polymer, which means they have a certain crystal structure and the atoms are joined by a certain type of bond in a certain way that allows for enough potential energy to be stored before breaking that they are considered ‘stretchy’. I need to know that a computer reads binary using switches that differentiate between 1 and 0. I need to break a concept down to its most basic parts. This, inevitably, also ends up being the most complicated.

In undergrad, they show you equations, a black box of assumptions and the answer. I need to pick apart that black box and understand it’s role in providing the answers. Where do the assumptions come from? Why make these assumptions and not those?

Only when I grasp this am I able to “scale out” to the big picture. It’s why I’m good at designing systems. I need to know how each part works so I can optimize the entire system as a whole. A PhD is based on learning a subject to it’s most fundamental laws of existence. You have to break something down to be innovative.

That’s why I’ve stayed in grad school.

After explaining this to my psych, he gave me some desperately needed tough love. Not gonna lie, I kinda resented him at the time for it, but I am glad he was up front with me. Basically, I can’t whine and complain about how grad school ‘robbed’ me of my happiness. There was nothing to ‘rob’. This is part of it. A PhD takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of sacrifice. I can still compete in races, but that’s not my job. It’s my hobby. It’s what I do in my spare time. And I can’t blame grad school for requiring a lot of time. That’s what you sign up for. It’s not saying that you can’t achieve everything you ever wanted in life, but prioritizing is so important in grad school. And grad school should be your top priority. If you can train for an Ironman while in grad school and not drive yourself crazy then great! But you can’t expect to be the top student in your class and finish first in the race at the same time.

For right now, I need to focus on being the best grad student I can be not on having my fastest marathon or Ironman. I can focus on that later. I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about skipping a lot of my workouts and training because I have to dedicate more time to grad school. And I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that I may or may not beat my time from last year. If you haven’t noticed, it’s made me a little miserable the last couple of weeks.

Could I finish Raleigh 70.3 tomorrow? Yes. I have enough training to successfully complete 70.3 miles of swimming, biking, and running. Would I PR it? Nope. And that’s ok. I need to work on being happy with the fact that I am a grad student who can actually complete that distance. Which is a hellavua accomplishment in and of itself.

Training Update 3: Oops

Hi friends! How’s your Monday so far?

I’m back in the lab working on sewing and building prototypes and the like. Super fun. The effervescent Patrick is keeping me company ūüôā

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So stylish!!

So here’s my update for all the training I’ve done over the last 2 weeks……aaaaand yeah. It’s not a lot. Shit happens ya know? The first week, grad school was difficult to keep up with and I was constantly exhausted. Last week, little bro was in town and since I never get to see him, I prioritized.

  • Miles run: probably 8? idk
  • Miles walked: a lot
  • Campuses Toured: 3
  • Miles biked: yeaaaaaaahhhhh about that….20? maybe?
  • Yards swum: over 3000!
  • Flip turns mastered: like 1/4 of them
  • Times where I’ve only started running because someone else was on the greenway and I needed to look cool: all the time….16? more?
  • Signs high-fived: 6 (I have to high-five a sign before I can turn around on a run….it’s the little things ya’ll)
  • Bugs accidentally eaten: stupid gnats
  • Bugs purposefully eaten: none, I’m not¬†that¬†gross. yet.

I’m not going to go into much detail like the usual posts about what I did for each workout because I skipped approximately 80% of them. Oops.

I will take the time to remind myself you guys that it’s ok to let life take over. Seriously. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. Unless you are a pro, training isn’t your job. It’s a hobby and you need to prioritize. There’s no use beating yourself up over skipping a week, or two, of training because you needed to focus on other aspects of your life.

Balance is more important than training. Balance your job, family, friends, training, etc. It’s harder than it looks, and I most definitely don’t have it together. Could I have probably made time for training? Sure. But I decided that sleeping and spending time on work/and family was more important. And I¬†definitely don’t regret that decision.

I still feel slightly guilty about missing so much of my workouts, but I’m trying not to let it get me down. I just pick up the training again this week. NBD.

Whelp! Gotta get back to work, so today’s a bit of a short post. Hope you have a great Monday!

Blank Space

So if you haven’t figured it out from the last couple of posts that I haven’t had the best week, well here it is. It’s been a shit week. And since I said last week that I’d talk about grad school and depression, I figure there’s no time like the present to have that important, albeit sad, conversation.

TW: This super long post will talk about depression, suicide, and contain lots of curse words. If any of these topics is triggering or upsetting to you, please skip this post and stop by tomorrow when we are back to our usual debauchery.

Sooooooo depression. Yeah.

It’s no secret that going to grad school can amplify or even cause anxiety, depression, and/or other mental health issues. If you don’t believe me, just Google it. Seriously, people have gone to grad school to talk about how grad school messes up your brain. How fucked is that?!?

Maybe it’s due to the innate character of people to have the desire to go to grad school, mental health issues are going to happen to us whether or not we get higher education. On the other hand, maybe the culture and high-stress atmosphere that come with ANY grad school experience (Master’s, PhD, MD, any field) are to blame.

I’m not going to talk about what everyone else goes through because ya’ll can read and I don’t want to speak for others. So, I’ll talk about my struggle with depression and how I cope with it while in grad school.

I started going to therapy soon after I started grad school in August 2012. Why? Well I was completely alone in a new city, had no friends nearby, had just gone through a pretty rough breakup, was way overloaded with taking 4 classes and having a full time TA and full time RA, and had no idea how to handle the transition from undergrad to grad studies. Any one of those things is enough to throw some people into depression and I still have no idea how I functioned for a full month like that before getting help. Pretty sure 99% of surviving it was the pure habit of getting out of bed, feeding myself, etc.

I decided to go to therapy after one night and 2/3 of the way through a bottle of wine¬†perusing the internet for depression advice. I came across The Bloggess and Hyperbole and a Half, both of which are fantastic blogs and talk about depression and such. (totes check them out for a laugh) Since I’d been suicidal, I got put on what I like to call their ‘watch’ list, aka I was immediately escorted to a therapist and they get super worried about me if I miss an appointment and will have me meet with any other available therapist if mine happens to be out. The first year or so of therapy was spent talking about the damage my previous relationship had done. It took a lot of work. And I didn’t make much progress.

The lack of progress was mainly due to the whole school/research overload thing. My grades fell and I got my first C in my life. To some people that’s nothing to freak out over, to a perfectionist in grad school it was crushing.

So what was it actually like?

Well. Imma quote Allie Brosh here and say;

“The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief.¬†¬†I¬†had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness ‚ÄĒ annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself.¬†And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different”

There’s no way I can phrase that better. I’ve always valued the ability to remain calm under pressure and to be relatively unaffected by pesky emotions. So at first, not feeling anything was awesome. I could do anything without consequence! I was finally the kick-ass engineering, running, superwoman robot I had always dreamed of becoming! What I did not notice, however, was that although nothing bad affected me, nothing¬†good affected me either. I stopped wanting to run, work out, cook, sing, hang out, read, study, everything. Everything I enjoyed stopped being enjoyable. I had the capability of going through the motions, but had nothing to put into them.

So, because I’m a type A, perfectionist type of person. I forced myself to do them. How? Well, I signed up for races and put money down on it. Now, I¬†had to run or else I’d die in the marathon. (Yes, this is an exaggeration, but it’s how I had to think). There is a downside to this method. You start to resent what you used to enjoy. Sometimes my parents and childhood friends ask why I don’t sing anymore, well, I don’t want to resent it by forcing myself to do it. Depressing thought right? Now you start to get it.

I’m an engineer. That means I see life as a challenge or puzzle and there is a series of logical steps I can follow to get through any problem. No friends in a new city? Join a running club. Etc. So that is how I approached my depression for about 2.5 years. Guess what. There were some times when I got it right and was happier (changing labs) but overall, I was still emotionless and didn’t enjoy anything. So imagine my frustration when, after 2.5 years of logical problem solving to my depression, I WAS STILL DEPRESSED. AND I was drinking a lot as a coping mechanism.

To summarize, I suffered from severe depression and grad school for 2.5 years while trying a variety of coping mechanisms. Putting money down on a race or competition was the best thing, because it gave me a deadline¬†and it cost money and¬†sometimes endorphins. Increasing alcohol consumption…..not my best idea but whatever. Giving myself a damn break every now and then. Grad school is completely crazy and it will wear you down. It will make your depression worse. You’ll make it even worse by forcing yourself to work harder. Don’t do it and give yourself a break. I tried group therapy for a while, it was a female grad student group, and it was great but I was too depressed and anxious to get much benefit from it. Realizing that I was a worthwhile human being and owed it to myself to get into a better lab environment helped a lot, but not completely.

This past November was when everything really sunk in. Life was never going to get better. Nothing would make it better. I thought of¬†every possible road my future self could possibly go down and each one depressed me (family with kids?!?, successful career?!?, quitting grad school and becoming a barista?!?). I never thought about ‘killing’ myself. I just wanted everything to stop. Just. Fucking. Stop. No obligations, relationships, commitments, activities. Nothing. I didn’t want people to care about me so that I¬†could¬†stop existing and not feel guilty about it. There was a point when the semester got super crazy, where I almost purposefully drove into a tree. Not to ‘kill’ myself really (although I wouldn’t have minded that side effect) but to hurt myself enough to where I’d end up incapacitated in a hospital and not have to fulfill any obligations for, like, a month or so.

After telling my therapist about all that, we decided that I DEFINITELY needed medication. So I’ve been on Prozac ¬†for about 3 months now. I can actually¬†feel things now (although I can’t cry…the fuck is up with that?). It’s not an instant cure-all. There are still¬†weeks days when depression takes over. It actually takes a lot of work and the meds don’t magically make you happy again. They make it¬†easier to reach a state of happiness. I can function. I can go to work and actually get things done. I still can’t plan ahead anymore (planning out a week of groceries like I used to?! HAH!) and I still don’t have the levels of energy I used to. But I can do my job. Running isn’t a chore. Taking a shower isn’t an insurmountable task. The little things. I can do those. And that makes it a little bit easier to do the bigger things.

I’m going to stop here and take a break from this wordy post. See ya tomorrow!


 

Have you suffered from depression? (if so, you totally have people who love you and are here for you) What did you do to cope?

Training Week 2 – More Fizzles

Good morning and holy hiatus!

Last week ended up a bit cray so the blog got a little neglected. So did training. In fact, most everything got neglected except for grad school. Cause that’s how it goes sometimes. Some weeks, grad school is just like having a 9 to 5 job. You go, work, and come home. Other weeks, grad school is your worst nightmare. Nothing works, people panic, and you end up rediscovering just how brilliant of a multitasker you really are (Seriously, simultaneously fabricating a new material for project A, making a flexible circuit for project B, teleconferencing with a group mate about project C, ¬†and talking with a friend about issues with project D). #skillz

Here’s a pic of part of the circuit I made. Not very impressive and pretty simple, but it’s flexible! Those blank spaces are for the rigid components.

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Anyways since Mondays are rest days and I choose to update y’all with my training on Mondays…here’s my slightly embarrassing training summary for week 2 of Raleigh 70.3 training.

  • Workouts completed – maybe half
  • Workouts skipped – most….oops
  • Miles run – 16ish
  • Miles biked – 11?
  • Yards swum – 1300 (sad trombone)
  • Bike maintenance performed – Allen wrenches were thrown
  • Workouts skipped so I could drink beer instead – 4
  • Priorities y’all –^

AAAAAAAND here’s the daily breakdown

Monday – Nada. Nothing. Rest day. Sighs of contentment.

Tuesday – Biked 11.2 miles on the trainer in 45 min. This was pretty good. I felt like I was able to push my speed a bit more even though at 6am my legs refuse to function. Did my one swim for the week in the afternoon and did about 1300 yds. Probably could have done more, but I wasn’t feeling it. My personal rule for workouts is, when you’re not feeling it (and I mean¬†really not feeling it) do part of the workout. If you’re still not feeling it after you’ve started, then stop. Usually, once you get started, that solves the whole motivation thing and you can finish the workout. When you’re really not feeling it though. Don’t stress it. It’s a sign you need either a mental or physical break; which is¬†just as important to fitness as exercising is.

Wednesday¬† – Long run of 8.2 miles in 1:17 so about a 9:23 min/mile pace. Which is pretty solid for a long run. Especially since it was CRAZY windy. I’m talking like 30 mph headwind on the uphills. Ugh. But it was a seriously gorgeous day out. AND I ran on my favorite bridge, but didn’t take a picture since I didn’t have my phone. Here a nicer pic of what the view looks like…

Awesome right?!? Love this view. The run is a little hilly, but this view is totally worth it.

Thursday¬†– Had a bike and swim planned. Didn’t do either. Had a really long day at work and was really wiped out. Decided that sleep would be the best idea.

Friday – Had a run and swim planned. Again was too tired so I skipped both. It was my third day in a row of non-stop work action. And to be honest, I also had a pretty rough mental day. My med dosage was a little weird and my mood got funky towards the end of the week. On days where my mood goes weird, (read: depressed and I’ll do a post on grad school and depression later, but let’s keep this post a little less sad today, okay? okay.) it can be hard to function, much less find the motivation to cook, workout, make decisions, etc. Luckily I was able to get back to my normal dose of antidepressants the next day and life was good again ūüôā

Saturday – Was supposed to be brick day, but Sunday was supposed to be really pretty so I swapped Saturday’s and Sunday’s workouts. I had a short, easy run planned so I decided to join Steve on his long run and turn back halfway. Well it felt so nice outside that I stuck with him for the whole thing! We did about 8.2 easy miles and I gotta say it felt great to move again!

Sunday¬†– Brick day! I decided to adjust my bike position to be a little more aero (read took out some spacers on my handlebars to lower them slightly) and add in a new water bottle holder (a behind the seat holder). Thanks to my non-circular stem, the holder didn’t fit. Tried a zip-tied configuration and it still didn’t work. Threw a wrench at it and that definitely didn’t help. So I gave up and had a beer. On the porch. With Steve and Indy. For the rest of the afternoon. AAAAAAAND the brick was skipped. (hangs head in shame)

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Because the day was OMG AMAZING LIKE 70 DEGREES AND SUNNY!! We hung outside and gave Indy some much needed attention

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She really enjoyed her spa day with the rejuvenating creek waters

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She was happy. We were happy. It was a good day.

Gotta pick up the training this week though. Luckily it’s spring break for the university so it’ll be more of a chill week and I can focus on training.

And just for shits and giggles, here’s some¬†slightly fuzzy pics of Indy when she decided her foot was delicious

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wpid-20150305_215213.jpgHave a great Monday!