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Journey to Finding My Purpose

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

Originally posted on PhD Balance social media platforms on 02/11/2020.

Content warning: PTSD, sexual assault

Hi, my name is Maria and I almost got a PhD at Penn State in physics before I found my place at the National Academies in Washington, DC, instead.

Picture of Maria smiling and looking directly at the camera.

I also have anxiety and PTSD and a couple of chronic pain conditions. They take me out of commission every now and again, in different ways, but I’ve found ways to thrive.

My anxiety can lock me into unhealthy routines and I find work and binge TV really comforting. But I also like having new experiences, so I aim for small adventures, like signing up to be an usher at a local theater.

I was diagnosed with PTSD during graduate school from a sexual assault that occurred between high school and college. Therapy helped me develop mechanisms to handle my triggers, but there are still days when I return to hyper-awareness and nothing feels okay again.

I have had migraines since I was 11, but with the stress of grad school, I would get about 15 migraines a month and was once incapacitated for nearly 2 months.

I tried pretty much every med they gave me, and finally found one that worked, but it has two major side effects: anorexia (I forget or do not want to eat) and reduced cognition.

As a physicist, the latter was almost a deal-breaker. My brain was my prize and I struggled to be okay with taking my “dumb pills” for years. My brain works slower now, but it works, and I only get 1-2 minor migraines a month.

And I have a blood clotting disorder that has hospitalized me and tried to kill me a couple of times. It has also left me with lingering pain in my legs, reduced lung function, and an inability to bare children. I still grieve, but I have a wonderful partner who gives me legs rubs after long days.

I take daily medications for the migraines and the blood clots. I set boundaries well within my limits. I remove myself from situations when I need to. I share with people I trust.

And, as a cis white woman, I am privileged AF, so I work to make STEMM better for everyone.

Finding a purpose has helped me keep moving forward.


We thank our author, Maria for sharing their story!

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