I’ve had minor anxiety ever since I was a teenager, but a healthy lifestyle used to keep the anxiety at bay … until my third year of graduate school.
Objectively, I was doing great. I was publishing papers, being invited to events, meeting amazing scholars. I won some awards and grants. As my PhD exams approached, though, I felt nothing but inadequate. I was so afraid of failure that I couldn’t even start an academic task without upsetting my stomach. If I finished something, I’d be immobile for days afterwards. I felt exhausted whenever I tried to write, but when it came time to sleep at night, my mind raced—sometimes until I was so frustrated that I cried.
I finally took my PhD exams, and I passed them with flying colors. But compliments from my advisors and the relief of being “ABD” didn’t change my state of mind. I rewarded myself by lying in bed playing video games for days, but once I went down, I didn’t get back up. I hated myself, and I didn’t even enjoy my hobbies anymore. I went off the grid: didn’t check emails, didn’t text my friends, didn’t call anyone. Everyday tasks started to feel impossible.
Eventually, my best friend realized that I wasn’t OK. She told me to see a psychologist, but I didn’t even have the energy to find one. She had to make an appointment for me, and she had to make me go.
The psychologist told me I was more than anxious. I was having a major depressive episode, even though I’d never had depression before. I needed a therapist, as well as a medical doctor and a psychiatrist. On the outside, I may have been the most high-functioning PhD student on earth, but on the inside, under-treated anxiety had wreaked havoc on my body. I had adrenal fatigue and a hormone imbalance. I had lost 10% of my body weight.
Getting better took a lot of time, medication, and support from friends and family. And honestly, I had to step back from a few of my academic commitments, too. But I’m so glad I’m on the road to recovery. I’ll finish my PhD this June.
Twitter handle: MIRANDACTL