Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Since early in my childhood, I’ve always had a tendency to compare myself to others. One of the earliest memories I have was from 2nd grade. One of my fellow classmates and I had been chosen for our district Spelling Bee, and this particular day, we were going to meet all the other class representatives from our school. I struck up a conversation with one girl in particular. She was only a grade above me, in 3rd grade. Obviously, at that age, there’s not much to talk about, so the first question out of our mouths was asking about age. It turns out, she was a whole grade above me, but a month younger than me. For some reason, that conversation began to bother me, and fester within me like an ugly disease. I went home that day and asked my mom (while sobbing) Why, why I couldn’t just be in the same grade as that girl. Why did I have to be older than the other kids in my class? If there was nothing wrong with me, intellectually, why couldn’t I just skip a grade? In my 8-year-old mind, that would solve the world’s issues.
I became keenly aware that boys tended to get ‘held back’, while all the other girls were not. With that, another comparison/self-confidence negative spiral also began. Not only was I stupid, but I was a stupid girl. And regardless of the stories or examples of a few other kids in similar situations as me, it always circled back to that comparison. I would look at others and always feel like I was behind.

For years — years on end, I would bring up this grade-age comparison, and the negative thoughts would begin to flow. I was older than my classmates. Therefore, I was stupid. Why couldn’t I just skip a grade. Why was I so dumb that I couldn’t be like all the other kids my age?

The comparisons of grade and age (finally) stopped after I graduated high school. But this first, and earliest comparison stole many years of happiness away from me.

As I got older, other comparisons took place. Achievement — such as why ALL of my classmates could take all the AP/Honors classes and be able to manage on 4 or 5 hours of sleep, but I couldn’t. Leadership — Why could a girl who wasn’t as ‘good’ as me at music could be the section leader in band. Friendships — why certain people around me always had friends who checked in on them, dropped off gifts, threw surprise birthday parties, but I didn’t.

Through years of therapy, and working on negative/anxious thought spirals and self-confidence, I’ve worked to re-frame those comparisons and consider accomplishments that I have made without comparing myself to others. (Yay, CBT.)

However, recently, I’ve found myself in the comparison trap yet again. Maybe it’s the time of year, and maybe it’s because everybody posts only their accomplishments on social media. Thoughts such as: I’m 30, and look at all my peers who: Have their PhDs, Are dating/engaged/married/have 1-4 kids, Have nice full-time jobs and careers they are satisfied with, (and more recently) Are homeowners.

And the comparisons start yet again. What am I doing with my life? I feel so worthless compared to all of them. What have I accomplished in my 30 years of life? (Silence…) NOTHING! (Which, in CBT/therapy exercise, I’d be encouraged to think about the things I have accomplished…and to challenge that thought. To critically question… Have I really accomplished NOTHING in 30 years? But I digress….)

Today, after reading a blog post a friend posted, I’m reminded to be patient with myself, and to continue to challenge the tendency toward comparisons and anxious/negative thought spirals. I have overcome and continue to deal with struggles and challenges that many of my peers don’t have to think about. The convoluted road I’ve taken toward my career goals has given me perspective and life experience that others might not ever encounter in their career journeys. And I can’t tell you how many of my peers who may have had picture perfect marriages at 25, 26, but are, at 30, now divorced, or on the brink of divorce. And is that something I want to compare myself to? Is it even a necessary or useful comparison?

I must also continue to remind myself (and to those reading) that many things posted on social media are glorified in a positive light. Comparison is truly the thief of joy. I will continue to challenge this tendency toward comparison, and remember to be patient with myself in my life journey.

My Mental Health Has Improved During Quarantine

I know, the title of this post sounds pretty strange — with all the negativity, the daily rising death tolls, incompetent American citizens who refuse to follow simple rules, with an even more incompetent imbecile ‘leading’ the country, how can anyone’s mental health actually improve during this time period?

I am aware that I write this post from a place of incredible privilege. I live in a large house where members of my family have separate spaces to retreat to, if needed, I’m quarantined with loving family members, I live in a safe, quiet neighborhood with neighbors we get along with, we have a large (enough!) backyard to do gardening in, and I am not under much financial stress.

Although we’ve been in quarantine here in Southern California for some 70? days now, to me, it feels like this time has just flown by. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if I was quarantined for another 70 days! (well, I may take that back in a few months…) Last week, I took a rare trip out to get groceries. It wasn’t until I got to the grocery store that I had an epiphany. For the first time since I started driving (or at least it was a rare occurrence previously) I noticed that I did not have to listen to the radio while driving. For as long as I’ve been driving, I’ve had to have the radio on as white noise. Normally, I’m too filled with anxious thoughts that I cannot focus. But last week, for the first time, I felt no need to have the radio on. It was so different having such a calm mind, and a quiet time.

In general, though, as quarantine gets longer, and days stretch into months, and the months blend together, I feel more grounded and calmer. For the first time since my elementary school years I finally know what it is to live life without (much) anxiety. And you know what? It’s amaaazzzing. I continue to think: There are people in this world who live their daily lives like this? It’s incredible!

Here are some of the ways that quarantine has improved my mental health:

  1. Catching up/making progress with my career change
    Although I am still very much unemployed and do not in the foreseeable future see myself returning to the previous part-time position I was working at, I’ve been able to take this time to take classes on Coursera to further my skills toward a career change, and continue to take online classes through an online certificate program without feeling anxious about getting too behind in my progress.

  2. Improved Self-Confidence
    Without being able to tie my sense of self into my work or (not yet started career), in any activity that I do, I’ve discovered that I have so many more abilities and strengths that are not connected to my work or academic accomplishments.

    For instance, just a few weeks ago, I was able to (with minimal assistance) make dinner (2 dishes + rice) in less than 30 minutes. Prior to quarantine, I’d never have the confidence to do or try such a thing.
    I also gave myself a “quarantine haircut”– granted, at the length my hair is at, it’s very, very forgiving. But who knew, after watching a YouTube video, that I’d be able to do such a thing. It felt empowering to be able to cut my own hair.

  3. Getting back into old hobbies, and discovering new hobbies
    Prior to quarantine, I was lucky if I had one day a week to do one thing I liked. With my schedule so packed, with homework/classes and work, I simply had no energy in the evenings to do anything ‘extra’. On top of that, sometimes, after getting home from work in the evenings, after dinner, I’d have to go back and finish homework.

    So Saturday became the only day I was able to pursue my one hobby — ice skating– and have some me time to recharge (and get away from my family members). As an introvert, who needs a ton of alone time and reflection time, I became increasingly angry and irritated at everyone with this pre-quarantine schedule. Naturally, my pre-quarantine self didn’t care about checking in with friends, either. I had no alone time during the week (M-F work & online class, S (by choice) skating, and Sunday- church) and wanted to do something else other than online classes & work.

    So when quarantine first began, you can imagine the sheer joy at suddenly having all the time to do all the things that I wanted AND needed to do. I finally had more time to myself, which meant a less annoying, less angry, and less irritated me AND I still had time/energy for others! What a change! Since starting quarantine, I’ve been able to: Do Duolingo for 40 days, bake bread, give myself a quarantine haircut, bake other baked goods, color, play piano, hang out with friends on Zoom, reconnect with some old friends, start an (overly) ambitious quarantine garden [highly recommend!], organize/deep clean my room, start binge watching a few Netflix shows, go on some nice social-distance walks & read a good number of books. Oh, and did I mention, I get all evening to think and reflect and process feelings?

    There are still a number of things I have yet to do–including finishing a puzzle….but right now, many puzzles are sold out!

  4. Rekindling Old Friendships
    Since we obviously cannot hang out face to face, and I have many friends who have moved far away in recent months, this time has been a precious time for me to be able to reconnect with old friends.

    Also, the fact that the hangouts are happening on Zoom/online makes it much easier to schedule times to hang out. I normally don’t like battling traffic, so if I have to drive more than 30 minutes to ‘hang out’, I’d rather make up an excuse to not show up. But with Zoom, there is no excuse! So this type of lifestyle is perfect for me!

    Also, since I have Social Anxiety, hanging out on Zoom after months (or in some cases years) of not talking reduces my anxiety incredibly. I’m not sitting next to said person face to face, projecting all of my anxiety onto them, which is a win-win situation.

  5. Spending more time on self-care
    As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I’m extremely affected by my environment. My sensitivity to the environment (in addition to being extremely introverted) makes it so that I need to take a lot of time for myself, eat well (home cooked meals), sleep well (usually spending 10 hours in bed, 8ish hours asleep), and reduce my stress levels as much as possible.

    In my normal life, I find reducing stress a nearly impossible thing to do. It almost seems like a contradiction. On the one hand, I have a ton of overexcitabilities that make me very intense, perfectionistic, and wanting to go, go, go 100% of the time. On the other hand, I’m also HSP and cannot physically handle the go, go, go lifestyle all the time.

    This period of time has afforded me the gift to pursue all the intellectual pursuits and activities I enjoy, while being able to take time for myself to eat well, sleep well, and have a pretty stable, predictable schedule. In turn, my body has been calm and happy with a predictable, stable environment.

As businesses and other locations begin opening up, I know (eventually) I’ll be thrust back into the “real world” with unpredictability, stress, and less ideal life circumstances. Of course, I’ll also want to visit Disneyland and go out to restaurants and hang out with people face to face (at said restaurants). But I also hope while we transition into a post-quarantine world, I’ll continue to implement some (or many, if not most!) of these lifestyle changes into this “new normal” and continue to remember the calmness that this period of time has given to me.

Enjoying (and taking advantage of) Shelter in Place

Where I live (in California), we are now into Week 5 (I believe?) of shelter in place due to COVID-19. While most people I know are struggling with the orders at this point, I’ve gone through the gamut of feeling relieved, to being elated, and excited, but also guilty.

I am very aware of the risks of not following the orders, as well as a potential 2nd wave of COVID-19 if people don’t take this seriously. I am also very aware of the health risk factors of the people around me (and potentially me! At no-longer-in-my-20s, I fall into an age category that is associated with higher numbers of sickness and a few deaths.

The fact is, as most people around the world are struggling with increased anxiety, it is actually the thought of businesses opening up and life going back to a new normal that makes me feel the most anxious.

I left grad school in the fall of 2018, and moved back home to Southern California to live with my parents. It felt weird moving back home to my parents’ house, especially after so many years away. At some moments, I felt like I had regressed to my high school-aged self.

In January 2019, I started a part-time teaching job. Due to many factors, I decided I wanted to change career paths. For the past year, I’ve been in a career change phase of my life. Read: Confusing and stressful. During the summer, I wasn’t working at all, choosing to focus on taking online classes only. Right before shelter in place, I had just started a new after-school part time job working with elementary school kids. Much better for my sanity than teaching unmotivated adult students.

This period of time staying at home has given me the time I otherwise wouldn’t have had to try to play “catch up” in a sense. At one point in the beginning of the year, I would’ve considered myself lucky to be on the job market come January 2021. Due to all the extra time that I have, I’ve been able to take online classes AND courses through Coursera, to help fill in some gaps in knowledge. At this point, it looks like I may start sending out resumes in July. What a change in course!

For most people, shelter in place and social distancing means not being able to see friends, having life disrupted, and financial instability. Which, totally makes sense. At the beginning, when I lost my (new) job, I was upset and angry. At this point, I could not be happier.

To me, the longer shelter in place continues on, the more prepared I am to go on the job market (yikes! I know, it doesn’t quite make sense when written down…). It means I’m inching closer to my first full-time job — a long-awaited milestone in my crazy, convoluted journey toward a career. At the end of the day, I don’t really feel the same anxiety and sadness about shelter in place that everyone else does, because this “stuck” feeling that everyone is currently experiencing is what I’ve been dealing with for quite a bit of time now.

I’ve also gotten back into long-ignored hobbies (baking, gardening, writing, reading) that I wouldn’t have had the chance to do, if not for shelter in place. At the end of the day, this seems to be a win-win situation for me.

I obviously don’t want to be sheltered in place forever… but for the time being, I’m taking advantage of this time I’ve been gifted, that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Are We All Okay? A Poem

Are We All Okay?

How long must we be in hiding?
Please stop with all this panic buying
This is getting insane
And Trump’s the one to blame
Are we all still okay?

I drove to all the stores today
I might have to buy a bidet
No more food on the shelves
Might as well grow it ourselves
Are we all still okay?

No more sports to watch for distraction
No meetings, no parties, no factions
Life is on pause for now
Wanna buy things, but how?
Are we all still okay?

Watched the number of cases rising
None of this is too surprising
I noticed too late
And I don’t feel so great
Are we all still okay?

Imagine six months from today
We’ve got bread, milk, eggs, and a bidet
Water bottles are free
TP deep like the sea
Now we must all feel great!

Early Diagnosis (Would Things Have Been Easier?)

A few weeks ago, I had an incident that made the fact that I had a selective mutism diagnosis rush to the forefront of my mind. I don’t mention it much, because most I’m not (physically) in school anymore, and I’m not being forced to speak aloud in many situations, and I’ve –for the most part– been able to find good ways to cope/avoid like the plague/use sarcasm as a way to hide how anxious I was.

This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago during my skating class. At the beginning of our class, after we had done some drills to warm up, the instructor of our class gathered us all around and asked what we wanted to work on.

We we all standing in a circle, so naturally, she looked at me and asked what I wanted to work on. I completely clammed up, looked away, and pointed to one of my classmates. “You decide.” I said, with a nervous laugh.

And that was that. Most people would read this and think “So…what? Everyone has that type of reaction at one point or another…?” To me, it was a reminder of years and years of direct questions, not (physically) being able to respond, and eventually avoiding the question… or the teacher moving on. Or, it was wanting to raise my hand to ask a question, but physically feeling like my hands were superglued to the seat. Someone was strangling my neck whenever I wanted to speak. No. These feelings are not normal.

Often I wonder if selective mutism was more well-known when I was a child, would I have gotten help? Children now who are growing up with selective mutism have so many excellent resources at their disposal. In addition to therapists, psychiatrists, and speech therapists who are more knowledgeable (or at least aware of this type of condition), there are three well-known summer/winter camps/intensive therapies for children these days.

CommuniCamp (which was started by Dr. Elisa Shipon Blum, who I think of as the “pioneer” expert in the arena of selective mutism). Her daughter, probably around my age now, had selective mutism, and because of her daughter, she began this type of treatment. Then, I heard about Dr. Steven Kurtz’ “Brave Buddies” program. Again, it’s based off intensive exposure therapy, and (I believe?) one of the first programs in the nation to be in a simulated “classroom environment”. Finally, Adventure Camp, is a third type, based in the Chicago area, it’s designed and based off of Steven Kurtz’ program.

Based off anecdotes of children who received treatment early — and the keyword is early — many children were able to overcome SM and become fully verbal in the classroom, even being able to speak aloud to their teachers. The research also reflects this. SM is a disorder that should be nipped in the bud — diagnosed and treated early. If treated early, many children eventually overcome the disorder entirely.

Yet there are a crop of people like me — adults who never received treatment in childhood — who still struggle with the effects/symptoms of childhood SM. In essence, what could’ve/should’ve been treated early on in life is something that takes 10x more effort in adulthood to overcome.

When I get frustrated with myself and the SM symptoms that come paying me an (unwelcome) visit, I remind myself to take things moment by moment. And just like all the young children, I continue to practice BRAVE talking each time I face unpleasant(?) and uncomfortable situations.

Finding Work-Life Balance

A Fun, Hectic End to (F)Unemployment
I spent the last week of December 2018 playing, having fun, and spending time with family and friends. December 31st, I was out the entire day with a good friend, and January 1st through 3rd, we had family over.

I received a phone call in the afternoon on January 2nd asking if I would be interested in a job that I had interviewed for a few weeks prior. I eagerly agreed to the position over the phone. Of course, I thought in my mind, that I would begin the following Monday. “Perfect,” I thought… “a nice end to the first week of the new year, and a relaxing weekend.” The director of the program asked if I could come in and pick up books that day. I was thinking…. Why on a Wednesday? Right after the new year??

The director replied: “We’re open early tomorrow morning if you would like to come in, but you start teaching tomorrow!” My jaw nearly dropped out of my mouth. So… there went unemployment.

Enter: Job Two
At the end of my second day of teaching, I received another phone call from a University ESL Extension Program that I had sent my resume to but completely forgot about. To be honest, to this day, I still don’t remember when I sent my resume in! Never mind about that… Day 2 of teaching and I had received another job offer to work longer hours at this university. Would I have to immediately leave the private ESL college? Would I ignore this interview opportunity?

Eventually, I decided to interview at the university. Luckily, after finding out about my availability, I don’t have to choose between the two jobs. I will actually be working part time at BOTH locations (private ESL college & at a formal university ESL setting) starting at the end of February…. WOW!

A Month of Working
It’s been a month now since I’ve been working at the private ESL college, and it’s been pretty good. I feel like I’ve gotten into a nice rhythm of lesson planning, waking up at a decent time in the morning, and staying on top of grading and other teacher related tasks.

The hardest part of teaching? Trying to stay on top of daily lesson planning. What I’m realizing works well (for now) is to have a big picture or idea of what I’m going to teach for the next two weeks, and write daily lesson plans around those big ideas. It helps to keep me from sinking in the black hole of planning each night for the next night.

Way too Eager?
Right around the same time as I had received an offer from the university ESL program, I was also given the opportunity to teach a third class at my current job (I am currently teaching 2 separate classes at the moment). Of course, I jumped on it right away.

I had to be knocked down to planet earth by the parents. (The benefit of living at home, I guess??). Had I taken this position, I would be leaving home everyday at around 8 am, and not get back until around 5 or 6 pm. A full day of work by most Americans’ standards.

But teacher work includes **even more** hours after the teaching day. It requires going home, lesson planning, preparing materials and handouts, and beginning all over again the next day. Not to mention the side tutoring positions that I still have.

Lessons Yet to Be Learned…
I guess regardless of whether I’m at school or being given work opportunities, the lesson I have yet to learn is the same. I assume I can handle all tasks given to me in the world, and yet when life hits, it will *really* hit. How much energy do I have to handle not only teaching-related work, but a class that I’m taking, and life demands (such as chores, and time to just “be”)? I never factor in the latter issues…

Turning down opportunities is difficult. Wanting to take on ALL the challenges and ALL the difficult tasks simultaneously seems like a noble task, but at the end of the day, I risk my sanity and my health when I want to take on the world and then some.

To say that the stresses that I endured a few months back were **all** caused by school would be overexaggerating. Really, learning to balance life demands with “work” will be a life-long lesson to be learned. But I guess turning down teaching a third class at my current workplace is a good place to start…

The (F)Unemployment Life: 3 Months In

It’s been 3+ months since I left the town I attended grad school for, left a completely different lifestyle, and moved back into my parents’ house. Crazy stuff, right?

I’ve been quiet in these last few months, since life has been simultaneously intriguing and anticlimactic. I’ve applied to (or sent my resume out) way too many jobs at this point. Had a good number of interviews as well. But for one reason or another, I’m still stuck in “waiting mode”.

While waiting for income and a paying job, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Patience.
Patience seems to have been a big one here. Before I moved back, I had assumed that I would’ve gotten a job immediately after returning home. I thought I would’ve job hunted for a month — or two — max, and by this point, I’d be happily employed. That is far from the truth. I’ve had many interviews, gone to a few job fairs, sent out many, many, many applications. And… we are still waiting. Well, one day, right?

Have Some Savings
Grad school life doesn’t prepare you to be the richest person in the world. I remember while in grad school, most of my departmentmates picked up at least one side job if they wanted to live comfortably. So, leaving grad school, I didn’t have much saved up as others would have had someone decided to leave a nice full-time or part-time paying job. But what I do have are amazing Asian parents who don’t charge me for rent, food, utilities, etc. in exchange for tech support, dish washing, babysitting, and other parent-helping tasks. 🙂

Seek Out Part-Time Jobs First
If you’re like me and have an expensive hobby (figure skating), you’ll need some type of part-time job to cover those luxury expenses. Oh, and gas/bills. Who can forget about those, too? I am lucky to have a bit of income carrying me over each month, so I can sort of feel like I’m doing something each week. But know, it’ll probably be a bit of time before you land that perfect, or A job you’ll want. So, my friends, part-time jobs/or non-ideal jobs it is!

(Attempt) to Have a Schedule
I’m still working on this one daily, but a very important lesson I’ve been learning is to have a schedule. Otherwise, this period of (f)unemployment feels like being on an extended break. Indefinitely. For a few days, or a week or two, this break feels fun. Fast forward three months, and waking up and going to bed without anything to look forward to feels unproductive. I’ve read other articles that this type of unstructured lifestyle can lead some toward a bout of depression. So, getting up, eating, showering, exercising (*ahem*), and going to bed at a human-centric hour will help combat feeling like a day, or multiple days have gone by in a blur.

Enjoy and Explore New Opportunities!
Finally, an important lesson I’ve learned in these past few months has been to enjoy (as much as I can) this phase of life. It can be difficult while worrying about when I’ll be able to pay off my student loans, or when I’ll be able to actually have savings to go on a trip, but I’ve experienced much more freedom during this period of my life than I ever have. While in grad school, I didn’t have much time to come back home — maybe returning during school breaks, if that. Being able to spend time with family, and re-acquainting myself with my family members has been nice. Also, when will I ever get to wake up past 9/10 am in the future? 🙂

I’m hoping January 2019 will bring a job that will be a good fit both time, and distance-wise. But also just trying to have a consistent schedule. And learn what life is like post-school…

Impulsive Anxiety-Driven Decisions

I made an impulsive anxiety-driven decision today, and basically had to dig myself out of a hole. Does anyone else who has anxiety do some stupid things sometimes because of anxiety? Or simply to rid yourself of the anxiety?

Background to the Situation
CT has been “CT my therapist” to me since I’ve started in therapy with her since… 2016. Sometime around December 2016/January 2017, after having been in therapy with CT for a good 6 months or so, I was on Facebook one night trying to find out more information about a church that I was interested in attending. I didn’t know anyone at that particular church, or any of the people there. Most of the information was… expected. But as I went to one profile, in particular, I discovered something that I kept hidden from CT for a long, long time. Wh-wh-what?! You mean, CT is… a pastor’s wife??!!! I didn’t really know what to expect. For a long time, I decided — as a fact — that I would NOT attend this church. Simply because CT was there.

Last summer, I formally decided to switch to this particular church. After having met a good friend who attended this church, I convinced myself that it would not be too horrible. After all, this church has three different congregations dedicated to different language groups, and as long as I stayed with the English-speaking folk, everything would be a-OK. It was also closer in location to me, and also more importantly, a church where I felt bonded with many of the young adults.

After telling CT about my decision, we had certain mutual agreements. We would treat each other like ‘normal’ members of the church, smile, and go on our separate ways — if we saw each other. Most Sundays, although I see her, and I know she’s there, I just ignore her. It’s been fine — up until recently.

A Busy Few Weeks
The most recent session I had with CT was somewhere around the first week of June. I’d been so busy with the end of the quarter, some side jobs to hold me through until a real job, a temp summer teaching job, and last but not least, moving. The last messages we exchanged were me asking for a week off — thinking it would be my only week of actual vacation before all the hecticness started. She then said we could skip 3? weeks (until around July 4th) and reschedule once my schedule had cleared. It never did.

Last week was so busy that I wouldn’t leave my teaching site until 4 or 5 pm each day. CT works Monday through Thursday, so Friday appointments are out of the question. And I knew that if this upcoming week was just as busy, we’d be pushing to almost two months without an appointment.

At that point, I wouldn’t even know where I’d be. Maybe moving to a different part of the state? Moving back to my parents’ house? My worse nightmare would be having to move and only have one last session with CT. It would be retraumatizing myself with all these last-minute therapy situations all over again.

A Brilliant Idea?
With this scheduling nightmare right in front of me, I had a brilliant idea — or so I thought it was at the time. CT had mentioned briefly to me previously that she offered counseling services at church, and that people could simply sign up on an anonymous basis. And it was time-limited. So I thought… PERFECT! I’ll just sign up anonymously, and be able to check in with her, since obviously my weekday schedule is NOT working in my favor.

On Friday, I had a friend tick a checkbox, and I was done! An hour later, the second-guessing and worries all started creeping in at once. Wait, is this even legal?! CT will be PISSED once she finds out that I was the one who signed up. OMG, I’m DEAD as we know it.

I spent all morning in a ball of anxiety, instantly regretting my decision. OMG, OMG, OMG, I should just not show up. I think that would be best. Anxiety sucks, man. As the agreed upon time showed up, I contemplated having my friend (who signed me up) walk in and cancel for me. But at the same time, I knew I needed to check in with CT. Needed to have an appointment with her, regardless of how short it would be.

A Sigh of Relief
I spent a good 15-20 minutes after the appointment time was supposed to have started in full-blown panic mode. CT’s going to be angry. She’s going to be disappointed. OMG, I’m going to die. (etc). Please someone, talk for me? Go and tell CT something for me? Please? Pretty please?

After gathering up the courage to talk to her, I was so relieved. I just have to say that my therapist is pretty amazing. She let me meet with her at the end, and I was able to get some things off my mind.

Though I’m not sure what to expect during our next appointment (in 2 weeks, which is much more manageable!). For some weird, random reason, whenever I have therapy breaks, it always comes hand in hand with super intense (loving) feelings for her. That… I couldn’t blurt out or get out of my mouth. One day, it’ll happen. Maybe?

Quitting a PhD Program

Should I quit a PhD program? How do I tell my advisor that I am thinking of dropping out of a PhD program? How to know when to stop a PhD. Quitting a PhD program? PhD and Intelligence. PhD and work ethic.

For weeks, my Google searches and conversations with people around me concerned the topics listed above. It initially started out as a small doubt in my mind.

The Beginning of the Quarter
This quarter didn’t start out well. The original goal this quarter was to get one of my qualifying exam papers written and finished, and begin thinking about my dissertation proposal. Neither of which I had a very good idea about. Don’t get me wrong. I liked my research. Sort of…

I started toying with the idea of getting my qualifying exam paper written. I first asked my advisor whether she would sponsor me units so I could start working on the paper. She suggested I ask my other two committee members. “Ok, easy. I’ll ask Committee member B“. Off I went to send an email to Committee member B. Who responded to me and said that his quarter was “very busy” (basically, go ask someone else). After I asked another professor in the department (who also had no way to support me working on this paper), I went to ask Committee member C, who, similar to Advisor and Committee member B, suggested I ask someone else.

By this point, it was Week 3? 4? of the quarter. There was no way in heck I would be able to start or finish my qualifying exam papers on time. At the same time, I was continually being pushed by my department, sternly warned, and reminded that should I not pass my qualifying exam this quarter, I would no longer receive financial support from the department. It was more stress added on to an already stressful situation.

I would return home each night feeling defeated.

I would return home each night feeling defeated. After trying to search through literature, and ask myself what gap in the literature I could fill, trying to remind myself why I wanted to do research. I knew that if I wanted to continue in academic research, this would be the picture of my future. Stress, frustration, defeat, and little sense or feeling of success.

Was it really worth it? Did I really want to do this for the rest of my life?

A Small Gut Feeling
It started as a small gut feeling, really. This tiny inkling of maybe, just maybe taking a break from the PhD program to re-evaluate my future. Initially, I thought that I’d take the following fall quarter off. I’d push on toward the end of the quarter, and once summer hit, I’d take a bit of a break from school. Maybe after the year-long break, things would change. My heart toward research would change. 

The gut feeling only grew stronger.

Continuing with the PhD Program vs. Leaving with a Masters.
Before I knew it, the idea in my mind became leaving completely with a masters degree. Many tears were shed during this time period. It felt like I was breaking up with someone. But in this case, it was a someTHING that might potentially break my heart. Do I trust my gut feeling of wanting to leave with a Masters degree? What if my gut feeling is wrong? What if I regret the decision I’ve made simply because of a stupid little gut feeling that I had at one point? What if this situation turns around and actually gets better? I had a million thoughts running through my mind. This gut feeling was strong though.

Trusting my Gut
At the end, I decided to trust my gut feeling. I made a list, wrote down all the positive and negative aspects of both choices. Do I push on for two, potentially two and a half more years of this intense stress [with continued migraines/GI issues] that I’d known and hope that I finish my program and maybe, hopefully be somewhat competitive in the job market at that point? [I will have a PhD, though…] OR, do I face short-term stress and unknown prospects of the current job market, but decide to honor my body and my health, both mental and physical [but not have a PhD?] At the moment I made the decision to leave, it was as if a huge weight came off my shoulders. I slept better at night. I no longer had stress-related migraines. I no longer had stress-related GI issues. Overall, my mood and anxiety levels have been better. It’s easier to be kinder to myself.

The Future
After making these decisions, little voices of doubt have obviously crept it. Was it the safe decision? Am I crazy? Was this the right decision?

Certainly, there are still many decisions and transitions that I have to make now. Healthcare. How would I pay for healthcare? Job prospects. How is the job market at the moment? How long will it take me to find a full-time position? Will I have to move back home? Will I be able to stay in the area?

There are also those moments of when people congratulate me on getting my Masters, and my self-talk responds with: “Yeah, but it’s only a Masters. Everyone and their mom has a masters degree nowadays.”, or “Oh, what could’ve been…” when I look at friends’ posts on Facebook when they’ve announced that they’ve finished their PhD degrees, or passed their qualifying exams.

But at the same time, I remember the long-term considerations I made when considering whether to continue, and realize that while I may not have a PhD in the forseeable future, I’m learning to respect my body and its needs.

Hopefully that decision will take me much further than a PhD degree ever will.

Welcome, Thank You, and a Short Check-In

Thank you to so many of you who have recently started to follow me (and to everyone who has been following me on here!), as well as for all the likes on my recent posts! It makes me glad to know that so many of you here are also passionate about spreading awareness about mental health, and although Mental Health Awareness month may be “over”, each day should be mental health awareness — simply by sharing our stories with everyone around us.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. This month has been an adventure, to say the least — an extremely overwhelming and emotional adventure. These past two years in particular have been extremely stressful with regards to everything graduate school-related (finding an adviser, research topics, teaching, and the like). On top of all the academic stress, I’ve also had to face/battle/work on(?) social anxiety every single day while interacting with my professors and other authority figures.

I didn’t realize it immediately, but my body has been under considerable stress this entire time. From weekly headaches, to GI issues, and overwhelming anxiety, at some point, I decided to listen to my body, rather than keep pushing forward. So earlier this month, I decided that I’m leaving my PhD program with a terminal Masters degree.

I’ll write a longer post later regarding the subject itself and all the emotions and thoughts surrounding this issue, but ultimately, I think it was the right decision. Shortly after announcing the decision to the faculty members in my department, it felt like a huge brick had been lifted off of my chest.

I’m not sure what the immediate future holds…heck, I’m not even sure what next week has in store! But part of me is glad to be done with school for the immediate future. I’ve been a student for far too long (I graduated undergrad in 2012…), and I think it will be a good change, and allow me to honor both my mental AND physical health.