Academia, Graduate School, Mental Health
Leave a comment

I’m depressed, employed, and I go to grad school: How I (try to) make it work

NB: This blog post waited for a long time to be written. I wanted to see how well I would do in my first semester of graduate school. Admittedly, I expected to fail. But through hard work and loads of perseverance, and with loads of familial support, I did better than I expected. This entry is inspired by a Girlboss article I read over two years ago; it has helped me become a productive employee and student. 

I have decided to put my own spin with regard to the aforementioned article, and at the same time, I would still like to integrate it to the things I have learned from it. I also suggest that the reader take the time to read the original article first before reading this one.

More than three years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It was, in some odd way, a relief that I had that closure. Since I was a teenager (and probably as far as my childhood), I knew that there was something wrong with me; everyone, including my family told me that it was just “all in my head”. But of course, I couldn’t really criticise family about something they couldn’t understand at the time. Like I said, it was a relief to put a name on how I felt for all those years–my academic performance was erratic: astronomical one academic year, and catastrophic the next.

As well, I’ve picked up odd habits over the years–constant biting on to something, and yes, thumbsucking (sorry not sorry, please don’t judge). I’ve thumbsucked my way at night through stress and anxiety. I’m working on stopping that habit and make my thumbs smooth and soft again–but that’s a discussion for another day.

Fast forward to law school and employment–it all came into a head eventually, plus dealing with the illness of a very close and well-loved family member.  I went on a downward spiral; my work performance dropped, literally. I just couldn’t perform–documents were routed out late; I just couldn’t deal with it—let’s put it like that. I went to the doctor, as mentioned earlier, and I thought I was okay, and went back to law school. That didn’t pan out so well, either.

2018 saw me recovering and considering saying goodbye to law school and starting graduate school instead. While I was excited at the thought, a little nagging thought pestered me. “What if I fail, like I did in law school?” But I thought, I don’t want that to happen. I want to do well. I was determined to do well. So I read the Girlboss article again. And I am willing to give her tips/advice on becoming productive another go. And as they worked for me, I am happy to share them, with some inputs from myself, especially where coping with school is concerned.

  1. Linea Johnson, the author of the article I mentioned earlier, suggested a morning routine.  However, she forgot to mention one important part: breakfast. I try as much as possible to eat breakfast; the more filling, the better. There’s no better start to a day than being fueled by a healthy, nutritious meal. No, seriously.
  2. My input: After I get up from bed, I try to make sure I get myself a bit of exercise. Not only does it get the blood flowing, the endorphins do help. When I started classes in graduate school, it kept me alert and focused on my readings during the times I needed to stay awake, especially during the early mornings. I also take time to meditate/pray/read a devotional. It calms my mind.
  3. Like Linea, I also make a list of things to do: it keeps me on track, and it keeps me from getting too distracted from other things to do. If there is something else I needed to do, like a request from a section head, for instance, I just add it on my to-do list, so I would not forget. I make to-do lists twice during my workday. The first list is the one I make at the start of the work-day. I make another at the end of the work-day and before I leave for class or home. I do this, especially if there’s a major task that I needed to do the moment I arrive at work the next day, and shouldn’t forget.
    UPDATE: I have changed the way I make my to-do list; the traditional things-to-do list still sends me into a tizzy, so I create sub-tasks. For example, if I include “Reorganise NSD filing”, I would be lost. But if I add little tasks connected to it, like “print labels”, “stick on index tabs”, “add files to folders” as subtasks into a more general task heading, I feel less overwhelmed. And the chances of having an anxiety attack are lowered.
  4. Letting your boss know that you’re having a health struggle is an important step, and I agree with the author of the article. Thankfully, my boss already knows, and she knows that I am trying to work with the best of my ability. Eventually, she had proposed that an additional staff member be hired to be part of our office, and one was hired during the second half of 2018.
  5. My input: If you know you can’t do a certain task immediately, delegate, or swap tasks with a colleague, if one is available. I’m lucky that I have a good working relationship with my new colleague. Not only I was able to train him about how the routine work at the office works, he now knows instinctively if he should double check for missing attachments, in case of submitted reports or overseas training recommendations. I could also delegate work to him, or swap, giving him an option to choose what is doable, or more easily accomplished if he were to do it. For instance, if there’s a meeting, I’d offer to swap with him–I would deal with the routing out and other paperwork,  or he could make arrangements for the meeting our boss announced—making phone calls: calling the persons involved, making reservations for meeting venues, or food reservations.
  6. My input: If possible, space your classes in such a way you’ll have time to study. When I was in law school, I had classes everyday, except Saturday. It was the only time I could study. So you could imagine the mess I was in. Fortunately, in graduate school, we were allowed to enroll in only two subjects. For the first semester, I had two classes, one on Tuesday, and one on Thursday. I thought that having only one day in between was good enough. Boy, was I wrong. So, for the second semester, I’ve wised up, and spaced my classes three days apart. I’ll tell you how that will pan out at the end of the semester!
  7. Getting yourself ready for the next day is something the Girlboss article recommends, and it is indeed helpful. Not only does it save you from panicking, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, it saves time, too! To save even more time, make a checklist of the things you will need to bring the next day. This is where tomorrow’s to-do list [also] comes in handy, because you will have an idea about what you will need to bring the next day—do I need to bring the laptop? or do I just leave it at home?
  8. Sleep is not for the weak. Sleep is very much needed. If there is one thing I wish I did when I was in law school, it would be to sleep more and listen to my body when it was literally crying for help. I honestly would. It would have saved me from being a wreck. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you catch at least six to seven hours’ sleep. Not one, not two, not three, and not four. Your body needs to recharge, and so does your brain. If you hit a rut in your readings, it’s because your brain is tired. Go to sleep and give your brain its much needed rest–then wake up early to study.

For now, this will be the advice I can share. Please know that what I have just shared is not one size fits all–what may work for me may not jive well with you. Just it give it a try and see what works for you, and you can make your own system from there. 🙂

PS. If you have a doctor/therapist, go see one regularly. If you haven’t yet, and you know something is really wrong, please set that appointment. It will really help. There is nothing wrong in asking for help, I assure you. 🙂

Related Post

Let me know what you think. :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.