Dear Advisor: I have gone crazy. Sorry.

There may be labs in this world in which a grad student can disappear for a week and not have the advisor notice, but my lab isn’t one of them.  Advisor may not notice if one of us is gone for one or two days.  But any more than that and he starts wondering where we are.  He’ll ask around, look on the lab calendar and eventually send an email asking you where you are.  I know this because when things have gotten bad in the past and I disappeared for a couple of days, I got one of these emails.

So, on the Monday that I left for Grandma’s I knew I was going to have to tell my advisor something to explain why I was suddenly absent with no date set for when I’d return.  Advisor and I have discussed my illness in the past–I’ve been very honest about it when it has interfered with my productivity.  He has also been very understanding about it in the past.  Still, that was before the lab was in dire financial straits and obviously he cannot afford to pay a student who is not actually working, at least not for very long.  So, I wasn’t sure how he would handle this.  But, I couldn’t afford to worry about that because I was in the midst of an emergency.

So, I sent him an email.  In as few words as I could manage, I explained what was going on and appologized.  I believe I appologized four times in three sentences.  Then, without waiting for a reply, I left for Grandma’s where there is no internet (Doesn’t that make it sound like she lives on the edge of civilization?  There actually IS internet in my grandmother’s town, she just doesn’t have it herself).  On Thursday evening, I came back to town, but I couldn’t bring myself to check my email until Friday.

Here is the body of Advisor’s reply to my email:

Your health is the main concern here, and really the only concern at the moment. The last thing you should worry about is apologizing to me.

When you’re up to it, we can talk about the best way forward.

I almost cried.  In fact, I’m tearing up right now.  Now I have to go get some tissues.

[Aside:  I hate crying.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  I don’t really find it cathartic.  And I’ve been doing a lot of it lately.  Just about every act of kindness causes me to get choked up.  Including your guys’ comments on my previous post.  I appreciate the support; thank you so much!]

So, I sent him an email over the weekend saying that I was back in town and feeling better and that, barring a relapse, I would be in lab Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

Tuesday morning, after meeting with my doctor, I went into lab and sat down with Advisor.  He told me that he had talked to the graduate student administrator about what my options might be at this point.  Together, Advisor and I came up with a plan.  I will stay in lab through spring quarter.  At the end of spring quarter, I will go live with my husband.  If I have not finished writing my thesis by then, I will be on a leave of absence until I finish writing.  Then, I will register for one more quarter during which I will defend and graduate.  Any lab work that may be left at the end of spring quarter (there shouldn’t be any, but you never know) will be finished off by the second author on my paper.  She will also do any experiments the reviewers request.

This is the best possible plan for me.  I have a firm date after which I will leave this environment which is toxic to me and go live with my husband which my doctor and I both agree will significantly improve my mental health.  AND, I will definitely be able to get my degree, but I will no longer be under the stress of a deadline.  Another important factor is that nothing is changing in the very short term.  Stability and familiarity is what I need to recover and leaving school now and trying to move to California would probably send me over the edge (again).

With luck, this is also good for the lab.  I’m the best person to finish my experiment and I will have time to make sure that all the strains and plasmids that I have created are properly archived and that my notes are in order and hopefully even submit my paper before I leave.

Of course, if I relapse then the lab will have spent all that money on my tuition and stipend for me to lay in bed (at home, or in the hospital).  So, it’s a bit of a gamble on Advisor’s part.  I’m very grateful that it’s one he’s willing to take.


14 thoughts on “Dear Advisor: I have gone crazy. Sorry.

  1. Everything will work out for you – you’ll see! It sounds like your advisor has your best interests at heart, I have no doubt that you’ll succeed.

    Until then, hang in there. All of us (your readers) believe in you!

  2. Oh my gosh, I just saw your last post and this one. I’m so sorry that you’ve had such an incredibly rough turn. I’m so glad that you were able to stay with your grandmother for a few days, and that you’re a little bit on the mend.

    I’m also really happy that your advisor is finally giving you a plan for graduation. A real plan. Thank goodness.

    Hang in there. We’re here for you.

  3. Your advisor is great, and you are great. you are strong and brave, and I just can’t get over how smart you are through all of this.

    It might be worth exploring with your doctor/therapist/husband why you hate crying. Right now, it is physiologically the best thing you could be doing, so there may be something interesting going on if you mentally (not physiologically, just mentally) don’t find it cathartic.

  4. wow, your adviser is fantastic! i’m so glad you have a plan and a firm date. that has to feel like the light at the end of the ever narrowing tunnel. also, i’m with you on the crying issue. i HATE it. it makes me feel awful and non-copey then leaves me with a pounding headache that makes moving on less than pleasant. there are more of us out there i know 🙂

  5. That sounds AWESOME!! I’ve always thought that one of the worst things about grad school is that you don’t know when it will be over. It’s awesome to have a PLAN! I’m so happy that you are sticking it out and are going to finish and graduate. (I’m convinced now that you will. If you can fight through severe depression and work so hard to make yourself better, you can do anything.) Sorry if these comments make you cry again – I hate that too.

    Good luck with the semester and the move! We’re all pulling for you!

  6. I also hate crying. I feel ashamed or embarrassed when I cry in front of others, or I worry they think I’m just doing it to get sympathy. I don’t find crying cathartic, either.

  7. I’m so happy (and relieved) for you that your advisor is so understanding and caring. Also, having a plan is an excellent thing. I don’t find crying particularly cathartic either, so you’re not alone.

    (I also wanted to point out that you’ve been through rough patches before and made it through. So, the likelihood that you’ll make it through again is high. So, the odds are in your and your advisor’s favor. It’s something to keep in mind– but I’m not trying to diminish your advisor’s kindness.)

    Good Luck and I’m thinking of you!

  8. You’re advisor is really quite stellar – I hope you’re seeing some turn around, you certainly seem to be taking control of the situation. Thinking of you and wishing you peace and some brighter days ahead.

  9. Sorry for the late reply, but I’m so glad that your advisor is so understanding! It sounds like you have a great plan, and being able to live with your husband soon is something that you can look forward too 🙂

  10. Pingback: Why I spill my guts on the internet « I Love Science, Really

  11. haven’t seen this before (the post I mean).

    I am happy that you have a good relation with your Advisor and that you feel that this would be possible for you. I think once you are close to husband and out of toxic lab things will be better and that you will finish the thesis fast than you think.

    I wish you all the best!

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