Let me tell you a story. There once was a girl from Iowa who grew up in a lower class family whose parents had to work many hours a week just so that the family could have the necessities. In junior high, this girl decided that, in order to avoid her parents fate, she should go to college. But, since there was not enough money to send her to college, she would need scholarships. To get scholarships she knew she needed to have a really good academic record, therefore, she resolved to get all A’s in high school. She thought she would be able to get into any school she wanted with this kind of record, but alas, her school didn’t have honors or AP classes or weighted grades so despite having the top grade in her class, she wasn’t able to get into her first choice school. However, she was able to go to a good school in Boston. So, despite never having been to the city of Boston, she headed there for school, alone, confident she would be able to handle whatever problems there were.
While in Boston, the girl had her second major depressive episode (the first was just before junior high) and it had a negative effect on her classwork and relationships. But, she persevered and was able to graduate with a reasonably good GPA and honors. At the time, she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life except to move to a large city in the midwest because that was where her boyfriend was going to school and she was sure she would marry this man. So, having very little in savings and no job whatsoever, she moved to this large city, confident she would be able to be hired to do something even if it was only waiting tables. She first got a job at a store selling lingerie but eventually was able to get a job as a tech.
Then, the girl decided that she would really like to backpack around Europe. So, she planned and planned and despite never having been abroad before and having very little safety net should it all go horribly wrong, and despite speaking very little of the languages for the countries she was visiting, she took a long vacation from her tech job and went with a friend and stayed in youth hostels for three and a half weeks while visiting four countries.
After being a tech for several years, the girl decided to go to grad school. She got into a good school and that was when she had her third major depressive episode and it was such a doozie that she started seeing a therapist and eventually started taking medication. And she fought the depression really hard and after years of therapy and medication changes and tears and fear it would never get any better, she got better.
Now, let’s talk about another girl. This girl is trying to finish her PhD. She’s desperately trying to write her thesis while in the midst of a major depressive episode. For reasons she doesn’t understand, she is filled with anxiety about very simple things like going to the grocery store. She has to summon up courage whenever she wants to leave the house. She is totally freaking out about going to a conference and about all of the things that could go wrong there (and worrying about money on top of it) even though she went to this conference once before and it was great and it’s in the same location and some of the same people she met last time will be there. She seems to have anxiety all of the time and has to take something for it. She has to work like crazy just to be able to focus for two hours a day on her thesis. The rest of the time is spent worrying or reading a book, or watching TV because those are about the only things she can handle.
I do not understand how I can be both girls in the story. Something has happened to me. Somehow, I went from being a person who had no problem taking big chances to a person who’s afraid to take small risks. I went from being a person who had lots of ambition to a person with no ambition. I’m not exactly sure how it all happened. It doesn’t feel like it should have been able to happen, and yet, it did. Some of it, I blame on grad school. I never had such great self-esteem to begin with and it really took a beating in grad school. Now, my self-esteem is so low as to be practically non-existent. How I’m going to get through my defense in this shape I have no idea.
What seems clear to me, at this point, is that I need help. I have a doctor and I love her but we can only communicate via email and the phone. I think I might be better with a doctor here, except I’m scared to try to find one (what if the first person I talk to is no good?). I think I need a new therapist, too, but again, I’m scared to try and find one. I’ve just about reached my breaking point, though, where i feel so bad, I’m willing to do something scary like find a new doctor just in the hopes that I will feel better.