27 and a PhD

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That moment I couldn’t feel anymore

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there, awesome reader. My name is Dr. 27. I'm older than that now, but I'm staying faithful to the origins of the blog.

This blog started 2 months before completing my PhD in a pretty southern university back in 2009. It was a way to practice my writing and take a break from all things thesis. My PhD is in a branch of structural biology where I studied some rather impressive stuff.

After completing the degree, I packed my life of 6 years in 3 days and moved to Canada to do a postdoc in a completely different field. Two years later, and after attending a lot of seminars, workshops and doing some much-needed soul-searching, I ended up getting out and looking for an alternative path to academia and industry.

The blog chronicles my mishaps, ideas, musings and tips on entering, staying and finishing grad school. It also talks about some (or a lot) of personal stuff. For a while, the blog became a place to talk about the frustrations of not knowing what to do after PhD. I wanted to explore alternatives to the traditional paths of research (academia, industry and goverment) whilst going back to my field of training (if at all possible). Eventually a job materialized. Follow my quest as I navigate the waters of being a staff scientist at a core facility.

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A neglected blog. A sort of inactive twitter account. General feeling of meh. I would smile, but it wouldn’t last for long. Little sleep. Overeating. Gaining more than 10lbs in 6 months or less. Showing up to work, but feeling demoralized. Not wanting to get out of bed. Oversleeping on weekends. Taking naps even after sleeping for half a day. Not feeling up to anything. Clamming up. Avoiding people.

The list could go on and on. But that’s just a sampler of what was going on (or not) in my head for the last year (maybe even more).

My husband noticed that I started 2015 in a really bad place. I was anxious all the time. I was silent (very uncharacteristic). Every time I had a staff meeting I felt this sense of dread. I wasn’t finding excitement and happiness in my job, something that even under other stressful circumstances was sort of a constant.

He uttered the words. You are depressed, go see a therapist. And I couldn’t. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I wasn’t showing the same signs that he did. I thought I had to be on the verge of crying every second to be depressed. Lack of feelings? Lack of enjoying stuff that would normally bring me tears to joy to my eyes? Nah, that couldn’t be depression. Plus, I was taking an anti-depressant to keep at bay my harsh PMS. I was already medicated. It couldn’t be.

Then I read this and this. And things started to make sense. I wasn’t feeling content, joyful. And if I thought I did, it didn’t last. I was like a zombie. I was going through the motions, but didn’t feel a thing. Not a single damn thing. That’s partly how depression manifested in me. That and a whole lot of anxiety due to some harsh things happening at work.

I contacted my regular physician. Since hon had been directly admitted to the psych hospital, and his therapist was there, I asked them to send in a referral to see the same guy. But they said they couldn’t, unless I was suicidal. Was I suicidal? I didn’t feel like creating a plan. It felt like too much work. But I was depressed. I was somewhat sure of it. My physician asked me to contact a special office at work where they do give you referrals to doctors outside the psych hospital. They also do a something akin to an intake interview, to determine what risk you pose to yourself or others.

It happened so fast. Early one morning I walked into the special office. 30 minutes letter I got my diagnosis: depression and anxiety. Through the roof. It was miracle I was still standing and hadn’t resorted to anything drastic. Of course I hadn’t done anything. I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel. At all. The only thing I thought I felt was dread and emptiness. I was a hollow blob, just going about my business. Trying to not burden anyone.

Instead of re-routing me to a counselor, I was referred to the psych hospital. I was to be taken in as a patient. I needed urgent treatment or something would break. I guess things were caught at the right moment.

I had a series of emails, calls and authorizations to take care of. I called my husband. He was just as surprised as I was. He sure thought I was depressed. But to the point of requiring immediate attention? Admission to the psych ward?

Two days later I was in. I was assigned a social worker, a psychiatrist and would see a nurse and receive intense treatment. Kind of a jump start.

I was very skeptical of how talking to the three of them, and eventually joining a group of like-minded fellow patients would do me any good. Had modern science and medicine produce a way to re-wire my brain? To make forget my traumas? Was I ready to face all the BS the would sure want me to bring to the surface? How would talking solve anything? It sure wouldn’t. Talking about not feeling would solve shit. I was damn sure of it.

I can tell you that after a few weeks in treatment, I am feeling again. And that is amazing.

to be continued ….

PS. I created a hashtag about my depression. Feel free to check it out.

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15 Comments

  1. Carly says:

    Thank you for sharing – really informative hearing how your symptoms varied from more stereotypical/obvious depression symptoms. So glad the treatment is helping you! Best of luck moving forward with treatment and recovery.

  2. shushinla says:

    Hey there! I do read your blog everytime you write. You are like a mirror of what may happen to me in a year’s time. It comes as a shock to me reading this post.

    Hope you are better, as I use your general well being to judge the state of affairs in U S., the litmus paper of what is happening to hardworking people, and most importantly the future as a person working in a lab. I am in my second year of postdoc and yes. Anxiety is slowly kicking in, am exercising everyday to stop it from overwhelming me and so far it works.

    Be strong! You have been a mentor to my confidence since my PhD defense. I really hope everything goes well for you, it will bring a smile to my face. Of course don’t act like everyhting is okay when it is not. I like your blog because it is genuine and you keep the veracity raw and present. So yeah guess I am kinda a fan! Looking forward to your next post!

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Awww thank you so much! I greatly appreciate your comment. I hope all is well with you. If you start feeling more down than up most of the time, and get a chance, please talk to someone. I ignored my lack of feelings and general meh for almost too long. Hugs!!

  3. Ian Street says:

    I’m so sorry to hear you’re suffering from depression and anxiety; I have had to learn to manage both of those things…only doing so slightly successfully.

    Depression is hard, but it sounds like you’re getting the support you need.

    The initial things that helped me: you are not alone. And depression is treatable/manageable…and I’ve been through 2 meds, one that stopped working. And now I don’t take one…which is enormous progress for me, but I still have to watch my brain/thoughts closely; they’ve taken a darker turn the last month or so :-/.

    On Monday, at 2pm ET, I’m co-hosting the #diversityJC discussion re: depression in academia, but also STEM careers generally…feel free to lend your voice! As with many things, depression cuts across humanity.

    One of the hardest things for me still is to not isolate myself…something I still do too often. You are strong; you’ve gone through the motions while carrying a huge mental weight.

    Hang in there.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      Isolation. I was most definitely doing it and didn’t even recognize it. This is what is so scary to me about depression. It slowly creeps in and when someone points it out or you check your posts from a few years before and notice how different your voice was … that was a wake up call. Scary as heck.

      Glad you’re off meds. I’m taking a higher dose than what I was taking for my PMDD, which in a way it’s a relief as I’m always scared about how I may respond to a new med (after all, I had suicidal ideations during my first two weeks on Prozac, it was super scary). We’ll see how the meds management goes, but thus far I think I am responding well.

      Thank you for your kind words!

  4. Amanda@LadyScientist says:

    I don’t have a lot of time to comment. but I wanted to say how happy I am That you got help and are doing better. Depression lies. And sucks.

  5. Amanda@LadyScientist says:

    I don’t have a lot of time to comment. But I wanted to say how happy I am that you got help and are doing better! Depression sucks. It also lies.

  6. chall says:

    great post. Interesting with the ‘non-feeling”. I ended up there after the initial sadness/crying/anxiety period had run its course and I was exhausted. Then I was actually pretty happy (ok) with not feeling like I was going to break in half. That’s when the insomnia started, which led into the “I’m going to work and functioning but nothing matters”. It’s really a quite horrible feeling.

    I’m so glad you got help and that it’s moving forward. Be kind to yourself. Be forgiving. And best of luck getting out and back to ‘new normal’.

    • Dr. 27 says:

      OMG, I almost fell off my chair when I read this: “Then I was actually pretty happy (ok) with not feeling like I was going to break in half. That’s when the insomnia started, which led into the “I’m going to work and functioning but nothing matters”. That was exactly how I felt for a good chunk of last year and this year. And I didn’t connect those dots until my husband said out loud that he thought I was depressed. And I wanted to chew his head off! I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t moping around. But I sure was irritable as heck. And I felt like doing nothing. I’m still battling with insomnia, but at least I know what’s causing it now. And I’m hopeful that as I start with a new therapist in the next few days, I’ll learn of ways to tame a bit the insomnia beast and hopefully get a break from it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. This is super helpful. Hugs!!

  7. […] know about mental health, specifically because it’s affected me and I’ve read other people’s accounts of their experiences with mental health in a STEM/creative field. They […]

  8. […] posted something and I’ve been pretty much off Twitter for a long time too. Ever since my Depression 2015 Tour, I’ve clammed up a bit. I feel bad sometimes, but having tons of little messages popping up […]

  9. […] around this time I was feeling despondent, restless, devalued … and a few weeks after that I’d be diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I look back and see how different things are, how far I’ve come … and I have to pinch […]

  10. […] were many, many things going bad in my life. I just couldn’t feel. I thought I was sane (I was sane, and extremely anxious and depressed), but I was just going […]

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