27 and a PhD

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Don’t know, but it’s probably submission

I’m not very good at dealing with feelings. I know, it’s weird, seeing as I am very open and excited and kinda happy (and bitchy) most of the time. But trust me, the events of the last few weeks have left me a bit numb, a bit out of it … I don’t really know how to describe it other than distant and simply weirded out by it all. When I first started this search I knew there was a very real possibility I wouldn’t find a job, and that I wouldn’t renew my contract or at least I’d run into trouble and hit a wall during the process. Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, but that’s exactly what happened.

I’m a bit of a wuss … no really, I am. I am very passionate about a lot of stuff. If you know me IRL you’ll see that immediately. I get very excited when something cool/nice/nerdy happens, to me and to others, even to total strangers (I’m also cynical, strange, nerdy and bitchy … and somewhat snarky). But when it comes to actual confrontation and defending what is mine or “fighting” for what I think is fair (for me), I’m a big wuss. I turn down the challenge and run away from it. That was one of my fears when I was taking the qualifying exam. I feared that I’d be cornered as soon as I got into the room and that I wouldn’t be able to defend my points and show the committee that I knew my stuff and that I was an above average student and could work my way in for a full pass. My qual was a bit disastrous as you know. Luckily I had some really cool people in my corner and because of their faith in me and encouragement I was able to pass the exam the second time, and with a lot more confidence.

My PhD mentor was very encouraging, and every time I delivered a talk, gave a lab meeting or did something where there was a chance to get feedback, I was given feedback. This helped immensely to make me a better speaker, taught me how to give good critique and build a shell to withstand some of the criticism and “grow a pair”, because it wasn’t personal. The boss didn’t hate me or my work, I just needed to toughen up to withstand the criticism, especially when my first rough drafts of something kinda sucked.

In the 2 years I’ve been a postdoc I haven’t given a single formal presentation to my group. Sure, there have been lab talks and the occasional lecture or two (all done thanks to me and my networking abilities) …. but I wouldn’t necessarily count those. It’s weird, seeing as my PhD department required postdocs to present every year, at least once and provided different forums for postdocs to present. My current department doesn’t require postdocs to present, at all. This could stem from the fact that up until a few months back the school didn’t even had the exact number of  postdocs on campus, and this has a definite impact on the departments. My guess is that since there’s no formal program for postdocs and in some departments they seem to be a new-ish concept, there aren’t many rules on what to expect/demand of postdocs and how to provide forums for them to present. I’m not complaining, mind you, since I really have nothing worth presenting anyways and this would be troublesome for me. I’m sure you could approach your department’s chairperson and I’m sure they’d be open to it, at least mine would (Dr. D, you are awesome) if you wanted to present. So, most postdocs I know (which don’t know many in my department, let alone female PDs) choose instead to present at national or international conferences. I have to say I’m very impressed with the amount of international meetings students and postdocs at my school attend, more so than I remember from my grad school days. I have yet to attend one … again, ehem, no data.

For my interviews I didn’t practice my talks with the labbies, mainly because I was looking into jobs in a discipline that is completely foreign to them, and because in a way I felt like I was “slapping them across” the face by neglecting to present what I had/have done.  I used a lot of slides from my grad work, made a couple of new ones and added a few new ones which I generated with the programs and skills I used in grad school. I asked one of my labbies, a new student, to show me one of the programs we use to display the data. I had asked my boss to show me said program on a few occasions, but I really didn’t need to focus on that, according to the boss.  Something similar happened (at least that’s how I perceived it) when I was set to collect some of the most important data for my project. My project was also switched a few times, and what I thought I would do when I first came to postdoc school was switched.

All along the way I did little complaining. I played along. That’s what I know how to do best, I ask what the project is about, read the papers and grants applicable to me, then start to work. I don’t question, I just do as I’m told (I’d make a great soldier, but I don’t like wars and fights and conflict). Sure, there were tasks that I didn’t really enjoy, but I tried going along. I never complained. Well, at least not to the boss … or so I thought. I did talk to a couple of labbies who suggested I barge into the boss’s office and demand more responsibilities. But to me, the boss is the one who has the last word, and poor, lowly me, is never in a position to bargain, ask, let alone demand. Up until now, I didn’t really think of myself as submissive, but after having a long conversation, well into the wee hours of the night with hon, we put a name to it. It’s called submission, and I am excellent at it. I’m so good at it, it’s been a charm of bad luck throughout my whole life. I can clearly point to some of the most frustrating instances of my student life, and what brought me down was submission and the mindset it carries.

I realize now that I should have talked to my boss and expressed my concerns early on. But I thought that a) he knew best, and b) he’d pull me aside as soon as he noticed and would help me find ways to overcome my limitations. I was used to having my previous boss have my back, discuss ideas every day, have regular meetings. Also, whenever the boss sensed that I was getting lost or afraid of the unknown, there’d be a meeting of sorts and I’d be brought back to reality.  And that has been one of the issues I’ve had all along in my postdoc. Maybe my boss does have my back, but I mostly had to look for him to do that. I’ve never had to chase any boss, they always came to me, in a parent-type manner. But I know I am not a baby anymore, and a boss shouldn’t be babysitting me. I’m an adult, I need to grow a pair. For me, it was all out of whack since the beginning, and I hadn’t put two and two together until last night.

I haven’t really invested much time in my postdoc. I have done experiments, shown fresh data at each meeting, but there’s not a lot of coherence to it. There isn’t a story to tell, just pieces which can’t even being to form a whole. While a part of my brain knows how important hard work is, another part says “why bother?” I realize now that I shouldn’t have chosen my postdoc lab, especially not without having a long conversation with the rest of the females in the lab, most of which seem to dislike the boss with passion, mainly for what they perceive as a lack of mentoring skills on his part. I should have done my detective work, and not trust the “old boys club” that tell you about friends of friends who’d be interested in having a postdoc like you. I shouldn’t have even opted for a postdoc to begin with. I was never sure I wanted to be PI. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it many times, I’m not cut for it or even remotely interested in being a PI.

When I was finishing my degree I didn’t really know what to do. A postdoc seemed like the “right” course of action, and I couldn’t afford to be without a job. I knew nothing other than the path to the TT, and non-academic positions seemed like the easy way out. I thought I’d miss bench science a lot, although I didn’t really do much of it in school. I thought I’d stop being cool. And I thought that, even though I wasn’t entirely convinced of entering the TT, I’d develop a love for it once I had the PhD. If you’ve been paying attention to my entries, you can immediately see that this was the same “reasoning” I used to justify staying in grad school. I’d eventually become a PI, one way or the other. I tried checking out jobs in my future geographical area, but that search was much like the current one. And this was back in the middle of the economic meltdown, even though Canada didn’t seem to be doing as terrible as US was doing, it was still hard to find work in science in my geographical area of interest. But being the submissive person I am, it didn’t even occur to me to ask my PhD boss to recommend alternative courses of action or suggest a totally different job, or keep me there a bit while I sorted my work situation and foudn something more in line with my interests. I just wasn’t thinking! I would have hated disappointing my boss, it just wasn’t an option. Being the stupid, submissive person that I am I didn’t make calls or “harassed” people so I could get the job of my dreams, or at least something far away from academic research. It was academic research or unemployment.

Much like Gerty-Z, now it seems like my PhD PI and I have broken up. Though supportive, PhD PI has been very distant during this job search. I know I shouldn’t be counting on the support from my previous mentors as much, that’s what I came for a postdoc, right? To develop a love for something different and, while acknowledging the past, moving on from it and not bothering my previous mentors as much. And it stings. It hurts.

I’ve already talked to my current PI, and though he seems very diplomatic, I’m sure I wouldn’t get a decent letter of recommendation from him. I don’t want to bother. The last time we talked he made it clear that he was very disappointed with me and that he expected more, which I didn’t deliver. I reminded him that while I know all that (it’s what causes some of the depression I have), he knew, and I had been very explicit, about all the stuff I didn’t know and had to learn from the ground up when I joined. I was very clear in that it would take me considerably longer to learn stuff that everyone in his group mastered already, stuff I had never seen in my life. It shouldn’t be an excuse, but it was a fair warning … one which he apparently (or conveniently) forgot.  I don’t hold that against him (much) … I just wish I would have acted and reacted different ages ago. Now it is too late. I’m at the end of my run here. I tried politely begging for an extension, and it didn’t work. And honestly, I’m somewhat glad it didn’t. I just can’t see myself going to the lab for 1 more year to feel depressed, and sorry for myself every.single.day. So that every time I ask for more experiments and responsibilities, I’m met with a wall of “we’ll deal with this later.” Which invariably results in the “I’m very disappointed at you” speech, and I know it’s all my fault for being the submissive idiot that I am.

To give you another example, I had my position lined up a few months prior to my defense. And it didn’t even occur to me that I could still use that time to look for  jobs, even after being offered a position, while writing the thesis. I had nothing invested. My postdoc boss didn’t pay for my expenses when I interviewed (yeah, ahem, not even the lunch … that should have been a red flag). I owed him zero. But I did nothing. I sat there, typing away my shiny little thesis and it didn’t even dawned on me that I was really under no obligation to follow through. I had signed nothing. I could still back out, there was time. And I had that funky feeling on my stomach, the feeling that something wasn’t right, and I wasn’t meant to join my postdoc lab. Sure, I know it is really crappy to back out of something once you’ve made a promise or gotten an offer with all the details and dots laid out. People do it all the time. But I was not backing out this. It would be wrong to leave the boss high and dry. I wasn’t going to do it. I had given my word. And to me, that still counted for something. I am one the kind of person who believes that giving her word and shaking hands is still a completely acceptable way of sealing a deal. And I would have felt so bad had I backed out to take a different position. It was not something I considered, I had given my word.

Funny little story here. Even though I was probably the victim of a crappy boyfriend with a lot of issues (some of which I adopted and battle to this day, 7 years after the break up) and possibly some verbal/mental abuse, breaking up with him was not an option. I was raised in a Catholic, extremely law-abiding family (at least my mom, my dad says he’s an atheist, yet blesses me every time I sneeze or end a call), and quitting was not an option, for anything. You tried your hardest, you gave it your all, but you never settled for anything less than perfection and great work. Calling quits on a relationship was/is not an option, and that was the example I had. I thought I had to stick with said guy, because it was a God-given mandate … that, and I had slept with him and only him. He was my ticket to redemption. I’d be a slut in the eyes of everyone and maybe, if I married him, I’d be saved again. Issues? I has TONS of them.

Since hindsight is 20/20, now I think I now know better. It is apparently acceptable and understandable to back out of something and keep your options open, especially if a different position comes up. I thought I was bound by a contract and that if I backed out I’d get into this big argument with the boss and I wanted to avoid the drama. I don’t like work drama, at all. Rather than being honest, I kept “working” at it, not giving it my all, and faking happiness. And boss noticed it and called me on it. It was/isn’t fair to either of us.

I was talking to a male labbie and he said that he’d do exactly what I should have done if he faced the same situation (get an offer, keep looking for jobs, if something dreamy comes along, call it quits with the current boss). But see, because I have this big sense of doing the right thing and not backing out on my word  I didn’t even consider continuing the job search, I had a job, there was no point in looking for a different one, right? Right? Right. I have to submit to the system, finish my contract and go. That’s the course of things, no deviations, no shortcuts, nothing. I simply couldn’t look past my box, past my walls and consider, even dream, about getting out before the contract’s expiry date. It is not fair, and it’s probably illegal, in the eyes of God and society.

All of these feelings and situations and I keep clamming up. It’s not about having someone to share my feelings with … that’s only part of the game, and honey and a coworker/colleague help fill that (though it is highly unfair as I am not their responsibility). But it’s all these feelings I have, failure, anger, frustration, unfairness, depression … all of them and more, that I don’t share much of. I can’t share (well, I am now, sort of). And there’s only so much I can write, or tweet or talk on the phone. Sometimes I feel like I’m about to explode with so many thoughts and feelings of frustration, but I don’t open my mouth. I haven’t cried and don’t plan to. Crying is a sign of weakness, and I need to grow a pair. The stress of it, though, is getting to me. My knees are killing me, I haven’t had a decent night of sleep in God-knows how long. I think even my vision is taking a hit. And don’t even get me started on whatever little work I have left to do … yeah, that’s also taking a hit. I need help … but I don’t dare to open my mouth or my heart. It’s just too much, and it is my problem. I caused it, I’m the only one who can figure a way out. Other people can suggest things, send me tweets, hug me IRL, leave a comment … but it is all one big, fat problem. And it is all mine. And I’m just sharing with you a tiny fraction, because it’s all I can share and peel from the surface right now. It hurts too much.

I try to pray, but I can’t concentrate long enough. I try to deal with the feelings, but I don’t know how. I try looking for jobs that use whatever other talents I have (blogging, some tech/consulting stuff, photography) … but since I lack the degrees, certificates or extensive experience I don’t even get the chance or the call. I’m sure my CV/resume isn’t that bad, heck! they got me a few interviews. I try looking away from research, nothing. I try looking into it, nothing.

I’m all out of hope and patience, and smiles and tricks. I’m tired, I’m out of faith.

So, the submissive personality and traits have taken their toll on my career, my hopes and feelings. I’m tired. I can’t fight. I have no confidence and no desire to do anything but sleep and eat and curl up and hide from the world.

PS. No, I am not jumping off my balcony, or doing something stupid. I just needed a place to dump my thoughts since I can’t afford a therapist.

How much do you want that PhD? Part Deux

The other day  I talked about a grad student I know (Grad Student X, or GSX) and how, for some unknown reason, and even though his data is all collected and analised and he’s got no funding, he still  hasn’t defended, let alone handed his thesis to his supervisor.

Today I want to go deeper into possible reasons for why this is happening, what GSX could do to be in the good graces of his boss, and get out soon … and offer my opinion on people who seem to hit the grad school wall and, in a way, avoid writing the thesis and getting out sooner rather than later.

So, yesterday I had a few questions about GSX’s situation. I’ll restate them so this enty flows more evenly:

  • If most of your data has been collected, and you should, in theory, be working on the write up, which on average takes his labmates 3 months to complete, shouldn’t most of the thesis be written by now?
  • Shouldn’t you be scheduling your defense already? The way the thesis is written up here is that any papers you have submitted and are accepted can be added as print-outs, no re-writting necessary, which shaves the time of reformatting or re-writing things so that they comply with the grad school’s format/rules. Therefore, if your thesis includes an intro, a brief materials and methods section for the computing part, and a conclusions chapter, in theory … shouldn’t that be in the final stages?
  • GSX is still a student, which means he has access to computer centres on campus, and free internet in the library, so, even if he didn’t have hydro (power) in his house (due to the loss of funding), he could potentially take the bus (which is still being covered by the grad school fees) and write up a bit every day. If these things have not happened, then, what else is going on?
  • Or why has this process taking so long? I know this sounds terrible, but it just blows my mind when I think that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t that willing to get out with your degree ASAP. I mean, come on man, we all go through rough times when it’s time to write the thesis. We have at some point or another dragged our feet when writing. If (God-forbid) something else is going on (say, a family problem or illness), why not talk to the boss and see if funding can be reinstated pending good progress on your writing? Say, a chapter every month or something similar.

All these can be summarized as follows, there is a roadblock, or mindblock, and GSX needs to get in charge of the situation so that he can a) jump start his writing and b) finish the dang thing in order to get out, get on with life and possibly make-up for the time lost with his boss.

I honestly have no clue what’s going on in this guy’s mind. I am baffled. Then again, I do not posess all the facts. I’m simply an outsider. But from experience I can tell you this: when I hit my 5th year in grad school I was SO ready for it to be over and done. I’d had it with the salary, health insurance, city, boss, labmates … everyone. It’s what I tell the grad students in my lab as having the “OMG I hate my life, why on Earth did I decide to go through grad school”-moment. Once you’ve hit that point, you know it’s time to get out. So, it baffles me to think that someone who has all the ingredients to make the thesis work, all the parts are in place, doesn’t want to or can’t do it. I mean, for heaven’s sake! you have performed every single experiment required. You’ve been to every seminar and meeting you needed to be, the boss paid you for 1 extra year to see if you could get your act together and write … and you have nothing to show? What’s the issue here? Like I said, maybe there’s something deeper that can’t be seen or understood. Maybe this guy’s depressed or has fears of being in the real world. Big secret revealed! WE ALL DO! I mean, sure, we’re pissed at the school, boss, lab, labmates,  and ourselves. But we are ready to grab life by the horns and get our stuff together and make something happen. What worries me is that if this student is in a persistent state of funk, he may not get ahead. Or like me, maybe he doesn’t know what to do with his life or career once all the brain work is done.

Here are my recommendations: reach out to your friends. GSX appears to be in a perpetual state of funk. He’s had friends drop by and check on him. But he closes the door in their faces. So, suck it up and reach out. There are peple interested in helping you. All you need to do is ask. Reach out to your boss, or some other faculty person you may be close to. We might think that bosses are out of this world creatures who’ve lost all contact with reality. Sometimes it is like that. But bosses are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends too. Appeal to their human side, with all honesty. Say how you’re feeling. Your worries about finding a job, or switching fields. Just be honest. Your boss holds a very important card in his/her hands. That is he or she can make or break you career by making a phone call, or writing an email or letter to recommend you. Maybe you will shift careers and get away from science. But if you aren’t  then chances are you will need a letter of recommendation or two to get ahead. In this perpetual state of funk you may be burning bridges faster than you can re-build them. Hence reach out to your boss, or to someone who knows him. He/she is bound to be close to another prof who you might know and that may be a way to reach in and get your boss’s attention. If you reach out and are honest, chances are the boss will want to engage in some sort of action/plan to get you on your feet and working again. But unless you say the word … little can be done. Reach out and use the sources you have. Like I did a few weeks ago, go to the psychological centre or career service place and reach out and try to get your head and thoughts straight. What are your fears? Are they grounded? What do you think is holding you back? Talking to professionals who understand might help in developing a strategy to get you back in place and working on what your thesis. Or maybe, they’ll help you find out you may not need that PhD after all. You may want to pursue a different career and writing and defending are not in your cards. But whatever it is, reach out and talk to people. Don’t keep it bottled up. It is toxic and nasty. The sooner you overcome these feelings or funk, the sooner you can focus on your next stage.

Once you have a plan in mind, if you decide to go through with writing and defending, get on with it. Maybe you want the document to be the best thesis ever. We all want that (some may want it more than others, depending on how soon you want or need to get it done). So, try to look for a job, or set a goal, whatever it is. Find something to motivate you, have a concrete plan. Talk to the boss about it and deliver. Whether it is a new chapter a month or every two weeks. Find something that fits and stick to it. Right now you may want/need structure, so try to make a list of immediate goals to jump-start your writting. Nothing is stopping you. And since you have the example of previous students, try to aim for the same. The mind can play a ton of tricks (mine did, making me think I couldn’t possibly finish before the end of my 5th-going-into-6th year of school). Chances are, the more you talk to people, the more you’ll see the different hurdles they faced, and how they confronted them and moved on.

Find out what’s blocking you. Be honest with yourself and your boss. If this is something you want to have done by the end of the year, open the lines of communication with the boss, or chairperson and establish a plan. Go for it and trust me, it will be less painful once you’re going trough it than you envisioned.

I wonder what’s the cause of your delay. Is it family problem? Are you in need of guidance your boss can’t give you? There are postdocs and other PIs in the department who probably know you enough to lend a helping hand. What are you waiting for? Are you afraid or is it just laziness? Figure out what it is. Talk to a shrink, your family doctor, a trusted friend. Maybe you need a pep talk or someone to sit down and tell you straight to your face that the more you prolong this, the worse it looks on your resume. If you aren’t working, or consulting, or volunteering, then how are you going to explain the obvious gap in your timeline? If you want to stay in the field and go for a job with one of your boss’s collaborators, then you need to open those lines of communcation  fast. Chances are they know the turnover for peeps in your lab and when the see a gap in it there might be questions.

Finally … it maybe be that you are depressed altogether. We’ve all experienced it at some point, be it the seasonal blues, or something more serious. You’d be surprised how many people (including profs) are in some sort of medication, therapy or both. This is very important and it shouldn’t be neglected. I was very skeptic about using medication. Not that I don’t believe that they work, there’s a good body of work out there supporting some of these medications. I sought advice and got on sertraline. And OMG it did wonders. I thought it was just a behavioural problem, but it was that and much more. You may need to visit a few doctors until you find someone who listens and understands. It took me only 2 tries until I found a guy who really knew his stuff and was also into listening to me, how I felt and how serious it was. Some peeps out there are just into writing prescriptions and not listening to you. But someone who truly cares and shows concern about you and your individual situation can help steer you in the right direction. I did try several meds until I found one that was good for me. It takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it. Seek guidance, visit your student health facility and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist or physician. It will more than likely change your life for the best, or at least, get you out of the funk.

Ultimately, whatever issue or hurdle GSX is working through, it will only be resolved when he takes the first step. I can offer insight and even offer to edit his thesis before the PI sees it … but he needs to make a decision to get out of the funk, in whichever one of the ways I’ve mentioned before, and get out. If/when I learn how GSX is coping and/or defending I’ll do another entry. I hope this serves to get some of you peeps motivated and moving toward a goal, whether it is the defense or an alternate career.

Depression, PMDD and grad school

We all know that being in grad school is not the easiest experience … ever. You cram for hours for exams, try to remember equations or theories, think of creative ways to solve a problem, TA, and do research on top of it all. If you add to this formula depression and/or PMDD …. you’ve got a great amount of disaster on your hands.

Let me elaborate. For those who may not be familiar with the term, there is a disorder (that some may call bitchiness of epic proportions) that affects women prior to having a visit of Aunt Flo. This disorder is a serious form of premenstrual syndrome known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It is characterized by feelings of desperation, maybe even thoughts of suicide, boobie tenderness, “bitchiness”, depression, tremendous fatigue, among others. Various pills and drugs are on the market from PMDD, from birth control ones to depression ones. Drug companies have targeted sufferers of PMDD and there are all sorts of ads on the subject.

I suffer from PMDD. I know how it feels to have it, to live with it, and how anti-depressants have helped to achieve a somewhat “peaceful” state of mind where I could continue doing my studies and have a “normal” relationship with the boyfriend, the boss and coworkers.

I got my first period when I was really … REALLY young. I was not prepared for it, I freaked out, and I thought I’d die … not really, but let’s just say it was a traumatic experience, made possible in part due to unhealthy amounts of guilt provided by a conservative set of parents who didn’t know how to talk about puberty (after many years I think that it all happened because I am the first child, thus I was more or less their guinea pig, and they had no “training” in dealing with their first-born becoming an adolescent). Anyways, after I got my pads, and things and stuff, I started reading more on the subject, and the biology of the process. I also picked up older copies of Cosmo at my doctor’s office and read about PMS and averting your period and what not. I thought PMS was just a lame excuse to be bitchy, miss work, and that only weak and overly dramatic gals got it.

At first I would not feel when the “P” day arrived. I started carrying pads and period-paraphernalia to cover my bases in case Aunt Flo’ appeared while I was at school. As the years went on, painful “P” days started appearing, and high doses of acetaminophen and heating pads came to my rescue. College was fine, boobie tenderness and such happened, but it wasn’t until I got into grad school that things took a really bad turn.

I started cramping pretty bad during my second year of grad school. I could not touch my chest because it felt like the boobs were about to explode (I seriously thought of not drinking anything so liquid would not retained by my body and take diuretics to help me eliminate whatever liquid was left … but I’m too chicken for that). I also started noticing that 1-2 weeks before “P” day, I was extremely tired (sometimes even sick, like my immune system was all down or something because I was getting my period), I could not stay awake in the lab (even if I’d gone to bed at 10pm the previous night and had woken up at 9:30am the next day) and my mood was pretty bad (like Lucifer himself had possessed my brain for a few days, it was like lakes of sulfur were flowing through my veins). I would cry for no reason, but most of the time I’d be in a really foul mood. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Suddenly “P” days started to become as “happy days” because I’d be happy, not bloated and the world would return to its normal order one the first 2 “P” days were over. It was as if 2 weeks prior to the “P” day a catastrophe switch turned on inside and everything was screwed up until my period.

Before the BF and I started dating I remember going to the student health clinic at my school to see if they had a non-NSAID that would help me during “P” days. I described to the doctors and nurses my symptoms, and they suggested I try taking birth control pills. I had a bit of acne, so I though, “cool, 2 for 1, now both acne and nasty PMS will suck it!” But because I’m so special and awesome, and mother nature likes to remind me that biology is complicated, the birth control pills were a nightmare. Not only did I gain weight, but though my periods were shortened, they were still UBER painful and the PMS was still as nasty.

When I started dating the BF we had various nasty fights. Add to that the fact that my parents were not the sort of people who believed in psychiatrists or psychologists, thus it never occurred to me to approach one at my old school and see what was happening. When the foul mood and increase in tardiness at my lab started getting out of control (and the time of the qualifying exam was approaching), I knew I HAD to do something. I thought I was going crazy!!!!!!!! I was on the verge of losing the boyfriend, losing myself in this emotional roller coaster, and maybe even stop my grad studies.

I started getting therapy at school with a really nice postdoctoral psych. fellow, and she recommended I go and see at psychiatrist at school. I was all like “whoa, am I crazy?” I told her that to me medication seemed too drastic, and that it meant that I was weak, that I was not strong enough to pull through this “situation.”

Reluctantly I visited the psychiatrist and I started taking a drug called Escitalopram. I started taking it, and my mood improved like 1,000%. I felt like myself again …. until I started paying the more than 70$ each month for it (that was as much as I was paying for car insurance). I stopped taking it (and getting all bitchy). It sent me into a bitchy downward spiral … so I changed doctors (the first one was more of a murse). Thank GOD I did that. They new doctor was extremely nice, took the time to really ask me questions, listen to my answers and was super willing to talk about options, side effects, etc.

I ended up trying about 3 different drugs, including one that made me contemplate committing suicide a few times a DAY (the same drug that has a movie with its name on it, and a book, and such). Finally we settled on sertraline …. and though I do not feel as fantastic as with the first (expensive) medicine, this one acts as an Ok “equivalent.”

Looking back I can see the signs and symptoms of having this syndrome, and thinking it was all normal. It seemed all normal to me, because I knew no better, because I was taught that medical or chemical intervention are reserved for extreme cases, and the chemical ways are for the weak. My guess is that the more I learned about physiology, how our bodies and brains are supposed to work and not, I was more convinced that I needed help overcoming these symptoms and this state where my mind was running at 1000 rmps at some points, while at others I was too tired to even think.

I guess I also was mildly depressed, thus the medicine helped that too. I have never taken more than 2 months off from school for vacation. In fact, since I finished college I haven’t had more than 3 weeks of continuous vacay time. The pressure to excel at times seemed too much and what you think is “normal” or just due to stress might be somthing more serious. My only piece of advice is that if something does not feel right, go and see a specialist. Look for opinions, don’t just talk to one doctor, or one friend. Read, think, contemplate and decide which route you want to take.

I hope that once I get my second medical insurance (Oh Canada, how much I love you) I can find the generic form of that other medicine I took first and maybe try it again … but I have to be careful, I don’t want to mess up my system by changing medicines all crazy, all of a sudden. My symptoms are still there, but attenuated …. so I can manage now.