One day halfway through my first semester of grad school, I was waiting out in the hall before class with my fellow classmates. We were all stressed to the max. We all had dark purple bags under our eyes. Some of us had gained weight; others had withered down to nothing. We were physically, emotionally, mentally exhausted. A student who graduated from the program was standing out in the hall with us, discussing how stressful our first semester would be.
Our conversation went something like this:
“I feel like I am drowning. I cannot breathe. I try to take a deep breath, but my chest feels like the water is crushing my lungs. There are always deadlines, exams, papers, grading, research, a million articles to read. Even when I try to relax, I know I should be working on something.”
“You will always feel like you are drowning. The sensation of drowning will not end until you graduate. You are always being pushed to your absolute limits at all times. But soon, you will habituate to the feeling of drowning and everything will seem easier.”
The first semester is tough. There is the excitement and stress of moving to a new place (moving is ranked as one of the most stressful events in one’s life). Everything you think you know about yourself, life, school, your relationships, your friendships, your goals, your coping mechanisms… is challenged. You must rearrange your mental representation of reality to survive. If you don’t change your priorities, your focus, and your coping mechanisms while you are in grad school, then something will suffer greatly. What usually suffers is your sanity and physical health. Last semester, I made the choice to put my physical and mental health before anything else.
Today, a fellow graduate student blogger posted about how blogging is hard. I identify 100% with what she has to say. We feel guilty taking time to write for the Universe when we have so much to do for school (and for work and have a house and personal relationships to maintain). I have a thesis proposal, coursework (which is code for reading more than you thought was humanly possible and then taking exams and writing papers to prove you learned something), conference submissions, journal article manuscripts, etc. My house is a wreck. I haven’t been to yoga in over a week. How can I justify writing a blog post? Then I have a dialogue with myself about what I could possibly have to contribute to the Blogosphere when there are amazing bloggers out there already writing about everything under the sun!
I think part of what keeps me sane is social networking. I need to maintain relationships with people. I value the people in my life and being connected to them is priceless. Social media helps me stay connected to my friends when we are spread all over the world. I would be lost without my friends and family. So… I guess what I am trying to say is… I NEED to blog to survive grad school.
I have finally habituated to the feeling of drowning. When I feel the water crushing my chest, I turn to you. The connections I have made with all of you make me feel like I can breathe… in clear blue water.
Leave behind your fears
You will not falter
There’s no danger here
You can breathe
In clear blue water