Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My New Ventures

As I begin my new ventures, I have to remember that there are always going to be people out there who are still struggling with their choice. People who are still miserable, still pulling themselves along each day. After the entire ordeal, and your life is back in order, as mine is now, there will be many days when the last thing you want to think about is where you were last year and how it felt to be there. But it is important that people like myself do not forget. We are the comfort to the future drop outs.

Only two things comforted me at this time: the understanding of people in similar situations...I could have talked to them for days about my struggles. And figuring out a new plan. Finally allowing the thought of, "what if this, what I worked for since I was 15, is not right for me? What if I made a mistake?" into my head allowed me to breathe again, though it felt like my dreams were just crushed.

That's what is funny about a dream. It is something that we create in our head, and we hold on to it so tight, that we sometimes can't see the other opportunities rushing by. A dream is something in our head while happiness, destiny is the reality we ignore.

So, if what you fought for is not feeling the way it should, let it go. You probably aimed for it not out of passion, but out of some other emotion like ego or loyalty to your plan, or to your family. And if reading all this makes you smile inside, you already have your answer. The hardest part is admitting it and taking your step toward Change.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A New Leaf

Back home, in a new home, and better yet, in a new school. A new program. Before turning over that new leaf that some of us plan hard for and some of us turn in a day, realize something. It will be hard, probably harder than anything else has been in your life. Recognize this first, while you also recognize that it will be worth it.

The second hardest thing in my life, after dropping out of my PhD program last year, has been moving back home. But in completely different ways. I moved a job, a school, across state lines, into a new home (that I purchased!), moved my husband's career. Into a new climate, back to different kinds of people, a different set of bills. Financially and physically, it has been difficult to make all the changes I needed to make in a short period of time. But it already feels worth it. The physical and the financial could try to fool me, but my emotions prove that to me every day.

I look back at the misery of last year like a tired memory. I made the best friends I could possibly have imagined in my old program, and I miss the comfort of having them there each day. I miss them dearly. But I know that they were there, because I needed the best in my worst time. They were the ideal friends for the darkest season of my life. And that will never be coincidence for me.

My program now feels easy again. Not because it is not tons of work each day (which it is), but because I fit into it. Its goals, ideals, teachings, and way of life. That's what social work is, really. A way of life. It never felt like that with psychology for me. I am not fighting my way to be the perfect puzzle piece each day as I was before. I just slip in.

Friday, June 21, 2013

We Can Still Be Somebody

Sometimes, the days, weeks, months, and even years after dropping out of graduate school can feel like the aftermath of a terrible storm. You are happy to be out of it. So relieved that it is over. But your life is in shambles. Maybe it's not even a life.

Find a job. Do I go back to school? How do I pay the rent? My loans are more than I can ever pay off. Go back home or stay here? Well, I am too old to go back home to mom and dad.....maybe I'll have to, though.

These are the automatic thoughts and problems that trouble us drop outs. At some point, longer for some than others, we pull ourselves out of bed and force ourselves to consider what's next. We have to ask ourselves some basic questions again. Who am I? What makes me happy? What fulfills me? The answers are ones that we have asked ourselves, subconsciously, up until we went to graduate school. At that point, thoughts stopped, doubts were pushed aside, and we began molding into our surroundings in terms of behavior, belief, and thought.

I began to feel like my old self again when I got up and got going. For me, this didn't take long. I began planning for leaving while I was still in school, as many of you do, and I didn't allow myself more than a few days in bed. I made a new plan, and this time, I followed my heart and not my head. I got a job. Not a fancy one, not a high paying one, and one way below my qualifications. But one that I thought I would like, and this is all that matters!

One of our main problems is feeling like a normal person again. It is hard to feel normal when we spent so long feeling "special." Feeling smarter, feeling accomplished. Like we had a goal. And suddenly, there's nothing to grasp at. It's more than getting our lives together - it is altering our thinking. Of ourselves, of others, of the world.

We are all somebody. Dropping out of grad school can be like going from being the president of a company to being jobless. Especially if you were one of only a few people chosen, as I was, or some crazy statistic like that. You have to realize again that your life still means something. We still mean something. And we can still be someone.

I work in a hospital in a position that literally anyone could do. There is no experience needed, no school needed. Sure, I don't belong there, but it will always be the place that picked me up off my feet. I love what I do, and when a patient looks in my eyes and tells me they love me, or that I am the only one who has listened, I realize that each of these experiences makes me important, makes it all worth it. And we can all get here, to the place where we are not only content with our lives and place in the world, but happy with it.

I can still be "somebody." And so can you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Looking Back

I read an autobiography of my life that I had written back in 2008 during my first semester in college. Isn't it crazy to realize how much different our concerns were five years ago? Little did I know then where I would be sitting now. Then again, even a year ago, it would have shocked me.

Something I wrote in this autobiography really struck me. Regret is something I haven't truly known before my entrance into graduate school. Today, I do not sense regret, but not having it has been nearly impossible, and six months ago, I surely failed at not feeling it. I cannot regret things in my life, because they not only have made me who I am today, but the bad times always make us appreciate the good. Always.

I had written: "
regret is simply a mark of substantiality in life." Gosh, isn't that true? If we have a life in which we never struggle with regret, a life in which we make mistakes, it probably isn't a life worth living. And once we understand this, we will truly have no regrets.

With my past aim to be a psychologist, I always wanted to help people - mentally and emotionally rather than physically. I realize that sometimes our plans for ourselves are not nearly as spectacular or perfect as those our destiny hold for us...yes, I wanted to help by being a psychologist. But what I really wanted was to help. And I will do just that.

I want this blog to provide support to past, present, and future drop outs. We truly are people who are shunned, even if with subtlety, and misunderstood. The best way to get true understanding is to talk to others who are going through what you are. This is what I did when I was at my lowest point...I surfed the web, and I responded on blogs to other people going through, or those who HAD gone through, what I was struggling with. And it helped and comforted me. The only thing that helped more than talking to others was asking myself some crucial questions:

What do you want more than anything?
Where do you want to be in ten years?
When was a time you were doing something that made you extremely happy and fulfilled?

Answer these questions honestly, and  take it from there. Be HONEST. If you have been miserable for a long time, you probably have also been lying to yourself. But you will know if you are not being honest with yourself, deep down.

I encourage all students to contact me - anyone needing guidance. I am here, as you were for me.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wisdom to Other Drop Outs

This is the story of a grad school drop out. I encourage all drop outs, as well as current students who are suffering, to read and participate. We need a community more than ever to provide support and understanding to each other. Personally, I don't know any other drop outs besides myself, and I am sure this applies to most.

In the six months since I began graduate school, and in the two months since I dropped out, I have learned more than any school or program could have taught me. When I began graduate school, I had only a weak grasp of who I was as a person. I had this idea, for so long, of what I was going to be, without ever worrying about who I already was. Or who I wanted to be. Not as a professional, but as a human being. And how much my professional goals contradicted with this.

I delved into the field of psychology in my second year of high school. It was fascinating to me. I had always known I wanted to help people, but a weak stomach ruled most "helping" careers out and always kept me questioning how exactly I was going to help. After taking my first psych class, I felt that all was answered.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that I was NOT going to get a master's in psychology. I was going to get my Ph.D., no matter what it took, I was going to be a doctor, and it was going to be awesome. The End.

Well, not exactly. After the first year of not getting a position in a program, I sought all field work I could lay my hands on, worked on multiple research projects, perfected my nearly-already-perfect grades, studied and took the GRE twice, flew to multiple states for interviews (two years in a row), etc, etc etc! Anyone who has been in a fully paid Ph.D. program, especially in the last ten years, knows the efforts I am talking about. I even completed three bachelors degrees, a minor, and a certificate in my four years of undergrad.

Finally, I got offers after my second year of applications. Looking back, I didn't feel the sense of happiness I had been so UNhappy for so many years in order to attain. Relief, contentment, but never happiness.

Shortly after moving a few states away for grad school, to an utter change of culture (to say the least), and dragging my supportive husband along with me, I began having massive anxiety attacks. I would awake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and unable to breathe. In the middle of the night! I had to leave school early so many days, because, again, I felt that I could not breathe. Suddenly, I was more depressed than I could have ever imagined possible, I couldn't sleep or eat at all, I was having anxiety attacks which were fairly new to me (at least in the five years previous), and I couldn't even look in the mirror. I hated myself, and I hated every choice I had made in the last few years. I wish I could put my depression into tangible words, but I can't. I wanted nothing more than to disappear. And to this day, I know I could not physically or emotionally have dealt with my denial of what was wrong much longer and actually live. The worst kind of feelings aren't associated with losing someone close to you...they are associated with losing YOU. 

Based on my research, it seems that a student choosing to leave after only one semester as well as building a hatred for their program and the person they were becoming in it so quickly, is a bit unusual. For me, my choice to leave was initiated by my feelings, the strongest feeling of you-are-doing-absolutely-the-wrong-thing-with-your-life jumped on me during my first week. I am thankful every day for some people that finally asked me the questions I needed to force myself to answer: what do you want more than anything for yourself in ten years? When was a time that you were absolutely happy in something you were doing? Why did you go for the Ph.D.? I had nothing left but to be honest with myself, after so many years.

I wasn't stressed at any point during the semester, and I had done much harder things in my life than go through the motions of my program, especially academically. But as I went on, my feelings were verified with my grad school experiences. Experiences that confirmed in my mind that I did not want to be an egotistical academic (no offense to anyone, as this is a generalization, not rule). I did not want to have the coldness (or unhappiness) I felt many of the professors around me carried. I did not want to ignore my heart any longer for the sake of my ego. Actually, I didn't want any choice I made in my life to be based on ego, as this choice had been. It's never too late.

There is a stereotype that drop outs "can't handle it." I could handle every piece of it, but the fact that I simply did not want to bothers some people. And it always will. I didn't want to spend 6+ more years doing research when I hated research (more than anything, this was my concrete reason for leaving) just to try and be a certain kind of person. Suddenly, I wanted to be quite the opposite. Blaming the intense drop out rates on the students is an excuse for the world of academics to ignore the problem. Unfortunately, many drop outs are not like me. They DO drop out due to harassment, abuse, and a whole lot of program-oriented issues. And it has been swept under the carpet long enough...

Addressing attrition rates, and even higher suicide rates among grad students, will help not only the students of today, but the students of tomorrow (who deserve to have a firm grasp of the grad school world before delving into it with all they have in them), and it will surely save millions of dollars each year for schools and better than anything...it will save everyone's time and lives.

So, I encourage anyone reading this to speak out about your experiences. You are not any lesser for them, but you certainly are stronger. We are allowed to change, and for myself and most of you, I am sure, I have changed for the better.