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miss-prufrock

Grad school and mental illness--how do you cope?

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Hi, there! I actually spent a total of nine years as an undergraduate because I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, borderline personality disorder, and recently, OCD. I had to take leaves of absence.

I've just started my MA in English a month ago, and I'm really grateful that Ive been stable for months now. I'm working part-time, and I also signed up for the part-time program in our university. I was just wondering if there are any people who have struggles with depression, anxiety, what have you. How do you deal with it as a grad student? What's a typical week for you? How do you get the support you need?

I'd love to hear from you!

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Hey, I have bipolar I and generalized anxiety disorder. I also took time off during my undergrad. I don't have much to add as I'm at the beginning of my program, but posting for solidarity. I recently saw a GP for physical health stuff, and after we spoke about my history he mentioned that a lot of graduate students don't do well with the pressure of a PhD. The advice he gave me was to manage my sleep strictly: block off sleep time and fit everything around that. 

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I've also just begun my program! Thank you for this reply. And thank you for that piece of advice. I never realized that we have to manage and prioritize sleep. Are you doing well, still?

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I am not in grad school (yet), however I am waiting on hearing back from programs. I have applied to 3 master level mental health counseling programs for this coming fall. I have been working towards recovery from anorexia over the last 4.5 years. I will finally be graduating with my bachelors in May after 6 years of trying to get this thing completed! It was so hard during my undergrad to finish my degree as I was in and out of inpatient treatment centers and the hospital. My resources while I was on campus were very limited, which resulted in my last year having to be completed online so I can live at home and have more support. 

This might sound dumb, but as I have been so anxious waiting for grad school responses regarding admission...my eating disorder thoughts have really become much louder. I keep having the thought that if I don't get into any program, then I am not "good enough". It makes me feel like the only thing I'll ever be good at is my eating disorder. It kind of scares me to be honest. It also pisses me off because I thought I was doing stronger in my recovery. 

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To everyone who responded in this thread so far, I commend you for your courage, resiliency, and strength.

I was diagnosed with acute PTSD, depression, & anxiety during my transition from junior to senior year at NYU; I am a trauma survivor. I took two years off to rehabilitate and learn about myself again... I will be applying to MS/Ph.D programs in Neuroscience within the upcoming year and anticipate disclosing my disability (-ies) in both my application and interviews. I'm terrified. To cope in my current day-to-day as a researcher, I try to be as honest as possible with my lab mates- i.e. after a month, I disclosed to them and my PI. Everything has been steady so far.

But my anxiety, imposter syndrome, and general fear is so overwhelming to the point of paralysis. I often spend time writing, making tea, and exploring the city (I'm from NYC) for self-care. Does it always help? No, but I have to keep trying if I want to be functioning enough if I want to work in high-stress conditions for the next 10 years.

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@Neuromantic - I’m also in the depression/anxiety boat and have found it super helpful to disclose the issue at work since it makes it possible to get the kind of support I need. That being said, I was repeatedly cautioned against disclosing in my applications because departments can see students with mental health issues as a risk. I ended up not mentioning the issue in my SOP but did talk about it during interviews. When I did disclose, I focused on talking about my determination, resilience, and coping skills and how those would translate into a PhD program. I also talked about how I was committed to staying in therapy/on meds during my program since I know it can be stressful and those are important elements in keeping me stable. This approach seemed to work well for me, as I was accepted at 5 of 6 schools I applied to, 4 of which were funded and 3 of which included competitive fellowships.

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You guys are courageous AF.  I have physical disabilities that I hide when I can, its hard for me to even write on a damned message board about my struggles with mental health.  I just applied this round after working full-time for nearly a decade.  I became so tunnel visioned that my relationship with my life-partner withered away and broke, then my living situation fell apart, then everything else fell down.  

I'm starting to doubt myself something serious.  Good luck to you on the path!

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On 3/1/2018 at 9:14 AM, abzbabz00 said:

I am not in grad school (yet), however I am waiting on hearing back from programs. I have applied to 3 master level mental health counseling programs for this coming fall. I have been working towards recovery from anorexia over the last 4.5 years. I will finally be graduating with my bachelors in May after 6 years of trying to get this thing completed! It was so hard during my undergrad to finish my degree as I was in and out of inpatient treatment centers and the hospital. My resources while I was on campus were very limited, which resulted in my last year having to be completed online so I can live at home and have more support. 

This might sound dumb, but as I have been so anxious waiting for grad school responses regarding admission...my eating disorder thoughts have really become much louder. I keep having the thought that if I don't get into any program, then I am not "good enough". It makes me feel like the only thing I'll ever be good at is my eating disorder. It kind of scares me to be honest. It also pisses me off because I thought I was doing stronger in my recovery. 

I've struggled with bulimia in high school. And it's great to hear that you'll be graduating in May! I spent nine years as an undergrad, including two years off for a leave of absence.

I don't think that the anxiety for responses is dumb! Not at all. I do hope that you're getting the support you need. I definitely struggle with the disappointment that comes with thinking of self-harm or suicide. I'm trying to learn how to be kinder to myself, but ha! It's a challenge every single day.

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17 hours ago, Neuromantic said:

To everyone who responded in this thread so far, I commend you for your courage, resiliency, and strength.

I was diagnosed with acute PTSD, depression, & anxiety during my transition from junior to senior year at NYU; I am a trauma survivor. I took two years off to rehabilitate and learn about myself again... I will be applying to MS/Ph.D programs in Neuroscience within the upcoming year and anticipate disclosing my disability (-ies) in both my application and interviews. I'm terrified. To cope in my current day-to-day as a researcher, I try to be as honest as possible with my lab mates- i.e. after a month, I disclosed to them and my PI. Everything has been steady so far.

But my anxiety, imposter syndrome, and general fear is so overwhelming to the point of paralysis. I often spend time writing, making tea, and exploring the city (I'm from NYC) for self-care. Does it always help? No, but I have to keep trying if I want to be functioning enough if I want to work in high-stress conditions for the next 10 years.

Hello there. I'm so inspired by your intrepidity and by your story. I do hope that you'll see where your next steps would be for the MS/Ph.D. programs. Disclosing my diagnosis to my professors is a challenge for me, actually. I'm glad that you've been stable.

As for the other symptoms, I can relate to this so far. I haven't been able to work on my grad school tasks since Saturday because of triggers. But yes. I do agree that we always have to keep trying.

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Hi there, @Progress . Hearing about your relationship is unfortunate to hear. I do hope that you're finding ways to cope, especially with the disability aspect.

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I deal with anxiety and depression. I will definitely take advantage of counselling if I get admitted anywhere. The applications alone have taken their toll on my mental health. 

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On 28/02/2018 at 5:28 PM, miss-prufrock said:

I've also just begun my program! Thank you for this reply. And thank you for that piece of advice. I never realized that we have to manage and prioritize sleep. Are you doing well, still?

Good luck with the program! 

Has your psychiatrist or therapist ever spoken about sleep cycles to you? Apparently it's the number one trigger for bipolar episodes. I learned that the hard way with some severe mood episodes with psychosis. These days, I prioritize my sleep, and if the other stuff doesn't get done, it doesn't get done. I do have provisions through my school's disability office though for assignment deadlines, so I have some flexibility (I would recommend getting this if you can). I go to bed at 10pm every day on the dot, and the alarm is set for 6am. This and medication for me are necessities to stay stable, and the sleep part does help a lot. 

In terms of how I am? Mood-wise, I am doing well, but I have severe functioning issues when I'm sick so I am always thinking of what happens if my bipolar relapses. On the other hand, the GAD is not good - I push through my day-to-day but feel terrible, and have had to see other medical specialists over the physical effects the anxiety has on me. My psychiatrist said I should be on serotonin medication for my anxiety, but the bipolar means that I can't tolerate antidepressants full-stop (I've tried). Overall, things are the best they've been for years, but very anxiety-ridden. My psychiatrist says things have to get better, but I'll take what I can get. 

I survived undergrad by chance, and when choosing grad programs, I promised myself that I would minimize the chance of that happening again. A 6 year program away from my support and treatment team wouldn't have been a good choice for me now. Things are still a little too recent. I'm hoping to have more years of stability under my belt for postdocs though, and maybe I can push these illnesses to the edge of my thoughts then. 

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10 hours ago, miss-prufrock said:

Hi there, @Progress . Hearing about your relationship is unfortunate to hear. I do hope that you're finding ways to cope, especially with the disability aspect.

Thanks!  It has really really sucked, she was my best friend and best advocate.  Now i have to move back into a situation that makes dealing with my disability much more difficult (I am late-life deaf and a cochlear implantee), that exacerbates my other issues significantly, and all without my companion.    

It is a relief in a way to see other folks with similar goals struggling with similar issues.  

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On 3/2/2018 at 3:07 PM, iwearflowers said:

@Neuromantic - I’m also in the depression/anxiety boat and have found it super helpful to disclose the issue at work since it makes it possible to get the kind of support I need. That being said, I was repeatedly cautioned against disclosing in my applications because departments can see students with mental health issues as a risk. I ended up not mentioning the issue in my SOP but did talk about it during interviews. When I did disclose, I focused on talking about my determination, resilience, and coping skills and how those would translate into a PhD program. I also talked about how I was committed to staying in therapy/on meds during my program since I know it can be stressful and those are important elements in keeping me stable. This approach seemed to work well for me, as I was accepted at 5 of 6 schools I applied to, 4 of which were funded and 3 of which included competitive fellowships.

That is absolutely amazing- I'm so proud of you! I deterred from a career in medicine primarily because of my traumatic experiences, so my narrative structure may be slightly different than your SOP. But all in all, your story gives me a lot of heart.

(Everyone- my apologies for the incorrect grammar in my original post! I was at work and didn't have a chance to review before I submitted.)

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Former manager here, so I'm going to put on my Manager hat.

 

5a9e1a32cf4e9_ScreenShot2018-03-05at10_37_05PM.png.6b221a5b3c451b20a96e604440cd69ba.png

 

The vast majority of the issues I'm seeing on this thread - mental illness, physical disability, etc - are all covered by the ADA.  Your university is required to give you reasonable accommodations based on the ADA, and, depending on how long you've been in your program, you may be eligible for FMLA too.  So, contact your university's disability services and talk to them.  Also, talk to your doctors.  Here are some reasonable accommodations I've seen before due to medical issues:

- Days off every so often for mental health episodes

- Additional time to complete assignments

- Help completing an assignment (for example, dictating an assignment)

 

So, if you're suffering from a longterm illness, whether it be a mental illness, physical illness, or are differently abled, know your rights.  Work with your school and your doctor to make sure that you use the resources available to get the help you need. :) 

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On 3/3/2018 at 7:52 PM, lemma said:

In terms of how I am? Mood-wise, I am doing well, but I have severe functioning issues when I'm sick so I am always thinking of what happens if my bipolar relapses. On the other hand, the GAD is not good - I push through my day-to-day but feel terrible, and have had to see other medical specialists over the physical effects the anxiety has on me. My psychiatrist said I should be on serotonin medication for my anxiety, but the bipolar means that I can't tolerate antidepressants full-stop (I've tried). Overall, things are the best they've been for years, but very anxiety-ridden. My psychiatrist says things have to get better, but I'll take what I can get. 

I survived undergrad by chance, and when choosing grad programs, I promised myself that I would minimize the chance of that happening again. A 6 year program away from my support and treatment team wouldn't have been a good choice for me now. Things are still a little too recent. I'm hoping to have more years of stability under my belt for postdocs though, and maybe I can push these illnesses to the edge of my thoughts then. 

Yes, she has. Oddly enough, though, she told me not to worry about getting sleep. It's probably due to the fact that any medication for sleep hasn't been working anymore. And generally, the lack of sleep causes much distress. I'm making sure that I get 6-8 hours of sleep, but I know that I haven't been following sleep hygiene. I do not wake up at the same time every single day; I wake up at noon (or a few hours after) because I sleep at around 5 or 6 am. I'm lucky to get to sleep before 4.30 am.

That's so great to know! As for the anxiety, this might sound pessimistic, but perhaps it would always be a constant in our case? And yes, we cannot take antidepressants. I think my doctor explained that it's better for me to take anticonvulsants. I really do admire how you've been growing.

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Thank you all for starting this conversation. It is so important!

I have a history of anxiety and depression, along with ADD. Unfortunately, this was something I didn't fully discover until the end of undergrad... so all of my experimentation with therapy,  medicine, etc. have come after I completed school about 2 years ago. I now take anxiety and ADD meds and go to monthly therapy and I am much better than I used to be! So thankful for that! 

That said, I am very concerned about the transition back to school. I'm doing a Master's in the UK, and I have signed up with the disability services at my school. But, I never used any disability services in undergrad, so I'm not sure how to sort through all the different accommodations and things that they offer. Has anyone used disability services and found them helpful? What was most or least useful? I just don't know what to ask for or what would be helpful!

Thanks everyone, keep up the good fight :) 

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17 hours ago, PghPol16 said:

That said, I am very concerned about the transition back to school. I'm doing a Master's in the UK, and I have signed up with the disability services at my school. But, I never used any disability services in undergrad, so I'm not sure how to sort through all the different accommodations and things that they offer. Has anyone used disability services and found them helpful? What was most or least useful? I just don't know what to ask for or what would be helpful!

Thanks everyone, keep up the good fight :) 

I have disability registration. My accommodations are minimal for the moment, as my psychiatrist does not want me sitting any assessments if very unwell (I have bad cognitive effects when symptomatic and have been hospitalised several times in the past). I have discussed this with disability services, so we have a plan of what to do should I have a major relapse. 

The everyday accommodations I have are flexibility in assignment deadlines (the specifics are negotiated with the professor), and exam accommodations. I requested bathroom breaks as lithium makes me need to drink a lot of water, and if I don't I start vomiting. I'm also allowed to take anxiety medication and food into the exam. 

Other accommodations I considered were extra time in exams, but my psychiatrist said that if my thinking is impaired I should not sit the assessment, and the disability office head agreed. If I end up having exams scheduled for the early morning, I may request to have them moved, as I'm on a maximum dose of a sedating antipsychotic. 

They also mentioned that if I'm too unwell to attend class, they can organise a note taker. I also have access to additional supplementary exams than usual if I'm too sick to take my final exams. 

The way my university works, I think they notified my supervisor, PhD coordinator and coursework professors with a form from the disability office in their template. The diagnosis was left off, but symptoms were included. I am trying to not use my assignment accommodations unless I need them because I don't want to be "that student", given the professors I'm dealing with will be my colleagues. But I have no shame in asking for help when I need it. 

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I also live with MI. Been relatively stable for the last 8 years...but I am applying to Ph.D programs next year and am nervous because I don't know if I'll be able to cope. I managed my undergraduate and graduate studies so far pretty well while doing extracurricular activities, but I know PhD will be a whole other game and it kinda scares me. 

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On 02/03/2018 at 6:57 AM, Neuromantic said:

To everyone who responded in this thread so far, I commend you for your courage, resiliency, and strength.

I was diagnosed with acute PTSD, depression, & anxiety during my transition from junior to senior year at NYU; I am a trauma survivor. I took two years off to rehabilitate and learn about myself again... I will be applying to MS/Ph.D programs in Neuroscience within the upcoming year and anticipate disclosing my disability (-ies) in both my application and interviews. I'm terrified. To cope in my current day-to-day as a researcher, I try to be as honest as possible with my lab mates- i.e. after a month, I disclosed to them and my PI. Everything has been steady so far.

@Neuromantic I commend on your bravery in disclosing to your PI and lab. Thank you for sharing. 

I have acute PTSD (or so the psychiatrist thinks; she doesn't seem sure yet) from sexual harassment and assault that happened in the first year of my prog (also in Neuroscience). I just posted of the nightmares I get from these on the Officially Grads section.

My PI isn't the most supportive person and so I avoid telling her anything. So far, I haven't been able to talk to my peers either.

Solidarity and best of luck with your program. 

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So I have two questions that have gone unmentioned:

1. For those of you diagnosed beforehand, how did you go about securing meds? Did you have to go through evaluations again? Did they believe you when (or if) you told them you've struggled with y and take z?

2. How many of you have fellowships? I read that my fellowship includes healthcare...but I'm not too sure what that means. Does it mean they just cover the annual fees? 

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At my uni, when I pay my student fees, I have an insurance included in it and that covers for my medication. I live in Quebec, so a part of my medication costs are covered by public health care. So basically, it costs nothing to me with the school insurance and the public health care combined. 

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