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Depression, anxiety, uncertainty about what to do.


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Hi all,

I'm sure this kind of topic has been posted about a million times, and if anyone wants to close this thread and link me to one with at least a near-identical situation to mine, I won't mind. Still, it's always nice to receive individual-specific advice.

I've just recently (I'm about four weeks in now) begun a PhD program straight out of undergrad, and I'm attending the same school I got my bachelor's in.

Since about January or late December, I've been dealing with depression caused by an intense amount of anxiety associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I've been in therapy (on-campus counseling, off-campus counseling, and group counseling) for quite some time, but it doesn't seem to be helping much, and now my mental problems are beginning to interfere with my work. (Case in point: I have a large assignment due first thing tomorrow morning, and instead of even starting it I'm typing up this post instead.)

My cohort is very nice to me and I think they're all cool people, and the professors have been kind to me as well, but my current state of mind has been making it extremely difficult to enjoy the experience. I'm already failing one of my classes, and the knowledge that I am makes me want to do the work even less.

It was yesterday, when I found myself researching suicide methods, when I began to wonder if I should be in grad school right now. I'm afraid to ask for a leave of absence, though, because I'm only four weeks in and I worry that I'd be letting the faculty down. Hell, not just the faculty; my entire family, including my boyfriend, were all extremely supportive of my decision to attend grad school and cheered my acceptance to this program so enthusiastically that I worry I'd be letting them all down too. I also have no idea what I would do if I left because I never had a Plan B; grad school was always the plan for me.

I should clarify that my stress and depression aren't being caused by my workload or my relationship with my cohort and professors. My OCD issues actually have nothing to do with schoolwork or grades at all, but explaining it in detail would necessitate another lengthy post. Because of this, and since my problems are getting in the way of my work now, I feel that I may be justified in asking for a leave of absence while I attempt to figure out what to do with myself. I'm wondering, though, if this is really the right decision to make, and if not, what I should do instead.

I apologize for the discombobulated way that this post is written. Obviously, I can try to make some things clearer if anyone asks.

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Does your school have counseling services so you could speak to a professional about this? I hope you find good advice and support here, but the important thing is that you speak to a trained professional. I think you need to think of yourself right now and make your mental health and well-being a priority above all else, instead of worrying about letting others down.

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Safferz: I've seen therapists at my school's counseling center since my sophomore year of undergrad, and a few months ago I transferred to off-campus counseling at a nearby mental hospital. I've also supplemented this with group therapy at my school.

There is one important thing that I neglected to mention in my first post. I'm not on any kind of medication for mental health. I've always been very uncomfortable with the idea of being on a drug that affects the way I think. My boyfriend doesn't like the idea of my being on meds either, which also influenced my decision to stay away from them (and this is in fact tied in to my OCD). I would really like to try cognitive behavioral therapy without the medication, but the therapists aren't too keen on this.

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You should definitely do what is right for your mental health. Your family, boyfriend, and staff want the best for you and only you know what that is. You have your entire life ahead of you, and there is no rush to have a doctorate right after undergrad. Think of the two options: staying in school or taking an absence of leave. When you put yourself in each situation, which do you feel more comfortable with or feel like a weight is lifted from your shoulders? I really wish you luck. Maybe tonight you should turn off your computer and cell phone, drink a big coffee, and get to work as hard as you can in the small amount of time that you have. Just put yourself to work and remember that you are only four weeks in and will be able to redeem yourself easier. At least for tonight, think about your assignment and nothing else. Those bigger issues may be giving you more anxiety than necessary. I have dealt with anxiety in the past, and it's rough. Just take things little by little. Good luck, I mean it :)

Edited by Juliane M
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Well, I just found out that I can't take a leave of absence until I've completed at least one quarter in my program anyway, and I wouldn't be able to use the services offered by my school during the leave of absence. I'm even less certain of what I should do now.

I guess I will probably continue therapy for the time being and hope that it starts to help more eventually. My academic standing is going to take quite a beating, though, and I am rather concerned about that.

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Well, I just found out that I can't take a leave of absence until I've completed at least one quarter in my program anyway, and I wouldn't be able to use the services offered by my school during the leave of absence. I'm even less certain of what I should do now.

I guess I will probably continue therapy for the time being and hope that it starts to help more eventually. My academic standing is going to take quite a beating, though, and I am rather concerned about that.

ZD--

Are there options that would allow you to finish out the term and later retake those courses in which you receive a low grade? Are there grading options that would serve as "place holders" until you retook the courses later? (These two options sound the same, but depending upon the institution, they could be very different paths.)

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Sigaba: It looks like Incomplete would serve the latter function, although I'd have to make sure to finish the work before the next full term ends or else the I turns into an F (and I'd have to deal with other classes on top of that). As for the former, I know one student who did fail a class and later managed to retake it and pass, but if I fail all of my classes this quarter I might not be allowed to return (at the very least I would lose my funding). I don't think I can retake a class that I passed but happened to get a low grade in.

I've managed to get an appointment with my therapist this Friday, and we'll talk about the situation then too.

Thanks for the reply.

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Sigaba: It looks like Incomplete would serve the latter function, although I'd have to make sure to finish the work before the next full term ends or else the I turns into an F (and I'd have to deal with other classes on top of that). As for the former, I know one student who did fail a class and later managed to retake it and pass, but if I fail all of my classes this quarter I might not be allowed to return (at the very least I would lose my funding). I don't think I can retake a class that I passed but happened to get a low grade in.

I've managed to get an appointment with my therapist this Friday, and we'll talk about the situation then too.

Thanks for the reply.

ZD--

In developing your options for the academic side of your issue, please please please do not settle for anecdotal information. Consult directly someone in your department as well as your graduate school so you know exactly what your options are.

It would be very unfortunate if you went with second hand knowledge and it turned out that there was a sub-paragraph of a little known policy designed for situations such as yours.

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Safferz: I've seen therapists at my school's counseling center since my sophomore year of undergrad, and a few months ago I transferred to off-campus counseling at a nearby mental hospital. I've also supplemented this with group therapy at my school.

There is one important thing that I neglected to mention in my first post. I'm not on any kind of medication for mental health. I've always been very uncomfortable with the idea of being on a drug that affects the way I think. My boyfriend doesn't like the idea of my being on meds either, which also influenced my decision to stay away from them (and this is in fact tied in to my OCD). I would really like to try cognitive behavioral therapy without the medication, but the therapists aren't too keen on this.

Hi zombieDuck,

On one hand, I can respect and understand your position on antidepressants. I get uncomfortable taking medication that affects my body physiologically, let alone medication that works on mood and mind.

But also consider too, that if the behavioral therapy hasn't been working and you've been having suicidal thoughts, this might be a step to try. More and more of my friends have either had need for antidepressants (or finally admitted to me that they take them) over the past few years, and I know that many of them were wary of taking them but did find them useful. The best advice I have heard from a friend is to think of them like a tool you need, to get you through a particular rough time. According to some new numbers from the CDC, 60% of people who take antidepressants take them for 2 years or less. It may well be something you don't need to be on for forever.

Whatever your decision, I hope you find some help soon and a clear path of action. And while I know it's easier said than done, don't let social pressure (whether real or imagined!) dictate your choices. The friend I mentioned above, who is now on antidepressants, let questions like, "But what will people think of me?" stop him from coming home from an MA abroad where he was really, truly unhappy, and he regrets that decision now. You need to do whatever it is that will help you to be happy and balanced.

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Sigaba: Oh, I won't count on what happened to that one grad student to dictate what'll happen to me. If I do completely make up my mind to take a break, I'll be sure to ask officials how to go about doing so and whether I can without getting myself in trouble later.

runonsentence: My therapists have told me very much the same. To be honest, at this point I think it is the worry over what my boyfriend will think that's holding me back more than anything else, although my discomfort with medication is still a big factor. My boyfriend has seen several people on antidepressants and was really not cool with the way they changed (apparently some of them began acting vastly different from their usual selves), and when I brought up the possibility of getting on meds he was quite upset. In fact, I did actually try Zoloft for a very short period of time (only about five days, because it was making me violently sick and unable to get out of bed), and at one point during that period he actually snapped at me and accused me of being a hypocrite for doing something I used to be so strongly against. He has since told me, however, that he understands that it's meant to treat a health problem and that if I do go on medication he's going to have to deal with it and try to get past his dislike of antidepressants. Still, his initial reaction of shock and anger is hard for me to put out of my mind.

I think another reason he finds it so upsetting is because he's managed to control a severe anger problem as well as a long period of depression without any medication whatsoever, so he believes everyone is capable of doing it and that medication is for "lazy" people.

He really is a sweet guy most of the time ._. He's just very opinionated.

Also, I didn't realize until late last night that I've posted this in the subforum for international grads rather than grads in general. And I've been lurking since last year >_<

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He has since told me, however, that he understands that it's meant to treat a health problem and that if I do go on medication he's going to have to deal with it and try to get past his dislike of antidepressants. Still, his initial reaction of shock and anger is hard for me to put out of my mind.

I think another reason he finds it so upsetting is because he's managed to control a severe anger problem as well as a long period of depression without any medication whatsoever, so he believes everyone is capable of doing it and that medication is for "lazy" people.

He really is a sweet guy most of the time ._. He's just very opinionated.

OK, really? I hate to say this, but your mental health NEEDS to take priority over your boyfriend. Period. I don't care how good you think your relationship is: if he's not willing to let you do /supportive of your doing what you *almost certainly* need to do, you need to tell him to take a flying leap.

A bit of background: I discovered that I suffered from severe depression about 3 months into my marriage. My husband told that it was "no big deal" since "everyone gets a little blue now and then" (seriously? I was suicidal at some points) and that therapy was no good since "all they will do is talk"--and he had a severe dislike of medication, too.

I spent 15 years listening to him say (and accepting) that I shouldn't get treatment. Finally I convinced him that I should get treatment, but he would only let me do it if I were willing to pay for it out of my own money. (This was at a time when the total amount of money he let me spend on myself would have paid for 2 or 3 visits. Tops.) I put up with this for another 5 years.

I spent 20 years of my life being depressed, anxious, and occasionally suicidal, because I didn't want to upset my husband. The depression affected every aspect of our marriage--but so did the intense control he exerted over every facet of my life (including mental health treatment). We are not married any more, I've been in therapy for almost a year, and I'm SO much better off than I used to be. And HAPPY.

I say: get on medication. You've given other treatments a fair try, and you need to do this for your own good. If your boyfriend doesn't like it, tough. Now, he may change his mind if he sees a big improvement in you--in which case, great! Things will work out just fine. But if he isn't supportive of your getting the help you need, you really are better off without him.

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runonsentence: My therapists have told me very much the same. To be honest, at this point I think it is the worry over what my boyfriend will think that's holding me back more than anything else, although my discomfort with medication is still a big factor. My boyfriend has seen several people on antidepressants and was really not cool with the way they changed (apparently some of them began acting vastly different from their usual selves), and when I brought up the possibility of getting on meds he was quite upset. In fact, I did actually try Zoloft for a very short period of time (only about five days, because it was making me violently sick and unable to get out of bed), and at one point during that period he actually snapped at me and accused me of being a hypocrite for doing something I used to be so strongly against. He has since told me, however, that he understands that it's meant to treat a health problem and that if I do go on medication he's going to have to deal with it and try to get past his dislike of antidepressants. Still, his initial reaction of shock and anger is hard for me to put out of my mind.

I think another reason he finds it so upsetting is because he's managed to control a severe anger problem as well as a long period of depression without any medication whatsoever, so he believes everyone is capable of doing it and that medication is for "lazy" people.

He really is a sweet guy most of the time ._. He's just very opinionated.

Hi again ZD,

As an outsider looking in, this sounds like really controlling behavior on the part of your boyfriend. I know I don't know you or your situation, but it concerns me that your boyfriend would allow his own notions on what is "best" for you, his personal feelings about antidepressants, and his anger stand in the way of you trying to do something about your depression and suicidal thoughts.

You should really consider medication again, IMO, again because therapy alone isn't working and because your therapists (who do know you and your mental health better than I) are urging it. Please don't let your boyfriend's feelings on this take precedence over your health. If he truly cares for you, he can/should/MUST learn to be okay with you taking actions to better your mental health.

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runonsentence: I guess this as good a time as any to mention some of the specifics about my OCD. In a nutshell, I have obsessive thoughts about my boyfriend leaving me - either because there's someone better for him out there, or just because we're not alike in some way (I've actually gotten seriously distraught over our not liking the same television shows, for example). As I mentioned, while he was quite upset for a while there, and he still isn't comfortable with it, we have had a long discussion in which he apologized for how he felt and insisted that he wanted what was best for me, and that if I needed the medication he would learn to accept it. When I decided to go off the Zoloft, he was actually worried that his behavior had caused me to (and I should reiterate that I went off the Zoloft because I was vomiting and having diarrhea simultaneously, in addition to pretty bad stomach pains).

So I am certain that if I did go on the medication he would eventually come to terms with it. It's my own mind in this case that's holding me back - I can't stand the thought of doing anything that I know he doesn't like, no matter how minor it is, because it triggers my obsessional thoughts about him possibly leaving me.

I am completely aware that it's irrational of me to be thinking this way, and in fact that's one of the characteristics of OCD - the awareness that the thought makes no sense and/or has no basis in reality. It's something that is extremely difficult for me to get past, hence the constant anxiety and fear.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Apologies for the bump, but I figured I ought to give some kind of update.

I've spoken to my advisor and the director of graduate studies, and while I can't take any time off without just dropping out, I have been able to reduce my workload to basically just one core class. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels as if I can't even handle that one class, so I'm going to have to stay in touch with the professor to see what I can do to catch up and keep up.

I'm going to be evaluated for an OCD intensive treatment program later this month, and if I get in there's about a three-month waiting list before I can actually start it. Since I'm getting pretty desperate and miserable, I've decided to see if I can retry medication soon. I've talked about it with my boyfriend again, and he says I need to do what's best for me, which I'm going to take as an "I'm okay with that."

I'm still really worried about my progress in school since I'm behind on so much and am still having problems focusing on the work. I guess all I can do is keep trying.

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Sorry if this is a really late reply but I thought I'd put in my 2 cents on your situation as well.

First things first. Work never comes first. Your health does. Whatever you do, if you're not physically and mentally fit, you're never going to do it well. So do whatever it takes to get you happy. Antidepressants, family time, friends, boyfriend.. anything.

Secondly, I feel like you have this pressure on you to do a certain thing (finish grad school), be a certain way, etc. It doesn't matter if you don't have a plan right now. Your life is way too long for you to get wound up over that. Do one thing at a time and do it bloody well. So you don't regret anything. If it's one class. then do your best in that class. But like I said, first, focus on making yourself happy.

Getting depressed and having anxiety attacks is normal. But it's not normal if you don't take care of it and spend your whole life being miserable over it :)

Good luck! and have faith in yourself! You can make anything happen!

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