Jump to content

Crippling Depression


Recommended Posts

Hi guys,



I am 2 years into grad school and things have turned out miserably. I feel like most people are questioning their desire and ability to be in grad school. Unfortunately, my desire is definitely there, but my advisor has flat-out told to me quit. I love research, it's what I wanna do. (I do question my ability, though, especially because of my advisor.)

My advisor and I don't get along--he has never been present. He has given me mixed messages about the quality of my work. A while ago, he was very critical of me. I put myself in to high-gear, became a better worker, and worked liked crazy. For the past year, he has praised me for making such progress. Now, he is telling me I am not cut out for grad school. He refuses to advise me past this summer.

I realize that this is just his opinion. However, I came in to grad school with a history of depression and many self-esteem issues, so now I question my ability to do anything. I've just been laying in bed for the past week. I mean, it's pretty bad. I wake up wishing I were dead.


I guess the obvious option is to switch advisors, but my discipline isn't that big. Those I have scoped out are not interested.


I have considered applying to other programs, but (1) I fear that moving will make my depression worse since I have a support system here, and (2) I don't even think I could get in to other programs. I wonder if my advisor would even write me a LOR. or if anyone else would. I feel like everyone here thinks I am an unmotivated dummy. (I am just a dummy who is trying their best to battle this depression.)


Finally, I have considered quitting and getting a job, but (1) I'm not really qualified for anything (yes, I chose a useless discipline, but I might be able to get a job bagging groceries), and (2) every time I think about it, I break down in to tears. I feel like a failure because I can't do something that I really love.


I should reiterate that this is all harder because of the depression.



Has anyone been in a similar situation?


am I SOL?


(PS yes, I am in therapy. It does help, but I am still struggling. yes, I know that eating right and exercising helps. I have dealt with depression before, but it's never been this crippling.)




Edited by sad678
Link to comment
Share on other sites

hey there,


i'm not a grad student (yet!), so i can't speak to the academic problems out of experience. that said, i've been dealing with crippling depression for years, and all of its equally horrible but constantly changing manifestations (i'm going to keep this trigger-free, but i suspect you probably know what i'm talking about; these things change between age 11 and age 22). i'm always in and out of therapy, on and off medications. most days are great, but there are definitely some days when getting out of bed is a major feat, so i can empathize.


the only insight i can really give you, then, is that a chemical imbalance does not necessitate a state of mind. you are not your depression. you are a good, hardworking, dedicated student who pretty much got the short, poop-smeared end of the brain chemistry lottery. for example, i consider myself to be a happy, social person by nature, but letting that shine instead of, say, a "protective" layer of cynicism and self-doubt borne out of insecurities, is a constant uphill battle. hearing people say "just cheer up!" is immensely frustrating, and usually isn't helpful, so i'll try to give you practical advice that i've picked up along the way that has helped me.


first, like i said, remember that you are not your depression; a chemical imbalance doesn't have the right to determine what kind of person you are.


second, focus on one task at a time, but keep a running schedule -- including as much time as you can feasibly get for things like exercise, social outings, etc. -- so you don't let yourself slip into the inertia of being unable to get the gears turning. it takes some getting used to, but i've found that blocking off my time and sticking to what i've planned is a very successful way to not only get myself up and running, but to keep moving, and keep my mind too busy to occupy itself with negative thoughts. only you can keep yourself busy, and only you know your limits, so don't push yourself too much.. but also, don't push too little. 


third, reach out to people, especially if you're making a change (be it a change of advisers or a change of scenery). even if you're geographically further from your usual support network, it is absolutely essential to stay in touch. don't hold back about sharing feelings, as long as you're comfortable; it's okay to be scared, nervous, lonely, etc. you're only human. reach out to all possible LoR writers as soon as you can; get in touch with your initial writers, if need be.


fourth, be progressive, even when it's hard to be positive. you may feel that you're ensnared in a negative situation, but there's no way to get yourself out if you don't keep moving towards a new goal. don't bite off more than you can chew. set simple, but attainable, goals for each day. one day, talk to you adviser about your plans; another day, meet with potential new advisors or LoR writers; another, submit [X number] of applications to different programs, and so on. reward yourself with simple things when you can, especially if your goal was a particularly emotionally taxing one, e.g., go for a mellow bike ride to clear your head or treat yourself to a nice meal after meeting with your (jerky) adviser. 


i hope those help. i realize it's hard to put someone else's words into action, but those are the things that have helped me the most. also, don't be too down on yourself: you clearly love what your field of research is, and you wouldn't be in grad school for it if you weren't cut out for it in the first place. don't lose sight of your passion, and keep pressing forward; your dedication, despite this crappy situation, means that you will find a way to do what you love, even while you're fighting against the multi-headed dragon of depression at all times. if anything, the fact that you're fighting depression on top of said crappy situation means that you're definitely not a failure. kudos to you for not giving up! best of luck!


ps: feel free to PM me at any time.  :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi there,


*big hugs*


I'm sorry things are going the way they are for you. I haven't dealt with depression to that extreme, but I have been in a situation where my advisor hasn't been encouraging of my abilities and had left me feeling beaten down and stupid. I think a lot of students feel this way, and it's because their supervisors might not understand the personality, situational factors that impact a student's confidence and self-esteem. Regardless, it's not right for anyone to make you feel like you can't do something you want.


I honestly think that 70% of success in grad school is based on hard work, motivation and desire of the student, 20% on the quality and  guidance of the supervisor, and 10% on pure natural ability. It sounds like that 70% - you got it! You've upped your game, worked harder, and willing to produce- and the biggest factor in there is you are willingly to recognize and admit to things that need changing and work on them. To me, it sounds like your advisor is creating an unhealthy environment for you. I know fields are different, but I have witnessed kind, encouraging, and present adivisors, and their students are happy and successful! I've also witnessed supervisors that take a distant and harsher approach to advising, and some students are happy with that. 


I think you're at a crossroads right now. If you want to continue on, talk to your current supervisor and tell them that you want to finish your degree and that this is something you enjoy and is important to you. Your advisor may say "okay, lets keep going" or say "No.". From there, I would talk to your graduate coordinator about other options. Could you change supervisors? Or even programs? What would be the disadvantages or issues with doing either of these.


I would also suggest you maybe have a meeting with the graduate coordinator and your supervisor together, to discuss why your supervisor thinks grad school isn't for you. I think it's important for all parties involve to know the expectations of the student, and to give an assessment of both the teaching and learning in the relationship.


I also know that all of this is compounded by your depression- which makes it more difficult. I don't know how comfortable you are, but perhaps you can talk to your advisor/grad coordinator about it. I know mental health is stigmatized, but I think you should be open and upfront about it, and that it may impact your life on occasion- it's nothing to be ashamed of. I do understand though that you might not feel comfortable talking about it with them. But there are options to take a leave of absence for health, and might be an option if you find that your depression is impacting your work.


I hope this works out for you. It sounds like you're very aware of your emotions and mood, and the factors which contribute to your depression. My main point is: don't let someone else tell you can or can't do something. If you want to do grad school, then you're more than able to!


PS: Also, there are ALWAYS options. Talk to people in your department and school about your options. Your graduate coordinator, career center, even counselling  these are all services that can help you understand the options that are available to you.

Edited by Dal PhDer
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also had crippling depression at several points during my graduate career.  Last summer, I got nothing related to my degree progression done.  I was TAing for an undergrad summer program, and when I wasn't doing that I was laying in bed or wandering aimlessly around the city.


I doubt that you are not qualified for anything if you leave - most jobs are not major-specific, and English majors find jobs every day - but it doesn't sound like you really want to leave.  It sounds like you have an advisor mismatch that is causing most of your problems.  The remedy to that is to find another advisor.  Do you know why your current advisor wants to drop you?  What, specifically, are his complaints?  I would ask him that - set up a meeting with him, bring a notebook, and ask him for *specific* feedback about your areas for improvement.  He owes you at least that.


The next step would be to review that list and answer whether it is 1) accurate, and 2) workable.  Can you fix some of the things your advisor mentioned as problems?  Or are there not really any problems other than the advisor just doesn't like your personal style?  Then talk to your Director of Graduate Studies.  They are supposed to help you navigate the program, which would include helping you find another advisor if your current one refuses to help or advise you.


I know these things are not easy to do when all you want to do is stare at the way from under your covers - been there, trust me.  But talk to your therapist about strategies for motivating yourself and getting yourself there.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



I also have a lot of experience with debilitating depression. I even took a medical leave of absence from my program for all of last year to deal with it. 


The two things I have to offer are:


1) go to your school's disability office. Mental illness qualifies under their definition of disability and they can help advocate for you with your department if you need to take time off, reduce your workload, change advisors, etc.


2) Seriously consider a leave of absence for a term or more. Get treatment. Get a drug regimen that works for you. Take some stress off your plate so you can manage your illness.


Hope it all works out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use