Yesterday I was out to a post-run brunch with the local running club and my little table realized that we were all grad students/post-docs/staff researchers in various stages of career transition. [Aside: I’m really going to miss this aspect of living in a university city when I inevitably end of relocating. It’s ridiculously easy to find fellow geeks 😉 ] The gal next to me sighed heavily, said “Ack, I only have 4 more months til I need to really worry about applications” and then got that panick-eyed look of someone who’s eggs Benedict has been joined by a flock of stomach-butterflies. I turned to her and jokingly commanded “Just keep breathing and eat your eggs before they get cold!” She laughed off the stress, complemented me on my attempt at “calming voice”, and we moved back to less anxiety-inducing brunch talk (more nerdy research details and the things that make our eyes light up, less talk of competition for research jobs and funding! yayyyyy).
My running buddy would probably be a bit disappointed if she knew her calm-voiced panic soother was currently rubbing nail marks out of her arms after attempting to hush the internal chorus of anxiety through a good strong arm-squeezing session. I’m not exactly the picture of calm at the moment, in spite of a seeming scarcity of outside stressors.
I have a very strong job prospect that seems to be falling into place, a much-anticipated escape from our current apartment to a more agreeable dwelling is in the works, and my MountainMan is happier than he’s been in ages.
And yet all I can think about is what if…[internal silent screaming].
Grad school started out just as seemingly golden. Sure, MM and I had just gotten married (big life stressor!) and I’d certainly be a little busy (hahahahaha), and the big city move wasn’t perfect (soooo not perfect, oops), but we were happy and we’d cope and the apartment wasn’t too bad. That optimistic view was swiftly replaced during my second semester – I’d nearly failed (i.e., gotten below a B) my first robotics course, had just squeaked through, and suddenly found myself wishing I *had* failed it just so that MM wouldn’t be stuck in a teensy apartment in a crowded city with me, his suddenly absentee wife. There were some pretty dark points over the next 2 years.
I loved the work of grad school (well, minus the hideous bouts of software wrangling and the last 2 hours of every 10-hour grading session, and the occasional soul-crushing email…) but I also sometimes had to study flashcards, write Matlab code, and grade with tears running down my face because the work wouldn’t just kindly wait around until I was more cheerful*. I got through it all with my reputation as a patient, efficient TA, dedicated student, and decent minion intact and, thanks to infinite patience from MM, kept my marriage in place, so I’m going to consider my grad experience a success. Woohoo!
Anyhow, things have been infinitely better lately and I did take a new sense of strength (and a better sense of when to seek help) from the whole unpleasant experience. But those memories of how everything went from rainbows-and-butterflies to “oh wait, these aren’t butterflies, they are giant mosquitoes of soul-crushing doom and despair” in seemingly the blink of an eye still haunt me, and I can’t quite reassure myself that things will be as rosy as everyone else seems to think they will…
However, I really need to take some steps to calm down before these gentle waves of anxiety coalesce into an anxiety tsunami. More running/biking/hiking, less sitting and thinking about every awful possibility! After all, there’s nothing I can do about the future but prepare as well as I reasonably can, keep breathing, and eat my awesome-new-opportunity-equivalent-of-delicious-eggs-Benedict while it’s still hot ;)**
Breathe, breathe, breathe…
*Life outside of work does happen, and there aren’t great systems in place for allowing people to deal with this fact. I’ve seen friends/acquaintances working while also caring for relatives, while on heavy duty pain meds/ or battling scarily high fevers, etc because they felt they had no choice. Things are also (probably more) crappy on the mental illness/wound side of things. A lot of times “merit” or “dedication to the job” actually means “this person got really freaking lucky on the health/support/etc front and things are actually more complicated.” I’ve often succeeded based on factors entirely out of my control.
**I’m trying to be cheerful here with the “everything turned out fine, la-dee-da”. It did for me, I got lucky and had support and didn’t have additional/pre-existing stuff to deal with on top of a crummy situation and some unfortunately coinciding stressful life changes…but I don’t want to be dismissive of the struggles that others are going through. It doesn’t have to be all fine and happy and presentable. Life is messy and people who judge others for admitting to being unhappy/struggling are kind of jerks