By: Daenique Jengelley, PhD Candidate IUSM
I assume we all start graduate school with excitement, hope, and maybe a little bit of nerves. When I started graduate school five-years-ago, I was filled with nerves, anxiety, and feelings of imposter syndrome more than I was excited to begin this journey. In fact, when I struggled with a few hurdles in my first year, I felt it was confirmation that I did not belong here. Although my support system believed in me, I did not believe in myself. Flash forward to today, I have a defense date set, I have several awards and accolades, I am a student leader, a collaborator on a seminar series focused on promoting diversity in science, among several other hats I wear on campus. However, the weight of the worry I had at the start of my program is still within me.
I never acknowledged that weight. I only pushed it aside. I pushed it aside with joy and relief when things began to work out academically. But then I dealt with family death, loss of friendships and relationships, experiments that failed, grasping global and societal issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. And that weight became heavier and heavier. I felt like I lost track of a lot of things and became suspended in time. I recall just feeling like I was being pulled along by a tethered string. I thought because I am tenacious, independent, and strong, that I just needed to make it through the difficult days. While those characteristics are true, I would have benefitted from talk therapy, mindfulness, taking a day off, or practicing self-care.
For several years, I was just functioning. On the outside I appeared fine, but I was walking around holding on to a very sad part of me that I never acknowledged. I am sure when people saw my name on a few awards and emails one year, they must have thought ‘wow, look at her, she’s doing great!’ but I was not. It was not until last year that I hit a wall. I began to shut down both physically and mentally. It was only a few months later that I hit another wall when I decided I would get help and I began my journey with counseling and being intentional of taking care of my mental health.
I want to encourage you that taking care of your mental health does not have to start when you have hit a wall. It can begin as a simple practice of choosing to take care of yourself each day before you do anything else. Your practice can be praying, doing yoga for 10 minutes, savoring your cup of coffee or tea in the morning, going for a quick mile run or journaling. I like to say that I have built my self-care tool kit. My kit contains a combination of mindful practices—like yoga, journaling, mediation, prayer, running, or resting; social activities— such as grabbing coffee with a friend, going on a hike, or going to brunch or church; counseling—either group or individual. Sometimes self-care is not the prettiest—I must do the hard work identifying the root cause, riding the wave of my emotions, taking risks in communicating my thoughts with others, leaning into my support groups, and setting boundaries. I do not practice all of these at once. Also, I do not use them as a fix all or a cure. I ask myself what I need in this moment, and I acknowledge that I am deserving of taking care of my needs.
In graduate school, we wear many hats—we are students, employees, TA’s, grad assistants, or student leaders. Some students have a family to take care of, or are returning to school from working, or never left school, or students have disabilities that affect their daily lives. We experience a lot of stress that comes from managing our thesis projects, deadlines, labs, mentoring, difficult working environments, and we experience burnout. Although there are rewarding moments in graduate school, they do not last long, and we often are back on the grind.
I am sharing my story because:
- Unfortunately, 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness, yet discussing mental health is still a taboo topic in our society.
- I did not grow up in a community that acknowledged struggles with mental health. We trusted God or we just never talked about it. So, when I struggled, I thought I needed to get my faith walk in order. While I still hold on to my faith, I am even more adamant about going to counseling. We can trust in God, but we can also have a counselor and therapist.
- In the past, I had a few instances when I reached out to my support network and I did not receive the compassion I hoped for, so that made me hold in my issues even more.
- I wish I could offer 1st year me more self-compassion. I would go back and hug my old self and tell myself to stop doubting and remind myself that I was capable.
- I think a key component to making it through graduate school and life in general is taking care of your mental health.
I hope sharing my story is not discouraging to you, but serves as a humble reminder that we all experience difficulties. We do not have to sacrifice our mental health and wellness while getting a degree or even endure the hard seasons alone. We are remarkable, intelligent, and imperfect human beings that have capacities and limits, so, I hope today you take time to offer yourself loving-kindness and compassion and start by asking yourself “what do I need”.
April 20th 4-5pm UPnGO & CAPS Active Listening Workshop (Virtual)
Nike Run Club
Contact IUPUI CAPS
Walker Plaza, Room 220
719 Indiana Ave
For a Helpline:
If you need help in a crisis, call 911.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Text NAMI to 741-741
The National Grad Crisis Line 1.877.GRAD.HLP (1.877.472.3457)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−7233
Or dial “211” for more resources.