Mental health, grad school, and fibromyalgia

It is no secret that grad school takes a toll on grad students. Study after study show that students in graduate program have an increase in mental health issues, depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. A big culprit in all of these is how we, as students, are constantly pushed into having to do “more.” More research, more publishing, more service – and more writing. “You should be writing” is ubiquitous when it comes to academic memes.

Picture from Shit Academics Say

Having a chronic illness also comes with a toll on mental health. The biggest for me has been to remember what I was like before fibromyalgia showed up. I used to be able to go on runs, to have all-day reading marathons, to write out a seven-page reading response in a couple of hours before heading out to be social. No more. Everything has to be meticulously planned with rest days and contingency plans.

Therefore, this summer has been very rough on me. Having advanced to PhD candidacy (basically, all I have to do now is write my dissertation) I feel the need to work as hard as I can to collect more data. Unfortunately this has coincided with a worsening of my fibromyalgia condition. I have been in and out of flares of various intensities, my focus basically shot, managing to do the bare minimum for my work responsibilities but feeling like I am getting nowhere. This is also why I put this blog on the back burner. As much as I enjoy sharing my experiences, I have to prioritize my job, my research, and my social life.

Of course, once I write out all that I’ve managed to do this summer, I’m doing fine. Meeting with my PhD committee this week has also confirmed that I am doing fine. I am on the right track. However, my brain is still telling me I should be doing more. This constant tension between what I think I should be doing and the knowledge of my limitations is a huge downer. Focusing on the positives only works so far – at the end of the day I still have a lot of limitations to work around, and that is exhausting. But I keep on keeping on. This semester I have a plan to get more writing done, as well as a couple of conferences to network and share my research. I am cautiously optimistic that I can navigate the ups and downs of fibro and stick to my timeline of defending my dissertation in the Spring of 2021!

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