Depression and Grad School Functioning

Hi everyone,

I'm new to this forum. This is my first time posting. At the beginning of 2019, I experienced a major Big T trauma. At the time, I was interviewing for graduate programs in neuroscience. In addition, I was also attending and running conferences in February, March, and April of that year, as well as planning a wedding for one of my siblings. As a consequence, I never took the time to slow down and rest after the trauma happened. I was constantly busy and stressed all the time.

Long story short, I got into graduate school (Yay!) and I moved across the country in August 2019 to attend graduate school in neuroscience. When I first started, I was really motivated and excited. But I was still having flashbacks frequently, and I began having depressive episodes. These episodes would usually last 3-4 days at a time and then clear up. Then, around October 2020, I got severe bronchitis. I have asthma, so it was exacerbated by that. I had to go to the ER, and I very nearly died while there. Fortunately, I recovered physically relatively quickly. But after that happened, I burned out. Hard. I haven't been able to get ANY work done since October of last year, and I'm seriously falling behind in grad school. Now, I frequently have depressive episodes, and they last longer, sometimes weeks. I'm stressed out by not being able to get appropriate work done, but a huge part of me doesn't care at all. I'm really struggling, and I'm really scared I'm not gonna be able to get a PhD and fulfill my career goals. I feel like I have flashbacks, psychosomatic tension/distress, and crying all the time.

Does anyone have any tips on how to get things done even when you can't concentrate? I struggle because the work is conceptually very challenging, and it feels like I have no capacity to concentrate at all. Also: I'm currently in therapy working on my trauma. I'm seriously starting to consider medication, but I can't seem to bring myself to try it. Like, I feel like I should be able to push through without it.
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
Hi @mystic_moonlight, welcome to the site. What was the trauma? I can't remember you saying. Maybe you don't want to say and that's ok. That's a terrible shame that this has happened and it's effect on you. I had a heart attack recently and nearly died so I understand how these things are. I also have asthma and nearly died as a child from chest infections. It's good that your in therapy. I take medication and it helps alot. I would seriously suggest talking to your docters about it. Maybe you would benefit from anti depressants. It would be tragic for you not to complete your studies and for this to effect your carear. All the best to you S3 😊.
 
Hi @mystic_moonlight, welcome to the site. What was the trauma? I can't remember you saying. Maybe you don't want to say and that's ok. That's a terrible shame that this has happened and it's effect on you. I had a heart attack recently and nearly died so I understand how these things are. I also have asthma and nearly died as a child from chest infections. It's good that your in therapy. I take medication and it helps alot. I would seriously suggest talking to your docters about it. Maybe you would benefit from anti depressants. It would be tragic for you not to complete your studies and for this to effect your carear. All the best to you S3 😊.
Hi, thanks for your response. I didn't post the original trauma only because it's a long ish story. But the short version is that my Dad died by suicide, and I witnessed it. He went missing, and I went to find him. I tracked his phone and I found him holding a gun to his head. I begged and cried for an hour, trying to save his life. But he still shot himself. It destroyed me.
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
My dad mentioned his thoughts about killing himself to me when I was a child. Very f*cked up. My dad was an abusive and violent alcoholic. He caused me and the rest of the family so much harm. We were all so traumatised by him.
 
How long have you been in therapy for?
Since it happened. 5 therapists at this point. I saw one I connected with right after it happened, who helped me get through the immediate crisis. I moved for grad school, and then I saw a second therapist there who was awful. I stopped seeing them in October 2019, once I got bronchitis. Then, I saw another one in January. Didn't fit with them. Started seeing my fourth therapist in February, but then the pandemic hit in March and I moved home to work remotely. Been working remotely and seeing a fifth therapist, who I like, but not as much as the first therapist I ever saw. I took Xanax for my grad school interviews (doctor prescribed a short term dose), and it worked phenomenally well. But I'm averse to medication. Lots of addiction issues in the family. And bad genetics as far as that's concerned. Lots of mental health issues in the family as well. I never had any mental health problems until this happened. I'm so so sorry to hear about your Father. My Dad talked about his thoughts of suicide for months before he committed. We tried to get him to go to the hospital but he always lied to the doctors and nurses and said he was fine up until the end.
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
Yeah. My dad also used to lie to the docters and make our he was alright when he was a complete nutcase. He should have been on medication and getting psychological help/counselling. Some people refuse to get help and there's nothing you can do.

I think anti depressants might be useful to you. I used to drink and smoke alot and medication has really helped me now that I'm on the right ones.
 
Yeah. My dad also used to lie to the docters and make our he was alright when he was a complete nutcase. He should have been on medication and getting psychological help/counselling. Some people refuse to get help and there's nothing you can do.

I think anti depressants might be useful to you.
Yeah, I'm starting to open up more to the idea. I'm resistant to it but it might be an act of compassion if it makes daily life a little easier. Like, I can still function- get out of bed, shower, dress, etcetera. But I can't get work done and all of those things. I just can't. I dunno if antidepressants will help that or not.
 

Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
It's difficult to focus and concentrate if your struggling mentally. Especially if there's a chemical imbalance in your brain. Anti depressants would help that. I was also very scared about taking medication like other people on here. Some people on here have said how they tried to push through it on their own for years but when they finally decided to take medication, they wished they had done it sooner because it was such a relief.
 

desiderata310

Moderator
Meds do help. They can also muddle things.
Setting very small bite sized goals helps.
I've been through grad school and out the other side and dealt with the same inability to concentrate.
You've thrown a shit ton of everything on top of a pandemic. Congratulations on being functional- let along dealing with challenging graduate work.
It might be worth talking to your advisor about getting extra time for disability (and Oh yeah talk to your therapist about disability for this purpose)
The disability thing? temporary. Just talk to them. It's worth it and might help you not only salvage the quarter but come out ahead in the end.
Everything is piling on bigger and higher. Talk to your therapist specifically about how best to cope with this.
For me it was all about carving out a specific time to work on nothing else and I did my best work after a hard work out because my head was clear or even first thing in the morning for the same reason.
Ask specifically for assistance first
 
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