Depression and Grad School Functioning

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
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’m not having a hard time with coursework, so much as I am with research, which is the main focus anyway. Lots of technical stuff, programming and mathematics. I find I can concentrate enough to read, but not to write, program, or think mathematically. My advisor knows about my situation and has been supportive.
I just feel like I’m not gonna have any chance of getting enough publications/research accomplishments to get a job in my field. Like, if my symptoms don’t improve, I don’t think I can stay in this career.


I understand But what I am saying is that this is all temporary. You're working on trauma while going through other trauma in an already stressful setting.
It's not unheard of to take a quarter off and get your head back where you need it.
Symptoms can improve. And if working on trauma is causing dissociation, you can ask to stop and shift to more of maintenance and help with coping with the symptoms till you can work through grad school. And yes, meds can help too. Talk to your psych about getting something and check in regularly about how you're doing so you aren't on them longer (or more) than necessary.


Welcome to the forum.
I am so sorry about what happened to you! I graduated with my PhD from a top university in the US in biomedical sciences two years ago. I have nothing to say but maybe offer you some hope?
half way through my PhD I developed PTSD and a dissociative disorder (among depression). I didn’t think I was gonna make it alive. I had the same issues as you. Not being able to concentrate. Especially reading, thinking, planning anything that required higher cognitive skills. But you know what I entered therapy and I finally stabilized and started dealing with stuff. Eventually I made it. I graduated and got a first author Nature paper! I am doing a postdoc now and still think maybe I should quit as my brain has just never gone back to pre trauma days. But what I have learned in the whole process is that things will be slower perhaps for you. Drop the expectations. That doesn’t mean that you cannot achieve greatly! You definitely can. Try developing ways to cope. Give yourself break. Pick up a sport. Go outdoors. Work half an hour at a time and then go for a walk. Things that can effortlessly to you before now take time. But be gentle with yourself. PhD is hard to begin with so PTSD will make things that much harder. In my case meds helped a lot to kind of jump start my focus and my system in the beginning. Things still get bad, but it helps while you work on things in therapy.
I am so sorry for your loss, but I have hope that you will achieve what you have your heart and eyes set on.


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There are so very many factors involved in whether or not finishing grad school is an option for you at this particular time. I was in the top 2% of students in the US through elementary and high school but I couldn't reason my way out of a paper bag when I was in my early-mid 20s. When I finally did go to college and graduate school in my 30s, I was a lot better but probably not better enough to pursue neuroscience (which was what I really wanted to do). I got through a master's degree program and I'm sure I could go further but not in a hard science because of concentration, because of retention, because of disjointed mathematical reasoning and because of anxiety.

I have seen people with PTSD do precisely what they set out to do. I was not able to but my case is on the complex end of complex PTSD.

It is possible that now is not the time for you to do this enormous thing. It is possible that with time, treatment and a very healthy lifestyle, next year will be better.

It is also possible that if you do everything right, right now, you'll get things together and get through your program without a break.

The only failing here is to fail to take care of yourself which it sounds like you really need to do right now.

Sorry for getting off track there.

Exercise is the thing that helps my concentration the most but only if I do it after studying. B-vitamins help, too. Classical music got me through graduate school, as did turning off my phone and locking my cat out of my office. I also took a lot of baths to calm myself down.

Best of luck to you. I am sorry you are going through this.
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I find I can concentrate enough to read, but not to write, program, or think mathematically.
Have you tried blowing off stream immediately beforehand, & taking breaks to blow off more steam as your concentration scatters?

It’s an ADHD trick in reverse... instead of raising adrenaline (& endorphins, etc) levels in order to concentrate via bursts of physical activity; it’s burning off the pre-existing chemical maelstrom in your blood. Putting it to good use, I find, also works to start redirecting those responses. Instead of gradually rising anxiety/brain fog/etc. as those systems start ticking over like dominos hitting me out of “nowhere”? I get the impulse to go for a run, a swim, some gymnastics, gun range, driving, dancing, sparring, sex, etc. aaaaaaaages before my anxiety starts running hot enough to be noticeable, blurring the world around me, and making linear thought impossible. Becuase my body is attempting to rise to life/death circumstances, and I’m trying to go about normal life. Those things don’t exist well in the same space. It strongly prefers to be a binary system, even if there’s a little wiggle room it’s not a comfortable position to be in, much less live in. Shrug. Okay then! Let’s go put that system to use, so we can tick back over outta the sympathetic into the parasympathetic. Burn baby burn.

It takes a little while, when I’m out of the practice/habit, to be able to rely on trusting my instincts... especially for when&what’s called for (fine v gross motor, sensory v motion, solitary v engaged, etc.)... rather than making conscious decisions to manage my stress levels both before I need to, and in response to rising stress.

It means breaking up my day a lot more than I usually do, but by bleeding stress early & often? I actually have a day.

Sure. Sometimes stress management looks all zen & quiet & peaceful. Other times? It looks like grinning after working the heavy bag, or going surfing, or taking a cold drink into a hot shower.
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I thought about a few other things.

I didn't have one while I was in school but I swear by the power of my weighted lap pad. It really helps lower my anxiety and thereby improves my concentration.

I am by no means perfect with it but I really try to follow Dr. Daniel Amen's dietary suggestions and I believe that they help quite a bit.

Lastly, whenever I have to do anything that requires a lot of concentration, I have to work to cut down my stress in other areas. For instance, I wouldn't go to the tree lighting, a protest in downtown Portland or anywhere else that might trigger my anxiety or actual traumatic responses the day or even a couple of days before I had to finish a big paper. The effects of high levels of anxiety spill over for me. My concentration suffers any time my world is stressful. I really had to prioritize my experiences while I was in school. When I did not, my ability to concentrate and understand suffered.


Like, if my symptoms don’t improve, I don’t think I can stay in this career.
PTSD isn’t a static disorder... it’s cyclic & reactive... which can make it obscenely difficult to get on top of things // massive steep learning curve; compared to disorders that this is simply the way you are, now, and let’s go about learning to deal with something that is always going to be there, in exactly this form. But it also means? That the overwhelming majority of people with PTSD (various numbers in the 90%s are what I’ve read) get their symptoms down to nill, or as close as makes no-never-mind. That’s craaaaazy amazing. (If irritating as f*ck when you’re on a deadline.) But even the 3%/4%/6% who are dealing with symptoms long term? This part that you’re in right now, at the very beginning, is the absolute hardest. Because it’s all new. Because you don’t have stress management down to an artform, much less exquisitely executed. Learning curve. It will get worse. And then it will get even worse. And then it will get easier, if not better. But it’s probably going to get better.

What made me respond to this section here, though, is that I used to be married to TECH, I have PTSD & ADHD, and a physiological psych background. You cannot swing a cat in the upper eschelons of tech without hitting at least half a dozen Aspies. Whose disorder is veeeeeery different from PTSD, but shares a metric-shit-ton of the same coping mechanisms. So if you’re going into the CompSci branch of neuroscience? That’s one very relaxing thing to know about your future employment. “Excuse me. I need to go avoid a meltdown.” Is something you hear -or even have someone perk up and shout, if you’re he one saying it- “Joining! Sort of. At a distance. Actually, the other side of the building. Don’t follow me. PERFECT timing, though. I like her.” even as the WIFE of a tech-guy. It’s just the field. Tech is full of quirky people, HFA being just one of the most common. And those companies, by and large, accomodate the f*ck outta them. The engineers get their oo7 shit, the Aspies get their sensory & soothing shit, everyone gets “I’m trying not to kill you” alone time, and many go to the full extent of personal-assisting your whole durn life. (Groceries bought on site, meals prepared, laundry done, cleaning services, psych services, the whole 9 yards. All from a buffet of selections to click from the privacy of your office, and have sent to you or your home. Becuase f*ck having to interact with the crazy crazy world, out there. It’s nuts. Make it go away...oh. You did. How kind.).

Going into the medical side of neuroscience the “answer” is a lot less PC, because your job doesn’t do it for you like tech does, your “wife” (or nurse, or PA, or interns) do. Which, yep. Requires that whole publish-or-die academic foundation, where you’re not only responsible for everything you need but everything everyone else needs >.< Low man on the totem pole. Much harder climb up, than the tech side, where they expect quirks from day 1, not after your comfortably 10 years in.

But, again, this is PTSD not HFA. The symptoms you have now? Are not what you’re going to be dealing with, forever. I just thought it might be nice to know that since you mentioned both neuroscience & coding, it sounds as if your speciality? Actually couldn’t be better designed for the challenges you’re facing. Because you’re going to be hip deep in people who always have those challenges... instead of intermittantly.