What It's Like Being A Depressed Grad Student

This is what it’s like being a grad student with depression. Some days are good. Some days, I roll out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off, drink my coffee and read the paper in a state of joy, and head off to work with a smile for the early-morning weather. Some days, I tease my friends and accept their teasing in kind, laughing when they needle me and giving it right back. Some days, I am productive, editing pages of my novel, writing multiple articles and doing my schoolwork. Some days, I stay up past 11 p.m. working or talking to my roommates or even just watching TV.

Some days are bad. Some days, I don’t crawl from my bed until 9 or 10 a.m. I drink my coffee and read the paper in a state of funk, and because I don’t make it to my sort-of-job, I don’t greet the early-morning weather with a smile. Some days, I half-heartedly rib my friends but when they answer in kind, I retreat to the bathroom to crouch in a corner and cry. Some days, I watch TV for hours on end, drowning myself in Stars Hollow life and wishing I could get some work done. Some days, I’m in bed by 9 p.m. because sleep-time is the only time I’m not sad.

There are reasons to smile and reasons to cry and always, always, always, the stress of depression compounded by the stress of school. There is little relief.

And some days are in-between. I don’t jump from bed but I do crawl out in time to brew my coffee and peruse the New York Times before heading out to work with a grunt at the sun. I laugh and tease my friends and accept their reciprocation until I suddenly can’t, and then I retreat to the bathroom to crouch in a corner and cry. I watch TV while writing stories and I go to bed at a decent time because I’m tired, not because I want to dream my way into happiness.

This is what it’s like to be a grad student with depression.

In October, I missed a whole week of school. I spent that time in the hospital, on a psych ward, trying to recover from my intense suicidal thoughts. I never really got caught up on all my work, but my professors forgave my missing work and gave me time to recover. I'm still working on that.

In January, I cut for the last time, after Winter Storm Jonas struck New York and the joy of running through the blizzard, on the deserted streets of the city, faded in favor of tearful solitude. But after indulging my guilty pleasure that day I swore off ever doing it again; I’m now two months strong on keeping that promise.

In February, I lost three weeks to crippling depression that kept me from doing my work — any of it. I stopped going to what was essentially a paid volunteer position, opting instead to sleep in and then spend the next few hours beating myself up. Meanwhile, I probably set a procrastination record by pushing the interviews for my assigned article back week by week, until the deadline appeared and I had to scramble to finish. I missed classes and took naps on the couch.

In March, I spent Easter weekend cooped up in my apartment, trying to stave off my depression by editing a novel for hours. I had interviews and articles to write for class, but I didn’t. I stared at the ceiling and wondered why I couldn’t just be happy.

In April, I took a week off from work, school, life, lying on the couch or curled in the fetal position in bed, crying. I felt like my insides were breaking, like I’d been pushed off a cliff and was free-falling, waiting to be caught or smash against the ground. But neither end came. I just fell further and further, while deadlines approached and sources wondered what had happened to me.

This is what it’s like to be a grad student with depression.

Some days are up, and some days are down. People can forgive massive breakdowns that require a hospital, but not the daily dips into despair that sprinkle through life.

I’m tired, so tired, all the time. Because of the medication, because of the depression, because I’m a full-time student, part-time employee and full-time mentally ill, because of the exhaustion of analyzing every thought, of tearing myself to pieces with every breath, of second-guessing my future every chance I get.

I leave class early because I break down crying for no reason — crying spells are a symptom of depression, they say.

Reading about it hurts, writing about it hurts, but so does not talking about it, so does keeping it quiet and secret. I feel like I can’t win.

There are reasons to smile and reasons to cry and always, always, always, the stress of depression compounded by the stress of school. There is little relief.

But there are friends who wonder how I’m doing and offer to spend time with me when I’m sad, lifting my spirits; there are projects that call out to me to be done; there is church, where I serve and am served and come away smiling through the tears; there are TV shows and books (to read and to write) and movies to show me other sides of life, to show me what it’s like to feel joy and let me exercise my empathy; there are reasons to go on.

So I do. Day in and day out, I go on.

This is what it’s like to be a grad student with depression.