The thing about grad school

  • The thing about grad school is that you get stretched so thin that you can’t do your best at anything.
  • The thing about grad school is you are too tired too appreciate how amazing it is to be paid to learn.
  • The thing about grad school is that every day is a question of picking which people to let down today.
  • The thing about grad school is that you don’t have the power to arrange your schedule in the most effective way
  • The thing about grad school is that you can’t read google calendar on the weekly view because there are too many things each day.
  • The thing about grad school is you know you are not operating at your full potential when you make mistakes from being over burdened
  • The thing about grad school is that everyone wants the tasks they assign to you to be your number 1 priority, but it is impossible to have 5+ different number 1 priorities.
  • The thing about grad school is you are too busy to pause to think about aspects of your work you enjoy.
  • The thing about grad school is everyone says they will not give you a task until they think you are able to do it, but somehow you always end up working beyond your skill level.
  • The thing about grad school is you can still get student discounts while also being an instructor of students.
  • The thing about grad school is you care too much about all of the things you under-preform at.
  • The thing about grad school is watching what happens when a bunch of high achieving perfectionists get pushed to their limits
  • The thing about grad school is everyone tells you grades don’t matter but keeping the funding is dependent on your GPA.
  • The thing about grad school is you start to get academic spam mail for bogus conferences.
  • The thing about grad school is you become an author on a paper you don’t even like.
  • The thing about grad school is you identify useful skills you could have acquired in undergrad if only you had known. And now you have no time to learn them.
  • The thing about grad school is you don’t have time to employ the good study skills that helped get you into grad school.
  • The thing about grad school is to survive you have to be more accepting of your mistakes.
  • The thing about grad school is not being able to enjoy things that past-you would have been so excited to do.
  • The thing about grad school is that every day is a roller-coaster of inching towards productivity and failures.
  • The thing about grad school is wondering whether you are coping worse than others.
  • The thing about grad school is wanting to sleep for a year.
  • The thing about grad school is lack of privacy for emotional breakdowns in the lab.
  • The thing about grad school is it’s hard to find a tutor to help when the class content you don’t understand is so specialized.
  • The thing about grad school is you feel invested in helping your undergraduate students and sacrifice sleep to schedule more office hour meetings.
  • The thing about grad school is moving to a new place and only knowing people in your cohort.
  • The thing about grad school is doing the math estimates of when would be best to have a baby.
  • The thing about grad school is fear of letting down your psychotherapy clients
  • The thing about grad school is wanting to stay despite the problems.

Anything else?

“Have you ever been hospitalized over night for anything?”, the allergist asked. I paused and told him about my appendectomy. “What about for anything else?” he asked. And I responded “No.”

I hate lying. But I didn’t want to open that unrelated can of worms about my three past psychiatric hospitalizations. I am forthcoming about the big picture existence of my mood and anxiety symptoms and any medications I am on. Any doctor I see knows I have anxiety issues, but it’s hard to trust everyone with specifics. With the rise of electronic medical records I get anxious about disclosing more information to be documented in a record system I have less control over. The anxiety a little question like this causes is one of the many ripple effects of my Involuntary Leave Saga. I need to control access to my information in order to keep myself from being vulnerable to misuse by fumbling but maybe well-meaning health care providers.

I have had a rough few weeks. My therapist (still number #29 Mr. sarcastic anonymous commenter) has vanished for the past 3 weeks. He is sick. The absence was unplanned. I have no idea what is wrong or even for certain if he will return next week. I can generate possible worst case situations of what happened faster than I can type them. I was in a downward mood slope before he got sick and have continued to be below my baseline. I am worried about him and feel simultaneously guilty for the truck-load of problems I have been collecting to dump onto him. How can I go in and unleash all that when his past 3 weeks have clearly been much worse?

And this is why I am still terrified every day: More on universities and suicide attempts

I found a post on the Student Doctor forum of a Clinical Psychology graduate student who faced disciplinary action due to a suicide attempt.

http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/suicide-attempt-as-code-of-conduct-violation.1079780/

This is particularly scary to me because one way I try to help myself stress less about the idea of being outed and facing discrimination from my school is that I like to imagine that as a psychology graduate student I should now be in a position to better advocate for myself because I know more about the system. But the reality is I have zero guarantees that I would be able to protect myself against a bureaucratic system with an agenda. OP in the linked post brings up some good questions in his/her post regarding uncertainty of how this event impacts future applications to things like internship and post-doc.

I was “lucky”(if it’s possible to be lucky in how you are discriminated against) in that my school did not treat my leave as a disciplinary issue, but rather an involuntary medical withdrawal. My transcript has a missing semester. There is zero sign that i was withdrawn from classes that semester after the drop date. One of my graduate applications asked about gap in education and I agonized over what I was required to disclose. I settled on a honest minimalist matter of fact single sentence response that did not disclose my mental health history but did disclose that the gap was medical. I worried about whether someone would figure out what the gap meant and lower their opinion of me. It was scary to worry that one sentence I had to report over an act of discrimination from several years prior might impact my career.

The after effects of discriminatory actions schools take against student are tough to navigate. I have talked in this blog a lot about the emotional after effects my forced medical withdrawal had on me, but OP in the linked post also raises a lot of good questions about concrete issues to navigate about possibly being forced to disclose about the event on future applications.

Every time I see that this type of thing has happened to someone else I feel a terrible mush of anxiety and anger and sadness. I feel so powerless when I see it continue after this much time has passed. People like me have filed OCR complaints and won, but for every school that changes it’s policy in a positive way another 10 seems to change the policy in ways that punish treatment seeking.

 

Other posts on this topic from my blog can be found here:

http://psychologytales.com/out/

 

Search Terms Answered #6

This post is part of a series where I respond to questions that have brought people from google to this blog which the blog does not answer well at present.

 

Today someone found the blog by searching:

“therapist tells me her problems. is this part of the therapy?”

Dear Google Searcher,

This not not something that should be a part of a good therapy relationship. Therapists are allowed to self disclose at times but it is something that much be done very carefully and rarely and only in ways that prioritize patient interests. If it feels like your therapists is using you for support in some way this is a giant red flag. Part of what makes therapy unique from a friendship is that the focus of attention should be on the patient rather than the bi-directional type of focus seen in friendships. If something does not feel right in your therapy remember that you can always get a consult with another clinician for a new perspective.

It still happens: Involuntary Medical Leaves in Higher Education

Here is a post by a young woman who was put on an involuntary leave similar to what I went through about 7 years ago.

She does a much more eloquent job of explaining it than me. She also tells the story without a pseudonym and shares it with her school community. I really hope the best for her and that she is able to enact change.

A lot of why the involuntary leave has continued to haunt me so much is due to the terror it induced in me about the risk of it happening again. It created this giant ripple effect in my life with the measures I take to avoid letting it happen.

I hope that maybe for her, being open about the experience rather than hiding will minimize the long term damage. For me, I just can’t take the risk. Maybe 40 years from now if I get tenure somewhere and have loads of funding I’ll do a Marsha Linehan or Scott Barry Kaufman style reveal, but right now I will stay in hiding.

Maybe when I returned to the school that kicked me out I should have shared it with everyone. Perhaps I would have been better off if I had told everyone exactly what happened. Maybe also moved off campus to remove the school’s power over my living arrangements. Maybe I would be long over it if I have done that. I don’t know. All I know is that in this present moment it feels unsafe to share.

It’s a terrible situation that hiding is what makes it worse but not hiding could mean losing my ability to pursue my goals. I have no doubt that if I were not exerting so much effort to hide parts of myself my symptoms would be considerably lower. This is what mental health stigma does. It takes a bad situation and makes it worse. The vast majority of my therapy in some way or another always gets back to my belief (which was elevated to core belief status from the event) that if people know me fully I will lose things I care about.

I wish so strongly that someone somewhere would be able to create greater awareness for students of their rights in these situations. It’s clear that schools will continue to do this even though the government rules against the schools when complaints are filed through appropriate channels.

As much as I know that ruminating over the past is not constructive I wish I had known what my rights and options were at the time. I knew it felt unjust, but I didn’t know the right details. I didn’t know that I should have been provided information about appeal procedures. I didn’t know the specific laws that were being violated and which resources could help me. I think if at the time had known more about my rights that a quick call from a lawyer could have stopped the entire process.

I feel like the reason this persists is that at the time it occurs people are so vulnerable. I wasn’t clearheaded enough to do research on what to do. The hospital only even allowed me internet access for brief period each day. I didn’t have access to resources to look up my rights even if I had been capable of doing that research. My parents were well intentioned advocates who did their best to fight to keep me in the school, but their approach involved meeting with people who ignored their input. For all of my difficulties in my relationship with my mom, one of her highest priorities is to protect her kids. Her perseveration on topics, which often infuriates me, has at many times protected me when it has come to fighting battles to help me (For example I would probably never have gotten access to special education in 1st grade to help with my reading delay without her advocating). But persistance is useless when none of us knew what to do.

When it happened to me I was so taken my surprise. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t even know it was something possible. It’s hard to fight a system while simultaneously fumbling to learn the rules. The decision to kick me out happened so fast. I think it was over less than 3 days.

One fear of mine is that I might someday get caught is a situation that could force me to do this same thing to someone else. At some point I will see patients of my own. I will be starting off with undergraduate students at my school. I have no idea of whether this is something done here, but given the high prevalence of schools making these decisions it is probable my school might do this same thing. As a PhD student I would be powerless to stop it. I’d be a cog in the system. More and more I start worrying not just about having this happen to me but what if I am forced to do this to someone else? I have more power to enact change from within a system but right now I don’t have any of the power yet.

It is terrible that this problem has not improved over the past 7 years and its occurrence is still not more common knowledge. People can’t have outrage about situations no one knows about. As long as higher education institutions continue to enact this process in relative obscurity, fostered by the shame victims of the procedure feel, I worry that this will continue to harm more and more people.

Please share this young woman’s post on whatever social media you use. She has done an excellent job of explaining the emotional consequences of these discriminatory procedures and I hope that increasing awareness can long term provide more tools to fight back.

My sense of humor: Self injury lego robot

I was going through old photos and found some pictures from around 7 years ago. Apparently back in 2006, I decided to make a self-injurying lego robot. I took pictures of it but am not sure I ever shared them with anyone.

I put the photos under the cut. I don’t believe in trigger warnings, and I think this is more comical/absurd than anything else, but I can respect that some might disagree with me.

Continue reading

The problem when therapists bring their emotions into therapy: Firing #28

I wrote in my last post about my plan for therapist #28. That I planed to ask her to do med management and that I would see someone else for therapy. Although this was my plan I went into my session with the willingness to be open to making therapy with her work if at all possible. So I didn’t mention this plan right away in my session this week.

I’ve been so desperate to avoid restarting the therapist firing cycle I went through as an undergraduate where I went through 16 therapists in 4 years. I moved here and started seeing #28. I was incredibly determined to make this work. If anyone had asked me what my main goal in therapy was I would have said that my goal was to not fire my therapist. Unfortunately I think this determination allowed me to stick around in therapy that was detrimental to my well being and stability.

My therapist firing cycle was part of a reaction to bad therapy. Bad therapy scares me so much that I have been inclined to leave at early signs of problems. With #28 I was so focused on avoiding the awful cycle of firing therapists (fire therapist -> relief -> panic -> new therapist) that I partially lost sight of the adaptive parts of this process. I didn’t see the red flags for what they were.

With #28 the problem was in 2 phases. The first phase was before school started. I wasn’t feeling any desire to talk to her about things. I didn’t feel any attachment. I was feeling like we had no therapeutic alliance. It wasn’t bad other than that it was not good. Then with school starting my stress increased and I brought more emotionally charged issues into therapy. The problem of a lack of a therapeutic relationship became dramatically highlighted. #28 made interpretation comments, but outside the context of a safe supportive relationship these comments just felt critical and unempathetic which furthered the problem of lack of alliance.

But I was determined to make this work. I tried to explain what I explained above. I tried to point out examples of these problems as they happened. The problem is that #28 ended up taking my comments personally. It wasn’t obvious right away that this was what was happening.

I was making comments about behaviors that were making me perceive her actions as unempathetic and she interpreted that as a judgement against her. Read that sentence again. Doesn’t that feel backwards?

The problem is when a therapist brings their emotions into therapy it fall outside of the pattern therapy is expected to follow. She was trying to interpret my comments about her as part of my pathology. I know myself well enough to know that it didn’t fully ring true. But at the same time I could see that she was activating things I am touchy about and see some truth in it.

A big source of my conflict with my mom is that she takes my problems and makes them into her own problem to the point where I have to put my emotions aside and deal with hers. So when #28 was telling me that ‘most of her other patients think she is very empathetic’ and I tried to explain (without success) that a comment like that is exactly what I am upset about, it makes things very messy. It plants this doubt that maybe I am blowing things out of proportion. Maybe I am imagining slights that are not there. Especially when #28 is trying to make interpretations about my interpretations about her.

I have been in enough therapy to know it’s okay to sometime leave feeling a little more upset. But that also that should not be the norm and therapy should not be making me feel worse about myself as a person. At the same time I was feeling desperate to work things out. I was feeling worse because I desperately wanted to find a way to explain what was wrong and therefore fix the problem to avoid my therapist firing cycle. The problem is that the more I desperately tried to explain, the more #28 took things I said personally.

I went into my last session with her open to trying to resolve it (but with an alternative plan in mind). #28 gave me the push I needed to be clear that the problem was not all in my head. Before telling her about any plans to leave, she in a very angry tone and raise voice started scolding me for being too negative and telling me how she felt like I was never going to forgive her for one mistake. I responded that it wasn’t about one mistake it was about how she kept responding to my attempts to discuss the mistake. I’ve never had a therapist be so openly hostile towards me before. It was scary. But it  made me realize that I wasn’t wrong for seeing hostility in the sarcastic comments she had been making in other sessions. #28 even admitted that she was experiencing countertransference. I had been seeing anger leaking out in little ways and when I tried to talk about those angry responses as being unempathetic she had been trying to place the problem onto me.

What makes a therapist bringing their emotions into therapy so damaging is that there are no witnesses. There’s no one I can ask to say, am I overreacting? That should be the therapist’s role, but when the therapist steps far enough out of the role of neutrality I can’t get a fair judgment on my emotional state. I spent the past month on edge, feeling crazier than normal. I’ve been feeling like I went back to emotionally being age 18, like years of progress were erased. And then her reaction became obvious enough that there was no way I could doubt it was happening. Before that though I had to wonder if it was me. Am I too critical? Am I not giving her a chance? Am I overreacting?

#28 refused to meet with me only for medication. She said she does not see people for med management only and that if I even just needed a stop-gap until I find someone else it would need to be on a different day of the week (A day which I spend in class and can not go to therapy). I realize now that this is for the best. But right after the session I spent an hour sobbing in a parking lot down the street from her office as I panicked about the possibility of running out of my ADHD medication.

I had to pull myself together enough for a class at school. I hid myself in a corner before hand and booked an appointment online with the therapist who was the top of my list I selected last weekend. I was able to get an appointment for the following morning.

This post is too long so I won’t go into detail about that but I will say that meeting with this new therapist (#29) made it clear to me how bad things had been with #28.

#29 did all the things he’s supposed to with forming a therapeutic alliance. Even though I know the basic strategies he was using to convey warmth, understanding and empathy they still work and they work really well.

I’m upset with myself that I left myself stay with someone like #28 when it was having such a negative impact on my well being. After all the therapy I’ve been through, it is terrifying to realize I can still miss warning signs like I did. When I talked with #29 I got to talk about some major stressors I have been experiencing in the past month. None of these things had been things I had been able to talk to #28 about because all of our sessions were spent with me trying to explain why I didn’t feel safe talking to her and her doing more things to make me feel less safe talking. With #29 I was alternating between sobbing about things I am upset about and gleeful relief over finally being able to talk about them.

I still need to solve my issue of getting a prescriber because #29 is a PsyD and therefore can not give me medications, but at least I have someone on my side now to help me navigate the situation. I’m very glad I was able to get that appointment with #29 for the day after firing #28 because the anxiety of not knowing if the situation will work out well is unbearable. I’m already feeling myself coming out of the emotional hole I’d been falling into because now I have a little bit of hope.