PhDepression

So I went into a PhD program this semester, and through a combination of luck and skill and the kindness of strangers was awarded a fellowship, funded by the NIH, to train as a life course scientist. Basically, they are paying me to be smart and work hard and it’s awesome.

It’s also quite a challenge. I’m taking roughly double the load most graduate schools consider full-time at this level, and driving 85 miles there and back for classes. Another instance of luck and the kindness of strangers has recently found me a place to stay near campus, so that I can drive up the night before and sometimes stay a couple days in a row and knock 3 hours of travel off my week. I feel exceptionally blessed.

I also feel about as stressed as I ever have been in my life, and that says a lot. Right after beginning the program, I started feeling a lot more negative, a lot more listless. Getting anything done (and I am the Queen of Getting Shit Done) became a challenge. People who love me started asking if I was depressed.

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Depression is portrayed in the media as people who sit around, too worn out to get off the couch, with ratty hair and dirty, sad faces. They portray depression as listless weeping or angst or suicide attempts, but it isn’t always those things. Sometimes, it’s a subtle bastard that creeps up on you and sabotages your goals, your self-image, and your every waking thought. Sometimes it’s just a little distortion of the way you see the world, hard to notice.

I didn’t feel depressed, when my husband asked me if I was, but many of the symptoms were there. The negativity, the lack of energy, the absent sex drive, the avoidance of the things I once loved doing… I told myself it was just because I was busy and stressed, but the truth of the matter is, I’ve been busy and stressed through the best times of my life. I thrive on busy and stressed. And this time, I wasn’t thriving.

I was depressed, and not because of the PhD program. I was also cold all the time, and my skin was papery dry. Even my nails turned brittle, and that’s when I realized what the problem was. I went to my doctor and got my thyroid checked. Lo and behold, it was low. I tested positive for the antibodies that signal Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland in the same way that the pancreas is destroyed in juvenile diabetes. Now I’m on the replacement therapy and am starting to find my energy and my balance again (well, I was before I came down with the flu last weekend anyway).

Since then, I’ve been asked to prepare two papers for publication in scientific journals, I’ve found some really interesting things from data collected in a research study I’m helping with related to sleep quality in pregnant women and the risk for giving birth too early, and I’ve spent a lot of time reconnecting with my son, who just turned 15 last week. All in all, not a bad haul.

Oh, and I finished the revision cycle on Hunters. It now stands at 120,000 words and I love it. It’s as close as I can get it to perfect, and I want it out the door. Meanwhile, I’ve picked up Red Wolf Mountain again, found a plot, and am working on turning it into a story I can be proud of.

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So what have you guys been up to?

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2 Responses to PhDepression

  1. Wow! Congratulations on your PhD program, and on getting to the source of your depression. And on reconnecting with your son, plus having time to work on Hunters. You’ve been busy!!

  2. Arizela says:

    Thanks, Deb. I have been pretty productive these past few months, despite all the challenges. I’m hoping to get Hunters out the door and making the agent rounds before the year’s out. We’ll see if I can sell it. Even if I don’t, it’s been a great learning experience for me. I feel like I’ve written twelve books in the span of time I’ve been working on that one, each different from the others in some way, and I can see how much I’ve grown when I tackle a new project.

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