And then things came tumbling down

21 March 2017

I remember the sense of pride that came with grad school. The warm and electrifying confidence that came when theories began to make sense, or two theories clicked with each other, or with a method. I remember that kind of selfish, and not so humble feeling of “oh man, I am smart” when you’re able to express and expound upon those connections and revelations. I remember the sense of camaraderie, trying to slug through dense texts — only later to have to attempt to suss out something that resembled a well thought out paper on said dense texts. Or at least, I think I remember those feelings…

For a little over a month now, everything’s been a little numb. I try not to feel much of anything any more. Maybe some boredom here and there. It’s a self-preservation thing. Often, I don’t even realize I’ve gone into this mode.

Though this part of it started mid-February, it seems the pieces really go back further.

If we look way back, maybe this all started with “the incident.” When I was harassed, followed, closed in my own office, and then followed more, all by one of my colleagues in the graduate program. We were only a couple weeks into our first semester. The whole thing triggered something deep in me, and it took months, with help of a therapist, friends, and a trusted mentor, before I felt safe on campus again. It was definitely a set back, but one I felt I overcame.

But really, I think this started a couple months after that. As much as this is a story about my mental health, it’s also a story about chronic illness. I don’t exactly remember when it happened, maybe November, but my endometriosis became bothersome. Bothersome… I missed classes. I missed work. But I guess it didn’t feel too out of the ordinary. This is just life with endometriosis.* However, my bothersome condition was not convenient for the job I was working at the library. In December, after missing more shifts, I lost my job. It sucked, but I thought maybe I should just focus on school and I’d figure the work thing out later. Maybe this summer when I would be out of money again. I finished the term, an outside of needing an extension on a couple papers for my bio anth course, things went really well. Hell, I gave an amazing presentation on agency theory and postmolds and felt on top of the world.

Yet, as the second term started, my health began to be bothersome again. Whenever I’m due for my next Depo shot, the medication I’m on to control my endometriosis symptoms, I generally feel like crap for the week before the new shot. However, this time it started a little earlier. And I ended up being out the entire week I was waiting for my next injection. When I tried to come back, nothing had improved. I finally made it on campus one Tuesday, but only for about an hour before I was sobbing in pain at my desk. I eventually gathered myself up enough to go tell my professors I wouldn’t be in class today. As I was crying in the office door way, one of my professors quickly stated that we should talk soon, and that I should really, really consider a medical withdrawal from the semester, as she didn’t believe I could pass this semester.

Here’s the thing with depression and pain: when you’re dealing with one, the other is significantly more bothersome. That word again. Bothersome. So as she’s explaining this to me, I panic and make myself freeze so I don’t have to process what she’s saying. As soon as I am out of sight of any other people, I lose it. I remember driving home from campus, more upset about the possibility of having to quit the semester than from the pain I was experiencing physically. My professor wanted me to take time to seriously think it over. When I got home, I talked to my dad and stepmom. I was too afraid to talk to my mom. I talked to a few of my gaming friends. If my professor had already decided that she didn’t think I could pass my classes at this point, how could I? Before the end of the day, I’d made an appointment with the appropriate office on campus to fill out the paperwork.

And that was it. Six weeks into the semester and it was all over. This same week, though, my stepmom’s father passed away. I also hit a pothole pretty damn hard, and was worried I messed up something on my axel or alignment. It was after my brother and I came home from the funeral we discovered something had broke in the power steering fluid line. If you’ve never driven a car without power steering, I highly do not recommend it. Not unless you have Hulk strength and no chronic pain.

So in the scope of a week, I lost my school and my car. All of this after loosing my job — just another job I couldn’t hold. And long before that, my self confidence and the physical desire to be in a relationship. All I could see before me was wreckage of my life, all caused by my body — all of it just out of my control.

When I finally talked to my mom a week later, I was sort of surprised how supportive she was. For a long time, I felt like she just didn’t understand this condition I was attempting to live with. For a long time, I’ve felt like such a failure. Since my initial hospitalization, I haven’t really held a job. I had one for a while, but I’m pretty sure the real reason I was let go was due to the fact that I didn’t want to switch to a cheaper insurance plan. In that job, I was let go a month after my surgery, for “budgetary” reasons. Through all this failure as an adult, I’ve continually heard my mom’s sighs, her constant worry about my lack in ability to care for myself financially. I didn’t want to tell her about yet another failure. However, not being in grad school is a big thing, and I knew she’d find out eventually. I mean, she lives 15-20 minutes away and just one simple “how was class” or “what did you do today” would reveal it all. But as we sat at the kitchen table, not really looking at each other, she was calm. As I made disparaging jokes about myself and how can’t do anything right, she just corrected me that this is all just something in my body that I have no control over. And that maybe now is the time to get it taken care of.

That’s sort of the plan now. To take care of everything. I’ve seen two specialists now. Well, had introductory meetings with them. Those doctors’ appointments where the only thing that really happens is you plan more doctor’s appointments. You spend more time waiting than you do with the doctor themselves. So I’m just in this weird in-between place. I have no school, no job, no car, and no definite plans for treatment yet.

Even after the health stuff gets taken care of — whatever that ends up meaning — I’m still not sure where I go from here. Withdrawing 6 weeks into the semester meant messing up my financial aid. I now owe a little over $1300 to pay back the loans from this semester. Unlike other school loans where you get 6 months after you finish to pay them back, this one is due immediately. Between my health and my car, I still can’t work. So, I’m not sure how any of that is going to resolve itself. I just know that if it doesn’t, I can’t register for Fall classes. So while I might finally get some relief regarding my health once we finalize some aggressive treatment plans, I may have just given up any ability to finish my Masters. All of this because I just didn’t have the energy to prove that professor wrong, that I could still bounce back this semester and pass.

There’s too much to feel, and quiet honestly, when I make myself look at it all, I just don’t know how to cope. So I let myself become numb. I know wherever I land, I’ll figure things out, but I just can’t let myself think of that yet. Can’t let myself acknowledge that any part of what I was working so hard towards might be over. The only thing I can cling to now, is that I finally have insurance and can finally see doctors. It’s one of the only good things I’ve got right now.

* And that’s a sort of thing on it’s own… lack of some pathology reports, and now I have one doctor saying I don’t officially have a diagnosis… It’s just another thing I don’t want to think about too much right now.

  • Shiri Dori-Hacohen

    Hi, I just happened to stumble on your blog today (via a 2010 post on the “ghost of done”), and read this post. You seem like an awesome person going through some rough times so I decided to respond (pretty much on a whim, I rarely ever comment on people’s blogs.. or maybe this is just me procrastinating from wrapping up my thesis).
    As someone who has dealt with a lot of chronic pain and health issues, hospitalizations included, as well as an on-campus harassment issue during my grad program, I wanted to send you some “hang in there” wishes. I hear your pain and the suffering. You’re not alone and you’re not the only one who’s been through this kind of shit. Hoping you can find some support for both your physical & mental health issues. (And BTW, I hope you won’t consider this out of line, but I wouldn’t assume that what you call “the incident” is entirely disconnected from your physical challenges. These things have a pesky habit of finding a way to the surface one way or another. And no, that does NOT imply that it’s “all in your head”.) Wishing you all the best and hoping things get better soon. If you ever need to talk to someone who’s been there, just let me know ( shiri AT dori-hacohen.com ).

  • That sucks and I’m really sorry. Best wishes for improvements in your health and better things to come.

  • B.

    You shouldn’t feel bad or like you failed. A lot of people don’t even make it to Grad School! What you have accomplished while dealing with your health is pretty bad ass.

  • Pingback: Cooking my way through depression()

  • Kay

    I’m so sorry it’s rough sailing right now. And I know it pretty much means nothing, but you have no reason to feel guilty or like a failure. What’s happening in your body is 100% out of your control. I think you’ve done amazing things, and I’m sure you’ll continue you to, even if there are setbacks along the way. Wishing you the best, Erini!

  • I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this Erini… I hope you get to find some good or happiness soon. I am glad your mom is being comforting and understanding for you at this time.

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