The anxiety-ridden grad school experience

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My excitement for resuming my role as student was so strong, that I felt sure my good study habits from my undergrad years would automatically bounce back, even if there had been a two year gap. Boy was I wrong.

There was so much reading.

It was a full course load, five classes for the semester, I believe. And periodically we would be expected to travel about two hours to the town where we’d be doing a summer internship. We visited this newspaper to get acquainted with the staff and learn more about the business side of operations.

The reading is what did me in. And on top of it, I struggled right away with motivating myself to dive in. The amount of reading and comprehension that was expected seemed so high that I often had no idea where to start. I had trouble figuring out how to make a dent. In situations like this, it’s easy to get paralyzed with anxiety because of the load that you end up doing nothing at all. That’s where I found myself.

Then there was added anxiety of reading the selection for class and having to go online for some group discussions. We were expected to answer general questions, usually involving some analysis or application from the reading. Once we submitted our piece, then we were able to view what others wrote, and we had to comment in some way to their answers. I’m sure others were apprehensive of this task as well, but I really felt like an idiot. There was a constant voice in my head telling me I had gotten things wrong, I misunderstood the piece, and everyone knew what a fraud I was.

A fraud sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Well, once I got to meet the other people in the fellowship program, I easily felt like I didn’t belong. For whatever reason, being accepted into the program wasn’t enough proof that I belonged, despite complete awareness that not everyone who applied made it in.

No, I wasn’t the only quiet one in the group, but I just felt like they deserved to be there more than I did. They seemed to have more experience and familiarity with journalism. They seemed to be more at ease with things. It’s just more proof of how little I thought of myself and valued my abilities. How uncomfortable I was in my own skin.

Benefits of counseling

Transitioning into this program was riddled with anxiety. I decided to seek out counseling and assistance. I went to the health center for medication, convinced this was more evidence that my depression had returned, just as strong. Counseling opportunities meant meeting with a grad student who was working toward certification. I was nervous about that at first, but it turned out just fine.

This counseling experience was actually the first time I was opening up and sharing with a male counselor. Normally that would make me more uncomfortable, but after a few sessions it was ok.

These sessions really opened me up to recognizing more clearly how challenging the verbal communication side of things were for me. It wasn’t identified as anything specific, but we discussed my moments of frustration of trying to follow what is being said and struggling to formulate a proper response within the given timeframe before the other person just continues rattling off.

He emphasized the general idea of how extroverts engage in conversation and how they generally don’t like silence, so they rush into more talking to avoid the dead spots. They see the silence as uncomfortable and awkward rather than a refreshing opportunity to put thoughts together. And there were further reminders of how some people prefer to think and comprehend something outloud versus my approach of internally fine-tuning the delivery before sharing anything at all.

I think we focused on increasing my awareness of these situations and spotting the patterns of how people pause for five seconds before continuing their story. If you can recognize how people slow down, then you have a chance of more naturally jumping in. Perhaps we did some work on testing a few techniques for inserting myself in the conversation without needing to have everything figured out, but I really think that concept came after grad school.

This marked the start of addressing these social issues, at least. Even if I was still unaware of the deeper, underlying problems.

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