Friday, 7 July 2017

TAKING CARE

THE GRAD SCHOOL GUIDE

BY: AURORA CACIOPPO

As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, grad school has sometimes presented itself with a few extra challenges. My final column for Summer 2017’s Grad School Guide will be dedicated to the trials and tribulations of trying to balance academia with caring for my mental wellbeing.

For a long time, I did not understand my condition. I never imagined there were others that were struggling the way I was. After seeking help and working with a professional, I thought I had mostly gotten over this lonely/negative mentality. WRONG. I began grad school and the impostor syndrome was so real. I questioned if I was meant to be an academic almost daily. I found myself comparing my abilities to every person in the program and as a result, I convinced myself my thoughts were not valuable enough to share. Even making small talk with new classmates terrified me.

Me panicking about every. Single. Thing.

My anxiety was peaking; panic attacks crept up on me far too often and it resulted in me becoming very quiet and very afraid. If any of you have experienced these feelings, you’ll know it is beyond frustrating. I am a happy and goofy gal. I love to laugh, and I usually make friends by asking about a favourite treat, colour, and/or type of dog. I am passionate about so many things, especially art and museums. Not being able to act as my true self in a program I am so excited about was painful. My self-confidence, ability to learn, and overall happiness was on a steady decline.

It wasn’t until I finished my first semester of graduate school that I realized many of my classmates were juggling their education with their mental health just like me. Anxiety, for example, is ever-present in the classroom (!!!!!). This blew my mind. It was also comforting and calming in a very bizarre way. My out-of-whack illusions of classmates as competitors transformed into more positive thoughts of my peers as museum allies (even though I had no enemies to begin with).

I realized the following and remind myself of it as often as I need to (very often):
~ My classmates do not judge me. They are learning from me, just like I am learning from them ~

Once I became closer with my peers, we began to discuss the challenges and frustrations that come with maintaining a healthy mind, body, and lifestyle while dealing with the pressures of grad school. Encouragement and reassurance from my friends followed very quickly. Project and paper pitches became a regular occurrence on lunch dates and Facebook chats, which eased me into feeling more comfortable with discussing class materials, which led to feeling confident enough to participate in class!

Another helpful tip for anyone that wants to feel zen: the Inforum has a special corner with a meditation stool, yoga mats, an iPod with guided meditation sound clips, and more! It’s a great place to go for a work break if you’re studying at the iSchool. The University of Toronto also has mental health resources. You can go on their website to find someone to call, where you can go, or what you can do if you are looking for some guidance. 

Sync your breathing with this gif 

I am so grateful that the importance of mental healthcare is gaining recognition, especially in educational institutions. Providing options for those in need is critical. So, if you or someone you know is having a hard time, take action! Be open; offer yourself as a safe space, and do not be afraid to reach out to someone if you want or need help.

That's all she wrote, folks! Thanks for joining me this summer. I am signing off for now, but please send me a message if you're feeling unsure or alone. I believe in paying it forward! 

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