My Darkest Thoughts: On Choice, Happiness, and Committment

    Posted on Monday, Dec 03, 2018
    Graduate students experience depression and anxiety at more than three times the population average, and the statistics are even grimmer for women and transgender students. In a recent survey, an estimated 58% of tech workers suffer from Imposter Syndrome.[3] And this is from tech workers in FANG, not to mention people who are only beginning their careers. Just in time for finals, here is a quick reminder that there are resources to find help if you feel overwhelmed: https://scs.tamu.edu/mentalhealthresources. There are even end of semester workshops for Fall 2018 finals geared toward stress management.

    Before you continue reading please note that there may be some language that may be offensive or distressing for people who have struggled with mental health issues. Also major disclaimer, I know nothing about mental health I'm just sharing my experiences, spreading positivity the best I can, and linking to articles that I've read.

    "Using clinically validated surveys, we find that 18% of graduate students experience moderate or severe symptoms of depression and anxiety - more than three times the population average - and 11% report suicidal ideation in a two-week period." [1]
     

    My Personal Journey

    "That isn't a good medical school, they don't even have any suicides." That statement sums up how mental health is viewed in my family. I know, there's so much to unpack there I'm not even going to try. My reaction was disbelief followed by a scolding on how that statement fundamentally does not respect the value of human life.

    But on some level, every time I heard of one I had a pang of sympathy. While I was trapped on the path to healthcare, I was also keenly aware of how it felt for academics to consume your entire sense of self worth. Doors irreversibly close for you if your GPA slips, and I was so deeply unhappy that I felt like I was drowning. I had symptoms of learned helplessness, but I didn't know what it was at the time. There were concepts that I fundamentally never understood in my core coursework of biology and did not recently understand until recently when I have had the privledge of being around healthcare professionals. Compounding the problem was my personality. I had a hard connecting with people, making friends, talking to my professors, and worst of all asking for help. I suffered from severe social anxiety, to the point where I once burst into tears at the thought of leaving the house by myself.

    So What Changed?

    I'm going to be honest, the single biggest thing that helped me was exercise. I was a very indoor person growing up, I spent all my time studying. At my worse I had obesity, associated with increased depression risk [4], and the symptoms of insulin resistance. Unfortunately I haven't had as much time for it now but I'm almost a different person than I was in undergrad because I changed career paths and found a subject that I love.

    I never thought I would be in graduate school. I had so much test anxiety, so many bad memories, and I was ready to get my bachelor's and be done with it. But when my career stalled I knew I had to make a change but I didn't have any direction. Somehow I stumbled into the analytics field and I have really fallen in love with statistics. It makes sense, because all of my best memories of undergrad were in my math courses. I like the challenge but also the state of flow that just comes so naturally for me when I'm doing math.

    I have discovered the secret of happiness - meaningful work. I did truly believe my work was meaningful in healthcare, but I didn't love the subject matter. Being in analytics feels like night and day. My education is the first step in a long journey that I look forward to, instead of some punishment that I have to endure before I am qualified for work. After my time with M.S. Analytics here at the Houston CityCentre I am still undecided on how to continue my formal education, but it is no question that I will. This attitude hopefully will make me a better data scientist in the future.

    We all know it is impossible to have euprhoic happiness all the time, but the sense of accomplishment from solving or just contributing to some of humanity's biggest problems is so valuable.

    My Darkest Thoughts

    I thought I would share these with you, because statistically it is likely that you have also thought these things at least one time in your career.
    • I'm not talented enough. So what! Even Donald Knuth wasn't born knowing how to program. Also the infamous publication "The Camel has Two Humps" saying that not everyone was meant to program has since been redacted.

    • What if I work twice as hard but am still only half as good? Firstly. Comparison is the thief of joy. And secondly, if you really love what you do forget it! If doing what you love makes you happy, it's not a problem.

    • I didn't *your academic goal here*, my life is over. The democratization of education is here. We have the internet! Nobody is stopping you from learning what you want to learn. Also like, maybe study super early so you give yourself an advantage and aren't blindsided by the coursework.

    • You're Not Meant to Do What You Love by Brianna Wiest. Usually I'm not about negativity but forget everything about this article. You ARE meant to do what you love as long as you really love it and not just the idea of it. Please, go do what you love and if you don't love what you do find your way to what you love.
    I sound like a crazy person who is simultaneously an expert at feeling sorry for herself and talking herself out of feeling sorry for herself. But you know, the negativity is just such. a. waste. of. time. I know it's hard to stop when all the negativity fills your head you aren't efficiently working on the next task or project.

    Just a Reminder....

    The Aggie network has been a boundless source of love and support. I know it's not always easy to reach out but the resources are there for you. Take care of each other and happy holidays.

    References:

    1. Barreira P, Basilico M, Bolotnyy V. Graduate Student Mental Health: Lessons from American Economics Departments. Working Paper.

    2. Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature Biotechnology, 36(3), 282-284. doi:10.1038/nbt.4089

    3. Impostor Syndrome leaves most tech workers feeling like a fake

    4. Overweight, Obesity, and DepressionA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Longitudinal Studies Floriana S. Luppino, MD; Leonore M. de Wit, MS; Paul F. Bouvy, MD, PhD; et al Theo Stijnen, PhD; Pim Cuijpers, PhD; Brenda W. J. H. Penninx, PhD; Frans G. Zitman, MD, PhD Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(3):220-229. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.2

    ---
    Jennifer Cai
    Jennifer is a Masters student in the College of Science's Analytics program.


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