Psychopathology of a Grad Student

First off, yes, it’s been over six months. I know.

I’m officially halfway through my graduate program at Ball State University. Some things I’ve done over the past year:

-Taught two sections of ENG 104, a research-based course in the first-year writing program.
-Decided teaching was absolutely not for me, because I dreaded getting up in the morning to go to campus.
-Realized that I dreaded getting up in the morning, period; days when I taught just forced me to do it anyway.
-Realized something might be wrong.

Writers are a crazy lot. It’s just something we assume, and research tends to back it up. The mania of creation, the depressive blank page, the sitting in a coffee shop wearing a too-big sweater and watching raindrops slide down the window and contemplating the human condition in all its extremes. And, you know, sometimes the hallucinations and delusions and total breaks from reality.

Similarly, we attribute an inherent neuroticism to graduate students. What sort of obsession, after all, drives somebody into that sort of self-selected servitude? Late nights hoarding books in the library, snapping, “No!” in response to every social invitation, taking naps at a desk between classes and then waking up feeling guilty for not having used that time more productively.

There’s a certain glamour in fitting these stereotypes. What’s more writerly than soul-crushing angst? As Ursula K. Le Guin observes in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.

And if you’re not in a codependent, self-destructive relationship with graduate school, you may as well not be in grad school at all. Clearly you aren’t taking it seriously enough.

I have a spotty history when it comes to mental health, but I like to think I’ve learned something from it. Most importantly: The time to intervene is before it becomes unbearable. You may think, But I’m still functioning. I’m still getting out of bed, after all. Thing is, you have to take action while you’re still functioning enough to get out of bed. Taking action requires getting out of bed.

Yes, there may be some link that makes writerly types more prone to the crazies, or vice versa; yes, grad school will demand time and energy and commitment. But there’s no glory in misery or self-neglect.

There’s glory in action. Or, at least, there’s the potential for it.

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