First Week of Grad School!

notebooks are and I am obsessed.

(No, I am not going to be recapping every week for the next 80 weeks, I just wanted to write about my first impressions. But do let me know if there’s anything in particular you want to know!)

In November 2017, I signed up to receive information from NYU’s School of Social Work. I’d been casually thinking about it for a few years, but losing my mom and getting laid off within a few months of each other gave me the push to start thinking more seriously about making a total career change.

It would be two years of trying to make freelancing work in the midst of severe depression to realize I wanted and needed a career change. Doing social media for clients and writing listicles made me money, but I felt like I was just throwing content into an abyss. The writing I’ve done here and elsewhere that connects with people and helps me and them feel less alone is what feeds my heart, but as my depression has gotten better I’ve had less to say. (I have joked that feeling stable is overrated, as far as writing is concerned.) But any time I get a message or comment from someone else in pain, I want to go deeper in sitting with them through their pain.

And I am fascinated by the mental health system—learning about disorders (I’m so excited that I now have my own DSM-5), learning about different therapy modalities and why and how they work, and just learning about what makes us all tick. I became obsessed with all of this selfishly, to help myself feel better, but I want to share this information with others to help them feel better. I want to help them navigate the system. Just tonight, a friend said her husband was struggling with finding a therapist, getting on medication, etc, and she wanted to know if I could talk to him. OF COURSE. I want to help people find the resources that will help them feel better.

And so I am beginning the road to becoming a therapist. I am terrified and excited all at once…which my therapist said is totally normal. “I’d be more worried if you weren’t feeling that way,” she said.

I’m going to Antioch University, which is conveniently only 15 minutes away from me. (And I’m now on my second therapist who went there, and the ketamine therapist went there too.) I loved what I heard at the first information session—that their program is incredibly introspective and that they are focused on training great therapists, not just book-smart ones. The biggest thing, though, that stuck with me is how important it is to them to be progressive since, in some ways, psychology defines what’s normal in our culture. For example, I’ve already learned that being gay was considered a psychiatric disorder until 1973. (This American Life did a really interesting episode on this.) Therefore, it’s so important to be inclusive as to not further pathologize or “other” people due to an out-of-touch definition of what’s “normal.”

My Classes

Psychodynamic Theories: Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theories and therapies are the foundation of psychotherapy as a field, and Freud is the father of all of this. While traditional psychoanalysis (the old-school couch facing away from the therapist, going to therapy 5x/a week) is not as popular any more, it influenced many of the theories that are used today. (And what’s a psychology degree without some Freud?!) Of my three classes, this is the most dry one, but it’s an important one.

Society and the Individual: This is, without a doubt, the most powerful class that I am taking—and I’ve heard that it’s one of the best classes at Antioch. Basically, it looks at how we fit into society—and how the different communities that we’re a part of influence us.

As a white, privileged, cisgendered, heterosexual woman, I have so much to learn about confronting my own privileges and learning more about what it’s like to be of another race, class, sexuality, etc. One of the books we’re reading is called The Working Poor: Invisible in America. It focuses on the working class in poverty in our country and the systemic forces that keep them down. It is a heart-breaking and eye-opening read.

One of our assignments is writing a cultural autobiography—so, how did our social forces and communities make us who we are today?

Assessment of Psychopathology: This was the one I was most excited about going into it. I’m realizing now that was partially to understand myself better—when I’ve been diagnosed with disorders in the past, what goes into that? Why are psychiatric evaluations structured the way they are? Why do the questioners ask the questions they do?

I really want to learn more about the most common disorders I’ll probably see in my future work—anxiety, depression, bipolar—to understand how they may manifest in others, outside of my own experiences.

We’re currently working on learning more about those evaluations and mental status exams. A lot of this class is watching training videos of therapists with clients (mostly actors.) One of the first videos I had to watch was a therapist doing an eval in a psych ward with a suicidal patient. I’ve been in exactly that situation, so it was incredibly triggering—and right now, a lot of this material about these evaluations is really triggering to me. I’m so thankful to be in therapy throughout school to be able to process this. My therapist reminds me of how I am doing so much better, how I am not in that situation any more…and that some of my schoolwork and my future work will be triggering. She reminds me that, in class, if I am feeling triggered, I can always get up for a minute and get some fresh air, and to do deep breathing, etc.

I say three main classes, because I’m kind of taking two other classes.

One is a class on graduate-level writing (and how to do papers in APA style). There’s no papers or reading, so that’s why I kinda consider it a side class.

AND ALSO! I’m going to JAPAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! with school in March for a class on mindfulness and mental health in Japan, so we have a few meetings before we go, but not every week, and most of the work isn’t until we get back and have a big paper.

Time Management

I’m still working as I do the program—at least for now, until I start seeing clients in training. I’m lucky to have a really flexible schedule through freelancing so that I can make my own hours. I recognize I have a lot less to juggle than most, but still, I’m learning how to make it work in my own life. Right now for me, that looks like time-blocking my calendar out each day with what I have to do for work and school and attempting as best I can to have some days where I just do work and some days where I just do schoolwork. My three classes are all in one day, Thursday, from 10-6:30, so by the end of the day, I AM FRIED. I’m still a little drained on Fridays, so I’m trying to keep them on the easier side, but that means working on the weekends, which I don’t mind. I was really happy that by this Wednesday afternoon, I was done with all of my schoolwork and hadn’t left it all for the day or two before class. Aiming to feel that way as often as I can.

Two kinda unrelated questions:

  1. Any grad school tips?!
  2. Although my depression is leaps and bounds better, still have some fatigue and fogginess. I’m changing my diet and going to get my thyroid tested and talking to my doc about maybe getting off one of my meds but curious if anyone here has had any luck getting rid of brain fog…

11 comments on “First Week of Grad School!

  1. Melissa

    I’m so happy you’re doing this!! You’ve got the number one thing that makes grad school 100x easier – you know WHY you’re there. I went back after working for 3 years and it was so much easier with a clear focus. My number 1 tip would be this: enjoy it. In undergrad, most people are obsessed about getting a job after graduation. Many feel that they had to go to college b/c that’s just what you do after high school. This time, you know you can do other things successfully – you’re a freelance writer, but you’re CHOOSING this. It helps when things get stressful. Also, you know what real stress feels like. Test or paper stress is cake compared to what you’ve been through. I am excited to see where this leads. I’m also in academia, so I love reading about grad student experiences from the perspective of the student. I think you’ll kick ass!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      Thank you so much for this comment!!! That is a good reminder to just enjoy it 🙂 The reading is already A LOT, and I’ve been definitely stressing about it a lot but realized this afternoon how much I do like it. And thank you for the reminder I can do other things successfully <3

  2. Stephanie

    My grad school tip – do what you can to keep who you are and your connections outside of grad school. I went to law school and it was so all-encompassing I got to the end and had to figure out who I was again – what I liked, how I wanted to spend my time, and how to be a (somewhat) balanced adult once law school was over. On a side note – law school is when I started running, basically out of necessity to give myself something physical to do to balance out all the intense mental work.

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      That is a really good point and something I’m trying to be careful of as I’m already holing myself up a lot studying. The first week I was all “I don’t have time to work out!” but I’m remembering now how crucial it is and making it an important part of my schedule.

  3. Becky

    Be very aggressive and informed when you get your thyroid test results from your doctor. Many women have a thyroid or thyroid-related autoimmune disease, and it isn’t widely studied in medical schools, so many doctors are not well-informed. Do your research so you can interpret the test results along with the doctor.

  4. katie

    Way to go! I did an MBA program that was designed for people working full time, and for me it was all about scheduling. I gave myself grace to buy good expensive salads on the nights that I had class after work, and also gave myself the grace to stay up late and pound out a paper and be a little sleepy at work. It sounds like you’ve got a good setup with the scheduling of time. There will be hard days/assignments but I hope you work through them and come out stronger on the other side!

  5. Courtney

    Hey Theodora,

    I’ve followed your blog for years and thank you for being so open. I’ve struggled with mental illness for years (severe mood disorder, depression, anxiety, add). I’ve been on every medication and finally this week things have just spiraled and lost 2 jobs as a speech therapist.

    I’ve tried to surface treat everything for years but finally, things are just out of control. I have a 3-hour mental health/substance assessment Monday. I know I’ve hit this bottom but I just am so scared of the long journey ahead and not feeling better, not ever being stable enough to be employed or have a relationship or never being happy. Everyone in my life is in solid relationships, great friends and amazing jobs. Things are ALWAYS hard for me. Clinically, I’m excellent at my job. I’m smart and I never say good things about myself. If I could just get it together. I’m in graduate school.

    I know you’re busy but any advice is appreciated. Our stories seem similar. Thanks for sharing your story and showing iit really is okay to not be okay. I’m starting to really think more about mental health in the workplace. Accessibility is in place for physical disabilities but not mental ones.

  6. Anne

    It makes me so happy to read this! You are going to do wonderful things with this degree. Here’s what really stood out to me in your narrative: “…I want to share this information with others to help them feel better”.

    That, right there, is the key – you have your why! And it’s an awesome one that will help you get through even the tough days.

    Tips? I am a faculty member at a large university, so I would say definitely pay attention in the writing class (APA stinks, I know, and I’m sorry…). Also, remember the importance of the really dry theory class. I’m glad you’re going into it with that perspective, because you’re right – you have to know where the field started to understand it today.

    Can’t wait to follow along on this journey with you. I hope you keep writing!

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