Tag Archives: graduate school

Crashing and Burning

Part of the purpose of this blog, aside from being an archive of thoughts, recipes, and prayers, is to provide me a place to voice my struggles as I attempt to lead a balanced life.  A life attuned.

I’m a late-stage graduate student in biochemistry – I’m trying to get a PhD.  During the past two years, I have been very sick, mysteriously sick.  I would get one diagnosis, then another, and still I was having odd neurological symptoms, extreme fatigue, and debilitating headaches.  I also went through several life-adjustments during this period of time: I lost both my grandmothers, who I miss daily, my house burned down and I lost all my material possessions, I rebuilt the house, and got married (not in that order).

Meanwhile, I was trying to be “a good graduate student”.  I was trying to live up to an unrealistic expectation of what I imagined to be the ideal graduate student:  a great multitasker, balancing 3-4 projects at once, 100% focused on work, and working 60-80 hours a week.  For some people, this is what grad school is like – and they do spectacularly.  It almost destroyed me.

After pushing myself, while being sick, for more than a year, my body gave up.  I missed four months of work and had to take a leave-of absence from my studies.  During the worst of those four months, I was hardly able to leave my bed.  I would push myself to get out of bed in the mornings, take a shower, and walk downstairs to the couch, where I would lay for the rest of the day.  This was an accomplishment.

Meanwhile, in my spiritual life, I had just about given up on God.  Like Job, I felt abandoned and angry at times.  Getting through morning and evening prayers was a struggle for me.  I was too sick (or thought I was) to attend liturgy except sporadically.  If it weren’t for the strength of my husband, and the prayers of all my friends and family, I would have stayed in this physical and spiritual state.

Finally, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, an auto-immune reaction which results in mal-absorption of nutrients and extreme malnutrition.  All of the symptoms I experienced were the result of my body not getting the food I needed.

By the grace of God I’m here today.  I’m getting healthier, both physically and spiritually.  I’ve adjusted to the new diet I have to be on, and I pray that spiritually I am on the right path again too.

Now, as I start working on my thesis research again, in a stressful environment, I want to live a balanced life.  I’m praying for humility and patience as I basically start over in my research. And, I’m trying to be aware of the bad habits I had before and correct them.  God has given me a second chance at grad school.  I want to lean on Him, and His strength to guide me.  I want to keep my work-life, friend and family relationships, my spiritual life, and my health in balance. Attuned.

So now I’m reflecting on a few questions:

  • What does a balanced life look like for me?
  • How can I resist getting sucked into the competitiveness that is grad school again?
  • What are the most important things in my life?
  • Do I make time for them regularly?

What about you? How do you keep your life balanced?  Can you suggest some strategies to me?  What are the important things in your life?

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