Sometimes I am surprised by how confident I’ve become as a scientist and as a student, especially considering how anxiety-ridden I used to be. Two years ago I was a 5th year senior doing undergrad research in the same lab that I’m in today. I had wicked impostor syndrome, and I was having panic attacks about not being able to complete the project on a bi-weekly basis. A year and a half ago I had a nervous breakdown at a hotel the night before my presentation at a national scientific conference. This was one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me. I had to go to the emergency room to be sedated just so I could get some sleep, and I spent the better part of a year learning how to deal with my suddenly-elevated panic disorder. I had to take a nine month break from science, which is why I dropped out of the blogosphere for so long. I almost decided not to go to graduate school, because I didn’t feel like I could handle it. I’m glad I made the last-minute decision to attend (and I mean that literally– I sent in my acceptance on the very last day). The ordeal resulted in a very strained relationship between me and my advisor for a while. He was frustrated with my lack of progress because he didn’t entirely understand what was going on with me, and I didn’t know how to articulate it.
It is interesting, though, because despite going through all of that in the year before grad school, it went away almost completely as soon as I actually started. The solidarity and camaraderie of the kids in my cohort and my labmates has been an outstanding help in that regard. My department (an ecology and evolution department) is not one of the superstars of the college of biosciences, but in the scheme of things I feel very blessed to be part of it. There are times when I feel like I don’t belong in this department, since my research is only very loosely attached to ecology, but it is still a great environment. I have made so much progress in terms of my school-related anxiety. I used to be afraid of my professor, but now I am able to hold my own and argue points with him because of the confidence I’ve gained. I no longer feel like I have impostor syndrome. The only school-related panic attacks I’ve had in the last year were over teaching, but that’s another whole beast entirely. I have a love/hate relationship with teaching, and I doubt I’ll be doing it again when I graduate, but for now I’m staying afloat. Part of that is finding the right class to teach, and the right professor to teach for.
I still have a lot of anxiety issues in my personal life, which I’m trying to make progress on, but unfortunately that is slow going. K (my boyfriend) did his undergrad in psychology, which can sometimes be very helpful but sometimes pisses me off because I just feel like he’s patronizing me. All I can say is that I’m working on it, man.