It’s easy to lose our passion when we’re hurt – our advisor is critical, a colleague does us wrong, an experiment doesn’t work, our families aren’t understanding of the pressure, the program changes to become harder, the environment on campus becomes negative or nasty, or we flat out feel the pain of stress pressing down on our lives. It’s easy to begin the negative talk. “This program is stacked against women. This research doesn’t mean anything. My experiments don’t matter. My advisor is a jerk. My committee has it out for me. They don’t like me. I chose a bad advisor. This program is doomed.” This negative talk is making excuses for why we MIGHT fail, and prepares us to shield our emotions, in case we do fail. Shake off the pity, and get back in the game.
Some students make excuses to sit on the sidelines. You can still play, even in pain. “I’d rather be in the game in pain, than sitting on the sidelines watching.”
This is where the game became personal for me. Through my entire grad school career, I was having massive surgeries. Any one of them would have been reason to give up. In February of 2008, both of my retinas blew out. I had over 20 eye surgeries, the last two of which they removed my eyeballs, and scraped them out, and filled them with fake fluid. One of these surgeries was right before I was supposed to take a final. The other kept me from starting class for three weeks. Throughout all of these surgeries, I never once thought of quitting my program. I always was thinking “How can I get back to school, so I can get on with my life?” There were days I couldn’t see well, and my father drove me to work. There were other days where I laid face down on the floor in my office, waiting for my pain meds to kick in, so I could get back to writing. The last of my eye surgeries was January 11th, 2011.
Almost a year went by of me feeling horrible physically. I didn’t move a lot, because I was scared to hurt my eyeballs. I was depressed, I felt awful, but I stayed in grad school. It was the one thing that gave me solace from the pain. I loved the group of women I worked with, and was in class with, and they provided me with so much support. Reading and writing were two things I could do, despite my physical maladies. I bandaged up what was hurting, and I stayed in the game. I said, “I may be hurting, but I’m still here. I may have been knocked down, over and over, but I’m in this to win this, and I won’t quit.” In December of 2011, I had a massive abdominal surgery that left me in chronic pain, pain that persists until today. I’ve had surgery many times since that first one, for kidney stones, for a bowel obstruction, and for the wound that refused to heal.
At this point, it would have been easy to become bitter. I could have blamed my failures on my pain, my body, or other people. I didn’t. I let people know when I was hurting so bad I couldn’t complete assignments, but I never asked to not do the assignment. Sometimes I needed a week extension, sometimes I was past the due date, but I made up my mind to never quit. I saw some people in my program that were so sour, who wanted other people to be unhappy with them. They tried to bring others down. The ladies I surrounded myself with, however, were my rock. I could have hung out with the complainers and joined their pity party. There were definitely always people around me who were quick to grumble, whine, and nit-pick, to say why they couldn’t do this, to make excuses. I will admit – I did let these negative folks into my head a few times. And after I would talk to them, I would feel like I was run over by a bus. I had to actively choose to smile at these people, offer them a word of encouragement, and then go back to my group of girls who cheered me on. If you surround yourself with criticism, self-pity, bitterness, anger, hatred, and discontentment, don’t be surprised when that weighs down your soul. Get back in the game, and find your cheerleaders.
The best thing to do when you hurt is to go help someone else in need. You sow the seed to change your own situation. This is why I love to teach. No one would have faulted me if I had given up. I was injured, but I never left the game. When times were tough, and nothing was going my way, I was still good to the people around me. Even when my eyeballs or my guts hurt, I still treated my students well. And they knew that I loved what I was doing, and many approached me and told me that they were inspired by the fact I never gave up. This world has a great reward for people who are faithful in the tough times. My graduate school experience resulted in me winning the game, because I never gave up, even when it was rough. Because I have paid it forward, by helping students be successful, by cheering on my group of girls, and by giving my work my all, I won that game. Now, I’m on to the next game, The Superbowl that is my life.
I refuse to just exist. I will live. If I had quit, what would I have done? Become disabled? Planned my funeral? That wasn’t even an option. Even when I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do on my own, I could still offer friendship, hard work, and dedication to the people around me. When you put yourself in the right position, when you coordinate your game plan so that you are in success’s path, that’s when the universe pays you back. You position yourself for good karma. I never stopped searching out new friends, looking for new opportunities, and searching for ways to get past my pain. Grad school was never meant to end a person, even though it may feel that way. It’s meant to be a beginning. An awakening of your spirit, a challenge to your mind, the seed of your dreams. It allows you to have double what you had before.
Nobody knows the battles you fight when you take on this program. When you defy the odds, when you play despite the pain, the most powerful force in the universe breathes in your direction. You may not be able to do what you used to, but the wind fills your sails, and you stay in the game. Just being here, that took an act of faith. Part of the game of academia is its critical nature. It will crush you, if you let it. It’s easy when people are criticizing your ideas to feel as if you are the one who has it all wrong. Eyes on the prize, stay in the game. Keep the game ball moving forward, run with your ideas, allow them to blossom, and take on that fight. No one knows your battles, but everyone knows that you can’t win the battle if you don’t show up in the first place.
My biggest and best quality is the fight I have in me. I never give up. I keep on going, because I love what I do. I allow others to achieve their dreams, and I can’t do that from my bed. I need to be in that game. I need to be a positive role model for my son. I needed to fight.
People can’t look at me and know that I’m in pain. I don’t look sick, even though I’ve been diabetic 30 years and have had all those surgeries. I’ve had people tell me “You don’t look sick. I had no idea,” or “You seem so happy! I had no idea you were in pain!” It’s one thing to go through a struggle that everyone knows about, or can view you going through. But my struggle is all inside me. I struggle with my feelings, with my body, and with figuring out who I am. Despite my pain, I persist. I go to work, I’m kind, friendly and compassionate, I help everyone I can, and I never give up. There is no way I could sit back, nursing my wounds. I’m hurting, but I’m still here. I can still smile, and be kind, even if no one knows what kind of horrible pain my body is in. If I can do this, I have no doubt that other women can get through the game of grad school, too. Play on, despite the pain.