Grad School Or Bust: History, Please Don’t Repeat Yourself (Part 1)

For some reason, just thinking about the topic I am going to talk about today turns me into a full-blown nervous wreck. Perhaps it is because this particular life goal of mine means the entire world to me. Or maybe it is due to the fact that the mere pursuit of it will present definite challenges. Could it be that I am afraid of another potential failure? Am I concerned about what Plan B will be if this all goes to shit in the end?

I don’t know what it is about graduate school that renders me so anxiety stricken, but I am going to have to learn how to talk about this without wanting to retreat into the nearest corner, curl up into the fetal position and incessantly rock like a rocking chair. Why? Because I want to apply for grad school—for the third time.

The Heck??

I know, right? Three times. It sounds really bad to me too. However, let me explain! While I definitely made some mistakes in the past, when it comes to me not going to grad school, unfortunate circumstances are to blame. You know, not me or anything.

In fact, the issue has never been a matter of me not getting into a school. Oh no, I couldn’t be so lucky as to simply get declined for not having a good enough academic record or something common like that. No, I end up getting in. Then, as soon as I have my clutches on an acceptance letter, a cruel wave of fate swoops in and royally screws me over so I can’t go. Or at least, I end up feeling as though I can’t/shouldn’t go. Confused? Let me elaborate.

In The Beginning…

The only professions I ever seriously considered as a child were 1.) Dentist, 2.) Radio DJ/“World Famous, Beautiful and Rich Singer Like The Spice Girls” and 3.) Psychiatrist.

The first option, which I adopted around age 5 or 6, was to be a dentist. I have no clue where I got the idea of being a dentist, but I knew they made a lot of money—instant approval. I was totally riding the dentist train too…until I visited the dentist and realized what it was they actually did for a living. Rummage around inside the mouths of strangers?? Big nope.

After I dropped the idea of dentistry, I immediately decided to be a radio show host. I cannot tell you how obsessed I was with listening to the radio. Not music streaming, not podcasts. Radio…remember that? Yeah, I don’t either. It’s actually too bad that radio is two steps from the grave because being a 90’s era radio show host would have been the best job for me. I love music, so listening to it all day sounded like heaven on Earth to me. I also would have loved to interview artists when they visited the studio.

And as though being a radio DJ wasn’t enough, I also wanted to be a famous pop or country star…preferably both. But not just any pop and country star…I wanted to be a “World Famous, Beautiful, Rich Singer Like The Spice Girls”—simply being kinda famous, sorta pretty and reasonably wealthy would not do! And somehow, I thought I’d have the time to be a singer and a radio DJ. Ah…the ignorance of being young!

Anyhow, my dreams of being a singer were pretty much dashed once my mother ceremoniously informed me that I was adorably, but embarrassingly tone deaf. Curiously enough, I can sing my butt off now…I remind my mom of it everyday. That’s what she gets for not seeing past me being a little rough around the edges!

Eh. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t just rough around the edges. I was like a damned serrated knife. I couldn’t sing for shit back then, despite my best efforts. Even I would cringe while listening to recordings of myself. Smh. If only I knew then what I know now…

The Perfect Fit

Anyway, around the time that I was still fooling around, making everyone’s ears bleed, I started to develop an interest in psychology. I’ll tell the story of how that came to be another time, but I pretty much latched onto the idea of being a psychiatrist around age 9 or 10. From that point on, I never deviated from this aspiration. From a very early age, I had my entire life plotted out, so I knew exactly what to do to achieve my dream.

All throughout the latter half of elementary school and the entirety of junior high and high school, I took the hardest classes I possibly could. By the time I hit high school, I was already in a bunch of AP classes and had enrolled in courses at the local community college. While everyone else I knew was taking “fun” or “easy” electives like photography, cooking…(or like,…I don’t even know what other fun electives there were!), I was busting my ass with all of the boring college prep stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the classes I took. I simply wish I had been able to experiment and expose myself to options other than psych. I will get into that a little later though.

Of course, college was even worse than high school. With med school still in my line of sight, I only took electives that had to do with my major or minor. By freshman year, I had already developed a strong interest in criminal behavior, which resulted in my declared major being Psychology, but my minor and concentration being Criminal Justice Administration and Criminal Law. The idea of being a forensic psychiatrist fit me perfectly, so I worked diligently towards that end. I had to be competitive. My grades had to be perfect. Even while managing to work throughout college (sometimes full-time), my grades remained in good order. Until something just…snapped.

The Turn Up

Gosh, it feels like such a long time since I was in college that I can scarcely remember when things crashed and burned. Okay, let me try to do my best with this recollection.

Right before entering my junior year, I had applied to a few universities for transfer. I got into a really good private school in the Bay Area, but I didn’t end up going due to having started a relationship with someone right before finding out I was accepted. Stupid. So stupid. I am truly convinced that this was a pivotal moment, not only in my academic career, but in my entire life. I kick myself for the poor decisions I made during this time, but it is what it is now, right? Lesson learned.

Anyhow, I had tried asking if he’d be interested in moving upstate with me, to which he was basically like, “Nah.” So, I accepted an offer at another school down in San Diego…which “just so happened” to be closer to his house. Like I said, I was dumb. To make matters worse, we’d decided to be roommates. So there I was, clearly too young and stupid to make intelligent choices about my future, starting at a new school, moving further away from the influence of my family, increasing the difficulty of my college course load AND setting up to play house with a guy (*spoiler alert*) I couldn’t give two craps about today. Bah! It just infuriates me to think of how blind I was to love and all of that sentimental nonsense.

Long story short, I dump him a week or two before signing the lease to my apartment and moving down to a city I truthfully didn’t want to live in. By this point, it was too late to change my mind about the school I was attending. I mean, unless I wanted to wait another semester, which I didn’t. That being said, I moved, got settled into my gorgeous Mission Valley apartment and started school.

Then there was partying.

And traveling.

And panic attacks.

I know, this is a lot of drama to absorb at once. Case in point, I essentially went buck wild down there. The combination of living off campus, having my first apartment, being in a very happening area, being newly single and having access to a reasonable amount of cash (from working) spelled out disaster. I started skipping classes, going out of town with my bestie, throwing gatherings at my house and attending whatever party invitation got thrown my way.

If I’m perfectly honest, all of this was a stress response to my breakup. I didn’t know it then, but I definitely know it to be the case now. It was a fun, but destructive and counterproductive way for me to avoid grieving (after all, I really did love the guy). It also helped me to accept having made the choice to be somewhere I had never truly wanted to be. Even though I was (somehow) still smashing my grades, I didn’t realize the toll that my constant running around and staying up all night was taking on my emotional state—or finances. Instead of acknowledging my sadness, I kept buying plane tickets, going on shopping sprees and booking hotel rooms…starting a ton of miniature fires all throughout my life.

To add insult to injury, I continued talking to my ex and allowing him to toy with my emotions. We kept talking about getting back together, which is what I really wanted all along. My breaking up with him wasn’t so much a function of me wanting to actually leave him, but an admittedly immature way of trying to manipulate the situation and get my way. Don’t judge me though…I was young…ish. Lol. Let’s just say I’m a grown ass woman now. Mostly.

However, my dreams of us one day skipping off into the sunset together came to a screeching halt when I received a phone call from him in the parking lot of a florist shop. I’m actually going to save that story for another post, but let’s just say that I was so disgusted that I hung up on him. I hadn’t done that before nor have I done it since. I am still mortified.

Burn Out

This is where everything becomes a huge blur for me. After spending my entire junior year acting like a banshee, I toned things down again. This was partially due to being broke (lol), but mostly due to someone in my family developing a terminal health condition.

I don’t want to veer off topic, so this isn’t something I want to fully delve into right now. Let’s just say that their situation was quite traumatic for me. I ended up moving out of my apartment during my first semester of senior year to go live with said family member, which probably wasn’t the best decision for me, looking back. At the time, I was doing it to help out because there weren’t many other family members who could assist (due to not living close enough, not having the time or just plain not giving a f—). Knowing what I know now, along with the type of person I am, I would still move in with them if I were presented the same choice today. However, my experience of essentially having them die a slow death right in front of my face…messed me up, for a lack of a better way to put it.

For the first time in my life, stress became a serious real-life issue for me. As panic attacks grew both in intensity and frequency, I became less and less social, happy, focused and motivated. Everything about me just…changed. Despite being in my final year of college, I wasn’t at all focused on my own personal success or happiness. All I cared about was my dying family member and how the remainder of my family was reacting to the inevitable. I still remember trying to write essays in the hospital cafeteria and missing classes due to being up all night calling ambulances. Even though I was trying my best to keep everything together, I was caught in a continual struggle between being depressed, anxious and scared. My mind was consistently foggy, my thoughts elsewhere. It was a sinking ship. I could feel it.

My life had turned into an unrecognizable nightmare. Some family members had turned into monsters. I turned into a zombie. Meanwhile, my hopes of med school were decaying. And then I got my first D ever.

At my school, a D was basically failing; I’d have to take the class over. In all of my life, I’d never gotten a D. I’d never gotten an F. Heck, a B- was like a swear word to me. For three years, I worked my ass off to get the best GPA I could, but in one hellish semester, I managed to assassinate the record I cherished so much. Unlike people who were the class president of this or the team captain of that, I needed a strong GPA. Without extracurriculars (outside of volunteering), student leadership roles, uber impressive letters of recommendation from important people or super rich parents, my academic prowess was my only ace. Now I’d have a D on my record. I think I got a C that semester as well. As far as I was concerned, my med school dreams (as I’d dreamt them) were officially over.

Disillusionment

One hit. That’s all it took. That one hit knocked me from being exemplary to being just okay. Sure, I retook the class and graduated with honors, but the point was that I didn’t think it was good enough anymore. Could I have gotten into one of my target schools with my grades from that semester? Maybe. I don’t know. However I looked at it, someone else would always have a more impressive application package than myself. Even still, I knew kids whose parents knew the dean of this school, the admissions committee of that school, or parents who had made a noticeable donation to their alma mater…what could I offer now?

By the time my final semester rolled around, I was jaded AF. Confidence crushed, I didn’t even bother to go to my graduation ceremony. I don’t think I had a modest celebration for myself at home or anything. I had the school mail my diploma to me instead. It came in a brown envelope addressed to my sick family member’s home. If there is nothing else for me to be grateful for during this entire ordeal, I am really glad that they got to see my degree with their very own eyes. Despite being weak and not having much to celebrate anymore, he smiled as he held it in his hands. That was the last time I can recall him smiling or being joyful about anything. My grandfather died eight months later.

Once I was officially done with college, I was really glad. I looked forward to putting my shiny new degree to use and forgetting about my less than stellar finish to college. However, I couldn’t find a job. I happened to graduate smack dab in the middle of the mess created by the economic crisis of 2008. Despite living in a metropolitan area and sending my resume to everyone short of the cat down the road, I didn’t get a single bite. Dismayed, I questioned if getting a Masters was a viable next step in my academic career since going into psychiatry didn’t seem to be in the cards for me any longer.

This is when I started thinking. If I did get a Masters, what would I study? Psychology would have been the most obvious answer, but the idea of continuing in the field felt like salt in a fresh wound. I’d already devoted years of studying topics from the field, but now it felt as foreign as anything could be. I didn’t feel cut out for it anymore…all of my passion was gone. So, for the first time ever in my life, I had lost my purpose, my life mission.

Psychology was all I’d ever seriously thought about or talked about doing. I’d never considered any other career paths. While everyone else was pursuing their chosen fields of work/study or succumbing to the rat race of some random 9 to 5 they’d found on Craigslist, I struggled to figure out who I was outside the scope of something I no longer felt I belonged to. I still wanted to get an advanced degree, even if it weren’t an MD. Yet, I had no idea what my options were outside of the behavioral sciences.

I’d spent so many years focusing on psychology that I had ignored any other interests or talents I had. Perhaps this was my chance to branch off into another direction and pursue an entirely different field. That is when I decided that I would study something else. Something, anything except for psychology.

And so, I embarked on a several year journey to redefine myself, my aspirations and my future.

It was a hot mess.

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