Loneliness and graduate school
College isn’t the only time one can feel loneliness strike. In fact, I recognized loneliness much more in my two graduate programs.
Like college, few people knew one another. We bonded over classes and looked the other way at personality flaws that our peers exhibited. In my second grad program I met so many people dealing with mental health issues. There were barely functioning alcoholics. Few of us seemed to be aware of how to handle relationships—either friendships or dating.
In both grad programs I found myself close to some people one semester and then distanced from them the next. I’d meet someone at a party, find them fascinating, dream of what our relationship or friendship might become, and then never see them again. They’d sit in my mind for days or weeks, until the next person came along for whom I’d pin all my hopes of connection.
My mental health wasn’t stable during those years and I was too scared to come out and share my problems. I felt loneliness creep into my life. There were peers in my program with whom I felt a connection, but they always seemed to have plans with other people. I couldn’t decide if it was me or them or both of us. Why couldn’t we connect when I saw how much we were all drowning in our despair and loneliness?
By my second year of my American Studies grad program I was in the depths of research on my thesis topic: Christian scare films of the 1970s. Needless to say, I was one of the only people working on this subject in the United States. This made it difficult to connect with others on the thing that engulfed my life for nine months.
This disconnect left me feeling even lonelier. In both my graduate programs people bonded over their connection with school. They threw themselves into sex and drinking. This allowed them to deal with the awkwardness, the anxiety, and the introverted nature they were trying to overcome.
For my part, I dated, went to house parties, and threw myself into my school work. With my American Studies program, I spent long hours tucked away in the graduate program’s office, a windowless cinder block rectangle. It was a cold, dark room, but I could be alone and not bothered there on Sunday afternoons and evenings.
Looking back I see how the alcohol and mental health issues exacerbated our relationships. These things prohibited our ability to make connections. We were so desperate to meet others and find a sense of belonging that we tried relationships with people we otherwise might never have. Our school brought us closer together but it wasn’t enough.
What I should’ve done during this time was seek others who shared similar interests as me. I didn’t even know who I was then or what I wanted. But using something like the EASE method would’ve been of great help.
If you are considering going to get a masters degree or PhD, know that graduate school can be a very lonely time. It can also be quite exciting. Prepare yourself, mentally, for the challenges that may come with being in a new place and new people. Know that as you get focused in your area of study, it may cause you to feel quite alone. Make preparations to extend yourself to find others.
The power is in your hands to make graduate school a success, not only on an academic level but also on a social one.
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This blog is an exploration of the subjects of belonging and loneliness. I also look at mental health issues. I seek to provide content to my readers that is informative and helpful. If you don't want to miss anything, sign up for my email list.