Posted by: thediygeochemist | July 15, 2010

depression and graduate school, part II

When I look at my blog stats, I find it amazing that the #1 search terms for my blog are people actually searching for my name. (Does this mean I’m famous?) The #2 search, however, is for people searching combinations of “depression” with things like “grad student” or “grad school”.

So another post about my experience as a chronically depressive grad student.

First, let me say that I wanted to write this post a couple of weeks ago, except that, well, I was too depressed. I was so deep in my blue funk that I’m amazed I’ve been able to post anything at all. My townhouse got messier and messier, I ate cereal for dinner because I had no energy to cook, and I walked around like a zombie.

If you are suffering from depression, whether it be chronic like mine or just a one-time thing, what should you do? How do you bring yourself around again?

As I’ve said before, I can’t stop myself from getting depressed, but I can control (to a certain extent) how bad it gets. When in geek mode, I generally say that I can’t control the frequency but I can control the amplitude. I didn’t do too well at that this time around, but after a couple of weeks I remembered my coping strategies and gradually pulled myself out. This is what I do.

  1. Exercise, of the aerobic sort. There’s something about getting that blood pumping that helps the brain function more normally.
  2. Listen to uplifting music. I have to be very, very careful in my choice of what I listen to when depressed. Peppy music is good; music in minor keys is bad. Folk songs are generally fine; rock music with lyrics about how bad life is are not.
  3. Hold to a tight schedule. Wake up at the same time every day, go through a morning routine. I take tips from FlyLady though I don’t follow her routine exactly. I can’t leave at the same time every day (some experiments take longer than others) but I do follow a pre-bed routine as well.
  4. Make a to-do list. When I’m depressed I can’t make lists with only the big things; I have to put every tiny thing on there. For example, instead of “work on seminar” I have to write “seminar–section on ROS; seminar–section on chemiluminescence; etc.” I find it much more heartening to cross off many small things than one large thing. Besides, when I’m depressed, sometimes I can only do one small thing per day. Being able to cross something off the list makes me feel like I haven’t totally wasted my time. (Even if most of my time has been wasted, feeling at least somewhat useful helps me keep from feeding the downward spiral.)
  5. Think about the right things. When depressed, I generally end up thinking about the stuff I don’t get done, about how bad I am for not working hard. I try to think–at least occasionally–about things I have done right, about projects that turned out well, about compliments people have given me, so that I know I’m not a total waste of time.

For me, one of the hardest parts of dealing with chronic depression is figuring out when I am starting to slide down again. If I figure this out early on, I can keep myself from falling in too deeply. But alas, I seem spectacularly bad at diagnosing myself. My husband is getting better at noticing; he’s much better than I am, nowadays. But I don’t live with my husband full-time right now, which makes things kinda hard.

I can do this.


  1. […] July: After suffering through a particularly bad depressive episode, I finally got up the gumption to write about depression again. […]

  2. […] said before that the coping mechanisms I’d developed would not change the frequency of my mood swings, […]

  3. depression has a source. you need seek out the root cause and fight against it. The things you recommend help alleviate only.

  4. Thank you for posting this. You have no idea how helpful this one blog is.

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