1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Early Life Crisis

  1. Oct 12, 2012 #1
    Here I am asking for help again...

    I had an experience today that affirmed my doubts about being in graduate school. This morning I had an exam. With approximately one hour sleep (no I wasn't playing video games or cramming, I have a chronic insomnia problem which I have yet to find a solution) I showed up for class about 20 minutes late and took the exam and probably failed it. No, the material wasn't difficult, yes that 20 minutes would have proved invaluable in getting a decent grade because I wouldn't have had to rush, something much more serious happened: I didn't care.

    In undergrad I had so much enthusiasm and no matter how crappy I felt I always took my work seriously and had high hopes. I could always motivate myself out of a rut through enjoyment of my work and my love of the subject I am studying. Some professors had high hopes for me too, one in particular (whom I would also consider a friend) really stands out. I just started grad school this year at a new institution. I feel like the enthusiasm is being sucked out of me. I feel so unfullfilled and unhappy that I cannot motivate myself to do anything. I feel incredibly hopeless, like I am wasting my time.

    I have not worked out more than 2 times in these past two weeks (normally I try to get 2-3 days/week), I sincerely don't care about any of my work. I have no desire to talk to most of the students - quite frankly this place is much less competitive then my undergraduate school. Kids whine like children when they get an 85. At my old school and 85 was something to be proud of in most classes. Then again, I've never cared too much about grades. In my fluids class some of the kids ask the most stupid questions and it drives me nuts. For example, I recall an instance when a kid asked what gauge pressure was (no this kid was not from a foreign land). A graduate student asking about gauge pressure is pathetic, at least if you are in aerospace/mechanical engineering.

    I have also recently been seeing two doctors about some anxiety and depression (I guess that gives you some insight into how "special" I am). One of them thinks I may be bipolar II (personally I think I may have cyclothymic disorder), the other believe I just have severe anxiety and chronic depression. I have also just started taking a sleeping pill only to find that it makes me feel like absolute garbage the next day! So I either sleep 2 hours and have no energy or sleep 8 hours and feel like I had a frontal lumbotomy.

    Whatever the case I feel like I am losing control over my daily life. I don't feel like I can function at an adequate level to do well in grad school. I haven't found a project that I am truly enthusiastic about either. I feel like the more time I spend at this institution the more time and money I am wasting. I am not sure what I will do if I leave, but I am thinking about getting an entry level job for a year or 2 then going back to grad school once I get my life sorted out. At least if I had a job I would be able to save money so I wouldn't have to live like a beggar and maybe this would buy me time to develop a foundation before I pursue a more unstructured goal such as graduate school. I was also considering transferring to another program - in light of these recent events I do not think that would solve my problems.

    Another problem, which I think is indicative of bipolar, is that one minute I think ideas like the aforementioned are great then the next I think they are terrible.

    If anyone can provide me some insight please do because I am screwed and I have no idea what to do anymore.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I'm really sorry to read about the problems you are facing. I would suspect that your main problems are linked to mental health issues, as you alluded to (I'm not a psychiatrist, but I think that your chronic insomnia may well be a symptom of a deeper mental illness).

    I would avoid taking any sleeping pills and discuss again with your two doctors about specific treatment options.
  4. Oct 12, 2012 #3
    I am not schitzophrentic if that is what you are in implying. I am just depressed because I believe I have alot of potential and these things are ruining my dreams.
  5. Oct 12, 2012 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I have to stress I have no experience of postgraduate academic life, but from a "life in general" perspective the above seems like good advice IMO. "Slugging it out" may not work and you may fall short of your true potential. Reading your post, you don't really seemed to have stopped caring about it, it's just there may be issues in the way that need sorting out. I would follow StatGuys advice too, as the insomnia/medication side effects may have placed you between a rock and a hard place (as it has done with many of us).
  6. Oct 12, 2012 #5
    I feel the best about that decision as well. I find it hard to commit when I change my mind about the subject everyday. Perhaps this issue is bothering me because my dream of becoming an aerospace engineer is what kept me out of trouble when I was growing up. Earning my undergraduate degree was probably one of the best days of my life. The week following was easily the best week. I am sure many people feel this way about their education too. It is also very difficult for me to discern whether or not it is me or my situation that is making hard for me to do my work. You could say there is a nonlinear relationship between the two.
  7. Oct 12, 2012 #6
    its not just you. grad school classes are specifically designed to crush your dreams.
  8. Oct 12, 2012 #7


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I had no intention of suggesting that you are schizophrenic at all, and I apologize if my post came across that way. There are many different types of mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders, which you cited in your post, are such examples), and I was just suggesting that a follow-up appointment with your doctors may be warranted to help you address this.
  9. Oct 12, 2012 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    It can be very difficult to view these things objectively from the inside. Stepping out of it to sort it out may be helpful.
  10. Oct 12, 2012 #9
    Statguy I know you didn't I was being hypervigilent (sp?). Cobalt, yes I agree which is one of the reasons why I am soliciting your opinions. I am worried though that life may get in the way (or a knocked up girl) that will force me to never return to grad studies, should I leave.
  11. Oct 14, 2012 #10
    It is days like today when I really want to quit. I am afraid to make that decision though because I am not sure if I am thinking clearly. It would make things easier though. Then again quitting is always easier.
  12. Oct 15, 2012 #11
    My vote: Get out of grad school. It's not a great investment, anyways. IMHO (and I'm obviously not a doctor), the atmosphere you're a part of is the source of some (but not all) of your mental illness.

    Go volunteer in africa. Get an office job and start a family. Start a business in Mexico. Become a survivalist in Alaska. Live life.

    Heck, do anything but what's not working now.
  13. Oct 15, 2012 #12
    I agree with Locrian. If you aren't enjoying graduate school then there's no reason to be there.
  14. Oct 15, 2012 #13
    I actually talked to a professor and he recommended I leave too and try to fix things in my life. I didnt expect him to get so personal tbh. I got suprisingly emotional aftervI left his office. My dream has always been to be a scientist or an inventor so this is "living my life" for me, at least 1 aspect of it. I'm seriously considering the " take a step back" approach. Thank you everyone for helping me- Im glad there are those who listen and offer honest advice.
  15. Oct 16, 2012 #14
    Dear Aero51,

    I am sorry to hear about the challenges that you have had, and I hope things will get better for you. I can certainly relate, as in the past I have gone through somewhat similar but more manageable circumstances. Based on what I have read, your main challenge might be depression. Again, I don't claim to be an expert, but based on life experiences, being aware of this might help.

    In my personal opinion, if you are chemically and physically healthy otherwise, I would focus on treating depression by making lifestyle changes and by looking inward. I had a hard time when I was younger when I did not know what I was doing with my life. I was also a lone. I felt very emotionally unfulfilled. I also felt mentally unfulfilled. I struggled to get my BS in physics, and I had financial struggles as well. Since then, here are some things that have worked for me:
    1. Reading! You need to explore yourself and read the classics. You need to get a better perspective on life.
    2. Exercise. You mentioned that you no longer are doing it. You really need to do that because it will give you a great sense of accomplishment, health, and pride. Plus many other hormonal benefits.
    3. Relationships: I am not sure what your relationship status is, but I met a great woman that became my wife and changed my life 180 degrees. You need to put yourself out there, and be social, and get involved. If you already married/in a relationship, then make good friends and strengthen your relationship with your partner.
    4. Accomplishments: what also helped me a lot is that I decided to go after success (career/financial success). I did not end up in physics, but I ended up in a field I liked and I was able to advance very quickly and in a matter of 3 years, I am now making a nice income and I am in good demand.

    Many of the above came to me through reading. Don't be ashamed to read self help books. I also explored my spiritual side. I am not religious, but I like to meditate and think about life's mysteries.

    I know the feeling of "I don't care about this anymore" and it is one of the hardest things to feel. But I know that you will find purpose and motivation and passion in your life, but you might have to make it happen. You will then be surprised at the passion and drive you will have. Like others suggested, this might not be working out for you. And graduate school might be a bad fit given the way you are feeling about things lately. You might want to explore other options. If you are mathematically/technically inclined, you can easily teach yourself one of many high demand skills and be a hot commodity in 1-2 years. For example, I taught myself networking and became a network engineer making more than what my professors make. Not that money is a measure of success, but it gave me a great confidence boost. You can also do something similar and teach yourself programming, databases, or a number of non-IT professions and have a career for a few years and get your life back on track and then decided what to do next.

    For me, after achieving success for the time being, I am really missing physics and I am considering going back into the field. I know this time I will have the passion and the drive for it, and that will help me through the difficulties.

    Best of luck to you, and IM me if I can be of any help or if you need to talk.
  16. Oct 18, 2012 #15
    Something that you should be aware of is that bipolar disorders are extremely common among people in graduate school. One thing about doctors is that it's a good idea to get someone that actually talks to you. There are doctors which just give anti-depressants that's a bad idea.

    Not surprised. With pills, you are unconscious, but you aren't sleeping.

    One thing that works for me is just take things from day to day. Figure out the minimum stuff that I have to do to get through the day and do that, and don't think about anything else. Thinking about the future when one is depressed is a sure way of making one become more depressed.
  17. Oct 18, 2012 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    If you want to invent, I really don't think you need to go to grad school to do that.

    You may need access to specific equipment (particularly if its expensive) and a nice materials science lab depending on what you are doing, but you do not need to go to graduate school.

    Also be aware that a lot of inventors have very different personalities, have their own gatherings that are not exclusively for academics, and have a completely different mindset than the standard worker because they are motivated by completely different things and have a subsequently different mindset and viewpoint.

    With regards to your current situation, I agree that you should take a step back and don't risk your health. You got into graduate school so I'm assuming you know your stuff well enough to at least get into the work-force and move on with things as we all have to.

    One final thing that I want to say is don't take it too personally that this has happened: these things happen and they make people better as a result. Things like this have a habit to make people think they have become inferior, but it's just a setback waiting for you to brush yourself off and ready to move on with your life.
  18. Oct 18, 2012 #17
    Listen bud, I would trade places with you in a heartbeat considering your situation vs mine.
    No matter how bad you think your life is, I can guarantee there some other guy that is worse off.

    With that said we all need time every now and then to take a breather from the stresses of life. Take your breather...

    Now after you've done that stop your whining and cowboy up. We all go through **** in life, get over it and move on.
  19. Oct 18, 2012 #18
    I never said my life was "bad", I said I was having mood swings and a terrible time focusing/ being motivated; they do not go hand in hand. I am thankful that I am smart, have money to eat, a place to live and even good looks when I bother to dress nice. However, the issues I mentioned earlier are making my life difficult regardless of what your measure of that may be. Do not mistake me seeking help from people on PF for "whining". Take your ignorance someplace else.
  20. Oct 18, 2012 #19
    Didn't mean to offend, but oh well.

    So mood swings and terrible time focusing/ being motivated doesn't make your life suck, what do they do?

    Just sounds like your making excuses. If you need time to get your stuff together then go for it. If your not happy with where your at then make changes to be happy. Think your the only to go through depression and insomnia? Did they give up?

    Just don't use it as an excuse to make giving up on your dreams easier to cope with.
  21. Oct 18, 2012 #20
    They make my life difficult - they make it difficult to make a firm decision. There is a significant difference between a situation that will make your life suck and something that makes it difficult. If I was a woman in a sex trade or an abused dog I would say my life "sucks", for example.

    You seem to not understand, I am trying to not feel this way so I can pursue my dream. I will admit you may have a point. Maybe I am using these feelings as an excuse to leave a situation I don't want to be in. I don't know.
  22. Oct 18, 2012 #21
    Fair enough on the difficulty part. There is a very fine line between difficulty and things sucking, but from my experience they go hand in hand. Your life is obviously different, and have had different experiences.

    I know for certain that I don't know a damn thing. All I'm saying is that if this is your absolute dream, the one and only then don't give up on it, regardless of whatever is happening...

    Whenever I'm faced with tough choices I make a scenario chart. Plotting out what are the most likely possibilities that will happen many steps down the road. Helps, and puts things in perspective a bit. And has generally been pretty accurate thus far, at least for me.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2012
  23. Oct 18, 2012 #22
    I agree with this advice, I really do. I did something similar to this a few weeks ago to no avail. The problem, in addition to not being happy with the current situation, is that I feel differently about it almost on a daily basis. It makes being confident in a decision 10x harder when you know, say in a few hours, that you will differently about it. This is paralizing. I am sorry I am b1!tchi~ng on PF. The advice I've gotten from this community and the opportunity to vent, is really helping.

    I will take your advice and make a scenario chart tonight.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2012
  24. Oct 18, 2012 #23
    Good luck bud, I wish you the best.

    Remember when making the chart, be completely honest with yourself and pragmatic. And true to what will make you happier and better.
  25. Oct 18, 2012 #24
    I can only offer some small pragmatic advice:

    1) resume working out. A surprising amount of the body's internal biochemistry can be re-balanced and re-regulated through physical exercise (I like to call it 'exorcising' for its effects :p). Prioritize this, it will help you sleep, and force-produce endorphins.
    2) Try to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid relying too heavily on milk, bread, and processed foods for your caloric intake. Your body is a machine that requires certain inputs to operate correctly.
    3) Go out and buy an all-natural sleep supplement called Melatonin. Melatonin is a a hormone naturally released by your brain to instigate sleep and it helps to reset your circadian rhythms. Dosages between 5 - 10mg are appropriate for addressing insomnia and it is sold in the vitamin section of most drug stores.

    This advice is of a different nature than what others have said, however, I have frequently dealt with severe ups and downs in the mood and my overall assessment of my life, prospects, chances, worthiness, and so on. It changes day by day and sometimes turns around within the hour.

    What I've realized is this: simply put, we are biochemical machines and our brains are little biochemical factories chugging away. A miniscule shift in the proportion or balance of different neurotransmitters doesn't just change our mood, it can fundamentally alter our perception of events, people's intentions, re-interpret your own history, the list goes on.

    You say at times you are very positive, and that you are fulfilling a personal ambition. I would first try to invest some time and effort in to ensuring that your physical self, as an organism, is functioning the best it can, before deciding to exit the environment.
  26. Oct 18, 2012 #25
    Just to re-emphasize:

    Sleep, exercise, and nutrition are incredibly vital to your body being able in the most material sense possible to produce the necessary neurotransmitters and messenger hormones, which then regulate your sleep-wake cycle, your moods, and emotional states, which all influence your mental alacrity and performance.

    Maybe it sounds a bit too basic or down to earth, but eating a big salad and going for a brief jog has in previous instances brought me right out of the deepest darkest moods into something approaching optimism. Bodies are organic machines - when your car makes odd noises or has trouble starting, is your first assumption the roads you've been driving on, or the engine under the hood?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook