I hear this question a lot.
And I still don’t think I’ve come up with the right answer.
“It’s…good!”, I stammer. Or I’ll say: “It’s challenging, but I’m getting used to it.”
Honestly, I’m not always sure of the answer. I think I still don’t know how I feel about it. So, I’m taking the time to pause. To process it. To reflect back on the past year and decide, at least for this present moment, how I feel about going back to school.
Ever since I quit my job as a mental health therapist to pursue my PhD full-time, I’ve been adjusting to changes. Changes in scenery (I commute an hour both ways), changes in routine (I wake up, eat, and sleep at different times each day), changes in schedule (It’s different every semester), and changes in my self-perception (I’m just a student now; I have no other title to hide behind). I miss having the option of a paid sick day and I miss my employee benefits package. I live under a constant umbrella of due dates and practicum hours and research tasks that haunt me, even on my days off. I live my school days out of a backpack (a trendy one, I will admit) and with constant dependance on my planner (old-school paper copy and proud of it!). I always feel like I am counting down: to the weekend, to the end of the semester, to the end of the school year, to graduation.
And I feel a few other things too. Like, that I’m old. After graduating from college early, I got used to being the youngest person in my masters program and the youngest person at my first “real” job. Now, since I worked for a few years in between going back to school, I’m one of the oldest people in my class. It’s weird to adjust to–like I’m behind or I missed something or I should know everything already and then I’m embarrassed when I don’t seem to know much at all.
I also struggle with this strange cognitive dissonance between feeling incredibly smart when talking to people outside of school because my brain is constantly stimulated with new thoughts and ideas and then feeling regularly humbled when I am interacting with advanced students and faculty because I realize how much I still have to learn. It’s also very important to me to actually still live my life and not just live “in limbo” until I graduate and make “real” money and start my “real career.” I do this by hosting parties, being involved in my community, and celebrating milestones with my friends, but it’s still hard sometimes when I realize there are still so many things that are being held off until I graduate–important things like moving, big vacations, buying a house, and having a baby.
But there are fun things, too. Like random 2pm lunches when Husband and I both happen to be home at the same time or surprise naps when a client cancels our appointment and this fascinating idea that I am somehow involved in a great adventure that only 1% of the population gets to experience. And I get a break from the constant emotional drain of having a full case load. And I get 3 weeks off at Christmas, so that’s cool. 🙂
In summary: school is hard. And different than anything else I’ve experienced. But I wouldn’t trade it for my old job or any other job right now because it’s also kind of cool. So, I keep chugging along. I plod through research and statistics and group presentations–all with the hope that I will someday use this knowledge to make a little bit of difference in a world that is fractured by a mental health crisis. And I want those extra letters after my name.
And that is how school is going. For now.