I have now spent just as much time in graduate school as I spent doing my undergraduate degree. Four years ago, I was wrapping up my last classes, writing my undergraduate honours thesis, and planning a summer Europe trip. I remember feeling so old. I was so young.
In many ways, when I look back on my undergrad, I learned so little. I stayed in my arts and science bubble so fervently, so optimistically, that I missed out on learning more about myself. More about how I can love (strongly, radically, wildly), how I can learn (through discomfort), and how I can take care of myself. I also missed out on learning about people who weren’t middle class. People who were struggling were so invisibilized in my intense liberal arts experience that when I struggled, I imagined myself to be noble and different. I also depended on my parents (well, my dad) for everything during my undergrad: tuition, rent, and transportation home. I felt entitled to that care, entitled to that money.
There was one point in my Master’s degree where my visa card was completely maxed out, my credit line was completely maxed out, and I had less than ten dollars in my bank account. I was working full time and writing a thesis. My mother paid my rent that month. I continue to have parents who can bail me out of financial blunders (or normal amounts of school-related cashlessness.) I never realized how lucky I was until that month. I remind you, and myself here, that there is a difference between being broke and being poor. When I was broke, I had my middle-class mother (and father) to bail me out. I have never been poor. (Not to mention the fact that I had a credit line and a visa card to begin with. These are often not available to the truly poor.)
Graduate school also taught me how important other kinds of support systems are. In my Master’s degree, I was in a department that didn’t understand the work I wanted to do, the work that I ended up doing. I was told that Mad Studies “didn’t exist”. I was told that there was no money for me to attend conferences. I was told over and over again that “race isn’t relevant”. Now, in my doctorate, I am doing work specifically in Mad Studies. I am given opportunities that I was previously told didn’t exist. I am treated as a colleague rather than a student. I have been receiving financial, emotional, professional, and educational support that I was told wasn’t supposed to exist in graduate school. Since undergrad, it had been drilled into me that I’m supposed to be doing it all myself. I realize that this is a lie: graduate students shouldn’t have to be doing it all themselves.
Finally, I have learned so much about mental distress. I have learned how close I can get to thinking about suicide without acting on it. I have learned how much love (and the support of a loving partner) can really change things. I have learned how long and how much trauma lingers in the body. I have learned how much another animal (a quiet fluff ball in the middle of the night) can help. I have learned, over and over again, how toxic it can be to strive for perfection.
I have a while yet to go before I wrap up my graduate school experience. In the meantime, I’m continuing to feel optimistic that there is so much more for me to learn.