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When people ask me how my first year of graduate school was, I typically illicit this maniacal giggle that completely gives away the fact I lost damn near all my sanity. In my defense, I feel most graduate students feel the same way at some point.
To anyone considering graduate school, good luck. To those of us in the muck of it, hats off to the size of our balls.
You have no idea where your money goes.
When you started the year, you had mounds of funds just sitting in your checking and savings accounts, and more to come with those hefty student loans you applied for. You promised yourself only to use your checking account–your savings account is money for the real world. Like, putting a down payment on a house or a boat or adopting a kid from Cambodia. All of your money from summers of nannying for five days a week when you sacrificed week-long benders with your friends started to accrue, and you were ready to be an adult and invest in your education, but also live comfortably (such as going out for drinks regularly and splurging at Sephora every once in a while). Fast forward to the end of the year. You look at your bank statement and laugh-cry, because you halfway think this is some cruel prank a friend pulled on you when she talked you into giving her your PIN number when you were drunk, but you halfway know it’s because you’re inescapably financially irresponsible. You’re just unwilling to admit that out loud–or to your parents. You contemplate becoming an Uber driver to make some money on the side, then realize you have no car. You settle for a waitressing job, because you’re 90 percent certain that your master’s in television will land you a great career as a food service industry professional by the time you’re 30.
You have nervous breakdowns. A lot. Especially in public places.
Your tear ducts get more action than the Boston Fire Department–and probably more action than you, if we’re being honest. There’s something about grad school that rips away anyone’s dignity in the ability to stay composed. You can always feel it coming. It’s always right after a week when you’ve had 10 cumulative hours of sleep, maybe one or two showers, and watched too many episodes of “New Girl” to procrastinate on loads of work that was all conspiratorially due the same day. That lump creeps up into your throat as you quietly sit on the train. You think about all your student loans and the fact that you’ll forever be deemed a poor “starving artist,” and then you think about the people who fall for poor, starving artists. The options are so slim that you see yourself settling for a guy named Chad or Todd, who will most definitely have a bald spot or an ugly soul patch he refuses to shave. His favorite show will be “Family Guy” and he’ll say things like “okie dokie,” but you can’t give him up because you never know if anyone will love you. And oh, your poor children who will most likely hate you, because starving artists can’t afford to send their kids to nice schools and buy them nice things, then they’ll take up prostitution and drugs and get tattoos–oh God, NOT TATTOOS. Suddenly, you realize you’re doubled over and sobbing on the guy next to you in the Red Sox hat as he eats a burrito and manages to drop a few pieces of mango salsa into your hair.
Your skin reverts to its pubescent ways.
Remember that unflattering yearbook photo of you in seventh grade? The one where you had a huge zit on your chin, but you were so cosmetically inept because you hadn’t really gotten into makeup yet, (apart from those N.Y.C. colored mascaras and unhealthy amounts of tinted Bonne Bell) so you used your mother’s foundation, which was CLEARLY not the right undertone? You ended up looking like someone had rubbed Cheetos all over the lower half of your face. Yeah, you know the photo I’m talking about. It was totally acceptable back then. Your body was doing weird shit and your face became a breeding ground for more weird shit. No one blinked an eye at the 12-year-old with skin problems. As a 22-year old, I can’t say there’s much sympathy. Who actually has time to maintain a Clinique facial care regimen when you’re ass deep in assignments, too exhausted to take off your makeup at the end of the night? You only find happiness in consuming all the pizza and beer because it provides a solid coping mechanism. Your face definitely pulls an America and declares its independence as you’re left excusing yourself with the line that generates the most compassion from female audiences: “Oh, you know, period breakouts.” And then people start to wonder why you have your lady time four weeks out of the month.
You get fat. Like, really fat.
This is the point in your life when “sweatpants are the only thing that fit me right now” is your anthem. After months of stress, sobbing into slices of pizza, consoling yourself with a 3 a.m. study break for Thai food delivery, and putting off all responsibilities until after you devour a whole half-gallon of Edy’s, you’re a bit touchy about your new waistline. You have had nights you refuse to leave your shitty, overpriced studio apartment due to the inches separating you from buttoning the jeans you bought while you still had your undergrad body, but now resemble overstuffed sausage casings as you make a futile attempt to do the jump and wiggle (you know what move I’m talking about). Spanx cannot fix this. All of your clothes are a smidgen too tight, but not so tight that they don’t fit–just tight enough to be in that awkward “well, I guess I’ll just throw a boyfriend cardigan over this to hide my muffin top” phase. You refuse to get a bigger size in anything, because you say it motivates you to go to the gym. Spoiler alert: you’re not going to go to the gym. Seriously, WHEN is there time to go to the gym? You spend at least an hour commuting to and from class daily, you have hours upon hours of class that are usually prime for snapchatting–especially when you have to watch films you’ve seen 17 times–and let’s not forget about that job you have that helps pay for graduate school. The fact is, the last thing you want to do when you get home is change into a pair of yoga pants that don’t fit your ass anymore and take another commute to the gym where you’ll be taunted and ridiculed by all of the undergraduate varsity soccer girls because you can’t go five minutes on the stair stepper without falling off.
Your boobs get HUGE.
Not like the “I want to motorboat the shit out of those” huge, but like “she looks like she’s fed a whole village in Africa” huge. This is most likely a symptom of the weight gain that you would think bodes in your favor. Well, it doesn’t. It prohibits you from wearing any sort of A-line dress or a belt around your waist, because it only highlights the ill-fitting bra lines that start to create back boobs. Your cups runneth over, and there’s really not a damn thing you can do about it. You still have all the bras you wore in undergrad that made your boobs look perfect, especially for all those frat parties you now reminisce about. In the real world, no one hands out shitty, heavy-handed mixed drinks for free, even if it is Karkov, for having a nice rack. You’re too poor to have the luxury to go out and buy the right size for your girls, so you’re stuck being nostalgic with your old titty tamers that give you a mean case of the quad boob. Don’t you dare even think about going braless if you’re bigger than a B. You put everyone at risk of being a casualty to your nip slip.
You become a functioning alcoholic.
Monday? Margs. Tuesday? More tequila. Wednesday? Wine. Thursday? Anything, just because. Friday? Was that called a Scorpion bowl…? Saturday and Sunday? “I’m not going to drink today, really. Just a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary. Okay, maybe two. I’ll stop after three.” This type of bargaining goes on every week. It’s that voice inside your head telling you that maybe you should let your body have just one day without an elevated BAC, but then you look at your to do list for the week, put on a bra, call up your girlfriends, and say, “Let’s just take a really quick study break at Yardhouse. Oh, yeah, definitely. Just one beer.” The next morning, you find a half-eaten, open jar of peanut butter next to your head, mascara stains on your pillow, and 37 outgoing calls to your ex-boyfriend. But you still pull your shit together enough to take a shower, albeit you vomit into the drain a few times and cut yourself with a shanty armpit-shaving attempt. The motion of the train makes you sick, and you almost lose your skimpy breakfast of half a container of yogurt into your backpack, but you’re successfully on your way to class. Totally functional.*
*Alcoholism is a real thing and I don’t condone it. I had to put this disclaimer to make it seem like I’m not insensitive.
You nap an unreasonable amount.
You wish you could go back to your childhood and add up all the hours you refused to nap, no matter how much your mother implored–let’s be honest, you were probably a little terror as a child–and stash them in your sleep bank. You. Need. All. The. Sleep. And you take it, unapologetically. Huge script due tomorrow? Let’s nap on it. Thesis proposal? I should probably nap first. Production packet that counts for half of your grade this semester? I think a nap will clear my head. There is seriously not enough sleep in the world for you, you determined, worn down, soul-sucked, graduate student, you. You nap with vengeance, even when you’re not tired. (But when are you never tired?) When you’re overwhelmed, the only plausible thing to do is overwhelm yourself even more by taking time to nap and putting off any sort of responsibility whatsoever. You have missed several outings due to their infringement on your precious nap time, and you’re notoriously known for missing calls and not returning them, because you checked them in your misty-eyed state and then passed right back out. People probably argue that you’re depressed with the amount of sleep you need, but depression and sleep deprivation are just side effects of grad school. Just like student loan debt and superiority complex.
You learn to just go with it.
Yeah, you’re emotional and you can’t afford to feed yourself occasionally, and yeah, you’re probably a little pudgy, and yeah, you probably haven’t been sober in about eight days. But you’re in fucking graduate school. You’re getting a degree in something cool as hell, and when you finish and get through all of this, you’ll hold a shiny master’s in your hand, and think, “Damn, that wasn’t so bad after all.” All of your complaints seem silly and so surface level when you think about it. You realize that you have to be poor to experience how incredible it feels to make money and really earn it from doing what you love. You realize emotions shouldn’t be tamed, even if the whole transit system probably thinks you’re on the verge of a mental and emotional meltdown or that you may threaten to pull the emergency break, because feelings are meant to be felt and expressed. You realize that the way you look is so infinitesimal on the grand scale of things that matter, because your ideas are what will continue after you, not that goiter of a zit you had on your forehead during finals week or that pair of fat jeans you wear after you indulge yourself in a night of gastronomical debauchery. You realize that getting drunk and rowdy with friends will always be a perfect pastime, and you’re probably not as much of a lush as you think you are, because you managed to get through a rigorous grad program, which is pretty fucking valiant. You also realize that you can sleep when you’re dead, because there’s too damn much to see and experience. It’s better to go through life happy and a bit haggard than to have your eyes shut completely.