I wasn’t feeling depressed or particularly anxious, and I didn’t go to the therapist because of issues related to work or school. Rather, I had found myself struggling with different parts of my life – my marriage, my relationship with my parents and siblings, and the fact that I was making some irresponsible choices. Basically, I was behaving as if something was very wrong in my life even though on paper, everything seemed to be going quite well for me. Great partner, a job that I (thought I) loved, etc.
Everything should have been fine ... but I wasn't acting like it was.
It was almost like my subconscious mind was working against me. Something was clearly wrong, but I could not figure out what it was.
For about two years, I went regularly to the therapist. She helped me out a lot, and after a few months I was doing great. I wasn't diagnosed with anything, really - just some mild situational anxiety. She didn't prescribe anything ... just talk therapy. So I kept coming in and talking.
And even though I could tell I was making progress, I never really felt like I wanted to stop seeing her. Every few weeks, I'd have this vague feeling where I'd feel like I was going to burst. I'd suddenly be vaguely frustrated and anxious and just want to start screaming at people, venting about anything and everything. I'd take it out on my partner, or I'd just start crying and screaming for no reason. I'd go in and talk to my therapist, and I'd feel better. For a couple of weeks.
But I could never feel permanently better. I'd always need to come back a few weeks later after another freakout.
My therapist and I talked about my family, and my relationship, and my friendships, and the way I dealt with problems. We talked about everything ... but not work. We never talked about my academic work. Well, more accurately - I never felt like I needed to talk about work.
"Work? Work's fine. Going on some interviews next month, and making progress on my dissertation. It's fine. Now, about that thing my mom said to me the other day..."
It wasn't that I didn't have frustrations about work. I most certainly did - my friends and partner were hearing about them. But I didn't feel like I knew how to talk about them with her. And what good would it do, anyway? It's not like I'm going to quit or something.
So my therapist never told me to quit. I never discussed the fact that I was unhappy with academia. Hell, I never really talked about academia at all.
But the week after I decided on my own to quit, I went in for my appointment and told her. She was surprised, but happy that I'd made a decision that clearly made me feel happy and relieved. She told me that some of her other clients were grad students and academics and that many of them had expressed unhappiness and a desire to quit. She said she was proud of me.
I felt great.
I went to see her regularly for the next six months or so ... always talking about my decision to leave. I'd excitedly tell her about this or that article that I'd run across that had validated my decision to leave. I'd talk about the sad search terms that were bringing people to my blog, and tell her how thankful I was that I'd left and that other people were finding my blog useful. I'd talk about how nice it was to just come home from work and have my evenings to myself. How glad I was that I wasn't busy moving to Nowheresville, Idaho for some crappy professor job. How happy I was to have left.
And by mid-August of 2011, I found that I didn't have anything else to talk about in therapy. Things with my family and my partner were much better. I was hardly ever feeling anxious or overwhelmed anymore. I wasn't having my freakouts anymore. I simply didn't have much to say during my sessions.
So she and I agreed that it might be time to stop regular sessions, and to have me just call if I needed to come in. I thanked her for everything, and went on my way.
And I haven't gone back.
Now ... that's not to say that I will never go back. I think therapy is a wonderful, useful thing, and I definitely expect that there will be another point in my life where I'll be dealing with some stuff and will need to go back into therapy to help myself work through it.
But I haven't felt the need to go yet ... and now that I look back? It seems obvious - based on the time when I needed (and then didn't need) therapy - that my unhappiness with academia was seeping into other parts of my life, and making me miserable and anxious and causing me to act out.
My therapist would help me work on some stuff, and I'd go home and do okay ... but I'd always need to come back. Things would always bubble back to the surface, and I'd need help. I just wasn't stable yet.
And then I left academia, and suddenly my life and my moods stabilized.
Coincidence? I don't think so.
So if you're feeling vaguely unhappy in academia and are thinking that maybe you could be happier or maybe you might want to make some changes, I strongly recommend making an appointment with a therapist.
But unlike me, try talking to them about work. Maybe they can make some suggestions ... and save you some time and mental anguish.