Depression

Depression is a Jealous Mistress

                                                                                                        written by Becky, a former graduate wife

When I was asked to write about my struggle with depression during my time as a graduate wife, two thoughts came to me. One, I’m not going to do it. And two, I have to do it. Depression rears its ugly head at far to many to be allowed to remain a silent killer of marriage, family, hopes, and dreams. It is my goal in this snippet to expose it and hopefully encourage some of you to pursue healing.

For as long as I can remember I hid my struggle. I was so ashamed that I didn’t have it all together and that I wasn’t really the outgoing bubbly Becky everyone knew and loved. I was so dark, angry, hurting, and no one saw it.

No one except my husband.

In his second year of seminary, my husband had to pick up the phone and call the seminary’s counseling department because I was suicidal and wouldn’t leave my bed for three days. He helped me when my depression brought me to where I had no voice. He was my voice.

A year of intense counseling later, I thought that I was free.

My son Nolan was born one year after Graham graduated from seminary, and the joyous time that should have been wasn’t. Tainted with extreme weight gain, exhaustion, crying everyday at 4 o’clock on the dot, anger at everyone, and isolation, my son’s first months were shrouded by a cloud as dark as those Floridian summer afternoon thunderstorms. I thought it was the baby blues and normal issues brought on by moving across the country, trying to put down new roots, buying a home; all those things associated with a major relocation. Yet, six months passed and I was still a mess. Finally, a friend suggested I see the doctor to ask about medication.

Meds, I thought, were for the truly insane. Not for me.

I was so desperate, however, to get better, I went and was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. In a weird way I was relived.

I wasn’t crazy.
Just sick.

Oh sweet, sweet meds. I had found myself again. The medications took three months to really start working but once they did, I didn’t know how I made it this long without them.

Am I healed? Is life perfect? No way. Depression is a jealous mistress that fights for your attention daily. You carry it with you like the diabetic carries their diabetes or the cancer patient carries their cancer. But how I choose to carry and deal with my disease makes all the difference in how I do life in the uncertainty of being married to a man whose direction in life turns on a dime. I could choose to go back to my hole of hiding and shame, and sometimes in my weakness I do go back, but most days I put on my boxing gloves to get out of bed, take my meds, and live life to the fullest, squeezing every drop of beauty and love out of every moment. I don’t try to be that fake outgoing bubbly Becky anymore; I try to be the truest and most raw and real me.

Beautifully broken.

If there is one thing a graduate wife is, without a doubt, it is strong. Sometimes, however, if any if my ramblings are hitting you and you’re thinking, “Yeah, that’s me,” being strong means getting the help that you need to be able to be your truest and most raw and beautifully broken self.

Don’t let depression kill you.
There is hope.
There is help.
There is healing.

All you have to do is ask, or in my case, have your already stressed, stretched, academically overflowing husband ask. That’s what marriage is all about. Holding each other up. There is no shame in your struggle. Be free to pursue healing and get the tools you need to control that mistress. Be free to be you and all of you. After all, isn’t that why most of our husbands are in this? To bring hope and healing whether through academics, ministry, medicine, or law to a world that is in need? Allow that hope and healing into your heart and soul.

After all, doesn’t the graduate wife deserve it?
With a smile on my face and warmth in my heart to you, the graduate wife reader, I say a big resounding…

YES! :)

As a graduate wife, have you struggled with depression?

Conclusion from Mandy –

I asked my friend, Becky, to write about her struggle with depression during (and after) her time as a graduate wife. Even though we were friends while our husbands were in school together, I had no idea she was going through this, until our last 2 weeks of living in Florida. Let’s be honest: depression isn’t something really talked about among graduate wives, and in my opinion, it’s often because we think other people might view us as weak.

I have been there.

I, too, told people I was fine, while I suffered silently. It was only after I reached out for help did I truly understand how much I needed it.

My challenge to each of you: talk to each other. Be willing to be vulnerable to someone, even though it may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. If you think you need help, pick up the phone and find someone to talk to. DON’T do this journey alone. And, by reaching out, you are being ridiculously strong and brave. As Becky said above, “…being strong means getting the help that you need to be able to be your truest and most raw and beautifully broken self.”

MC and I are also here – feel free to contact us at thegraduatewife@gmail.com if you feel like you need someone to talk to. This is why the blog was created.

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Doing it Together (both in academia)

A Happy Life


                                                                                    written by Angie, a current graduate wife and student

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

So remarks Leo Tolstoy in his opening to Anna Karenina, and it seems his observation applies to graduate students, too. The happy ones usually have the same reasons for being happy— they find what they’re studying interesting to them, they have nice comradeship with other students, they have helpful supervisors, they make good headway on their work. But the unhappy postgraduates are unhappy for all sorts of different reasons— they lose interest in their research topic; they feel lonely and isolated in their work; they feel homesick or stuck in a town they don’t want to be in; their supervisors are unsympathetic, unhelpful, or unavailable; they feel paralyzed by the mountains of reading and writing to do; they have writers’ block; they get intimated by the academic world and its intense competition and pride; they have financial struggles and burdens of loans or family financial sacrifices, and a constant questioning of whether the money spent on their education is justifiable; they have a hard time being present to their families; they have a constant sense of not having enough time; they have loss of vision and vocation and wonder why on earth they ever thought it was a good idea to start those degrees.

My husband and I are both PhD students, and between us we’ve felt most of those things. At the moment I’m more in the happy-student-camp, while my husband has been fighting off a flood of factors making him an unhappy student. Even though we’re doing the same degrees in the same university, the same department, and even the same area (Old Testament studies), we’ve had really different experiences. Maybe it’s because I’m a year ahead of my husband that I have more hope— I can see some glimmer of not being a student anymore!— but our experiences have made real to me how different each graduate life can be. All sorts of factors can make it enjoyable or miserable, and each person has different understandings of why they’re studying and how that study fits into the wider work they feel drawn to do.

But I think Tolstoy may have been off in his assessment of happy families—they actually are happy in different ways, too. And so, I must now qualify, are graduate students. It’s possible to be happy in the graduate life for different reasons, and there are healthy and unhealthy ways of finding that happiness. Some postgraduates base their happiness on their success in the eyes of the academy (how many publications, conferences, accolades they have under their belts), and they have their self-worth wrapped up in their achievements as academics. This seems to be the most common form of unhealthy happiness in academia— I see a lot of students fall into that trap, and it’s hard to get out of. But at the end of the day, it won’t give a lasting happiness, as all success is relative. It hardly ever is enough. My husband and I have had a long haul of learning that our work is not who we are, though the two things are related. Even as our work is part of our passions and interests and callings, it does not determine our worth, nor can we base our happiness upon it.

So we’re learning instead to seek out the deeper reasons for being happy in our studies, knowing why we’re studying, how our work might be formative in making us into the persons we’re called to be. What I’ve learned most these past six years of postgraduate life is that how one studies matters. A theologian I’ve been reading, Karl Barth, taught me that, as he said, “The real value of a doctorate, even when earned with the greatest distinction, is totally dependent on the degree to which its recipient has conducted and maintained himself as a learner. Its worth depends, as well, entirely on the extent to which he further conducts and maintains himself as such.” Learning, whether as a graduate student or as any other calling in life (including the calling of being a wife!), is a deeply personal act, an act that involves not just the mind and specific practices, but even more so the soul of the learner and the kind of life she goes on to lead.

And so, what we’re seeking on this graduate journey is in all things to journey in our hearts towards becoming the persons we are called to be. The writer of Psalm 84 puts this well, as he says, “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways.” It seems the psalmist is saying that those highways are not the roads of particular situations one is traveling upon, but rather, the groves of one’s heart that are being worn as one lives, the ways one’s heart is heading in all things. What matters most is the way one is journeying and growing in her heart. A heart of highways that is ever striving towards more lasting and beautiful and broader things— that’s something needed for all of us caught up in this graduate life, happy and unhappy alike. And with those hearts of highways, we may come to find ourselves, wherever we are and however it’s going, somehow happy and at home.

In your graduate wife journey, how are you finding your journey of happiness?

Children · Family · Moving · Patience

Helping Children Put Down New Roots

                                                                                                  written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

In the summer heat, my boys are restless and roaming the house looking for their next adventure.  Hoping to provide some direction for their boundless energy, my sister asks if we would help her transplant some potted plants.

“Yeah! Digging and dirt!” shouts one.

“I want to hold the hose!” chimes in the other as he sprints out to the back patio.

She brings a basket of plants outside that have grown too big for their original pots.  Browning and overcrowded, they clearly need more dirt, fresh nutrients . . . something to bring new life back into withering leaves.

My boys hover over pots and sacks of Miracle-Gro.   Soon, clay pots are filled with new soil and small shovels loosen plants from old containers, their roots twisted and tangled together.  The perfectly pot-sized clumps of roots are placed in spacious pots and new dirt secures them in place.  My younger boy comes by with a miniature watering can to finish the job.

This small bit of gardening took all of ten minutes, but now as I sit in the evening quiet, my thoughts come back to this transplanting idea.  I am thinking about how many times my family has been transplanted during the course of my husband’s studies.   I am remembering what it was like to tell our kids we were moving again and how we attempted to guide them through the transitions.

Even my rowdy 3 and 7 year old boys can transfer a strong, established plant to a new pot with a little bit of focus, but it can be difficult to move a seedling successfully.  Moving children is a lot like attempting to transplant seedlings.  Their roots are tiny, fragile white threads and they never seem to balance properly in the new pot.  We moved five different times during our graduate journey and each time friends and family were keen to reassure us:  “Oh, don’t worry – kids are so resilient!  Especially at such young ages!”  or “Kids pick up new languages almost instantly.  They soak it up like a sponge. ” And yet, each time we moved, my children did struggle.  And learning a new language and going to school in that language was hard work for my older son.  After a few moves, I began to be of the opposite mind as my well-intentioned advice givers.  I came to realize that my children actually do hear and understand and feel a lot more than I sometimes realize.  Especially because they are fragile and not fully formed (much like seedlings), my boys need to be given opportunities to process what is happening if they are going to transition without problems.    So, in this piece I would like to explore ways we can help our children during a move or major transition.  Some ideas come from what we have tried in our own family and I have also added some ideas from the moving chapter of the book Third Culture Kids.

1)     Introducing the Idea of Moving

a)     Before our most recent move, my husband set up a series of bedtime chats with our sons (then 5 and 1) in which he told them about “God’s special plan” for our family.   We told the boys that we felt that God was directing us to move in order to follow His special plan.  We also had a night in which we talked about the fact that God has a special plan for each of their lives and God may be using some of our travels to prepare them for their futures.  These chats were given in bite-sized pieces they could understand, usually with a map nearby and time for their questions.

b)     We marked on a map where we lived (Germany) and where we were moving (England).  In order to create some excitement, we tried to make lists of things the children might like about our new city.  If possible, it is great to find pictures of the school the children will attend or pictures of the house/apartment that you will live in and its surrounding neighborhood.

c)     Read books about moving and talk about how the different characters might feel.  Try to find one with clear pictures of what happens during the packing up of an old house, the unpacking at new house, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, etc.

d)     For very small children, it can be helpful to play “moving games” in order to just introduce them to what a move is.  We did this some with our youngest in our last move a couple of weeks before we left.  I gave him a couple of empty boxes and we would pack up toys and move them to the next room and unpack them, explaining that this is what we were going to do later with all of our stuff.  Also, during all the events that precede a move and happen during a move, it is good for the parents to “frame” what is happening:  “Look, Daddy and his friend are putting the boxes in the van.  They will bring all of your toys safely to your new room.  Just like our game!”  or “We are waving goodbye to our old house.  We will have a picture of it in our photo album, but now we are going to live in our new house.”   When things get busy, it is easy to forget to include our young children in what is happening by framing it in words they can understand.

 2)     Giving a Sense of Closure

a)     As it got closer to our moving date, we wanted the kids to have a chance to think about all the people in our current home who have been important to them (church leaders, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc.) and also the places we have been that have been meaningful.

i)      People: Children can write notes of appreciation, draw pictures for special people,  or think about leaving a special momento with a close friend or family member

ii)     Places that hold important memories:  Visiting these places one last time, reminiscing, and getting a special photo or hiding a treasure or note to hopefully find again there someday. 

3)     Easing the Actual Transition

a)     Use of “sacred objects”:  For some of us who are making international moves, it is just not possible to take much with us.  How do you deal with this?  We met one family who had a policy we really liked.  Though they moved often, they made sure they always kept a few of their children’s most valued possessions:  some quilts their grandmother had made them and some special dishes made for them by a friend.  The quilts were unpacked first thing and spread over the beds and then their dishes were set out, helping to create a feeling of “home” for them.  Though the quilts were bulky and the family was sometimes very limited on space, these “sacred objects” were always a priority.  Having a set of “sacred objects” as they are called in Third Culture Kids helps to give the kids some stability.

b)     Keep as many family rituals in place as possible – Keep the days and weeks as normal as you can.

c)     Plan for a period of misbehavior and general adjustment.  You, as the parent, are going to need to give a lot emotionally and the kids are going to need you more than normal.  Their behavior is almost guaranteed to be crazy for a while. Give them grace – moving can be even harder for little ones who had no control in the decision that has resulted in their entire world changing.  Keep close tabs on how kids are doing emotionally – you will be very busy and overtired but keep your eye on signs that something might be off with them.  Help them to name feelings and provide acceptable outlets to express feelings.

d)     Make contact with some other families in the area or at the same school as soon as possible (in advance if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity!)  Don’t expect your new community to initiate having a relationship with you – be prepared to go out and actively seek out community for your family.

e)     One way we have eased the transition for our family is by sending my husband ahead first.  When we moved to Germany, he drove our possessions to our new apartment with a friend a few days before we arrived.  It made a big difference for our five year old, because when he first saw his new room it was completely unpacked with all of his familiar toys out and favorite posters on the walls.  Instead of a weird feeling of not belonging in a small white-walled, empty room, he seemed to feel at peace and slept alone in that room on the first night.  It also helped lessen the stress for me because before our arrival my husband could purchase some preliminary groceries and a map and scout out the neighborhood.

f)      For those of you who are moving internationally, I strongly urge you to learn all you can about the language and culture ahead of time.  Of course, no matter how much you prepare, you will still be learning a lot as you go through life in your new country.  Your children can learn a lot by watching how you handle the experience.  Describe how you are feeling about learning all these new things.  Present it as an exciting new adventure, but acknowledge that it can be overwhelming at times and that’s normal and okay to feel that way.  Try to laugh at your mistakes and move forward so the children know that when they make mistakes, they can learn from them and move on without feeling ashamed.

Taking some time to put some of these ideas in place (and maybe add to them with some of your own!) can really make a difference in how your children react to a move.  We all hope that our kids, if they must be transplanted to a new place, will adjust to the soil and be able to drink deeply of the water and nutrients that a new experience can offer them.  With a little bit of planning and effort, you can help give them the best possible start.

In your graduate wife journey, how have you prepared your children to move to another country, city, or state? Did you do anything specifically?

Expectations · Family · Inspiration · Sacrifice

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

                                                                                                                                   

written by Lis – a current graduate wife

I really love when a new month starts on a Monday. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my absolute favorite things!

With August beginning in such a fantastic way, I just knew it was going to hold a lot of my favorite things.

Now, I admit that I am a girl who likes order and routine, so when I am out of that routine, I tend to get grumpy. That Monday’s morning routine was different: there wasn’t one.  And you know what? I couldn’t have been happier!

On that first August morning, Tim didn’t wake up and pack his red bag for school. Instead, he was still in bed at 10:00 a.m. He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t working at his desk, and he didn’t have his ear plugs in to help him focus on his studies: instead, the only thing he was studying was the little girl he was giving his undivided attention to. She was giggling, he was smiling, and I was counting my blessings.

We made it. We did it…again. One more semester behind us, and 29 days until we have to face the start of another one.

We spent the past week in Black Mountain, NC, and as I sat on top of that mountain and looked out to the tree-covered peaks in the distance (see attached pic), I was thankful. Even as I was resting on top of that mountain, I was already praying for the ones I know are yet to come. We have climbed three hard, long, and exhausting mountains: one for each semester of classes.  We have three times that many still to go, but the point is we have climbed and we have made it. And we can do it again.

The very thing I said was impossible, is proving to be possible.

We can do hard things.

I can.  He can.  She can too.

We are doing this together.  Together, we can get to each mountain top, rest, and get ready for the next mountain.

In my experience, graduate wives don’t realize the amount of stress and pressure that is on them until it’s gone. Until you are no longer living in the midst of the stress of tests, exams, projects, research papers, and finals, you don’t quite grasp how much it takes out of you. Often the graduate students themselves don’t recognize that they are being pulled in a hundred different directions and that while they fully intend to engage in everything they commit to, they really are not capable of giving any more than they already are; at least this is how it is in my home. When he spends time with us, Tim does his best to disengage from school and the pressures that medical school brings, but it’s still there. It’s still on his mind, it’s still a stress, it’s still a pressure or that nagging feeling of, “I should really be studying…”

But now that we have arrived at this mountaintop, the only question that has to be answered is “what do you want to do today?”  Sometimes the answer is, “nothing.”

The stress is melting off.  We needed this break, both individually and as a family.  We needed no time frame, no agenda. We needed a week with no internet, little cell phone service, and a lot of playing on the floor, eating together, playing games, and catching up on the “oh, did I tell you that…?”

I don’t know where you are on this journey of being a graduate wife. If you are only beginning, hear me say this to you: “You CAN do this!” The valleys are hard, exhausting, and will make your makeup run, but the mountaintops are beautiful and well worth the climb. Get some really cute, comfortable shoes and set out hand in hand with the person of your dreams to accomplish the very thing that only the two of you can do.

If you are finishing, hear me say this: “You made it! Great work!” (And I am jealous!)  Thank you for your dedication to this journey that we all have set out on.  Our individual paths are different, yet somehow the same. You are an example to me and the ones coming behind you. We need to know others have gone before and lived to tell about it! 

My goal for this journey isn’t just to survive, but to thrive. Not just to make it, but to run as fast as I can to the finish line saying, “if we hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have met, done, become, or grown the way I have,” and to say to my husband, “I hated you for making me do this, but now I am so glad you did.”

We can do this, we can survive, we can thrive, and we can eat a lot of chocolate along the way!!

The top of this mountain held other peaks waiting to be hiked, the laughs and screams that only white water rafting can bring, a baby asking to go and swing, and hundreds of lightning bugs that needed to be caught!

As you climb, don’t forget to count your blessings along the way–it is what will get you to the top and make the journey worth it–and when you do reach those vital mountaintops, don’t forget to share the joys you find there.

As a graduate wife, what mountains (classes, jobs, etc). are you currently climbing?

Friday Funnies

Wednesday Wind-up

To all our graduate wives –

If you find yourself currently in any of the following situations:

1. Moving to another city, state or country to begin a degree

2. Involved in the job hunting season, knowing you’ll face loads of rejection

3. Watching a husband struggle through exams/turning in a dissertation

4. Using humor (and chocolate) as a way to deal with life

Then this video is for you! At some point, we do all have to laugh at ourselves, and this journey we’re on…..enjoy!

Inspiration · Moving · Patience · Roles · Sacrifice · Trust · Vocation/Gifts/Calling

Pilgrim Call

Written by Judy – a former graduate wife

Today I open the book of readings my husband gave me over 26 years ago—before we were married—and the author’s dedication reminds me of who I am: ‘For every pilgrim who yearns for God’

I am a pilgrim, though an unlikely one. When I was growing up, my family rarely traveled. We lived in the same house since I was four years old and the furthest we traveled was to a nearby campground for our vacations. We did not suffer from wanderlust.

So I think it came as a surprise to all of us when, at the age of seventeen, I became convinced that I was meant to go away from home for university. Far away. Three thousand miles away. And though I have been back for visits, and even married a man from the same state, I have never lived there again. In fact, I have never lived again in any of the nine cities (in three different countries) in which we have lived since getting married.

I could say I blame my husband for my vagabond state. He was a graduate student when I met him, and three graduate degrees and a job in academia later, all of our moves have been related to his career. But it wouldn’t be true to say that it is his fault. I knew before I met him that I was not called to stay in one place; I was called to ‘go’.

One of my favorite passages in the bible comes from Psalm 84. I can still remember reading it, before I had ever met my husband, and knowing that there was a message there for me: ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…They go from strength to strength…’ The Cambridge dictionary defines a pilgrim as ‘a person who makes a journey, which is often long and difficult, to a special place for religious reasons.’ I have made a journey, which has been long and sometimes difficult (and often amazing), to many special places because that is what I believe God has called me to do. I have set my heart on pilgrimage.

I say this, not because I think I am special—I believe we are all called by God to an amazing journey with Him—but because I think that unless you have a sense of calling, it is impossible to live the life of ‘sacrificial support’ that is the life of the wife of a graduate student.

I love that term, ‘sacrificial support’. I think it precisely embodies what it means to be the spouse of a graduate student. Because providing the support that a person who is pursuing a graduate degree needs does require sacrifice, often on a comprehensive scale: sacrifice in terms of career, income, children, family, home-making, personal pursuits, even attention and affection. It is not for the faint (or the selfish) of heart. And while in the early stages love for our spouse and a love of adventure may propel us along, there comes a day when the newness wears off and we begin to feel neglected and unappreciated and we wonder, ‘Is this what I signed up for?’ It’s then that we have the chance to truly understand the sacrificial part of the equation; it’s then that we have the chance to dig deep to find what we didn’t know we had.

Or not. I’ve seen graduate marriages fail, and others take a severe beating. This can be a very difficult road to travel. And while I don’t believe there is a formula for success, I do believe that it is essential to have a shared sense of call and vision, something larger than merely what this means to the interests and career path of the one who is studying, and something larger than the attitude ‘I’m letting you have your turn now so that I can have my turn later.’ There is no 50/50 in marriage. There is give and take; there is negotiation; but always there is sacrifice—on both parts, because that is what love is about.

So here I am, twenty-six years of marriage, fourteen moves of house and three (mostly) grown children later, looking back at the beginning of this adventure in ‘sacrificial support’. I had no idea what I was in for and it has not turned out anything like I’d expected. And I’m sure the adventure is not over. There have been wonderful experiences too numerous to count, and there have been difficulties I couldn’t have managed if I had not believed that this was all part of a bigger plan, part of a pilgrim call.

So I am very thankful for my pilgrim heart. I think it has helped me negotiate this sometimes difficult road. It has helped me to keep the big picture in view—that we are on a journey and that each stop along the way is just that, a stop; it is not the final destination. It is not the point at which I can say, ‘Well, that’s over. Now I can begin my life.’ Life is in the journey.

Words from a Michael Card song that I love:

There is a joy in the journey,
there’s a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life,
and freedom for those who obey.

May we all experience joy in the journey; May we all experience the wonder and wildness of life and the freedom that comes from following our call.

As a graduate wife, did you ever feel ‘called’ to begin this graduate journey with your husband?  If so, how has that ‘call’ helped with your transition into this season of life? 

Faith · Inspiration · Patience · Trust

My Mantra, My Prayer

During the season of our lives that was a Master’s degree, I struggled daily with where God had placed us. Because of my faith, I never doubted that we weren’t supposed to be there, but I did doubt that God was around, walking the journey with us. I smiled through my frustration, cursed through my fear, and let my heart cry silently as life moved ever so slowly by.

For my birthday, I asked my husband for The Message Bible. (Secretly, I wanted it because of the psychedelic 3D cover. I have strange taste in art…..ask any of my friends).  He granted my wish – hooray! – and as I read through the New Testament I stumbled on this verse:

So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it. 1 Peter 4:19

I literally felt the verse lift off the page, as if it had been written for me. I made several copies of it, placing them in my car, my bathroom, and my office. It became my mantra, my prayer.  It encouraged me.  My head and heart repeated constantly, ‘Trust Him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.’

I have walked around with that verse for the last 5 years.  It will always be meaningful to me, even when this season we are in passes.

What verse, quote or book has carried you through this season of your life?

Mandy
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