EAD in Science:
The tile floor was cold and hard against my knees, but I couldn’t move from my spot in front of the toilet. It was the third morning that week I had spent violently throwing up because of anxiety at the prospect of going into the lab. So far, I had been able to stay home without consequence. But that day I was scheduled to meet other lab members to work on an experiment essential for my Ph.D. project. At 5:45 a.m. I let them know I wouldn’t be coming in, feeling a wave of guilt. “How did I get here?” I wondered.
I entered grad school in July 2019. The first semester went smoothly—I did well in my classes, met interesting people, and found an adviser after a series of lab rotations. But everything changed during my second semester, as COVID-19 spread. With our lab shut down and bench work impossible, I tried to focus on my classes, which had gone virtual. Eventually, though, I experienced Zoom burnout and began to pay less attention. As in-person interactions waned, so did my mental health. When the semester finished, I moved to doing research full time, and my days had even less structure and social connection. My university lifted restrictions on lab work in July 2020, but I couldn’t find the will to go in. The only person I saw for the next few months was my husband. Friends and family reached out, but as I sank deeper into depression, I stopped responding.
Throughout my life I had dealt with more minor mental health issues, but what I experienced during the pandemic was unlike anything before. My depression was so bad I was essentially bed-bound. I barely managed to shower once a week, could not sleep, and had zero motivation to work—a problem I never imagined I would have. Yet there I was, doing nothing day after day. The inertia was insurmountable.
I noticed that many of my peers were publishing papers and winning awards. I felt certain I didn’t belong in my program and would be asked to leave as soon as my lack of progress was brought to light. I canceled meetings with my adviser for 2 months straight, hoping she wouldn’t notice.