The Three Things I Learned in Grad School


Having been bit by the psychology bug in first year, and getting to work in a lab, I set my goals on going to grad school. Since there are 52 branches of psychology, choosing what to specialize in was pretty difficult. My original choice was to go into cognitive psychology, which was fairly new at the time. I loved how the mind worked and how we process information, especially as it relates to our memory. But a good friend said: “Why don’t you choose a field where you will always have a job – you know, where you’ll always be needed.” The choice then became obvious for me. Combining my love for how the mind works and how mental illness develops, I chose clinical psychology.

If I thought I was hungry in my undergrad that was nothing compared to my appetite for learning at the Masters level. Having the opportunity to work in psychiatric hospitals, while studying, fascinated me. I got to intentionally connect with people who suffered so much. I looked through the lens of my own experiences and found myself immersing into their world to fully understand their symptoms and the depth of their struggles. My heart just kept filling and filling with compassion and my mind expanding with knowledge that textbooks couldn't teach. Until one day, a book was placed into my hands.

My supervisor handed me a transcript of a book and asked me to create an index. I thought this was a super easy task, until he said “Oh and when you’re done, come back and tell me what you learned.” I restrained a heavy sigh, but in my head I remember saying to myself, “Oh great! Now I actually have to read it and think.”

This book was transformational in my life and what I learned that day, I continue to use every day of my life, in every aspect of my life.

This book was actually the autobiography of my supervisor, a man I had known for several years. What I never realized was that he suffered from Bipolar I Disorder. Here, I had studied that disorder, worked with patients with that diagnosis, and yet I never knew this man also struggled with his mental health. Reading his words, opened up my mind and my heart even further.

After creating the index, I went back to his office and told him that indeed I had learned much more from his book than I ever anticipated. This is what I told him:

I learned:

  • EveryONE needs someONE to believe in them – it only takes one!

  • Everyone needs a safe place to go.

  • Never lose sight of the person in front of you.

You see, we constantly tell people to believe in themselves. It’s just not going to work. We have to be realists but few of us truly are. We need that one person we can trust, and who sees us for who we are. This is the person who sees our potential, and our weaknesses, and believes in us enough to guide us along the way. It just takes one person to make a difference in a life.

Having a safe place, where we can go to let our hair down and be in our headspace is so essential to regrouping when we are in the fog of life. That safe place isn't always home, or school, your office, or even the local gym, though it may be. It could be your car, your friend’s couch, or even by the river. No matter where it is, we all need a place to go to breathe.

I think the third thing I learned is the most important, as it moves from our inner world and headspace to an outward position of looking out for others. We all wander through life in our own bubbles, which are mostly fake because we don’t want other people to truly know us. It’s like we have blinders on, looking straight ahead just trying to get through the day. We've all been there. But there’s a whole other world around us – we just have to open our eyes. As a professor, partner, and parent I constantly try to stay focused and look past the surface to see what is really going on in those around me. Sometimes it simply begins with the question: “Is everything ok? You don’t seem like yourself?”

So I'm asking you – “Is everything ok?” Consider this site to be a safe place where you can ask questions, gather information, and where I can be your guide so you can realistically look at your own life and begin to feel in control.

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© 2016 Head Space: Charlene Mahon