Warning: Longer and more depressing post than usual.
I cried in front of a teacher, and I have never felt so low. Actually, I started crying and quickly excused myself before I looked as helpless as I felt. At that time, I was sleeping through my classes as a result of depression, and when I finally mustered enough courage and self-worth to go to a professor for help, he told me that he couldn’t help me and referred me to my head resident and health services. It was a responsible and reasonable response. After all, he was just a science professor with research to do and exams to grade–not a therapist. I knew that, but my brain still made my eyes burn with tears. Then, all I could think was dammit I’m crying.
I remind myself of the omens of last spring whenever I start to repeat them, and today was one of those days. I was underprepared (as in less prepared than the meeting before with another professor, which went fine), late, and unenergetic for a meeting with a professor about a research opportunity. During the conversation, I learned that I was unexperienced for the lab, underprepared for the meeting, and overwhelmed when asked questions. I also noticed that my “little girl voice,” which meant that I was scared, and every word I mustered felt like a mistake or an empty gush of air that isn’t helping me. At the end of what I felt like was a very long research overview and rejection speech, he finally said I need to be persistent and acknowledged my initiative to contact him. That polite little mention brought up that heated, bitter feeling underneath my nose that always precedes me crying. After years of muttering, stuttering, and overall avoiding talking to teachers, I can send professors e-mails and walk into random professors’ offices for a conversation without stress that makes my head dizzy. My eyes became hot and my voice became shaky when I explained that, and I quickly made my exit after thanking him for his time.
I should never put any professor or employer in that situation just because I can’t take “no” for answer and think that everything is a pass/fail situation where failure is not an option. My feelings repeatedly get the better of me whenever I encounter or anticipate rejection, and then they spill out when I realize I am not enough for reasons I can’t immediately change: not enough experience, the healing state of my mental health, and my unpredictable anxiety. Then the crying feels as if I’m standing at the threshold of another downward spiral towards another breakdown, and I feel so ashamed of my incapability and irrationality. How can I deal with a challenging external situation when I’m scared that my sanity is slipping away?
More than my intolerance of my mistakes,
I never tolerate my own weakness, because all I ever wanted to be was strong, sciencey, smart, and capable, and I was none of those things today. In fact, I felt as if I was never those things, and that scared me the most.
I finally pieced myself together after going to the library and getting some fries, iced tea, and frozen yogurt before going home. The entire therapeutic trip following the meeting totaled two hours, because I couldn’t go home looking like I just cried for twenty minutes in my parked car. By the time my cried face healed, I was done diagnosing the things that went wrong, which things I can control, and listing ways I can prevent this from happening again. In addition to my weaknesses, the results from my two hour drive accounted for my healing progress since last spring, since I recovered from uncertainty and failure by giving myself time to let my feelings settle, regain my rationality, and commit to improvement. If I dealt with my emotions any other way, it would be counterproductive, maybe even harmful and dangerous to myself. This experience helped me make another observation: I am no less harsh on myself than before, just fairer.
Also, other people encounter academic/career rejection and deal with it fine. How do you approach a academic/career rejection?