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Grad Students in Flux: What to Do when Life Throws You a Curve Ball
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A guest post by Christian Messer Gaitskill

Anyone who is in graduate school knows how vitally important a consistent support system can be during that process. But what happens when your support system bails on you? This article will provide some food for thought.

I have been very blessed in my life to have some amazing female role models. I have learned that my happiness does not depend on any person outside myself. Iíve been called Zena the Warrior Princess by friends because of my take-charge attitude and my reluctance to give up, no matter how challenging the situation might be. But it can be very hard at times, being that person who always takes charge.

Going to grad school in a professional program and working two jobs, while raising a child as a single parent was never part of my plan. When I entered the program, I did not have a job and had an amazing support system. But as time has gone on, Iíve gained jobs and lost support.

My best friend and I recently had a parting of the ways over my growing pains and my lessened reliance on her for constant monitoring and support. She was someone much older and wiser than I, and someone I spoke to daily for advice and counsel. She was the one person in my life who understood what I, as a first generation college graduate, was going though. Having her there made the down times in my life bearable, and the up times that much sweeter. Never having had children herself, she came to see me as her child, and for much of our relationship and my development, in a way I was.

Grad school changes a person, especially in a program like social work. Growth is additionally accelerated in a program where individual research and development is so highly prized. I found my niche and began thriving in a way I had never done before. However, when I looked around, she was nowhere to be found. I was off on my own, stretching my legs and getting a sense of who I am becoming.

I believe everything happens for a reason. People come and go from our lives. She came into my life at a time when I needed her immensely. I would not be the person I am today without her. It seems a new chapter in my life is opening up, however. That chapter being one in which I can see what I am truly made of on my own terms. I have learned that I did not need her in my life as long as I thought I did, but having her there made my life more enjoyable. As I face the next part of my life headlong, I see I will be ok. The pain of loosing her will subside with time but the memories of love and support will always be there, glowing as a beacon to pay it forward to my students as she did for me.

Self-care helped me make it through this process in such a way as to promote growth and understanding. I began crafting again, having given up crocheting some time before. I also began to read and expand my book collection. These activities gave me the chance to expand my thought process and the downtime to recharge. I worked out that I can strong enough to overcome anything: I just needed to focus some attention on the things that make me who I am at a fundamental level.

My advice to you? Do things that make you happy. Do things that make you happy in a deep, meaningful way. Join a group. Begin a new hobby. Get out there and meet people. Do a little something for yourself every day. Everyone is different but take the time to cultivate relationships with others as well as yourself. Undergrad and grad school are great times to tease apart who you are and what you want. But donít put all your eggs in one basket as I did with my friend and mentor. Have a backup plan.

It will be ok. You can do this! I have been through a great deal, but I always manage to come through on the other side, wiser and stronger than before. No matter how hard life seems, it will get better but you have to work at it, while benefiting from your strength and learning the resilience of the human spirit.


Christian Messer Gaitskill, MSW, LSW is a 2006 graduate of UC Clermont College, a 2010 graduate of UC College of Education, and earned her Master of Social Work in 2015 from Northern Kentucky University. She now works as a shelter advocate in a domestic violence shelter. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family.

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