The last year has probably been the most challenging year of my entire life. I don’t say that to be cynical I’m saying it to be honest. I think a lot of times people get caught up by what is shared on social networks, not realizing that real life still happens off of an app. It’s been a year since I moved across the county on my own with my entire life in two suitcases. Before coming to California to start my Ph.D. program, I saw the opportunity as a way for me to start the long journey of having my own lecture hall on a college campus - I was always focused on the end goal, not realizing what was right in front of me.
The summer before moving to California was probably one of the most uncomfortable and emotional times in my life. I just graduated and realized the life I had for the last 5 years was no longer an option. I gained 10lbs, moved back in with my parents for the summer and tried to prepare myself for a Ph.D. program in a town that has a smaller population than my undergrad institution. For me, moving to California was being thrown into adulthood... and looking back I wasn’t emotionally or financially prepared for what I got myself into. As time went on, I got adjusted to living on my own, reading more than I ever read in undergrad, and getting used to the possibility that I might be the only black person when I go inside of Walmart. I’ll note here that when I say “adjusting” I meant emotionally binge eating and crying every day about how I ended up so unhappy. It was bad. By mid-October I was contemplating dropping out of my program, going back to the east coast and taking a gap year. It was bad. I wasn’t in therapy, mainly because of the lack of WOC therapist in the area. I felt like I didn’t know how to fix what I had gotten myself into.
Throughout my first semester, I realized that academia is hard and particularly hard as a black woman. I felt extremely visible but also invisible at the same time. It was like I was easily spotted, but wasn’t heard or listened to. I felt like I was thrown into a world that wasn’t for me. As the months went on, I decided that I was going to push through with the program, but under one condition that I set for myself, I wasn’t going to kill myself for this degree. I made the decision to use this chapter in life to really learn myself and to unlearn things that once served me, but where no longer helpful for my growth. I got into the gym, started reading my Bible, started meditating and realized the contribution that I wanted to make to the field of sociology.
Come February, the beginning of my second semester in my Ph.D. program I began to come to grips with the reality of my life. I realized that if I wasn’t mentally and spiritually healthy, I couldn’t do anything. I realized that I couldn’t make my partner move across the county if he didn’t want to, I realized I couldn’t continue to try to make my life on the east coast fit my life on the west coast. It was a very clear movement where I realized that I had to accept that fact that things were different, but that didn’t mean they were terrible. See, the funny thing about change is that you can realize it’s happening and go with the flow... or you can exert so much energy into stopping it and trying to make things “how they used to be.” For some of you all reading this, that may be very obvious, but for me, it wasn’t. I spent the first 5-6 months in California trying to make my life just like it was when I lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I spent so much of my energy trying to fight change that I inevitably signed up for... it left me exhausted. By the time May rolled around I had finished my first year as a Ph.D. student and acknowledged the fact that this year changed me in so many ways. I saw the world differently and realized that 90% of adulting is doing things that you don’t feel like doing.
It wouldn’t be like me to share this story and not leave with a few words of advice. I would be a liar if I said that every day in California is fantastic, I would be a liar if I said that buying a one way ticket to California doesn’t make me feel stuck sometimes... but what I can say is that I cry a whole lot less, I feel better physically/mentally, I don’t wake up everyday feeling like I made the worst decision of my life. To anyone who is thinking about entering a Ph.D. program or moving really far away from home I’ll end this post with a few things I wish I would’ve known/conaidered a year ago -
- It’s really impossible to go through a Ph.D. program on your own. You have to identify your support system and make sure it’s possible to have the support you need if you move 3,000 miles away.
- If you’re in undergrad take a gap year if it’s financially possible.
- Don’t get disappointed when people disappoint you, change your expectations.
- If you live alone while also 3,000 miles away from home don’t allow yourself to become so isolated that you stay in the house for 48 hours straight.
- Get a therapist.
- If you can’t bring your family, create one. Find friendship because as I’ve mentioned before - you can’t do this alone.
- Don’t take everything personally.
It’s been one hell of a year. As I’m trying to prepare myself for Y2 mentally, I feel more optimistic. I've started my hunt for a therapist, I’ve set boundaries to manage my stress, and I’ve decided to take things one day at a time, while periodically reminding myself of the end goal.
With love, Breanna