Social isolation and educational attainment: why getting educated hurts my head #mentalhealth #mentalillness #academicabuse #dissertating

August 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have been writing overtime to try to boot a full draft of my thesis out the door. That doesn’t mean I haven’t needed to write here, it means my writing jam has been so depleted I haven’t had any left over for a blog post. I do not doubt that a part of my mental anguish has been caused by the dissertation process. I now liken it to a form of solitary confinement that leads to mental suffering.
Human cognition is socially generative. We learn about the world and our place in it through our social relationships. In the absence of social connections, our brains turn in on themselves to make sense of our experience. It is a rare person who can survive this kind of isolation without some mental damage. That is because our brains, once they turn inward, only have our individual limited experience to draw from, and if that individual limited experience was damaged in childhood or through other life events, then that is what gets unearthed in our isolation.
Writing a dissertation is a most unnatural enterprise. One is forced to work alone on extremely difficult mental labor for years. The combination of social isolation and unrelenting pressure can be deadly. Education attainment should not contribute to anxiety, depression, financial ruin and even suicide. But it does.
There is something wrong with a system of education that sets out to prepare students for the highest educational attainment, only to make that attainment a lifetime of hazing that leads to failure.
My realization of the damage caused by graduate school isolation has come to light recently because I have hired an editor to work with me on getting the text in shape for the first full draft. It is the first time I have had anyone work over the chapter drafts and discuss with me the flow of ideas, writing style, and writing mechanics. I have noticed that I am feeling better, more connected, a bit hopeful that this nightmare will end someday.
There might be the odd person out there who can work in isolation under excruciating pressure for years on end to some unknown or vague reward. I am not one of them, and I suspect I am not alone. When in doubt, reach out and talk to someone who has your best interests at heart. I guarantee you will feel better and your possible outcomes will improve.


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