Emotions in the Grad Classroom

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    • #107800

      Hello everyone! I need some help, advice, or a shoulder to cry on.

      I’m currently in grad school working towards my dream job (I think, I hope). Having ADHD makes grad school difficult, but it has given me a chance to develop new coping skills that I hope I can translate to my classroom one day. But, I’ve hit a another roadblock and I need some advice.

      This semester, my emotional control has been completely out of whack. I’m only three weeks into the semester, and I’ve already had two emotional outbursts and a panic attack. This wasn’t a problem last semester (or I was less emotionally aware last semester), and the feelings of shame are becoming overwhelming. I’ll give a little more details:

      -the panic attack lasted the entirety of a 3 hour class. I froze up, focused on deep breathing, and tried my hardest not to cry. I’m not sure of the source of the panic attack, but I’m sure it had to do with the incredibly dense piece of theory we were reading/discussing that made my ADHD shut down.

      -in the same class, I brought up the issue of the text’s accessibility. A colleague literally told me that making a piece accessible and understandable meant playing into oppressive, university structures. I snapped back, and the professor had to jump in to redirect the conversation.

      -in another class, that same student made some more ill-thought out comments, one of which did touch on a personal sore spot for me (I thought she made a personal attack; turns out this was not the case). Again, I snapped back and was physically, violently shaking from the onslaught of emotion. I tried to take deep breaths and keep my voice level, but it was very clear to everyone that I was upset (my friend said I was vibrating). Again, a professor jumped in to redirect.

      In all cases, I never yelled, burst into tears, or resorted to name calling/personal attacks. But it was still very clear that I was speaking from a place of feeling. I’ve apologized to both professors and explained the situations. They were both understanding, but I still feel ashamed. It feels like my credibility is being chipped away, and I feel like I’m getting labeled as the explosive, basketcase. At the very least, all outside opinions aside, these emotional outburst make me feel like less of a scholar. I hate feeling so angry and overwhelmed all the time. I’m a graduate studnet, for pete’s sake. I’m working on my PhD, but I feel like I’m acting like a child!

      I don’t fully know what to do about the situation. I go to therapy. I talked to my professors. I don’t think I can get accommodations for emotional outbursts. Finally, I worry about my future career. What is going to happen when I’m the one TEACHING the class and a student makes a comment that triggers an emotional flood? What if I’m in a meeting with coworkers/bosses and someone says something that upsets me? How can I function in the world if I can’t even function within my own body/mind? I feel so trapped.

    • #107821

      Hey Miranda,

      First, just want to say that you’re not alone. I’m also a PhD student and it has been extremely challenging at times to simply function in the academic environment. I’ve had many of the same experiences regarding dense academic texts, taking things personally in class discussions, and just feeling constantly overwhelmed. I’ve also struggled a lot with conferences, public speaking, and feeling unsure about my place in academia; I guess you could call it impostor syndrome.

      The first step for me was to seek out help, which it sounds like you’ve already done. Actually getting diagnosed was a big relief in a way, since at least I knew what I was dealing with. I was prescribed adderall, but the initial dose the doctor prescribed me was way too high and made me feel like a zombie, which actually further hindered me in class settings. After moving to a much smaller dose (2.5-5mg twice a day) I felt like I could deal with papers a bit better without being completely lost in social situations. I also started seeing a therapist, which helped with thinking through everyday situations and not getting so caught up in my own mind.

      Besides medication and therapy, I also started meditating regularly. I can’t emphasize enough how important this has been. It has allowed me to step back from the chaotic impulses that normally drive my behavior and see thought patterns without acting on them. It’s also helped me get through uncomfortable/stressful situations without going blank or freezing up. If you are interested, I would recommend starting with a weekly meditation class where there is some guidance. You could look up insight meditation society and see if there are any groups in your area. I’ve found it very accessible and affordable.

      Finally, I would make sure you are staying physically active. Going to the gym, doing yoga, going for a run, etc.. all help me get out of my head and feel more present. It also helps me feel less restless throughout the day and sleep better at night (like many people with ADHD, I also struggle with insomnia).

      I know sometimes it can seem like we have to put in a lot of additional work compared to our colleagues, but once you find a routine that works it becomes much more doable. Of course there will still be days when everything feels overwhelming, but just try to be kind to yourself and know that it will pass. As for myself, I’ve managed to get my masters, pass my qualifying exams, and am now working on my dissertation. Crazy to think how impossible this seemed not that long ago.

    • #107912
      Penny Williams

      There are some reader ideas for managing intense emotions (part of ADHD) in this article:

      17 Ways to Throttle Intense Emotions

      You might consider using CBD oil (hemp with zero THC that is legal). It’s wonderful for anxiety, which could reduce these feelings and outbursts.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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