You Can’t Heal What You Don’t Reveal

Betzabel Z. Martinez

August 7, 2018

Life happens.

Your car has a flat tire.

Your coffee spills on your way to work.

Your laptop crashes in the middle of a paper.

But what happens when bigger things happen?

The death of someone close to you.

The end of a romantic relationship.

A natural disaster hits your hometown.

As a graduate student in an Educational Counseling program, the person I worry about the least often times is myself. I make sure the mental health of my students is okay, and if it’s not, I vouch for them to get extended deadlines, a day off work or school, and ensure that they seek the resources available to them. However, I forget to stop and make sure that my mental health is okay, to vouch for an extended deadline, to take a day off, to utilize resources available to me. It wasn’t until a traumatic event occurred that ultimately led to the end of a relationship, that I realized that I needed to give myself the grace and care I give to my students.

During the middle of my spring semester of my first year of grad school, my life inevitably took a sharp turn. The events that led to the end of a relationship, left me in shock and my mental health suffered. Prior to this, I had been a straight A student in the fall semester. I always turned in my papers and assignments a few days before their deadline. I was the graduate assistant at both my internships that worked overtime and was first to volunteer for a task. So it was no surprise to me that I found myself feeling guilty for not having the same motivation I had had the past 8 months, but I knew that if I wanted to do well in school and continue my projects at work, I needed to take care of myself first.

As many of you may know, life happens at the most inconvenient time, and this life happens story is no different. The day this happened to me I had an exam. Wonderful, right?

I had two choices to make:

  1. I could take the quiz, in my ever anxious and clouded mind, and potentially risk receiving a low score.
  2. I could set my pride aside and reach out to my professor, explain to her what was going on, and ask for an extension.

 I chose option #2. Immediately after being granted an extension, I felt guilt and embarrassment. What would my cohort think? Would they think I did it for extra study time?

In the days following, I had work at both of my internships, and again I took option #2. I asked for a week off to gather myself mentally, emotionally, and physically. Again, the feeling of guilt overcame me, but my supervisors were right by my side. I will never forget what one of my supervisors told me when I told her I wasn’t stable enough to work: “We operate like a family here. We provide a family for our students and also to our staff.”

I ended the semester with straight A’s and with two offers to return to both internships for the following academic year. It was rough, but I managed, and I learned the following along the way:

  • In order to nurture and care for others, we have to nurture and care for ourselves.
  • As graduate students, we deserve the same amount of support that we provide undergraduate students. In other words, graduate students have rights, too!
  • We have the right to take a day off from work if our minds are cloudy. A cloudy mind cannot produce the great work our clear minds have the potential to create.
  • Trust your team. In your absence, trust that they will do what they can to continue the flow of the work.
  • Professors can be our friends and best allies. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for extended deadlines when life happens. It sounds like something graduate students should never do (I felt the same way too), but we don’t control all the circumstances in our lives.
  • We are not measured by our productivity. Resting our bodies and minds is being proactive in the healing and care we need to be our best selves.
  • We cannot control when life happens.

Take care of yourselves, whatever that may look like. We are stronger than anything life throws at us. In the ideal world, life would not happen while we are busy trying to complete a graduate degree while balancing one, two, or three internships. Since this not the case, I want you all to know that there are other graduate students going through similar experiences and we can come out of our life happens moments stronger than ever.

Betzabel Z. Martinez (she/her/hers) is a second-year masters student at the University of Southern California studying Educational Counseling. She works at Rio Hondo College as a student success coach and for USC’s Topping Scholars Program as a program coordinator. She served as NASPA’s Summer Graduate Intern 2018 in Washington, DC. Betzabel can be reached at [email protected] or Twitter at @HigherEdWithBtz.

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