Mental Illness and Academia: Part One

The first time I had a panic attack I didn’t recognize what I was experiencing.

It was an odd time to have a panic attack. I was out on the Blue Ridge Parkway late at night with my best friend, who was driving. We were listening to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia album, which was one of a handful of CDs we could agree we both loved for those long late-night drives. I had just moved back to Asheville to resume school after a yearlong absence. Classes hadn’t started yet. There was no other traffic, and both starry sky and winding road were clear, but suddenly my entire body was seized with an all-consuming need to go home. My heart was pounding, my face was burning. I told my best friend I wasn’t feeling well. We went home. Once I was back in my dorm room, I felt a sense of relief. I was safe.

It happened again a few days later. I was at another friend’s apartment, drinking tea and talking on a cozy evening just after classes had started. I had had a good day. There was no obvious reason why I would be anxious. But there I was, watching the clock and trying to figure out how long I had to stay before I could escape back to my dorm room where I felt safe. This was no ordinary Attack Of The Introvert. This was something darker.

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MPH.

Around 10:30 last night, I found myself staring at a submit button. This submit button was small, humble even, yet clicking it was kind of the equivalent of jumping out of a plane. That submit button would send 3 messy, painful applications to 3 different MPH programs–all of them programs I would love to get into. There’s something funny yet nerve-clawing that my top 3 were all due on the same day, that I had to submit those before I was really ready, before I’d even sorted out some last details of graduation from NMU. The feeling as I submitted them was not unlike the feeling I had at commencement: a sense of vague, dull panic twining sinuously around a cloud of this can’t actually be happening. 

But it did happen. I submitted. The world moved on and I moved with it.

I don’t know what my chances are of getting into any of those programs. I am skeptical, yet optimistic, as I am with many things in my life. I would be thrilled to attend any of the three schools; I looked through their programs carefully, painstakingly even, consulted my research advisor and my life/academic advisor alike. I had my professors look over the rough draft and the less rough draft and the final draft of my statement of purpose; people on Twitter who I love and respect offered input as well. I looked at the cities in which the schools are located (I’ve only visited one of the cities in question, and even then, it was a brief flurry of activity at the airport and then a long drive out of the city). I have friends in all three states, though that doesn’t necessarily matter–when I moved to Marquette, I knew no one, and was profoundly lucky that I had friends from Michigan who had friends who lived in Marquette who were willing to pick me up at the airport and help me carry my stuff into my new apartment. Every camp I’ve ever worked at, aside from the summer I spent in Virginia, I went into the job not knowing anyone. I’m not afraid to be a stranger in a strange land.

…which is good, because in so many ways, my decision to apply for MPH programs, rather than continuing on with microbiology, is the very definition of being a stranger in a strange land.

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Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome.

Hi.

I suppose I should introduce myself. I’m Nikki.

Nikki Facts


1) Nikki was born on June 10th, 1986. That makes her a Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, a Gemini in Western astrology, and it made her mother very glad that she didn’t have to be pregnant through the ENTIRE miserably hot, steamy Carolina summer.

2) Nikki was born and raised in North Carolina, but her shiny new biology degree is from Northern Michigan University, which is located in Marquette, Michigan, just shy of 1000 miles from her sleepy little hometown in North Carolina. Nikki has a case of wanderlust. Nikki also has student loans.

3) Nikki has lived and worked in 5 different states since she was 21. These states are: North Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Nikki taught art to small, medium and large children, in the woods, for multiple years in a row. Nikki can and will teach any kind of art–even if she’s bad at it, like macrame–but her specialty is painting.

4) Nikki wants to go into public health. Why public health? Well, it started in 2012, in Nikki’s first semester at NMU. There was a course offered called Disease in Society, and in it, Nikki got to learn about not just the microbiological impacts of different pathogens, but how those diseases impacted humans at the population level, as well as how they impacted society. The entire course was fascinating, but the tail end of the course focused on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Seeing how badly even modern governments flubbed a serious health crisis made Nikki want to work to do BETTER, somehow.

5) Nikki kind of has a thing about birds. Any birds, really, but especially geese. You have to understand, the goose thing started at camp. There were two nesting pairs of nonmigratory Canada geese that lived on the lake at her first camp, and as the art building was down on the lake, Nikki saw these geese all the time. Nikki enjoyed watching the geese and watching their babies turn into fledglings and then into adults themselves. Nobody else save for the directors and the camp ranger seemed to really appreciate these geese, and Nikki just kinda felt a solidarity with them. Don’t hate on the geese.

6) Nikki is a musician. She sings soprano, took voice lessons all through middle and high school, and has spent an ungodly amount of time in choirs over the last 16+ years. “Carmina Burana” remains the best concert she’s ever gotten to participate in.

7) This is the list about things for which Nikki is not sorry:

  • Nikki is very liberal and a strong believer in social justice and in not being a fucking asshole to other people. She’s going into public health, disparities of any sort are of great concern to her. She is especially not sorry about this.
  • Nikki is a feminist and an ally. She is sorry she’s not sorry.
  • Nikki’s Twitter followers say that she missed a prime opportunity to have a career in professional swearing. She remains unrepentant about this as well.
  • Nikki’s Twitter followers say that she missed a prime opportunity to have a career in professional swearing. She does not like to knowingly use words that are hurtful to oppressed groups, but she is and will always be completely without remorse about calling someone a shitweasel if they are in fact behaving like a shitweasel.
  • Nikki likes puns. She is STILL not sorry about that.
  • Nikki loves glitter. Like really fucking loves glitter. #sorrynotsorry
  • Nikki likes things that are brightly colored and pretty. Who’s sorry? Not Nikki.
  • Nikki enjoys questionable humor like poop jokes and naughty innuendos. And she is and will always be NOT SORRY.

8) Nikki likes to write and read. Got a book recommendation? Nikki will take them. Need a book recommendation? Nikki has them.

9) Common nicknames for Nikki:

  • Goose
  • Goosie
  • Gooser
  • Avian Brain
  • Bird
  • Birdie
  • Hobbit (Nikki is quite petite)
  • Birdhobbit.

Thank you, welcome to my blog.