Living on the Ledge

The streets below: Jun Ahn high above the chaotic architecture and bustle of Hong Kong

This is a heavy, heavy post shared anonymously by a graduate wife in the USA. We found her to be very brave to share her story with our readers. This graduate journey can be bumpy for some, but when anxiety and depression are added to this mix, in some cases, it can cause devastating results. Our readers are scattered all over the world, so after reading this post, if you have a suicide prevention number for your country, please send it to us, and we’ll add it to this post. You just might save someone’s life. If you are suffering with anxiety and depression, please seek help. You are not alone. You ARE worth it.  – Mandy & M.C.

“If I die, I won’t be worried any more.”

Scary thought? Yes, and it’s one that went through my head. It is also the thought that signaled to me that I needed help, and set me on a path through counseling that would prevent me from acting on that negative impulse. It is my hope that any one reading my story will come away with the knowledge that you are not alone, and that it is acceptable to seek mental health care when you need it.

My struggle with anxiety started when I was young. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a hypochondriac. One sore muscle from sports would build up in my mind until I was sure I would need a limb amputated. When I recovered without losing any limbs, my worry would ease, but only until the next over-blown health problem would convince me I was doomed.

In college, the stress increased until I finally went to the nurse with a list a mile long of all the things I thought were wrong with me. The nurse took one look at me and said, “You’re not dying, you have anxiety, and need to talk to someone”. When the results came back from all the tests I asked the nurse to take, “so I’d have one less thing to worry about,” I agreed to see a counselor.

The campus counselor gave me information about anxiety and some control methods to use. For years, this was helpful, and I was able to talk myself down from panic attacks simply by realizing it was just panic. But while my husband was in grad school, my anxiety reached whole new levels. I was anxious all the time. If the phone rang I was sure it would be devastating news. When I drove I thought the car sounded funny and would catch on fire. Everything was blown out of proportion. I knew this, and I didn’t want to be like this, but I couldn’t stop the thoughts, and I couldn’t stop panicking about them.

There are a couple reasons I didn’t seek help right away. For one, I felt like a failure. I felt like I should be able to control it myself. I had for years, why couldn’t I do it now? For another thing, I knew I’d have to pay for therapy and as the spouse of a graduate student, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. I got to the point where I was at levels 9 and 10 of 10 on a panic scale for days on end. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I vomited because I was physically ill from all the worry. I couldn’t even see straight I was so worried, malnourished, and exhausted. I would think, ”How could I live like this? I’m young! I can’t be like this for decades.” Then, during one of my worst attacks, a new thought crossed my mind: “If I die, I won’t be worried anymore”. WOW. I’d pushed all the other red flags from my mind with my stubbornness, but that one couldn’t be ignored. I decided that my life was worth investing in.

I saw a therapist who helped me with coping mechanisms, sort through things, learn how to not get so stressed. She had drills I could do, ways to think about things in a calm fashion. She gave me charts to write things out on to help me see that my situations were manageable. Anxiety isn’t really cured, but you can learn ways to manage it.

Another thing that helped was reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works. Like me, Harris didn’t think meditation was for him. After searching for ways to calm anxiety he learned of its benefits. When I start to feel panicked and my mind starts running wild with unfounded worst-case-scenarios, I lay down, I take deep breaths, and I think about the problem instead of trying to distract myself. I say to myself, “What is actually going on now? That other stuff isn’t, it’s your mind going wild. What is the likelihood that one of those worst-case scenarios will actually happen? Basically zero. And if it does, deal with it then. Don’t stress about endless possibilities that aren’t actually going on.” And so on and so forth.

Anxiety can do amazing things. I didn’t say good. I said amazing. It can heighten your senses, and it can make you feel that the stress in your mind as actually physical ailments, which then causes more stress.

The stress still comes but I now have the tools to deal with it. If I get near those levels again I’ll seek help right away.

If you’re like me, please, please see someone. In the USA, Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Americans are required to have health insurance, and the majority of healthcare plans must cover mental health services. You may be eligible through your spouse’s student insurance plan, your own employer’s insurance, Medicaid, or a state insurance exchange plan. Whatever your plan is, familiarize yourself with the benefits, and what mental health services are covered. If you don’t have an insurance plan, or your plan doesn’t cover mental health services, don’t give up. Your spouse’s university counseling center may be able to refer you to free or low cost services that can help. Another option you have is to call the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline. NAMI volunteers can offer limited counseling, but more importantly refer you to appropriate mental health service providers in your area. NAMI can be reached on weekdays between 10:00am and 6:00pm EST at 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264). If you live in another country, I encourage you to seek out to understand what your resources and options are.

Finally, if you or a loved one is considering suicide, you can seek help 24 hours a day through the numbers below. I know a lot of GW readers are worldwide, so if your country is not listed below, please let us know what it is so we can add it.

USA: National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800)273-TALK(8255).

UK:  SupportLine Telephone Helpline: 01708 765200.

Canada: CASP/ACPS – This link can help Canadians navigate hotlines based on geography.

Know that you are not alone. Seeking help is worth it. YOU are worth it. Talk to someone.

As a graduate wife, how have you dealt with anxiety and depression? 


The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

dictionary crdotx flickr


When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.

Entrance Exams

GMAT- GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. It is the entrance exam for MBA (Master of Business Administration) and related programs.

GRE (Graduate Records Examination) – The GRE is the entrance exam required for admission to most graduate degree programs. It consists of a verbal (grammar and vocabulary) and math section. Depending on a student’s field of study, he or she may also take a writing component and subject specific components of the GRE.

LSAT- LSAT stands for Law School Admission Test. It is the entrance exam required for law school.

MCAT- MCAT stands for Medical College Admission Test. It is the entrance exam required for medical school.



Seasons of Change

-written by Jennifer, a current graduate wife

It has been three years since my journey as a graduate wife began. One master’s degree and two cities later, here I sit in my new home in Texas, surrounded by boxes and stacks of picture frames, ready to embrace this new season, and all the joys and woes that it throws my way.

When the hubs and I first decided to embark on this adventure, I really had no idea what to expect. He had been accepted to school in our hometown, but was offered a scholarship at a school halfway across the country. “What will we do?” we constantly asked ourselves. I think deep down we always knew the answer; it just took some time to admit it out loud.

We moved from Arkansas to Boston just two months after our wedding. I was excited for the adventure, but terrified at the same time. I was eager for the journey, but little did I know then, I was naïve and unprepared. Being a newlywed is already sometimes hard enough, throwing in a cross-country move, full time job, and a master’s program into the mix didn’t help things much.

Though we loved life in our new city, it took some time for Boston to feel like home. I worked as a nanny, so I wasn’t making any friends at work (unless three girls under the age of 13 counts…), and it took us way longer than I would have liked to get plugged in to a church. For the first several months, my only friends were my husband’s, and as much as I grew to love them, I needed some more estrogen in my life. I became desperate and started browsing websites like and chatting with strangers in our apartment hallway.

I call this chapter the “season of loneliness.” By the time Christmas rolled around, I had had enough. Our trip back home was refreshing and inspiring. I soaked up as much time with those nearest and dearest to me, and returned back to Boston full, ready to conquer this challenge.

Eventually, I learned to become more outgoing, something that I always thought I was. Though I have never been shy, I learned that making new friends requires a great deal of vulnerability. With time, friendships started to form. I met people that I could now not picture life without, and created memories that will never be forgotten. On our first Easter there, I hosted dinner for all those friends who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Our apartment was packed, and my heart was full. Finally, Boston was starting to feel like home.

While things were finally shaping up on the friend front, it felt as though nothing else was staying constant in our lives. As a graduate wife, I have learned that things are always changing, and just as soon as life feels comfortable, it’s time for it to feel uncomfortable again.

I’ve experienced many challenges on this journey, some that I am not proud to admit. I was really jealous and bitter when we first moved to Boston, for one, something that caused way too many fights during those first few precious newlywed months. I’ll go ahead and call this the “season of grudge”…

Though I loved it in our new town, I was having a really difficult time adjusting to our new lifestyle. As we were married just out of college, I had yet to know the joys of working a full time job. City living came at a high expense, and even though the hubs worked when he could, he was really only bringing home the wine money. All other expenses were covered by my paychecks. “Why do I have to pay all of the bills?” I would spit at him. “Why can’t I be the one in school,” I would whine. Going to school was easier than working and paying bills, right? Only now do I see how absurd that sounds…

Though now I see how petty my behavior was, then, I was legitimately upset. I thought that I deserved something more. I was working hard and hadn’t quite accepted the whole “what’s yours is mine” thing just yet. I knew that my behavior was ridiculous, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to get it under control.

After much patience and grace from the hubs, I finally learned to cool it. I learned that it was OUR journey, and in a way, I was working on a degree as well. If you are a wife to a husband in any type of schooling, you know that it’s a two-person game. It took us both to get him through it. I’m not saying that a single person can’t do it on their own, but I am saying that if you’re married, it’s certainly about you both. The wife’s role as a supporter and encourager is as equally as important, and once I finally realized that, I was able to do what I was meant to do all along.

Realizing this made the journey much smoother, but it wasn’t long until I found a new challenge to freak out about. As the time grew near to move away from Boston, anxiety became my new evil to kill. “Where will we go?” I would always wonder. “What will happen next?” Let’s call this the “season of anxiety,” shall we?

I asked “What if?” way too much and have now banned that phrase from my vocabulary. It ruled me, and ate away at me each day. I was controlled by the unknown. Boston finally felt comfortable. God forbid life feel uncomfortable again…

We eventually decided to move back to Arkansas so that the hubs could focus on applying for PhD programs. While I thought this would help things a bit, I suddenly had new problems to worry about. “What if he doesn’t get in…,” “Where will we go from there…,” you know, that sort of thing.

Eventually, I think I just grew tired of worrying and accepted that things were out of my control. Once I finally decided to embrace it, the whole process actually became kind of fun. We were nervous and worried about some things of course, but I think my contingency plans helped me relax a bit. I decided we’d just be nomads in Europe for a year if he didn’t get in. That’s realistic, right?

Once our first acceptance came, we nearly cried. In fact, I think I did a little bit. We went to lunch to celebrate, happy and comforted to have to worry no more. We toasted and were merry, dreaming about what life in our new potential city might look like.

After all of the acceptances and denials finally reached our hands, we made our decision to move to Austin, and I vowed to not worry so much this time around.

So far, I’ve done pretty well with that. Though I am jobless once again and don’t know anyone in town, I know that this is just all part of the journey. I’m choosing to embrace this new season, and accept that it likely won’t stay the same for long. I know that the hubs will quickly settle in at school, but where will I fit in, exactly? What will this chapter look like?

For now, I don’t know those answers, but I know that change is bound to come. Change seems to be the theme for my journey as a graduate wife, because really, when do things ever really stay the same? It’s an adventure though, and isn’t that what adventures are all about? People often assume I am ready for a different lifestyle, one that’s a bit more predictable and offers more stability, but where’s the fun in that? I am learning that change isn’t always such a bad thing. In life, we are always having to adapt to what each new season brings, and you know, I can finally say I that I am okay with that.

What is your theme as a graduate wife? What kind of challenges do you face? What challenges have you overcome?

Making Room for Date Night

Date Night-Written by Jackie, a current graduate wife

I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out the importance of date night. All of my friends with kids kept stressing the need of a date night, but I just didn’t think my spouse and I needed it. That is, until a couple of years ago when life got really busy. We had just completed our first year in our new city and also moved a little bit further from city centre. We wanted to prove to ourselves that the move wouldn’t impede on our new, and fragile, social life. But it was too much. We were exhausted and felt like we hadn’t been able to spend quality time with each other in weeks. Enter in, date night.

It took a while for date night to take roots and really make a place in our schedule but it eventually did. We started to see the value in setting a night aside to focus on us and can see the difference it has made in our relationship.

Of course, being in the “postgrad stage” we don’t really have the budget to go out to a dinner and a movie every week. So, I’ve listed out some of the things we have done for our date nights that keep the wallet, and the heart, happy:

Go out for just dessert/drinks only.

You don’t have to go out for the full meal. A little treat can be just as special.

Cook a meal together.

Pick a fancy-ish meal, something you’d find in a 5-star restaurant, and make it together. And then enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Put a ban on the computer.

I don’t know about you, but I can get just as easily sucked into the computer as my student husband. So, we’ll make sure that the computer stays off unless we’re both using it to watch a movie. Sometimes we’ll put a ban on electronics and we’ll play games or work on a home project we had been meaning to complete.

Go outside.

Go on a walk around a different part of town or a sunset hike. Or you can take dinner outside and have a picnic. If you both enjoy sports, you can toss a football or pass a soccer ball or play catch. This one’s great especially if you’re both stuck indoors 40+ hours a week.

Night Trip.

Is there another city/town close by? Not all trips out of town need to take up a whole day. Arrange to meet at the train/bus station and check out a neighbouring city/town for a few hours.


Groupon, Livingsocial, and Itison all have deals for restaurants or outings every week. There are websites like that offer weekly deals or lunch specials. Also, take advantage of the student life by asking if there’s a discount for students. A lot of venues will offer 10% off. Scan your local cinemas’ websites or your mobile phone plan. Sometimes cinemas will offer deals during specific days of the week or for certain movies. Or maybe the local pub hosts a quiz night, or the comedy club has a deal on nights when they’re showcasing new talent. There are always things going on but you have to dig.

I hope these ideas help you guys out some. Remember, the whole point of date night is to have intentional time with your partner; to hang out with your best friend. That doesn’t look the same for everyone, but it is important for everyone.

Do you have any ideas for date night?

Dear Laura: One Guilt Trip Away

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

I’m the oldest sibling in my family and the first one to get married and move away from my parents. Living in a different state makes me miss my family quite a bit, but I think the transition has been harder on them. After living three states away, we have now moved to *only* one state away. My parents want to take this as an opportunity to visit us almost every month. While I try to be accommodating, I have to tell them, “no” sometimes because of the difficulty of fitting visiting relatives in to our already hectic grad life schedule. When I talk to my parents on the phone, they always seem so desperate to hear even the most boring tidbit of my life. It makes me feel guilty and sad for them. Is there any way to help them be more ok with me being far away?

Only a Guilt Trip Away

Dear Guilt Trip (if I may),

My husband and I just celebrated an anniversary, one of the double-digit ones that seem like they’re creeping up with a suddenness that is difficult to wrap our minds around. As part of our two-day celebration we sat down one night with a bottle of red and spent a few hours remembering.  We recalled travels and moves (and moves and moves) and stages and celebrations and milestones, but what was surprising and striking to me was how many of the most poignant and substantial memories were so simple and so deeply woven with people, our favourite, beloved people, and what was so clearly absent was…everything else.

The things we thought were so challenging and difficult and overwhelming at the time of their occurrence didn’t rise to the surface at all; it was our spirited and hilarious best-people that were sharply present in our remembering; those nights of board games and hot fudge sundaes, travel weekends, wine nights, and leisurely walks with these cherished friends and family cut right through the days, weeks, months, and years that at the time seemed so full of the pressures of life .  So, here is why I’ve started to answer your question by instead talking about myself (which is obnoxious, but thank you for indulging me):  it struck me so clearly that when we hit the greatest milestones – anniversaries, birthdays, and even death, what is going to be the best stuff of our memories, the stuff that makes everything else fade into the background is….people.

The stresses of the grad student journey will fade, the weekends you wish were spent recuperating on the couch instead of entertaining guests will fade, the irritation with the needy phone calls may even eventually fade, but your family is going to be there until the end. With that end in mind, let’s figure out a way for you to draw some boundaries around your rest-time and couple-time and give you a shot of confidence as you uphold these boundaries. It is great to have limits and to learn to express them clearly – what a gift to the people with whom you share relationships! – and it is also fantastic to serve the people you love by giving them time and access to your life to the extent you are able. What would that look like? Can you and your spouse talk about what the balance might involve and then can you gently start to work toward achieving that balance with your parents? Is there anything you can do to make the visits more enjoyable and less taxing? All worth a good discussion and planning session.

Also, I think we need to remember that the graduate journey, with all it’s trials and sacrifices and joys, does not belong only to us; our families and friends are affected deeply as well (especially when you start introducing grandchildren into the mix!). You’re not responsible for their emotional well-being and you needn’t feel guilty for launching out into this life adventure, but a positive response to their sadness involves striking a wise balance between your own needs and theirs. So, let’s be both wise about what we need as far as protecting our own marriages and selves, but also gracious to those people who are trying so hard to let us go, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so.  (Come to think of it, perhaps we need a new blog called “Graduate Grandmas”…. you’re welcome, Mandy and M.C.!)


Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email or

The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

dictionary crdotx flickr


When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.

University Organization

Accreditation- Accreditation is the process a university or degree program goes through every few years to be recognized as qualified to grant degrees in a specific field or fields of study. Most students won’t ever be involved in the accreditation process, but it is important to know if a program is accredited because graduating from a non-accredited program may make the student less competitive in the job market.

Bursar- The bursar is like the cashier for the university. Bills are issued by and paid through the bursar’s office for tuition and fees.

College- Most people use college as a general term and synonym for university. However, a college is actually a sub-unit of a university made up of similar departments. For instance, a University may have a College Fine Arts, made up of the Departments of Music, Visual Arts, Dance, and Creative Writing and a College of Natural Science made up of the Departments of Biology, Physics, Chemistry, etc. The head of a College is a Dean.

Degree Program- A degree program is the set of classes leading to a specific degree, and the infrastructure that supports those classes. There may be multiple degree programs within a department. For instance, a Department of English might have master’s degree programs in both English Literature and Creative Writing.

Department- A department is the unit of a university that graduate students will interact with most often. A department is made up of faculty all teaching the same or very similar subjects, for instance, a university might have a Department of Social Work, which delivers all of the degrees and classes in the field of Social Work.

Graduate College (or School) – Many universities have a Graduate College or Graduate School separate from the other colleges that make up the university. In these cases, students still take classes and work with faculty within the college related to their field of study (for instance an engineering student taking classes in the College of Engineering), but much of the paperwork students are required to submit for admissions, enrollment, and graduation are handled by the Graduate College.

Registrar- The registrar’s office of a university keeps track of student records, especially transcripts. A student may need to visit the registrar to change courses in the middle of a semester, fix a problem with his or her enrollment, or to request a copy of his or her transcripts.

School- A School is a group of related departments within a college. Grouping departments into schools can help with the management of very large colleges. For instance a College of Arts and Sciences might have a School of Fine Arts that includes the Departments of Music, Visual Arts, and Theatre.

University- A University is an organization that awards graduate degrees. Universities may be public, funded partially by taxpayer money and partially by student tuition, such as the University of Missouri, or private, funded by student tuition and gifts from donors, such as Harvard University.