Women, the Struggles of Higher Education, and the Repercussions on our Mental Health: A Case for Interdisciplinary Collabs
BY ANDRÉANNE “ANDI” ANGEHRN
GRADUATE STUDENT AT UNIVERSITY OF REGINA DEPARTMENT OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY
AND SOUHILA “SOUSSOU” BABA
STUDENT AT MCGILL FACULTY OF LAW
There is no doubt about it, law school and grad school are hard. For many of us, higher education comes at great costs: homesickness, separation from friends and family, financial struggles (instant noodles anyone?), having to juggle multiple jobs, having to hide parts of your identity, having to explain certain things to people all the time, constant tokenizing, recurring microaggressions…well, you know the rest. Despite all of this, as women pursuing higher education, we strive for excellence. We juggle the expectations of our programs, supervisors, professors, and most importantly, the expectations we have for ourselves. In pursuing our desire to perform, succeed, achieve greatness, and to rightfully take our education into our own hands, we often leave something behind: our personal and psychological well-being.
This is where students pursuing higher education suffer. There is an expectation to achieve perfection in multiple domains: get straight A’s (yeah okay, B’s), volunteer, secure an internships, serve your community, have a social life, be present for your family and friends, look your best, eat well, work out, also are you dating anyone?
Andi - Resources made available for students to prioritize their mental health are sparse; yet, the growing need for mental health support and counselling is evident. As a clinical psychology graduate student, I consider myself a mental health advocate. I encourage others and myself to seek therapy and strive to end the stigma surrounding mental health and mental disorders. However, under the pressure of writing my master’s thesis, succeeding in my courses, and getting ready to be a student practitioner, am I allowed to feel the injuries of my own mental health? Am I allowed to be honest and open about my struggle? After all, a physician wouldn’t be ashamed of her own health failings and she would not be expected to always be in perfect physical health.
Soussou - Of course you can feel, Andi. You have to. One thing I admire most about you is your confidence in being unapologetically (and ‘badassly’) you. It was your openness about your journey that has allowed me and countless others to come to terms with our own mental health. As the workload gets unreal and the deadlines loom, I always think back to the summer after 1L. I was exhausted, drained, and honestly not down to return to law school in the Fall. I thought long and hard about the sacrifices I was making—were they worth it? I’m still here so you know the end of that story. That summer, I decided one thing that has carried me through ever since: me first. For those of you who know me well, you can understand that this is probably the hardest thing for me to do. But I come back to it every time I’m overwhelmed, every time I feel inadequate, every time I skip yoga (guilty), every time I struggle with my bad habits, every time I lose sleep over situations, and every time I feel like I won’t make it to the next day. Part of putting me first is concentrating on things I love: my family, my closest friends, my yoga practice, and yes, my education (I know, I know, I actually love school). You know who always gets me through tough times? Andi.
Andi - Hearing that you will put yourself first is the happiest news I’ve heard in a long time. About time, in my opinion. Souhila is one of the most inspiring people I know. She constantly seeks to better the environment for those around her, and her mind is like this well-watered garden: flourishing. She truly cares and tries to understand the philosophy of the law; this extends to all things she immerses herself in. Discussing my ideas, aspirations, and struggles with her—whether collaborating academically, professionally, or personally—is like stepping into that garden and coming out refreshed myself. My own personal garden is nourished by the women around me, like Souhila, who selflessly expose their hearts and ideas and allow for the sharpening of my mind and my own self-empowerment. In my opinion, the case for interdisciplinary collaborations is this: the most beautiful bouquets are varied, the most breathtaking designs are intricate, and the best version of myself—mind, soul, body, and overall well-being—is reinforced through talking with women who have unique expertise, insight, and talent. After all, I wouldn’t have discovered the joy of—and necessity for—coffee if it wasn’t for my girl Soussou and our trip to Spain.
Soussou - Ahhh yes Spain, remember? Striking colours, enticing winding paths, stunning churches, delicious free samples at Sabor a España, creepy rideshare dude, and, well, sunburns. Collaborating with Andi is not just about advancing our work by taking a multi-disciplinary approach, or looking at issues from the perspective of where our fields intersect. While we are physically far apart, when we work together, we are in constant exchange and discussion. We throw ideas around, find platforms to publish on, discuss our theories, and help each other make sense of our thoughts. Of course, we also talk often about non-academic stuff: we fantasize about how much better the world will be post-patriarchy-smashing and relay the high points of our mutual love of coffee (I was going to say reading, but this is more accurate!) When we work together on projects (like this one – meta), we get to concretely shape the world in which we operate. We get to be creative, we get to channel our visions, and we get to challenge each other on our assumptions. We grow, together.
So don’t be afraid to channel your thoughts; in fact, share them. Find someone you trust, someone with whom these thoughts become ideas, creations, projects, stepping stones. You’ll find that letting that person in (or letting yourself out) will help you and help them. Friendships will blossom, well-being will thrive, and collaborations will burgeon.