I am writing my first blog post based on my experiences in Portland and my struggle with depression soon after I landed here. I am not writing this to bring about sympathy or pity but just to boldly put it out there and encourage all of us to break our inhibitions and talk to the helpful community in our vicinity.
I still remember the excitement in me when I came for the interview at OHSU in Feb 2015. It was a rainy, windy and gloomy day. Little did I know that it was a nearly perfect image of Portland in February.
The excited me saw everything as a lovely experience. After the interviews, while I had a good impression about the university itself, I really didn’t want to live in Portland. One of the main reasons being its weather. Fast forward to that moment in March of 2015 when I was biking to my lab in the warm California sunshine and I received an email that I have been accepted into the PMCB program.
My heart jumped with joy. I accepted the admission offer and started working towards wrapping up my work at Stanford. I figured that I would cope to the weather of Portland. Who knew it would take me a year to cope with it?
I landed in Portland in mid-September 2015, and the city welcomed me with its rainy cool weather. I started my Ph.D. with great enthusiasm. The first fall and winter in Portland bogged me down heavily with coursework. Apart from my passion for biology, I also pursue Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance. This dance kept me going and made my days a little better. But I had no one to interact with after school. Unknown city. Loneliness.
I came to know that this is something that happens to many people, especially in the Pacific Northwest, and it is called seasonal affective disorder. Yes, it is SAD indeed. I didn’t seek help from anyone, and that is one of the mistakes that I made. Slowly, I realized that this is going to be a fight within me that I need to overcome.
When I saw the sun come out in February 2016 for the first time in the past five months, I felt a huge relief. Literally the ray of hope. After fighting through the state of depression with the help of the excellent student health support at OHSU, I reached out to people and consciously started to mingle with them.
Believe me, it was nowhere close to easy to keep motivating myself to get out of the spiraling, depressing feelings. In the fall and winter of 2016, I saw even the 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight daily as a boon.
Today, I have made a lot of friends at and outside OHSU. I now know that there are people who you can reach out to when you are in need, which is a feeling of comfort – especially thousands of miles away from your home in a new culture where you literally have to start your life all over again and adapt to the surroundings. From not going out anywhere after school in September 2015 to doing a Bridge Pedal bike ride with the community in July 2017 was a long journey for me, and I know that there is a lot more to come.
I have successfully advanced to candidacy in my Ph.D. program, and I have started organizing dance programs within the community as well. I feel that in the past year, I have been back in full form. I am very thankful to the community at OHSU and my family and friends who stood by me in my first Ph.D. year at OHSU. Here is looking forward to a beautiful fall and hopefully a milder winter this year. 🙂