I think I’m broken. I may actually have been broken for a while, or possibly fractured. Anyway, I’m admitting I’m broken because admittance means I can now start the process of fixing myself.

In case you aren’t familiar with the back-story: over a year ago I set up a plan that I would start a PhD program in Autumn (Fall) 2012 in the field of organic chemistry. The time in-between would be devoted to an industrial internship in Switzerland to gain more research experience…and enjoy a life in another foreign country, of course.

Then the following things happened:

(1) I applied to 5 institutions in the USA but didn’t get offered a place. It could simply be because I was an international student who’d come with higher fees. It could be because my GRE score was too low, I lacked publications, my referees were not well known or a typo in my personal statement.  There were probably numerous factors behind the decision. In any case, I got their responses over the course of a month or two. I didn’t know the exact dates I would receive the decisions, they came as sporadic emails & letters.

(2) So I’ve been looking at the continental European universities. I’ve had several months of little success: waiting on emails, hitting “Refresh” endlessly, re-drafting my CV, hovering over the “Send” button. I get the replies that the professors aren’t taking on students right now, or else they had to choose between many talented applicants competing for a small number of places. More sporadic emails.

(3) The time I’ve spent on applications, letters and browsing research group websites has been significant. Not only is the process itself stressful, dejecting and frustrating…it takes away time & energy from the things I do that make me happy.  Socialising, travel, reading a good book. I’m left with stress, dejection and frustration but no way to offset them.

(4) None of this is happening in a vacuum. Emails come during “business hours” and work takes up the greatest proportion of my life. Ergo, my professional life suffers. Enough for others to notice, but most crucially for me to notice. I know I’m out of character, that makes me feel even more alienated and unhappy. It reinforces the sensation that I can’t do anything right.

Hence where I am right now. My self-esteem feels absolutely battered. I’m tired, borderline exhausted. I feel like my priorities are all out of sync. I lack motivation and focus. My work is suffering. I’m drinking too much coffee. The world seems to be all shades of grey. If this doesn’t count as being broken then I don’t know what does.


Despite the unhappiness I know I’m not beyond repair. I’ll never be beyond repair.

This working week ended badly. Another day in another week in another month in 2012. I stopped off on my way home in the Manora supermarket (the Swiss equivalent of Marks & Spencer, for my British readers) and bought a packet of loose leaf Darjeeling tea. When I got home I proceeded to finally brew myself a decent bloody cup of tea. The sun came out too this evening, finally. I’ll probably run myself a hot bath and retire to bed early with my copy of the National Geographic (German version). Goodness knows I could use a decent night’s sleep…

There are a variety of competing options running through my mind right now. I need to chat things out with my mentors, friends and family before I come to a course of action. A few things are clear right now, though.

(1) I need to put the grad school applications on hold. If only for a week. Maybe in the end for longer. I need some time off from what is evidently a destructive and unhappy activity. I need to take time to do things I enjoy, to be free from stress and to try and fix what has been damaged.

(2) I should look again at my priorities, plans and what I want to get out of life. There are many ways to get to the same destination.

(3) Life is always going to be divided into the things I can control and the things I can’t. I need to think about the proactive choices and decisions I can make. Proactivity is healthier than passiveness on a number of levels.


I’ll end with a specific message to one individual.

To the person I shared some my worst news with, only to receive silences in return. You can never know how upsetting & damaging those silences were to me. Then when I told you my last piece of bad news you finally broke your silence. 

“I’m sorry.”

You can never know how much those two words meant to me. 

11 thoughts on “Broken

  1. Hang in there! I think you’re right in needing to take a break. Have some fun. Let all that other crap go! Sometimes, I’ve tried to *make* things happen instead of *allowing* them to happen. For whatever reason, you’re right where you’re supposed to be. This too shall pass……..

    • I agree with what you say: as far as I’m concerned I’m in the right place, and I don’t really regret anything. Even if with hindsight the choices weren’t the best ones. I’m on holiday now, so that takes away a lot of the stress…

  2. You’re so incredily strong, focused, and determined that I have no doubt that, not only will you be ok, but that you WILL succeed. I only wish I was half the person you are.
    Things aren’t going you’re way at the moment but I know you are ready to jump on the oppurtunities when they occur, make the most of them, and then direction of flow will be in your favour.

    • Thank you. Right now it feels like I’ve been pouring my energy into the wrong thing(s), maybe there’s a path that is better suited to me that I need to find, maybe I’m applying my energy in the wrong way. You’re right, there *will* be opportunities & openings coming along before I know it.

  3. I’ve read somewhere that when a lot of difficulties pop up in a direction one chooses, it may mean that this wasn’t the right direction. I don’t know if this would apply to your situation but it’s worth considering, especially if you feel like you’re throwing away your energy into a vacuum.
    When I feel broken, I always go back to my number one priority: my health. Nothing’s worth putting it in danger.
    I hope you feel better soon. Bon courage!

    • Merci beaucoup, Cecile. I’m still busy thinking about whether I am going in an inappropriate direction, and if so to what degree…I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to that. I know however that I shouldn’t try to take my life in a direction that makes me unhappy.

  4. Pingback: Cosmic Harmony & Tea « Standrewslynx's Blog

  5. It must have been the theme for the day, because I also wrote a post on being broken on the 16th. Never beyond repair is a good way to see things.

    • Great minds think alike, evidently! You’re right in your post: despite what society tries to tell us, there isn’t really anything wrong with being slightly bruised & cracked…

  6. I’ve been through a lot of phases where I feel like I’m broken. I always come out of it stronger than before. You will too, Claire. Because you’s a badas_.

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