For the second time in my life, I feel like I'm giving up on a career before I even got started. Yet I felt passion about both--I loved reading and writing about the philosopher I studied, Ludwig Wittgenstein. I also loved to read about counseling, the practice, treatments, and theory. And I loved working with people diagnosed with a serious mental illness. With both, I left the field largely unwillingly. Both involved emotionally felt losses that I defined as confirming my greatest fears about myself.
Over 10 years ago, I attended graduate school for 4 years. I was working towards a Ph.D. in philosophy. During that time, I feared I was not smart enough to be a philosopher. Many of my peers seemed brilliant. Adept at using huge words, making complex arguments, and using syntax I could not follow, I felt like I did not belong. I left when my mentor retired. I gave up trying to make a dissertation committee, and I planned to go back to graduate school where a Wittgenstein scholar taught. Of course, the situation was much more complex, but after I left, I found myself interpreting problems in graduate school as being indicative of my failure. My peers seemed to be more independent; they seemed to flourish on their own. Yet I needed validation and guidance, and I left school after I felt that I was not getting either. I left school crushed and fell into a deep depression for months. After I recovered, I could not bear to read and discuss philosophy. It reminded me of my inadequacies. I still feel a drop in my stomach and sadness when I hear of Wittgenstein. This happens from time to time because ironically I ended marrying a fellow student in grad school. He got his Ph.D. and he teaches philosophy for a living. I still tell people I left because I hated to teach. It is true I wasn't that fond of teaching, but I loved doing research and writing. Teaching was only a part of the reason I left.
In the last year, I was forced to leave grad school because of my medical problems. This time, I was working towards becoming a counselor. I had completed most of my coursework except for practicum and internship. It pains me to hear my peers talk about graduating and getting jobs they like or don't. As I did with philosophy, I find myself retreating from anything that reminds me of counseling. Just as I felt when I left philosophy, I'm afraid my failure to finish school is indicative of my shortcomings. I fear I would be a horrible counselor and am far too much of a nut to help anyone. Again, I wait for external validation. Only a few of the professors in the program have encouraged me to return to school when I get better. Without that encouragement, I fear everyone else thinks I'd be terrible at counseling.
And again, now that I've left school, I'm turning my interest to other fields. The thought of maybe volunteering in the mental health field if I ever get better makes me panic. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about how hurt I was that more people didn't contact me when I left school. I assumed it was because there was something wrong with me--that they didn't like me or didn't think I'd be a good counselor. My friend assumed there was something wrong with them--that they were jerks or wouldn't have responded to anyone in a similar situation. It seems absurd, but this was an interpretation I had not considered. I'm trying to stop my retreat from counseling and make some peace with it instead of giving up on it, and thereby giving up on myself. It seems impossible to do so, but I'm going to try anyway.