"The last student who went to graduate school after working with me was hit by a bus," my research advisor said to me as I began to figure out what I'd do after graduation with a Bachelor's degree and a desire to work in industry. He has an odd sense of humor, and I took the comment as a reminder to keep my eyes open and not get wrapped up in my head. This same advisor had encouraged me to apply to graduate programs, warning me that it would be hard later to "take the vow of poverty" after an industrial-sized paycheck if I decided to pursue a PhD after a few years on the job.
I didn't know the first thing about the graduate school application process and wasn't even sure where to apply. He encouraged me to set my sights high, nudged me toward higher profile programs and, in retrospect, he also guided me away from programs that I later learned had reputations for treating their students poorly. I was accepted at multiple schools thanks to his efforts, my letter writers, and the good advice I got about writing personal statements.
Skip ahead three years and his voice is in my ear, though it's only a memory speaking: "the last student … was hit by a bus." I cross the street like I'm five. Look left-look right-look left. All clear. I'm going to finish this thing and I will not become a pancake.
It's not until another year later, maybe two, that I hear something different as the memory speaks: "the last student stepped in front of a bus."
I don't know the story. I never knew the other student, but I can't unhear this version of the story now. And I understand it in a different way: Be careful, and Come back safe, okay?
During graduate school I learned about my anxiety, and I experienced the emotional quicksand that is depression. I felt sad for no apparent reason. Blue. Down. There were days I was unmotivated to leave home. Days when the failures of my research felt like failures of my self. And I realized one day that my predecessor had probably felt the same way.
I wish I could reach back through time and tell him that depression lies. But I can't. It doesn't work that way.
So I'll tell you: Depression lies. Don't carry that burden around alone. You are worthy of love and worthy of help.
And please, for the love of whatever you hold dear, be careful crossing the street. Come back safe, okay?