Prioritizing your mental health during grad school and tips to seek support, with Sarah Martone

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Sarah to discuss mental health and school. Sarah opens up about some of the mental health challenges she faced during the completion of her MPH coursework as well as her practicum placements and some of the steps she took to work through these obstacles.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Sarah’s personal experiences with mental health struggles while completing her MPH degree and practicums
  • The impact mental health struggles had on Sarah’s MPH experience, including impacts on  work and school performance
  • Sarah’s journey of reaching out and the steps she took to seek help
  • What barriers and challenges Sarah faced on her journey to get help
  • Advice for others in a similar situation including how you can reach out to employers or professors to discuss accommodating mental health challenges.
  • What types of on-campus and off-campus mental health services are available

Today’s Guest:

Sarah Martone is from Markham, Ontario (Canada) and completed her undergraduate degree in 2017 at the University of Guelph in Honours Zoology, and took a year afterwards to figure out what she wanted to pursue for graduate studies. In 2018, she was accepted to the University of Guelph’s Master of Biomedical Science program, specializing in reproductive biotechnology where she completed her masters research project at the Toronto Zoo. During her program she decided she wanted to pursue a career in public health to use her animal science background and interest in human health. She was accepted this year to the Master of Public Health program at the University of Guelph for the Fall 2019 semester and finished in the spring of 2021. 

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Episode Transcription

Sarah 0:00
Open communication, trying to just coming up with options in advance and knowing what would work and what would not work for you. Some people love would love to have a check in every day. Some people don’t like being micromanage different things. And just being able to have that communication is absolutely key.

Sujani 0:20
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.

Hey, Sarah, welcome back to our podcast. I’m so excited and thrilled to have you on, we were chatting before we hit record that it’s crazy, I think when we last had you on it was when we launched the PH SPOT podcast. So very excited to have a repeat guest with us. And you might be the first one if I remember correctly.

Sarah 0:57
That is very exciting. I love to hear that the podcast has just taken off. And it’s so cool to see how many how diverse both your audience and just the people you engage with. It’s been pretty cool to see. And to have been a part of it at the start. And also just pre pandemic is so interesting.

Sujani 1:14

Sarah 1:14
How different it was the last time we chatted, versus now.

Sujani 1:17
It’s funny, we were kind of saying right before we hit record again that it’s interesting to see both of our perspectives than then now and where we are at, you know, almost two years later. So it’s also pretty cool.

Sarah 1:29
Yeah, how things change? And I’m sure two years from now, it’ll be even a bigger change. So-

Sujani 1:35
Of course yeah, well, I guess the difference in today’s podcast episode, I remember what the last one I reached out to you. Because I guess I came across one of your great articles on networking. And we chatted a bit about the importance of networking to launch your career. And then a few months ago, I received an email from you about a different topic that you’d like to chat about. And obviously, I was thrilled to have you on and even more thrilled when you pitch the topic. So maybe we can start there. What prompted you to reach out to me, and maybe we can kind of set the stage with that and then get into some of the other topics that we want to chat about today.

Sarah 2:10
Sure, absolutely. So obviously, the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted absolutely everyone around the world and grad students were not immune to the effects of it. And well, first of all, like I talked my first podcast with you was about networking and trying to be gregarious, and put yourself out there and it was very positive and had a lot of momentum. And then I found that the COVID 19 pandemic, for me just absolutely put me down. And it was really, really hard to find myself again. And I’m still trying to find myself I would say, but for me, it just- I became very depressed. My depression was incredibly disabling, I will say for my motivation, and my work ethic and feelings of self worth. And it just got to a point where I never really thought I would be in my life, especially to even think of who I was in January versus now is like night and day, it’s hard to imagine that that was me. And I’m very fortunate that things have opened up a little bit. And that has definitely helped me kind of come out of that hole. But I just found that even in grad school and in academia, obviously we do talk about how mental health is important. And universities are very supportive. But sometimes it’s really hard to see if someone has been more like debilitated by their mental illness, like a lot of it is like I find very surface level. And maybe that’s just my outlook. But I never really heard of grad students who were like giving up opportunities or people who couldn’t actually finish their courses or finished their practicums or people actually missing out on opportunities because their mental health was at a point where you have to actually say no, or things are just falling apart. And how you actually deal with that from a student’s perspective. Because you don’t want to lose the opportunity and all the momentum that you work so hard for because of a period in your life that may or may not be just harder than you’re used to. So for me that was a little isolating to think that obviously very self centered to think that I am the only person this has ever happened to but I just wanted to put my story out there in case anyone else was experiencing this. And just to kind of hear a firsthand perspective of someone who’s experienced this depression, where it did get to a point where I had to say no to things and I had to limit myself. And that was really hard, obviously, being in a depression already, and then having to actually realize that, oh my gosh, I cannot do it all and how that makes you feel as a student. So I just wanted to put that out there and to show that there are people and there are ways to hopefully improve your circumstances. And just to start off a tweet that I saw that pretty much hit the nail on the head and talking about imposter syndrome. And someone posted a tweet and it was like meta imposter syndrome. When you know a lot of people have impostor syndrome, but you’ve witnessed how competent they are. So they’re not like you, the real imposter. So memes and jokes and stuff like that really get us through. But at the same time when you see everyone else being like, oh, yeah, like it’s really hard for me, but then they’re still accomplishing all the things that you’re not accomplishing is really, really hard because you’re like, oh my gosh, like, I actually cannot do these things. So that was my long winded way of just saying that I had a very hard depressive year. And this is me just coming out almost on the other side of it, still trying to get through it. But in case anyone else can relate, I just want them to know that they can also reach out to me at any time if they’d ever like to chat after this.

Sujani 5:33
Well first off, thank you for doing this. I know how difficult these conversations can be. And just for putting yourself out there. So from the entire PH SPOT community and everyone who is going to benefit from this episode in this discussion, I just want to say thank you so much, it takes a lot to, one, come out the other side, and then two, share your journey and story so that others can also benefit and learn from that. And then one step further, you’re always open to having people reach out to you. So I’m going to reiterate what you said. And if anyone feels like they need more than this episode and want to chat with you, I hope it’s okay that they can reach out and either jump on a call or whatever they feel comfortable with and can talk it through with you. So thank you for that opportunity as well.

Sarah 6:16
Absolutely. I love to talk.

Sujani 6:20
All right. So you know, you mentioned that the pandemic was what kicked all this off. Was there a certain part of the pandemic? I mean, this pandemic has been so complex, so many different parts of it that a lot of people have been challenged with. Was there something that was specific to you that you felt that got you in this period of your life?

Sarah 6:42
Yeah, so I remember the last day, which was, I think, March 17, which is on the University of Guelph closed down. And at first I was like, okay, like, this was before anyone. I mean, everyone was taking it seriously. But it was more where you were kind of in that naive space where people were like, yeah, it’ll be close for like a month, and then we’ll go back. And so I remember I was like, okay, like, the rest of my classes will be online, and then you’re kind of thinking, okay, well, maybe I’ll be working from home this summer, and that’s okay. But by fall, we’ll be back and like I’m a really outgoing and extroverted person. So for me, engaging with my classmates and professors like in the classroom was very important, but I was like, okay, it’s only half a semester, that’s totally fine. So the rest of my semester was okay, like, I did my assignments online and still chatted with my friends and we’d go for walks and that was before any of the lockdowns had really, really come into effect. But my timeline is all messed up now, because it’s been so long.

Sujani 7:32

Sarah 7:33
And then I had been so excited because my practicum placement was with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative under Dr. Claire Jardine. And I had gotten my pre exposure rabies vaccinations and hoping to be in the necropsy lab and I was pretty pumped. And then obviously, that did not come to fruition. So I moved home for the summer and worked online and tried to convince myself that that was okay. And that I was feeling like my normal self and being alone, quote, unquote, in the office, in my room, I don’t think I registered how much of an impact that had on me and how lonely I was. And my work ethic definitely started to fall. And I could tell that it was, and that was really hard. That’s probably where I realized that I was going to have a problem with the pandemic, obviously, by then we knew that it wasn’t just going to clear up anytime soon. And I started to have a bit of a panic because I had never really worked a job that was a traditional desk job. And definitely not one in academia, where I thought I would see myself for the rest of my life. I’d worked a lot of jobs where I was on my feet and in the service industry and working like that, and landscaping and then I was like, oh my gosh, what if I can’t do a desk job. And now I’ve gone through all this education, and I can’t sit at a desk. And that was really hard for me. So I got through my practicum, Dr. Jardine was very supportive when I needed to tell her that I was overwhelmed. She was really great. And then, when we got to the fall semester of 2020, I had gotten a TA opportunity. And I was super excited about that. I’ve always wanted to be a TA and I’ve always wanted to teach, which I’ll get to in a bit. And I just found that my workload, I really wanted to do a research course with Dr. Jardine continue on my practicum opportunity. And then it got to October and I was like, Okay, I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I have the time. And I still wasn’t really thinking about how bad my mental health was getting. And I realized that I wasn’t working out I was stress eating a lot more. That’s something that I know I do to like cope with my stress and there’s all the different coping mechanisms and I started to gain weight and I was getting really uncomfortable with my body. I was becoming really snippy and really irritable. And I was just like, okay, like, I don’t have time for this like, okay, it’s fine. If I don’t do a research project. That’s okay. You’re assigning like almost merits to every single thing you do in grad school, or at least I find that I do. So I was like, okay, tick off. I got a TA ship tick off. I did my practicum at this agency. See, which prompts me for the next one tick, I’m doing these classes, just trying to set yourself up in the best way. So being like, okay, I can negotiate that I won’t do the research opportunity. But I do have a TA ship. So those balance each other, and that’s like my own way of kind of justifying the different decisions. And I did feel that my coursework was slipping, my grades were fine, but my work ethic was not. When I did my first master’s, I was really good at doing things moderately in advance, I definitely still procrastinated just like everyone does. But it wasn’t getting to a point where it did in 2020. And then I realized that when I came home for Christmas, then I just hit a breaking point. And I was like, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I was just, like, really upset all the time, I was crying, just feeling very bad about myself. And I was like, I don’t know what’s wrong, like, there’s nothing in my life that’s wrong. Like, I’m very lucky. I’m at home with my family. I have my friends, I’m in the program of my dreams, I did a practicum of my dreams. And just trying to grasp at anything that I could feel was the reason and the driver for why I was feeling the way I did. So this is when I started to talk to my family physician about it. Because I was like, I don’t know what resources there are. And I don’t know what to do. I had been seeing a counselor at the University of Guelph, and we’ll talk about opportunities to see a therapist and she was really great. I saw her like every two weeks. And anytime I would see her I was like, oh, yeah, like it’s okay. Like, I’m really stressed some days, but overall, like, I’m fine, and everything in my life is fine. So I don’t really know why I get through these moods. And maybe it’s just being at home. Obviously, depression isn’t something that just like pops up one day, and then it’s gone when you deal with it. It’s an ongoing battle. And I’ve probably had these depressive episodes before, but it just the COVID pandemic was just something I’d never even thought I would have to deal with. So I didn’t want to go on medication, I was very much against it. I was like it works for other people. But I don’t need to go on meds. And that was really hard because I didn’t want to be the person that bought into the stigma of being on medication with mental illness. And that was, that was also hard to understand about myself, like I would never judge if someone else was on them. But for some reason for me, I was like, I don’t want to go on them. And eventually I did, I went on one medication, and I couldn’t tell if it was working. And then in January of 2021, that semester, I was working with Environment and Climate Change Canada with Dr. Provanche, who I really looked up to, she’s amazing. I was so excited to work with her and her team. But I was not in a space where I was being effective in my work. I felt incredibly self conscious. I had no motivation, even though I was like, I’m in my dream program. I’m in my dream job. Why am I not happy? Why can’t I find the motivation to do the things that I know I’m capable of doing? Like it wasn’t completely out of my wheelhouse. So with this medication, I’d never been on a medication for anything before. So I didn’t know what it was supposed to look like I had friends who were on a very similar antidepressant. And they were like, yeah, it really like helped and like helped with my motivation. And I just wasn’t feeling that. So I was like, maybe this is just keeping me at this level. And if I wasn’t on it, it would be way worse. But I was oversleeping sleeping 10 to 12 hours every day, I would get up I would stress eat in the morning, I would do a couple hours of work, get a bit overwhelmed. A lot of the times I would just cry, and then I’d take a nap because I was tired. And then just waste away my afternoons and I was just so upset with myself doing these patterns that I knew were bad. I knew that they were not wrong, but I was just like, why can’t you just be better? And even with the medication like I was just like, you should be able to fix this. No one else can fix this, but you and that kind of mentality. And it just got to be too much and talking to my doctor, she was like, okay, well, maybe we should double your dose of medication. And I was like, okay, and it’s like the commercials for antidepressants where like all the side effects are listed. And there’s so many and it includes dark thoughts and stuff like that. And you don’t really think that’s going to happen to you. But that is what happened to me. And so I didn’t realize that having these incredibly dark thoughts, I will say I was just like, no, that could be worse. But this is where you’re at instead of thinking, these meds just might not work for you. And these meds actually might just do this. So it got really, really bad. And I had to eventually just talk to her again. And that’s when I found an external therapist because I was like I need to see someone probably every week. I am just absolutely in a freefall. I don’t know what’s happening. And it wasn’t till I talked to my therapist who I now see who’s amazing. And she was like your meds might be making it worse. And I was like no, like, that doesn’t happen to people like that’s like a super rare. And she was like no, it just did happen. So I talked to my doctor and I was like, I think I need to switch. I’m not doing well and I’m actually doing much worse. And so now I’ve switched off that medication, I’m on a different one and I’m doing a lot better. And that was really hard for me to just accept just on its own, because I was like, I don’t want to be that person who got somehow worse on antidepressants. And some of them are obviously more common. So when you have friends on them who are like, oh, yeah, like I really got my motivation back and like it was just a little downtime. And I’m like, I had a horrible year. And like, I don’t know how to recover from this. And so that was also a driver for wanting to put this out there and just talking and just openly just saying, like, some meds don’t work. And that happens to people, it happened to me, it was really hard to admit to myself, even in my January 2021, like winter semester, I was really excited to take the second half of the epidemiology course, I always really liked epidemiology, I did pretty well on the first one, I was really excited to take the second one. And I did very poorly on the midterm because of the state I was in. And I remember having a chat with my professor who was amazing. And I think I got like a 65. Not terrible. But I knew that the final was 50%, I knew I was going to have to really work hard. And I was like, I’m not going to be able to be successful in this class. And that just really catastrophizing, one course, where you would truly not judge anybody. But for me, I was like, I can’t fail this class, no one will ever hire me, I’ll never get a job. If I didn’t take this class. And I had a really great conversation with my professor, he was so supportive, he was like, it’s okay, let’s talk about some options. If you want, we can switch to an audit because I was like, I really want to learn this. And I want the materials, I just don’t want to fail this because I know how that’s going to look. And no one wants to have the bad optics. That’s why a lot of mental illness and things and struggles are all kept very quiet. So that was really kind of him to let me switch to an audit. So I still got to have that experience of taking the class. But I did get the pressure relieved of actually having to perform when I was in that state. And it was really hard to kind of try to realize that there’s no rational explanation for depression, or anxiety or any other mental illness, it’s not always going to be something like oh, well, you just have a genetic mutation, or oh, it’s just in your family line. And one moment, I was like, I’m in my dream program, at my dream school, I have a really great group of friends, I have my family, I had a really supportive partner at the time. And I just could not understand why I was so upset. And it’s hard to talk about, because people will just remind you of all the positive things in your life.

Sujani 17:20

Sarah 17:20
And that kind of makes you feel worse, because you’re like, now I just sound like a brat who’s complaining, like I have so much to be thankful for. But I’m still like, I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Like, I just wanted to stay in my bed all day and not do anything. And I had no motivation. And you know that it’s not helping you. And you do it anyway. And so that was pretty much basically July 2020 to July 2021 was hands down the hardest period of my life. So far, I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to slowly get better and share my story with people who need this story tool. But it’s definitely been a very arduous journey. For me, it’s been very, very hard. It was a hard journey. And it still is.

Sujani 18:02
Yeah, just reiterating this point that you’ve touched on multiple times, it’s when, externally, when you’re looking at everything that’s happening in your life, everything looks fine, like it’s perfect, you know, I’m able to have a roof over my head, I have food, I can go to grad school, I have all these great, you know, mentors and professors around me and getting my dream job and doing well. Everywhere else. It’s like, why do I not feel great, right? And I think that at least just reiterating what you’re saying, and correct me if I’m wrong. It’s looking at it from a perspective where you’re like, okay, all of these things are going great. But I still don’t feel great. What is it I can do? And how do I help myself because it can be hard, especially if you’re a kind of like an analytical person very reflective. You’re you’re trying to think about all the things that are going well in your life, all the things that you’re accomplishing, but then that internal feeling is still not lining up with all those external accomplishments.

Sarah 19:03
Yeah, absolutely. Like, it’s been such a whirlwind to try to rationalize it to myself, and then eventually coming to terms like through work with my therapist, realizing that there is no like reason that it starts, it’s just a bunch of different things that perhaps pile up and the circumstances just aren’t great. And it has nothing to do with how much motivation you are, your work ethic, or your worth as a person, it can impact anybody and anything on the surface, you have no idea what people are going through. And that was definitely the big driver for me wanting to share this in this space. Because I know that a lot of people, I mean, hopefully not, but I think there will be people who can relate to this.

Sujani 19:42

Sarah 19:43
And just to put in perspective, because I assume a lot of people compare themselves I am very guilty for it. I compare myself to my classmates and people on LinkedIn and obviously all social media platforms and it’s hard not to be like okay, well how are they doing all these things and they’re fine, and I can’t even do one thing. And it’s just not true. And you never know what is happening and comparing yourself will never make you happy. That’s something I still struggle with today, especially in the job searching world, because you’ll see people getting other opportunities. And you’re just like, what’s wrong with me and constantly just self criticizing and that has been my personal journey is working with my therapist about just self reflection and how I view myself and the kind of self talk that I give to myself. So that’s been the main driver for what I’ve been looking into. And working with a therapist has been very beneficial for me, that’s been really great. Because when you go through these periods, or when you have something like depression like I do, I want to make sure that I’m trying to at least learn the most from it and learn about the things that drive me to go into these episodes where I don’t want to go again. So I’m trying to unpack as much as I can, by basically just like verbally saying everything that’s on my mind, and then me and my therapist go through it, and kind of actually just break it all down to see like, what is the main emotion behind that? What do you think about this and why? A lot of the times, therapists are just common sense filters, where you’re just like, this is the worst thing ever. And this is why and then they’re like, have you thought of it this?

Sujani 21:19

Sarah 21:19
And you’re just like, yeah, okay. Okay, that makes sense. And so that’s been very, very helpful.

Sujani 21:25
We’ll get to some of the tools that have helped you, including your therapist. But as I’m hearing everything that you’re sharing, it sounds to me that you’re kind of a very reflective person. And that could have been what has helped you take the first step in seeking help, is that a fair assumption? Because I’m thinking like when you’re in this period, and you’re going back and forth of all the things that you’re grateful for everything that you have, and then you’re like, why am I not feeling great? It takes a lot of self reflection to identify that.

Sarah 21:56

Sujani 21:57
Were there things that helped you be self reflective during those periods? Or is that just who you are, and you’re naturally self reflective person. And that’s maybe one of the reasons that you took your first step in reaching out to your doctor right away? Can we talk about that a little bit?

Sarah 22:14
Absolutely. That’s a really great question. I think I am naturally very self reflective, I do think it can become a negative when I’m self critical. So I’m trying to be more careful of that, and how I frame some of my reflection. And again, that’s something my therapist has helped me to be, I know, I project onto other people, I can do it with my family. And my friends. I know, I used to do it to my partner. And I was just like, I’m mad at myself for projecting and she was like, okay, so start at the source. Just being able to recognize the behaviors you want to change is more than half the battle is just realizing that you can actually identify if there’s a trait you don’t like or something, you just want to work on. Just being able to identify that and even just saying it out loud and being like, okay, that’s something I want to change. So for me, the self reflective part was a lot of self advocacy, especially at my doctor, I did a lot of my own. I really don’t want to say the word research, because I feel like that has been used a lot right now. Or people just say research to mean I Googled some things. My sister makes fun of me for being a bit of a hypochondriac. So I was looking at so many different avenues. I was like, I’m looking at narcolepsy, I’m looking at anxiety, I’m looking at ADHD, I’m finding out that women are most often misdiagnosed or don’t get a diagnosis of ADHD when they have it because of the lack of research in that area. So for a long time, I was at my doctor being like, I want to be assessed for ADHD because the two comorbidities are anxiety and depression. And my doctor was kind of pushing back and being like, I think you just have an anxiety problem. And I was like, I don’t think my problem is anxiety. I think it’s depression with obviously, a little bit of anxiety peppered in there. But I was like, what if this is ADHD, and then that opened my eyes to another huge barrier, which is that it is incredibly expensive to look for an ADHD, I don’t want to say diagnosis, like you’re not looking for the diagnosis, but to be assessed. It’s like $2,500. And I mean, therapy is already inaccessible to a lot of individuals, and now you’re making it even more inaccessible. So it was hard for me because obviously, my doctor is very well versed in a lot of different things. And I know my own body. So it was like a very hard conversation to try to be an advocate and be like, I think that this is something we should look at. And then they were more like, I don’t think that this is the reason and trying to navigate it in a way that you want to listen to their advice. But you also want to follow your gut at the same time. And knowing that you know yourself so that was why I started working with a therapist because I would like someone who’s worked with individuals with ADHD and anxiety and depression and she can’t diagnose me with it, but she can at least maybe give me some more guidance and see what her opinion is. And so that was really important to me. And that’s another barrier. I would say for me it wasn’t so much because I am extroverted. And I know I’m outgoing. And I don’t have a problem trying to push back to my doctor. But not everyone is going to be comfortable with that. And there’s so many other barriers. if English isn’t your first language, trying to advocate for yourself to your doctor might be even more challenging. So I’d say that’s another avenue that needs to be looked at, especially in women, especially when they know that ADHD is often not considered. And yet, it’s still not, I think I am just affected mainly by depression, I think that is my primary mental health concern. I found that like, my motivation was gone, I found that I could not just sit at my desk, and there’s so many different memes again, and like tiktoks, and things that talk about mental illness in great ways where you don’t even realize it. And I don’t know if ADHD is something that was in like impacting me. But when you’re reading through different journal articles, and looking at all these relatable comments and stuff, you’re kind of like, okay, I can, I can see myself in this a lot. And that kind of went back to my practicum. And my work and I was just like, I can’t just sit at a desk, like, what if I can never work again, was pretty much where my mind went. So it’s been really hard to kind of just reel that back and know that like a, there’s different strategies to being successful. A lot of people do not like sitting at a desk, also realizing that most people don’t just sit at their desk for eight straight hours. And just pump out high quality work for the whole day. So being able to strategize my day like that has been very helpful. And just being able to understand that no one is perfect, and no one does their job perfectly 100% of the time. And that has been very, very good for me and very rewarding to kind of come to that realization through seeing obviously, my friends and talking to them and people being like, oh, yeah, like I did take a nap in the middle of the day, or like, oh, yeah, I just like went for a walk. And I went for lunch. And you’re like, okay, so it’s just, it’s about the balance.

Sujani 26:46

Sarah 26:46
More or less, I will work eventually.

Sujani 26:50
And I think like just a little bit more on that self reflective piece. The internal self reflection, of course, is I think, much harder, but it’s something you mentioned early on was also how your behaviors changed, where you noticed you weren’t working out or you weren’t eating the same way or becoming irritable. And I think just knowing that that’s not you as a person could also be a good indicator that may be you know, you could start on the internal reflection, if you’re not someone who does internal reflections on a regular basis, because I know I’m like you were I’m constantly self reflecting. But then there’s also periods in your life where other hints could be used. And for me, it’s definitely that irritability piece. If I- if I can see myself being irritated quite quickly, or talking to someone a certain way that I’m not too proud of I know, it’s either burnout or I just need to take a break. So yeah, I just wanted to reiterate that for anyone who’s kind of thinking about this conversation piece that we’re having right now about self reflection, and they’re not someone who is self reflected, or there are other ways that they could help themselves identify where they’re at.

Sarah 27:56
Absolutely, definitely being able to pick up when you find that your mood has shifted, and no one cut you off in traffic or spilled their coffee on you like obviously, that would make anyone irritated. But sometimes when you just wake up, and like I know I can get really snippy like I was snippy with my mom the other day. And I was like, why am I like this right now?

Sujani 28:14

Sarah 28:16
And I realized it was because something that I was looking at, for a job got pushed, and I was like, I’m frustrated with that. And now I’m taking it out on someone. So I apologize. And I was like, I’m sorry for being snippy. It takes a lot to change your behavior. But most people obviously I’m not saying like, be horrible to people. And they’ll always forgive you. But if you can acknowledge like, hey, sorry, like that was out of place. Like I’m just having a bad day. And then you’re like, I’m sorry. And then also inaction, like not continuing to be that person. That’s like a really important feedback. And just, that takes time. And it takes practice, I’m still working on it, I probably will be for a very long time. But just knowing that I project my emotions is something that I’m trying to work on, to show that self reflection is good to a point. I actually remember at the beginning of the summer, I bought like a self help book. And I cannot remember the name of it. And it was really great. But I was trying to read it still in my very, very low depressive episode. And that was not helpful. I was trying to be like, let me solve this depression just in these like three months of summer. Let me just read this self help book, work on absolutely everything at once and then somehow emerge as a butterfly completely fixed. Which is not the case. Shocking. And talking to my therapist about it, I was like, I’m reading this book, and it’s talking about all the negative traits and I’m highlighting everything being like this is me, this is me, this is me. And she was like do you realize that it’s not actually helping you because now I’m just upset that I am not the person I think I am and I’m not the person I want to be. So that actually was a great example of what was not helpful to me was A, trying to fix it all at once and B, just trying to pick out all the negative flaws about myself and being like, Okay, I need to fix all of these things. It’s not realistic, it’s- it’s just setting you up to be upset with yourself later when you’re like, why can’t I just get over this thing? And why can’t I just fix this part of myself? And you’re like, okay, one thing at a time, if there’s something you find that you do more often than not, can you work on that first? Can you frame it in a way that doesn’t make you feel more bad about yourself, like telling yourself I shouldn’t be doing this, is not actually helpful, because then you’re doubling down on your negative emotions, because you’re having this experience, and you’re putting out that energy that you don’t want to, and then you’re making yourself feel bad about that energy. And that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve been working on is accepting my feelings. And just acknowledging that it’s okay to be sad, and be frustrated at things, you’re not going to go through life with a good attitude all the time and making yourself feel bad about being angry about something that maybe you should feel angry about, maybe you shouldn’t be frustrated, if something that you really wanted to work out doesn’t work out or being sad when you lose someone you didn’t think you would, and just not trying to make yourself go through those emotions twice, by feeling bad about them. And also feeling that has been a journey in itself.

Sujani 31:08
I think that’s so important thinking that you need to feel happy, and on your game 24/7 I think that’s unhealthy. Number one, and number two, it’s, it’s not who you are as a person, like we’re humans, and going back to these memes that reflect our emotions so well, the one that comes to mind is the one that says like, you don’t need fixing, because you’re not broken. So, you know, it’s a part of you accepting it, I think, for me when that came to light, so I have a four month old now. And I remember the first few weeks of kind of feeding him and he wouldn’t want to drink. So I’d like call our breastfeeding clinic and like, oh, he’s not drinking. And they’re like, yeah, he’s just having a not so great day, just like everybody else. Like we’re not, we’re not happy 24/7. So maybe he doesn’t want it. So puts it into perspective, just these things that you kind of look at, for me, it was like, as a third person looking at somebody who’s not having a great day, but not identifying it, that- that’s okay. And we’re humans.

Sarah 31:08
Yeah, like, everyone’s allowed to feel negative emotions, obviously, in a certain like context, and not so much that it, it hopefully impacts you, but that’s unavoidable. But just being able to realize that there are negative emotions, and you feel them for a reason. And as long as you can kind of just know that they’re happening, trying to address that it’s okay to feel them, and just trying not to project them onto other people as much as possible and just trying to work through like, why are you frustrated? Is it something you can’t change? Like, for me, it was something with a job contract. And I was like, is this reflective of me as a person? Or is it just paperwork that’s taking a bit longer than it needs to, and it doesn’t reflect on my ability to do a job. It’s just something completely out of everyone’s control. And they’re not saying they don’t want me as a candidate. They’re just like, it’s going to take a little longer and trying not to bounce off the walls being like, this is unfair. Whereas I’m like, okay, it sucks. And I’m very frustrated with it. But I’m allowed to feel frustrated, and that’s okay. And then tomorrow, you kind of wake up and you’re like, okay, yeah, like, it still sucks. But it’s not, it’s not going to impact my day any further. Like, I just, that’s something that’s already happened. Let’s move on. I’m trying not to be like I haven’t figured out because there’s definitely days where I can’t rein in my emotions. That’s why it’s an ongoing journey, as I still struggle with it, it’s just that I happen to be in a much better place now than I was in the first half of this year. So that’s why I was like, I need to share this story. While it’s still fresh in my mind while I’m still working on it. And hopefully, one day like, I’ll still be able to reflect on it. But it was such a hard time for me. And I just I really hope I can help at least one other person realize that they’re not alone, especially in grad school.

Sujani 33:48
Yeah, that kind of takes me to a few other questions that come to mind for me, and you talked about some of the impact that this had on your MPH experience, you know, including your work ethics going down. And at some point, your grades were okay. But other times your grades weren’t. And I think what I really liked about what you shared was that you sought help, and you made sure you spoke to your professors or your employers or your practicum managers, whoever it may be. And I think for those people who are feeling like okay, maybe it’s a conversation that I would like to have with my supervisor or employer. How do you go about that? Like, how did you do that? Because I’m thinking, from my perspective, I would feel quite nervous to bring this up to a professor, for example, just thinking back to myself being in grad school or a practicum coordinator, because I don’t have an established relationship with them, for example, so maybe you could share how you did start those conversations and what sort of things you said to them so that it could maybe help someone prepare their conversation.

Sarah 34:54
Absolutely. Yeah. It obviously depends on the context, my professor versus my boss, very different. I think for me, I would say not that you can predict if you’re going to have something like this happened to you. But having a report to begin with, if you can, is very beneficial in any setting, especially just for people to understand kind of where you’re coming from. I’m not saying you should go into a job interview and be like, by the way, I have severe anxiety, that’s too much too soon. But just being able to at least talk about your experiences, and just building any sort of relationship with someone who you think you might need to discuss some things later on. I have a really good friend who started a brand new job. And within the first week, she had just- she had a panic attack, she had a really bad anxiety episode, and she had to go to her boss, and she was bawling her eyes out. And she was like, I don’t know what’s happening. I need- I can’t work this week. And in our first week, obviously, you’re gonna get people who maybe they’re an older generations, I know I had an advisor at one time who really didn’t believe in the mental health movement and thought people were babied. So you also need to be able to kind of read the room as to how much you can disclose. And that’s definitely tricky, which is why those earlier conversations are important to see where people stand on what their viewpoints are. Could they relate to you potentially, I know that that obviously sounds really simple on paper. But-

Sujani 36:17

Sarah 36:18
-that’s why you have to have those conversations, like when I actually talked to my professor about when I got like a 65 on the midterm. And I had never spoken to him before. Like it was a class that was online. So I never talked to him. So he didn’t know who I was. But for me talking to him on webcam, or having my face be present, that was really important, because I think he could tell by my body language, and I honestly just started to tear up and he could tell, and I was like, I’m sorry, like, I’m just- in our brains, you’re like, it’s unprofessional. Like, I can’t show them that I’m like, having a hard time with this. It has to be a completely like objective conversation. But they are people too. And I think they understand like, I was like, I’m so sorry, like I did really bad on the midterm. And I swear I’m not the student, and you have to like somehow justify every action. And he could tell that I was just so overworked. And he was like, it’s okay. And I think another area that would help is if you come to whatever conversation it may be with solutions, like at least an idea. So like, for me, I came to him. And I was like, have you had students be unsuccessful on the midterm who are okay in the class? If they’re unsuccessful in the class, like, what does that mean? Are there any other options? Can I drop the class, but somehow use some of the material? So just approaching it in a way where it’s like, I understand that I’m facing a problem right now. But I have at least given it enough thought that I’ve tried to come up with some ideas that I think could maybe help me be successful. And that goes back to being like your own advocate. And I think that piece is really critical, especially if you’re maybe going to have a hard conversation with someone who you’re not really sure, like experiences they’ve had in terms of mental illness, like if someone has never experienced anxiety, or depression and doesn’t know anyone, and doesn’t know how debilitating it can be, it’s really hard to just show up and be like, I can’t do this task. And they’re like, I don’t understand why you can’t do the task. So if they’re not going to get that understanding piece, being able to come to them and be like, look, I’m having a very overwhelming time, you don’t need to tell them any of the nitty gritty details. Like I didn’t need to go to him and say like, I’m having a hard time with my antidepressants. Like, I didn’t mean to say that I was just like, I had a poor performance, I think I’m going to have a poor performance on the final exam. I don’t want to but that’s what it is going to look like. And I’ve kind of thought of things. I don’t know if you know, if you’ve had any students in the past, just like asking a question being like, “How can I approach this task in a different way?” If it’s on a timeline, can we have check ins on the timeline so that I’m on track, just coming up with a teeny tiny bit that just shows you did your due diligence and addressing the problem, I think goes miles ahead. And that will put you in a much better place, and it will make you feel a lot better, especially if you don’t know how your boss or supervisor is going to react to you just being able to acknowledge this is what’s happening to me. “I’m feeling this way, I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can I get some help on this project? Could we potentially modify the timeline?”, basically just approaching it and that you’re not just trying to shank the responsibility. You’re just like, look, this is the situation and then maybe depending on obviously, your previous relationship, maybe you’ve known this person for 10 years, maybe you’ve known them for five minutes. Obviously, with a greater rapport, you can obviously be a bit more honest. And maybe they already know the relationship piece is the most important. And I would say if you’re not sure then showing up to a meeting or check in, having some solution in mind, or just even asking them if they’ve experienced this before. And maybe they have and maybe they did it one way and it didn’t work for them and they’re like, okay, well like this is the previous experience. And we’re not going to do that again because it wasn’t successful. So just coming up with a solution together. And having that communication piece is just probably my biggest piece of advice and just having their input and just trying to be as transparent as possible, but obviously protecting your own confidentiality when it’s like mental health issues are obviously incredibly sensitive.

Sujani 36:18

Sarah 36:54
And you don’t need to disclose a lot. And no one should ask you to justify why you’re feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully it can get better. But I know that it can be really difficult having had an advisor at one point who was like everyone’s handheld, and you guys think everything is overwhelming. I really took that as like, that’s their opinion. I know I if I ever have to oversee someone or oversee a student, I try to go in and being like, look, I know how it feels. I know, it seems irrational to be like, I can’t do this one task. Like for me, reviewing articles, I was like, I can read an article. And yet I’m sitting here at my computer not doing it, and just being like, why can’t you just do it and then still not doing it? I know, that can be daunting, because you’re like, I don’t want to go to my boss and tell them that I can’t do the basic tasks that they’re asking me to do. But I found for me personally, having check ins was really useful. I get to see their face, I get to talk to someone, that’s obviously something that’s really important to me, especially within the COVID 19 pandemic. So having a check in for me, it was really great to seeing people to being like, okay, I know, on Thursdays at two, I have to see people and I have to submit something. And if I can’t submit it, that’s an opportunity for me to talk to the team about it and be like, look, sorry, guys, I did not get to this, I will by this date. And just like having an open line of communication essentially, is what my last 10 minute rant has been about. It’s just trying to have open communication and trying to figure out the relationship that you might have with your supervisor and just adjust how you’re going to talk to them based on that.

Sujani 41:36

Sarah 41:37
And just coming up with solutions. The due diligence piece is something that took learning on my own where someone would be like, they would just ask you, they’d be like, okay, well, what, what do you want? And you’re like, I don’t know what I want. And then you’re like, okay, that’s, that’s a good thing to just kind of think about before you go into a meeting, if you have to tell someone like, hey, this is a hard time by just trying to come up with some sort of solution, essentially.

Sujani 41:56
And one quick question I have about this whole topic. You know, when you reach out to your professor, employer, for the first time to have this conversation, has your email or instant messaging, whatever mode of communication you’re using, has it been very like vague? Or do you provide information so that they’re prepared for this conversation? Like, what did you do? I guess, let’s take your professor, for example.

Sarah 42:19
Yeah, I definitely gave him some context. He obviously knew what I got on the midterm, but I sent him an email. And I was like, “Hi, Dr. so and so I know that I did not perform very well on the midterm. I have some things on my plate, but I’m really interested in the course material and trying to be successful. I was like, could we set up a team’s meeting so that we can talk about the midterm and about going forward?”, I didn’t mention anything about my mental health situation, I didn’t want to send that in an email for the very first time because I didn’t know him at all. And I was still like, also in a very weird spot where I was like, I know I’m depressed, but I don’t want to say it out loud. So he sent me back an email. He’s like, absolutely. Let’s set up a team’s call. And then when we did meet online, and it was like, quote, unquote, face to face, I was like, look, I’m having a really hard time this semester. Like, mentally I’m struggling. I was like, I know, I didn’t perform on the midterm. I know that the final is worth 50%. And I was like, I don’t want to fail this course. Because unfortunately, like the optics don’t look good to employers. I mean, I don’t know who looks at transcripts anymore, or if they don’t, but I didn’t want someone to look at my transcript and be like, “Why did you fail this course?” And then I have to be like, “Well, I had some mental health struggles, and then knowing that there is stigma still around that, and I don’t want it to be flagged, it’s like, okay, well, we don’t want you because of like a period of time in my life where it was really hard. It’s like very naive to think like, yeah, you’re gonna get an employee who never goes through it. It’s not possible. Everyone has these periods. I mean, it’s hard with deadlines. No one wants to say they’re not going to meet a deadline. It varies depending on how how strict the deadline is, obviously, just if you have a hard deadline, and like a couple months in your life, you’re already struggling, you’re putting things off, or you’re not meeting your internal deadlines, setting up those meetings being like, “Hi, I’m like experiencing some issues. Can we have a chat? Can we come up with something together?”. People respond very well to that, or at least I’ve had my managers and supervisors respond really well to just trying to connect a bit more than just being like, “Look, I’m having a hard time. And this is gonna take me longer. Or I’m not able to do this right now and just trying to come up with a solution.”. So I would definitely say putting it into context. And just reaching out is key. I’m currently teaching a first year course at the University of Guelph, and I’ve been trying to tell my students the whole semester, I’m like, look, if you have something, just send me an email, you don’t need to send me like a four page email explaining your situation. You can just be like, Look, I miss class, you could just say I miss class. And I’m like, okay, that’s fine. Not much I can do about class. But I was like, if you need to miss the midterm, or you’re going to not hit the deadline for an assignment, just send me an email, just send me an email just so I’m expecting it. It’s, it’s really hard after the fact because then you don’t know who’s taking it. You don’t want someone to take advantage of you at the same time. So I’ve just been like, just send me an email. So like the second assignment, I got a couple emails being like, I honestly didn’t manage my time properly. And I’m not going to hit the deadline. And I’m like, that’s okay. Like, thank you for letting me know, I understand it’s hard. That’s fine. And then coming up with a solution being like you can have till tomorrow, I found that students have been receptive of that, obviously, I’m sure the longer I teach, there will be experiences where people do take advantage of that. But for the most part, I would rather give that mercy- sounds like too harsh of a word. That’s not what I want.

Sujani 45:30
Like that option.

Sarah 45:31
Yeah, thank you. And like the compassion, like I would rather give that than be too hard and fast. And just trying to remember what it was obviously, like, in first year, we’re just trying to figure out how to stand up for the whole semester. And that is in and of itself. So open communication, trying to just coming up with options in advance and knowing what would work and what would not work for you. Some people love, we’d love to have a check in every day. Some people don’t like being micromanaged different things. And just being able to have that communication is absolutely key.

Sujani 46:02
So I was thinking for, you know, the remainder of the episode, we could talk a little bit about some of the tools that has helped you and you’ve touched on them, I think throughout the beginning part of this episode, but since we’re talking to students, let’s first start off with the on campus services that are available. And I think you said you did reach out to a counselor at the University of Guelph, maybe, you know, touch on what sort of services you were offered, obviously, it’s going to be different based on like which university or college you go to. But yeah, maybe you can talk about your experience as to what sort of resources the counselor was able to provide you with, and then maybe go through your experience reaching out to your family doctor, which you also touched on, and then how you eventually got to reaching out to the therapists. And I’m assuming that’s the chronological order of how you went about getting help. So yeah, let’s start off with the campus services.

Sarah 47:00
Sure. So I knew I mean, I’m pretty sure every university has some degree of counseling services. But I can only speak to the University of Guelph, and it was, honestly really great. They have a really large team of counselors, and obviously, they serve the entire student population. But I found that I was able to get an appointment consistently every two weeks, which is pretty good. Considering how many students are on campus every two weeks is pretty consistent. And I really liked my counselor, she was fantastic. I did start seeing her and I was more- This was when I wasn’t as honest about my experiences. I was kind of like, yeah, like things are going great. And like externally, yeah, I got my, I got the practicum I wanted and so she, she can’t do anything, if I’m not telling her what’s actually going on. Like, I’m not telling her that I can’t sleep. And then when I do sleep, I’m sleeping for like 12 hours. And I’m not realizing that that’s a problem. So it basically got to a point where I was like, okay, I think I need to see someone more consistently. And that was why I switched from on campus to an external therapist. Obviously, the counselors on campus are fantastic, and it’s covered as a student, you don’t have to pay. And that is a very key piece. I would say for individuals who think that counseling services are unaffordable, which I will say that a lot of the time seeing some of the prices, especially in this day, and age is pretty daunting. And that’s an area where I’m privileged to be able to afford a counselor on my own time. But if you can’t on campuses was great. My counselor was fantastic. She kept really good notes. She like checked in with me if I completely forgot about an event. Like I had been telling her I was applying to a practicum. And then she followed up with me. She’s like, hey, like what happened with that? How did you feel about if it went a certain way? So I responded really well to that, mainly because I’m also a bit of a scatterbrain. So I definitely would forget about things that I had mentioned. And she was just really great at having a good conversation. It just got to a point where then I was when I was home for the Christmas break. I was like, oh no, like I’m having a problem. And so I had previously talked to my counselor on campus about medication options, and I didn’t want to go on them. She talked to me obviously about why I didn’t want to go on them. And I was like, can you talk to my doctor because she’s the one who’s actually going to be giving me my prescription. And that was when I started kind of looking at ADHD and talking again to the Guelph counselor about it. And she was a lot more open about it than my family doctor. Like she was like, yeah, it’s true, like ADHD is often like not diagnosed in women. And then I only started reaching out to an external therapist. I think my counselor actually was just on vacation for a bit and I was like, I need something else. And so I found very helpful to me was

It’s a very like basic looking website, but you put in your like city or postal code, you can filter by like if you’re looking for therapists, treatment centers or support groups. Oh, sorry, that was the other thing. So from my on campus services, they also gave me the option of being referred to a couple of different like support groups or I don’t want to say clinics but essentially like there was one for like learning how to sleep like learning how to manage stress, where it’s like a little group that gets together you have someone present on topic, and you just get to be there and learn, I didn’t think that that was going to be helpful for me. So I didn’t pursue any of those, which isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be helpful for someone they had some that are just like, like a yoga class, for example, for individuals with anxiety. So it’s targeted towards like deep breathing and meditation and stuff like that. They’re definitely not necessarily like you wouldn’t know about them until you start looking. So there is a bit of work on your part, like you do have to take that first step and make an appointment. That can be definitely very daunting, but honestly, there’ll be better for it. And also, not every therapist you need is going to be the right fit, which is unfortunate in terms of cost. But that’s why on campus, again, is great, there’s no cost to you finding a therapist, you can kind of look at a couple of different ones. So that brings me back to Psychology Today. So if you type in like your postal code, or your city go to therapists, and then they have just little headshots, little BIOS about all the different psychologists, and then you can filter them by a mental health issue. So like, if you’re ADHD, or addiction, or OCD or any of those, you can then filter them also by the insurance that they take by their gender, the types of therapy they use. So for example, like I really wanted someone who focused on cognitive behavioral therapy, you can filter them, I’m assuming most of the people on this podcast are teens or adults, so you can go that way. And then most importantly, you can filter them by price. So there’s like less than 105, 105 to 136, and more than 136. Or you can also filter them by if they do a sliding scale. So that’s usually if you’re like a student, or you don’t have insurance, or maybe you don’t have a full time salary job, they are able to give you a adjusted price compared to what they would charge if you did have insurance, which I think is really, really great. So I think it can be hard when therapy is talked about. And maybe you have like a friend and they’re like, oh, yeah, my therapist is 220 an hour. And you’re like, okay, well, I can’t afford that. But there are therapists out there that don’t charge that much. And it takes a little bit of work, you have to go through and look and try talking to a couple of different ones. I was very fortunate I only I think I saw one other therapists and I was like, it’s not great for me. And then now that I found my therapist, She’s incredible. She’s very helpful. She’s actually in Ottawa, she’s not even close to me. But since everything was online anyway, I didn’t need to filter by where they were located. So I found that was really helpful. And her pricing is very fair. And I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been employed and been working. And so I’m able to see her every week, which I would say I’d say at least seeing a therapist every two weeks is probably I mean, I don’t know, I’m not a mental health professional. But to me that is at least beneficial. Because you can actually unpack what your two weeks or week looked like, when you get to be like a month, it’s really hard to go through everything that happened in that period of time. Because that’s just a lot of time, being able to consistently go to therapy is also a big piece, because then you’re also able to join the different sessions together and to not fall through the cracks. So that can be another big piece. And you might think like, oh, I only need to go like a couple times a year and just work on things. But to me, that was not helpful for me. So I find that going consistently is quite good. And then I can stay on top of the issues that I’m trying to work through. So that has been really helpful for me. For me, I know being active and eating well. And getting myself to a physical state where I’m happier. Not that like you’re not- your worth is not dictated by your physical fitness level. And that for me was a big piece for what like kind of fueled my depression was looking at myself and being like, how did you get this way? Like how did you not realize that you were gaining this weight, and that was really hard, even coming back out of this depression, like knowing that I will be happier. But I still haven’t quite addressed that to a point. But me in January, I was like, hey, you need to go on this really strict diet, you need to start working out every single day. And then talking to my therapist who’s bringing me kind of back down to earth. For me, I grew up riding horses, and I love it. And it’s a physical activity. And she was like, can you sign up for lessons and I was like, yeah, I could do that. That is something I can do when I go back home. Now I’ve been writing once a week. And obviously it’s not what I thought I would be, I thought I would have to do like something really drastic to be happier. But even just this one little outlet a week has made me a lot happier. And then that led me to join a soccer league because I grew up playing soccer as well. So I’m now getting the social aspect. And that’s been a lot better. And being able to actually like run around has been really great. I’m definitely not in the space that I’m still like happy with where I am physically but I’m in a lot better of a space. For me, another struggle is living in like absolutes like seeing everything as like one or the other. Like it’s either good or it’s bad. And so for me that was hard to get over for my physical appearance because I was like, either it’s bad or it’s good. And right now I feel like it’s bad. And to get it to be good, I have to make all of these drastic changes whereas in reality, it was at a place where it was not great. And now I am going back towards where I would like it to be. And I can’t view that as like good and bad because that’s just not healthy and my body will change as I get older. So being able to like realize like okay, like you’re taking steps You are eating a balanced diet, you are getting out when you need to get out, you’re going for walks, you’re trying to get up from your desk, like those are all important steps. And so that has been a big thing for me to try to get past me also, like I got off Instagram, because I found that I was just- that was not helping me. I miss the memes on Instagram. But I was like, I don’t miss feeling bad about myself by seeing people and judging myself and comparing myself to them. It kind of sucked at first I was like, oh, like, how much could it really impact me. And now I’m like, wow, it’s nice, and not shaming anyone who uses social media, like, it’s totally great. But I was, for me, I know, this isn’t helping me right now. So I’m going to remove myself from this, it’s been pretty beneficial for me, especially for how I see myself in terms of like my physical appearance, which again, you’re not more worthy, in any sense based on your physical appearance. But that’s a big part of society. And so that was something that I noticed. And I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna just relax and just do a couple things that I know, make me happy, and go from there. And so that’s been really great. So like, tonight, I’m going horseback riding, and I’m really excited about it. And I know, I’m gonna have a good night, because I know it’s gonna make me happy.

Sujani 56:09
That’s great. And that was kind of going to be my question for you to sort of wrap this up. And I know, we haven’t touched on a lot of topics. And I’d love to hear from our community if you know, if we want to bring Sarah back on and chat a bit more. Because you know, one hour does not cut it for this topic. But I wanted to kind of wrap it up and ask you how you are now, what you’re working on. And you sort of touched on that. So some last words, not final thoughts, because I feel like I’m going to have you on the on the podcast again, one more time, many more times. So-

Sarah 56:42

Sujani 56:42
You know, for people who are going to take this episode as the first step in kind of maybe reflecting on things that has come their way during the pandemic, maybe just some last words. And then we can wrap this episode up and see what the feedback is from the community, and then maybe bring you back to talk about maybe some specific questions they’ve had. And I think the website that you provided is amazing. I’ll make sure to link that in our show notes page and some of the other resources that you talked about. But to wrap it up any anything that you wanted to share?

Sarah 57:12
Like I said, like it took till like the summer and kind of just like with my medication adjusting, and just getting to a better place where I could even just address what had happened in the last year. And I know that a big stressor for me was my employment. For me, I definitely equated my worth of what I did in terms of my profession with like, how good of a person I was. And that is something I’m still getting over. And it’s definitely something that’s very apparent in society, like you want a good job. And that’s not selfish to want a quote unquote, good job that you enjoy. So I wasn’t getting the feedback, I didn’t want to take on something too massive, because I didn’t want to feel like I was letting individuals down like I had for my practicums. Like, I felt like I was letting down my mentors who idolized and they’re great people. And that’s what was amazing was that they were so supportive. But I was like, I don’t want to feel like that again. It was really taking my time. And I actually got a call from a woman, Heather Pollack, at the University of Guelph, who’s has been a friend. And she was like, hey, like, I don’t know, if you’re interested in teaching, but they’re hiring a sessional position for one health. And I was like, I am not qualified for this in any way. Thank you so much. Like I saw the posting. And she was like, yeah, just like give it give it a look like thought of you. And I saw I gave it a look. And I was like, hey, I don’t mean any of these qualifications. But like, you know what, like, let’s, let’s just apply, because I’ve always really wanted to teach, I thought it was really cool. And so I reached out to the hiring manager. And I was like, “Look, I know that you’re looking for someone with a PhD, like, I just want you to know, like, I read the posting, but I’m still going to apply.” and they were like, “Yep, absolutely. Go ahead.” And so I applied, and I didn’t hear back for like two weeks. And I was kind of relieved almost because I was like, okay, like that would have been a big step. And then on like September 3, I want to say I got an email being like, congratulations on your offer and my heart just like it sank in like a good way where I was like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I just got this. And I was like, what does this mean? So I had a really great conversation with Dr., who’s the Associate Dean academic who’s been helping me so much through this. And I was like, okay, like, what are the steps I need to take? And I remember, I wrestled with it for like a day or two just being like, okay, this is something that is going to be a big ask, it’s a great opportunity. You’ve always wanted to do it and just trying to reflect on like, do I feel like I can, I can handle this right now. And I was like, okay, like I have a good support system, I’m in a much better place, I am ready to get myself back to where I want to be. And this is the first step. And I knew that this was a big step. Because I was like, there’s now students relying on me. And I knew, like I mentioned to have an open line of communication, because I know that that’s helpful for me. So in talking to Dr., I was like, I would like to have a weekly check in. I want to make sure that my lecture content is up to standard of what you want. I want to make sure that you know that this is a new experience for me and he was like, “Absolutely, let’s do that.” And that’s what we’ve been doing this semester. And that has been so helpful. It just reassures me that I’m on the right track, I know that I’m sticking to the lanes, I need to stick in. And it has been such a rewarding position for me getting my confidence back especially and knowing that I can do this. And I can do hard things like I had almost no notice to get this position, and I made it work, or I’m making it work, let’s say, because this semester is still ongoing. So the confidence piece was huge for me, because I was like, okay, like, I don’t want to get knocked down by this and being able to build your confidence, you can just accomplish so much more. So this has been a really key piece in my success and trying to get back to where I was, I don’t want to phrase it as getting back to where I was, because we’re obviously always changing. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to how I was during my first masters. But I know that I’m getting better from where I was at the beginning of this year. And that has been, that has been something that I’ve been really proud of. And it’s really hard sometimes to say that you’re proud of yourself. But that has been kind of like where I am now is just getting my confidence back. And being able to act as like a little bit of a mentor in the classroom. And just being able to engage with my students has been huge. Also just being able to relate to them. As I said to you before we started recording, like, I feel like it wasn’t that long since I was a first year even though it was like eight years ago. But it’s just- it’s been so rewarding and to see myself like happier and know that I’m happier. And I can hear it in the way I talk when I’m talking about things that I’m engaged in and talking about job opportunities. And just getting back to feeling excited, has been huge for me, because at the beginning of this year, I was like I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I feel like I’m failing at everything. And I’m just not interested in anything. And now I can hear it when I’m talking to our guest lectures and talking to my students and talking to my supervisors. And just being excited, again, has been huge, and feeling confident about myself has really helped me take more opportunities when I see them. So I’m back in a place where I’m starting to say yes to things. And like planning to be on this podcast was huge. And I’m helping out with the fall preview day at the university on the weekend to like talk to prospective high school students. And that was always something I loved. And just getting back to where I’m trying to say, I can handle that. And just trying to think critically about the things I can and cannot say yes to and just trying to put them into perspective. So I’m in a much better spot, every day is new, every time I tried to talk to my therapist, we tried to tackle whatever it was kind of affecting me that week, and slowly kind of coming up with a plan to do my next steps into like, physically like trying to get my body back to like where I would like it to be. And how to do that in a healthy way that isn’t making myself just feel bad about what happened to me in the last year and not feeling bad that when I was depressed, my physical fitness and my eating habits fell to the wayside because of course they did, I have to acknowledge that depression does have that kind of impact. So it’s been a lot of trying to get through those thoughts. But I would say I’m in a much better place. And I know I’m slowly coming out of this. And I- I’m trying to be patient because I know that it is going to be an ongoing thing. And just making sure that I’m supported in the right ways by that and trying to get myself back out there. And this sessional position is just one of the many steps. And I’m just very grateful that I’m able to do that. And to also share my story on this platform with other students who hopefully, if they are going through this can take something away from it. And if anyone ever wants to reach out to me more than happy to talk to anyone about this, or have a call or even do a follow up episode, whatever it may be, but I’m in a much better place. And every day is new, whether it is good or bad. But slowly but surely, mental health recovery is obviously not a straight line. We all know that. But the trajectory is definitely onwards and upwards for me. So I’m feeling very good and very thankful.

Sujani 1:03:43
Amazing. And like I said, thank you so much for coming on the podcast to share your journey. And you should be proud of yourself. And congratulations on this sessional instructor roll talk about leaving us with a cliffhanger. There’s so much I want to ask you about with just that experience, you know, having a mentor to really like bounce off your next career step with or throwing your hat in the ring even if you didn’t qualify on paper and the imposter syndrome that we chatted a while before we started. So yeah, it’s a cliffhanger. We’re not gonna get into that today for- for everyone listening. So we’ll definitely have Sarah back on either to the podcast or other means to talk about those different topics. Yeah, just thank you so much again, Sarah, and my best wishes as you carry on with this journey. And we’ll definitely link up how people could get in touch with you. But maybe you could also mention it right now for those who won’t be checking the website out for your contact information.

Sarah 1:04:42
Yeah, sure. So feel free to add me on LinkedIn. I wouldn’t say I’m active on LinkedIn in terms of sharing things, but I tried to go on almost every day. I tried to talk to any prospective students if they’re interested in talking specifically obviously about the MPH program at the University of Guelph. I would love to chat with you about that. You can definitely just send me connection requested Sarah Martone. Sarah with an H. And they’ll see my name, I’m sure somewhere on the description. Yeah, just send me a message on LinkedIn. You can even send me an email to Martone.Sarah spelled exactly how it sounds Please send me an email. Would love to chat over the phone or like on like a zoom call just so I can see people’s faces. That’s definitely like, my favorite way to just meet new people. But yeah, absolutely. If you’re feeling like you’re struggling, or you want to just talk to someone who has been through it, I’m absolutely more than available, I encourage you to reach out and to just put yourself out there. And especially in this community, I find like a lot of people are really warm and very kind and will take the time out of their day. And that’s the energy you want back to you in the world. So yeah, please send me a message. And thank you so much for having me and just giving me this platform to be able to share this story and hopefully help someone else if it can.

Sujani 1:05:56
Hey, there, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And as always, if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we will have everything there for you. And one more thing before you go. Have you been looking for any of these three things. Number one, guidance to establish a clear path towards your dream public health career. Two, mindset and resources to help you continuously progress in your career. And three, complete confidence to take control of your career to ensure long term job satisfaction and employment. If you answered yes, then you have to check out our Career Program is an intensive hands on training program for early public health professionals, including recent graduates and students. We help you take the uncertainty and overwhelm out of building your public health career through this program. And so you can find out more about the program and join the waitlist for the next cohort at pH And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into this podcast and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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