This photo was taken inside of a hotel with this view. I was lucky enough to have gotten the hotel room for free because of my boyfriend but it made me think on some things. I realized how lucky I was just to have this moment, honestly any moment of luxury. The picture is of the Ferry Building, a building I used to walk past every single day on my way to school that became a normal thing in my eyes. In this moment, looking outside the hotel window at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, I realize where I had come from, what my life was like current moment, and where I had to go. I’m a current PhD candidate (a student that basically passed all academic work and now only has to defend her dissertation and do internship her fifth and final year of the doctoral program) in clinical psychology and my life had not been the easiest during my years in the program. In this program, I have been nearly homeless, starving (I lost 27lbs at one point and not in a healthy or meaningful way especially considering I weighed a healthy 130 when entering the program), had so many sleepless nights, couldn’t afford professional clothes but then was yelled at for not dressing professional, and my mental health was almost nonexistent. I had often contemplated suicide since that would erase my loans and no one would have to worry about paying them off. I also would have consistent panic attacks and would break down crying due to the amount of workload. I once worked a practicum site at Stanford and I remember when the workers laughed at the practicum students for how excited we used to be when there was left over food from caterers who would bring food for the families. The workers laughed until the day someone pointed out that the practicum students do not get paid to be here even though they stay here until 11pm some nights helping families. Instead of privileged, rich doctoral students, the practicum students are actually starving doctoral students who dedicated their lives to helping underrepresented populations receive the mental health care they need. The worker also stated how no one knows this because the practicum students would never complain because they feel it’s a privilege just to be here even though they’re all starving and overworked. That worker was entirely correct. Everything felt like privilege but also everything felt like a struggle. Taking this photo made me reflect on all of my struggles and how I was in that hotel room by pure luck. I felt I didn’t deserve to be there, I felt embarrassed that my boyfriend was the reason I was there. I’ve felt embarrassed that my boyfriend was also the reason I wasn’t homeless at one point. I had to learn how to allow others’ help during my program years, and my god was that a horrible feeling. However, now in my fourth year, after I have completed all of my doctoral courses, all four of my preliminary exams (those are like final exams times 10), my CPPR exam, my PhD research project, my dissertation proposal, and over 3,500 FREE hours of mental health services for underrepresented populations, I stared out that window and realized where I came from. My closest thing to support was my boyfriend and my mom. My boyfriend allowed me to miss two months rent because my financial aid was messed up, and I will still pay him back with my next refund, though I’ve been living off of $300 for the past two months. My mom does everything she can whether it’s sending food gift cards in the mail so I could have a meal or just giving the mental support to vent about dissertation. I had never let my mom know about my crises before so she wouldn’t be scared because I knew she couldn’t financially help me, which would kill her. Other than that, I didn’t have a support who would pay my way though school even though my loved ones wished they could. I had to do this on my own. I had to sink into mass amounts of debt just so I could go into this career that I desperately had to fight for. I want to help people, but I had to prove it. I had to barely survive financially, physically, and mentally to prove I wanted to help others. Which is great until I realize the moment I graduate, I’d owe mass amounts of debt back to the government (easily over 200-300k) and every pay check I’d make would go to rent, food, and loans. All I could say in this hotel room, when realizing this cage would be around my for years suffocating me, all I could say was “why is it like this?” I felt so thankful for being there but so trapped by this financial crisis. Our system is broke. It is not the same as it had been decades before, it is broken. I stared at the structure before me in this photo and felt everything at once. The pain, the struggle, the joy, and the gratitude. Though the biggest thought was that America needs to change, our system needs to change. I am definitely not the only one with this story. Every doctoral student you see whether it be MDs, JDs, PsyDs, PhD, or just any “Ds” has a similar struggle. We are trying to be the best we can be for this country though we are silenced. If you know someone who is in graduate school, go hug them, they may need it more than you know. If you can, offer them a meal and allow them to vent about their program, they may need a hot meal and a good vent more than literally anything in that moment.