An Up-and-Down Week

More musings of a personal nature I’m afraid. You never know, I might get back to the social justice side of things one day.

As of last Tuesday’s post, my feelings had been more than a bit mixed after my trip to Cottonopolis. Monday was a positive and productive day but Tuesday was its antithesis. God, I felt so low. The day started off with another anxious dream and it went downhill from there. The only things I ticked off my list were 1/ get up, 2/ eat breakfast, 3/ take meds. I spent the rest of the day zonked out in front of the TV aka my laptop.

Wednesday was much better. It started the same as Tuesday – anxious dream, get up, breakfast, meds. Then I bathed and painted my nails. Then there was a highly stressful, upsetting phone call with the NHS IAPT service. The lady I spoke to was nice, and we talked through my answers to an assessment questionnaire, my current circumstances, what I’m doing to cope and what my support network is like. The conclusion was yes, they can help, someone will call within 28 days so I can be booked in for Behavioural Activation therapy. From my brief googling, this boils down to highly specific, timed appointments with yourself to do specific tasks, including both things you like doing to relax and some of the tasks you’ve been avoiding, in order to build up your ability to do stuff even when you don’t feel like it, or are actively anxious about it. It’s less about “working through your feelings” than “tricking yourself into working anyway, seeing as you’ll feel equally bad whether you do the dreaded task or not”. This sounds eminently helpful but that 28 day wait to speak to someone to book an appointment? That sounds like they will not get to me in time to be actually helpful, seeing as I’m working to a Christmas deadline.

Although that said, the University have approved my application for one month’s ‘suspension of studies’, which pushes my ultimate submission deadline to the end of January. The upside is that this means I don’t have to be quite so stressed about meeting the Christmas deadline, the downside is it pushes the final end further away AGAIN. Which is what I actively DO. NOT. WANT. because duh, I want my life back.

So it boils down to ‘I am attempting to push this through under my own steam with no formal mental health support, aside from my GP, phone appointments with my Uni couonselling service and Citalopram.’ Less than ideal in other words. Which basically sums up my entire PhD.

Lush Wizards – http://www.thesundaygirl.com/2014/09/sneak-peek-lush-cosmetics-halloween-2014.html

Anway, after that little tangent, back to Wednesday.

I get bonus points for brewing myself a cup of hot chocolate to calm myself after the emotionally aggravating phone call. Mum and I then went shopping, for some mother-daughter bonding time. New trainers (birthday present because I am flat broke)! New leggings (my old ones are embarrassingly holey)! Lush products! After that, we rushed home to get dolled up to celebrate my little brother’s 21st birthday!

That was a really good night. Cocktails at Be At One in Covent Garden, followed by dinner at Jamie’s Italian restaurant. I had calamari for my starter and breaded plaice with mussels and chips for my main. We had delicious cake from Patisserie Valerie for pudding and of course there were presents for the boy (I really should stop calling my brothers “boys”, they’re all growed up now!) and cards and a flashing birthday badge because Elder brother vetoed a giant balloon.

I still find it so wierd that my brothers are men these days. Strapping 6 ft plus beanpoles who are ridiculously fit (cycling and assault course-marathons like Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race) with lovely girlfriends. The Elder one is leaving home in a few weeks, moving to Brummieland, moving in with his gf, my mate since first year of secondary school, and starting a new, higher ranking job. I can still remember my brothers as annoying, blond haired rascals, way too into footie and cricket for their own good, in my humble opinion as a life-long bookworm. While those traits are still there, they are who they are, and it is much better living and interacting with them as adults than when we were all annoying teenagers.

For all that Wednesady was a generally good day, no work was done. Hence I worked all of Saturday, with Smushy cracking the metaphorical whip.

Thursday was an improvement over Tuesday. My mood was equally bad but despite that, I still got shit done. Go me! Hours and hours of cell tracker later… results. Interesting results. Results potentially disproving my boss’s high-falutin’ grand hypothesis of coupled oscillators. Breaking that news is going to be fun! And not in the sarcastic way! *rubs hands with glee* (Yes okay, I should not be quite so pleased about this, but wot yer gonna do?)

Which is why, my dears, you should not jump to conclusions before viewing the results of your carefully thought-out and executed control experiments.

My self-care on Thursday did not stretch to eating proper food but I did dance for 15 min to try and break my foul mood. Surprise of all surprises, it worked. I felt better enough to get back to work for a while. Nothing like a permanent fix, at this stage it would be foolish to expect one, but a temporary alleviation is a good thing nevertheless.

Friday was different again. Not the most productive in terms of hours worked but I wrote the first bit of my Introduction. Tricky but not horrendous, being as it was about the stuff I know best regarding JAK-STATs.  I did some Excel analysis, following on from the previous day’s work and finished tracking one particular section, meaning that I had all the raw data to compile and analyse for one of the control experiments. This was a definite win.

I had another phone call, this one from my Uni counselling service and we have a follow-up booked for Tuesday. I am so happy they were willing to arrange phone counselling for me, you don’t even know. Talking over the phone is not my most favourite activity, but it is better than nothing at all, and as it’s going to take a while for the IAPT to get back to me, I am going to make the most of it.

Self-care-wise, I worked out with weights, something I am really coming to enjoy, and had a bath using the Wizard bubble bar. It did indeed turn an amazing shade of purple but the smell was very mild and not quite what I expected from the reviews online. This may be because I only used half the bar (those things are expensive, and seriously, who needs all those bubbles if they’re only gonig to go down the drain?) but whatever. It isn’t my intention to come out smelling like the Lush shops anyhow.

Another thing I’ve realised is that baths are strangely relaxing-not relaxing. Relaxing because warm and bubbly. Not relaxing because that is seemingly not enough to distract my worrisome thoughts these days. I find the time spent lying there just lets my thoughts go round and round, circling down into the depths. This is doubly annoying because our weak shower pressure, plus the london water, means it takes far too long to get my hair properly clean. This often results in me getting out, drying my hair and then finding I need to get it all wet again because it’s still greasy. This, I feel, defeats the point of the shower being quick and hassle-free compared to a bath. Consequently, I think I need to cut back on my soaking time. or take music in? Now there’s a thought.

Saturday was another good day. Thanks to Smushie being here (yay!), I got loads done. So. Much. Excel. And Prism = pretty graphs. No firm conclusions yet but definitely interesting. Also, another small mountain of cell tracker.

In the evening we watched the Lego Movie. Oh. My. Gosh. How I missed seeing it at the cinema, I have no idea, but Everything is Awesome!

 

Two nights spent cuddling my Darling Sweetie was good. I cried. A lot. Because depressed and anxious about ALL THE THINGS. But it was so nice to have him there. I am sad he had to go back home this evening. Stupid work, why is it even a thing?

Oh well, hopefully this week brings good things too.

 

*Apologies for the inordinate number of exclamation marks.

Just a Minor Rant – lol, people who think they’re being helpful!

I had a trip up to Cottonopolis last week – Wednesday to Saturday – which is why I’ve been quiet. It was in fact really positive, and I will come back to the good points shortly. First however, I need to get a few things off my chest.

My male Supervisor was as ever, super helpful. What he had to say essentially boiled down to “why aren’t you coping? Everyone else finds doing the PhD tough. Other people had much more difficult and complex/bitty projects than you and they were all fine. What you’re going through is totally normal and I don’t see why you need all this extra “help” and allowances.” He said ” It’s normal to be stressed; the PhD is the hardest thing you will ever do.”

Once again, I realise he really has no clue how bad things are/have been.

Does he realise he’s essentially implying it’s perfectly okay for PhD studies to make the majority of students mentally unwell? How is that okay? How is it right that the pressures to succeed are so extreme that post-graduates end up on anti-depressants, or anxiolytics, or heaven forbid, sectioned because they tried to commit suicide?

The implied subtext to his words, that I’m being weak, and pathetic and cowardly, hardly helps. It’s implied that I’m making excuses and not trying hard enough to get on with it; that I’m defective because everybody else has coped with it ‘just fine!’ and that seriously, I should just get over myself already.

Yup, that’s really going to improve my mood.

I shouldn’t let him get to me, I know, but it is so hard when the doubts his word inspire feed my wretched jerkbrain.

I know it’s bullshit. I know that a recent PhD in our lab spent over a year on anti-depressants while completing their PhD. But they also swore me to secrecy because no-one else in the lab knows that they were. They don’t talk about their mental health problems which are actually pretty serious because they have a reputation as the “crazy one” already. They don’t need medical ‘evidence’ adding to that. Three cheers for mental health stigma!

I know that the PhD candidate who has just submitted and whose praises my boss is singing basically didn’t sleep for the last two weeks of submitting their thesis. We texted and called most days because the pressure was so intense. How is that a good way to finish a thesis?

What was worse however was that one of these people also wasn’t overly supportive. Or they were. They really, really tried. But their opening line of “you don’t seem as bad as you did in your texts” belies the intensity of those feelings at the time, and assumes that I wear every feeling as openly on my sleeve as they do. I take time to open up, I don’t like to interupt someone mid-stream (awkward when they are a massive chatterbox extrovert), and I feel more confident saying things in the written word than the spoken.

As I’ve commented before, I’m far too good at keeping my emotions hidden from others. The famous quote of “you don’t seem like much of a crier” from a lab member.

“That would be because I do all my crying in private.”

I have a very small circle of people I trust enough to cry in front of. One of those is Mum, another is my brother. Yet another is my Squishy and the fourth, my best mate from undergrad. There are a few others I will share difficult stories with, and I am making an effort to be more open about these things, but I won’t cry in front of these people if I can possibly help it. It’s just not the done thing, you know?

Anyway, suffice it to say that these things hurt. I need to put the feelings aside and take stock of the positive things.

 

My supervisors are both happy with progress from the last three weeks, since we had our truly awkward skype call and I got myself to the GP.

I’ve made headway on the Tracker, and I’m on track to finish it by mid-November, leaving me enough time to write the final chapter in time for my Christmas deadline. I’ve got an outline for the Introduction chapter (which is going to be a lot more work than I realised/expected, despite warnings from others). I sat down with one of the mathematicians and talked through the modelling section of my middle chapter, and the various issues I have with it. I now have a plan to address it and 9 sides of A4 of additional notes and points to write about for it. I feel like I now have half a shot at writing that part properly. i’ve had several serious offers to read thesis chapters and permission from someone with a bit of leverage to CC them in emails with my supervisors. The suggestion from him that my supervisors might in fact be bullying me through their emails was a left-field ball I wasn’t expecting and I’m not sure how I feel about it, but the offer of support and back-up was much appreciated and I’ll be making use of it.

The next trick is to not let myself be overwhelmed by how much there is to do on the Introduction.

Four weeks is loads of time, but also, really not enough.

It was also really nice to catch up with my lab mates – two months is too long to not see them in person. Another mate generously put me up for my visit and we had a lot of fun and good conversation while I was there. Also she cooked the most amazing vegetarian lasagne, with butternut squash in it. Mmmmm. :-)

Finally, I do think the meds are beginning to help. I still feel anxious about starting big work tasks which have a lot riding on them, and I’ve had three or four days in the last fortnight where I really couldn’t face doing any work. I’ve also had a couple of long crying jags, but I think it’s getting slowly better. I’ve woken up some mornings and actually felt like working! I’ve been doing the three hours a day of Cell Tracker that I need to do to get my data analysis done on time. I’ve planned my Introduction in outline and started filling in bullet points for the different sections so that I’ve got decent notes to work from. I’ve checked and sent emails, despite dreading that task more than anything. I’ve taken my meds every day. I’ve been making time for exercise, and fun, creative things like playing the piano and doing cross-stitch. I’ve done bits of yoga and mediative breathing. Most importantly, I’ve been able to use the mindfulness breathing techniques to calm myself down from the peak anxiety moments.

Now, if the anxious dreams that have me waking up in a panic and digestive upsets would just fuck off, that would be delightful. Better yet if the general, low-level, background sadness would ease up. I don’t notice it until I stop being busy so I’d say that’s not affecting me too much, but I guess I’ve become so used to it I’ve stopped noticing the weight of it? Who knows. Fingers crossed for further improvements, and hopefully a screening phonecall that leads to me getting some CBT from the NHS.

 

 

Hello!

Hello, new people who are landing on my homepage! I have no idea where you’ve come from but my stats are doing crazy things. Anyways, hello and welcome. Hope you find what you’re looking for.

I’m mainly blogging about PhD woes and my shaky mental health at the moment, so welcome to the inside of my head. I also have side-lines in Feminism, Social Justice and pop culture. And my post on dealing with self-conscious feelings about large boobs is highly popular.

100th Post! Dealing with Overwhelming Feelings

So! This is my 100th post! I was intending to do that fun post with pictures of ships and boats and other exploits but that will have to wait. I haven’t even rescued the photos off my camera yet.

Also, and more importantly, I need to blog about feelings right now. I’m feeling quite overwhelmed.

*deep breath*

The Introduction Chapter of a Thesis is a big deal. It sets the tone and the scene for the everything that follows, and without a good Introduction, your examiners will question everything else much more critically. A poor Introduction will make them doubt you, while a good one will put them in a better mood for reading the rest of your weighty tome. It has to explain the background and context, and describe why you chose to do this particular work. It sets out your hypotheses and gives them a guide for what’s to follow. It positions you as an academic within a particular field, and if you are crossing fields (as I am), it has to cover each of those fields in enough depth for you to make your case. The Introduction also has to be clear and concise, whereas I am a wordy mofo in general. I will have to pick and choose carefully to ensure what I include is relevant, while also not leaving out some key detail they need to follow my train of thought.

I’ve been looking over my Introduction – the one I wrote in Second Year – these last few days, and oh dear God, it is a disaster. Or that’s what my brain’s telling me. It’s following up that thought with: There is so much to do! You’ll never get it all done in time! You don’t even know half the things you need to know in enough depth to be able to talk about in the Viva! Your referencing was TERRIBLE! Where are the original sources? These are all mostly review articles! It reads like a list! God, I thought you had more to work from! Continue reading

Liebster Love

Well I said I would, so here’s my follow up.

Firstly, thanks to Kasey over at Valprehension!

Trouble is, my blog feed is very short on other small(er) blogs. The ones I was following have all gone very, very quiet. So instead, I’m linking to a handful of blogs that have meant the world to me in last couple of years.

The Reluctant Femme for reminding me it really is okay to like girly stuff, and for getting me into nail polish.

Diary of a Goldfish for general awesomeness, but also excellent writings on disability, abuse, depression etc.

The Pursuit of Harpyness – these women gave me an excellent grounding in lots of aspects of feminist thought, covering things like abortion, domestic violence, poetry, fat acceptance and the diet industry. The archives are still available if you want a good read.

A Damsel in this Dress – historical costume designer, mainly focusing on medieval, but also the Regency and Victorian eras. Beautiful corsets and underpinnings and detailed step-by-step posts on how to make the clothes. Always a good read/oggle.

An Ex-Academic Follower of Fashion – currently quiet but excellent posts on dealing with mental illness while in academia. She reminds me that I’m not alone in this mess.

Spanked, Not Silenced. Pandora Blake – Kink, porn and politics. Definitely NSFW. Instumental in accepting my kink side and learning about sex positive feminism and how porn doesn’t have to be degrading.

Random list of facts about me:

  1.  I translated all the runes inside the Lord of the Rings books when I was 12 – it’s actually an amazing summary of the history that preceeded the War of the Rings.
  2. I know the first scene of the first act of MacBeth off by heart and got to say a few lines on the stage of the Globe Theatre as part of a school trip in Junior School.
  3. I used to be scared of heights because I climbed too high up a tree in the dark, and overcame my fear by climbing 36 m or 125 ft up to the top of the mast of a Tall Ship.
  4. I loved the Famous Five as a kid and wanted to be George because she was awesome. I also wanted to be Darrell Rivers in Malory Towers. Who doesn’t want a feast at midnight be the sea?!
  5. I plan to have a garden some day, with roses and lavender and other herbs that smell nice and can be used in cooking. Also strawberries, and hopefully a Plum tree.
  6. I used to do Irish Dance when I was a teen and wish I still could, but it didn’t agree with my knees. At all. These days I just dance freeform in my living room to music.
  7. I love Clannad, Enya, and also now, Julie Fowlis. And sea shanties.
  8. I play the piano (to Grade 6 standard) and nowadays, I actually practise. For fun. Turns out scales aren’t so boring after all but arpeggios are still a pain.
  9. Ludovico Einaudi is one of my favourite pianists and seeing him perform at the Barbican in London is one of my better memories.
  10. I’ve done a skydive, and can’t wait to do another one. It was mind-blowingly awesome! Best feeling ever!

Depression, Anxiety and Meds

So, where to start? Big news first I guess. As of today I’m on an anti-depressant for the first time in my life. I have a feeling I should have looked into it months ago. As you might have guessed from the previous couple of posts, things are not so great in my head at the moment.

(Apologies, this is going to be long, rambly and possibly incoherent. I need to rant today.)

Mind you, they’ve not been great for a while. Kinda seems like I just swing from one crisis to the next, you know? There’s no denying the PhD’s been hell every step of the way, but also I am a terrible procrastinator? Or a lazy fuck? Who can’t be arsed? Who is making excuses for her own failings, when she should just. be. working. already. for. fuck’s. sake.

And yet, if I said those things to a friend who was struggling to work, I would be a horrible person, so why the hell am I accusing myself of those things? I think this might be a serious case of the Sneaky JerkBrain? Because only a Sneaky JerkBrain would think that being a jerkoff douchecanoe will help motivate me? Because what I really need right now is a bag of guilt pulling at my heels at every step? Continue reading

Taking Back the Bi – reflections on a post

Aoife O’Riordan has written one of the best things I’ve ever read about being bisexual and the political importance of the word. Go read it – it’s a must.

My own reactions to the post are:

1/ That I don’t associate myself with the words queer and pan, and haven’t encountered much of those communities at all and thus haven’t seen the hatred against the term bisexual from that angle.

2/ That I’ve not exclusively attributed the meaning “falling for both men and women exclusively”, where men and women are assumed to be cis, to the term bisexual. My knowledge of trans* issues, while far from perfect and complete, ’cause yes, I’ve fucked up around this before, has grown alongside my feminism and my bisexual identity. So I see no reason why the label bisexual would exclude falling for a trans* or genderqueer person, assuming the person concerned has recognised and begun to deal with their transphobia.

3/ Regarding the phrase “I don’t see gender” – yes it’s highly obnoxious. Aoife compares it to saying “I don’t see race”. That’s a phrase I’ve only ever seen used online but from the context I assume it’s really common state-side from people that think they’re being progressive. I’ve read it instinctively as “I *refuse* to acknowledge that I certainly carry racist ideas and stereotypes in my head and act accordingly”. You don’t get to exist in our (UK/USA/White European-derived) societies without carrying racist stereotypes and ideas. It makes me uncomfortable every time I realise I’ve just run into another racist stereotype in my mind, but there it is. You don’t make it go away by pretending it’s not happening. Instead, you note it and challenge it and do your best to act as if you thought otherwise. I also strongly encourage reading about subconscious stereotypes and stereotype threat – learning about these things opened my eyes.

3.2/

“the idea that physical attraction is somehow less valid than, or exclusive of, attraction to someone as a person is the height of sex-shaming. There is nothing shallow or meaningless about being physically attracted to people. And being physically attracted to someone doesn’t mean for a second that you can’t fancy the hell out of their brains as well.”

Gold. Pure gold. Continue reading

Reblog: Kids these days get too much praise: Praise, validation, and encouragement

Validate literally means “to make true”. It comes from a word meaning “lawful” and “strong”, and more generally, “supported by facts and authority.” Validating someone means listening to their truth and letting them know that you hear it. It answers our deep desire to be recognized and reflected back, and it lets us know that we have the power to tell our own stories. We become makers of meaning, instead of passive objects made by someone else.

Validating someone means recognizing that a person’s own perceptions are worth listening to. …

Most of what was cast in the 80s and 90s as failure to praise children was actually failure to validate them. When a child comes to an adult, dripping with defeat, and says, “I failed,” praise is, “No you didn’t! You did really well!” and validation is, “You’re really disappointed with how you did, hunh? That sucks.” And over time, if adults do nothing but praise, what children hear is: Your self-doubt and weaknesses are not wanted here. Failure is not acceptable, not even thinkable. I cannot accept you unless you do well.

 

Things I wish my PhD supervisors would do. Saying “you’ll be fine; of course you can do it” does not cut the mustard.

Praise, Validation and Encouragement

For part of my graduate training at therapist school, I did a counselling internship in a university student resource centre. It’s an interesting experience to fall back on, especially when people start ragging on millennials for being lazy and self-satisfied. The students that I saw were overwhelmingly workaholics who felt pressured to sacrifice everything at the altar of academic success—and they were resistant to being told that completely forgoing sleep, a social life, leisure time, and adequate nutrition actually made them less likely to succeed. I came away thinking that there is a deep sickness in the root of my generation’s soul, and this is what it looks like: To be imperfect is to be inadequate. If you are not an extraordinary success, you are an utter failure.

And overwhelmingly, the students I saw—bright, accomplished, high-achieving people—were obsessed with the thought that they were lazy, stupid, and untalented. Impostor syndrome ran rampant, as student after student agonized over the ethics of letting people believe they were good people or even adequate human beings, when their private truth about their selves was far harsher. View Original