Status update: see above.
Also my partner has moved house to a city five hours away by train to start a new job. This is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Exciting because it is a big step up for him, nerve-wracking for me because five hours is a long way away. It’s a temporary situation in that once I finish my PhD I can move down south to be nearer but when I say temporary it is going to be at least three months, which is quite a while especially when you consider the potential stress writing my Thesis may cause. So yes, happy for him, nervous for me.
All things considered though I am actually doing very well at the moment. Lab work is so nearly done, I can taste the freedom. I have significantly revised, restructured and added to my first Results Chapter and likewise with my Methods Chapter. The story is clear in my head, and hopefully now on paper too. The arguments flow and the step-by-step logic behind my decisions aobut the early phase of the work make sense. That is progress, and is something that four months ago I couldn’t even envisage.
The goal for April is to complete a chunk of the remaining data analysis and writing of my Second Results Chapter in time for a trip to Barcelona to visit our collaborators over the May bank holiday. This IS exciting! Sunshine! The Beach! Interesting Architecture! Fancy-pants hotel with roof-top swimming pool! Interesting conversations about science and discussions about modelling and possibly a Paper with people who are invested in my work having a positive outcome! Things to look forward to indeed.
People also keep telling me how much more positive I seem about my work, including the guy who will be one of my Thesis examiners and witnessed the whole debacle of my first 18 months on the PhD. That can only count in my favour when it comes to the viva.
Additionally, because my lab work is now pretty much complete it means I can take time in
April to visit Mum and my London-based friends, and means I don’t have to be in uni every day where there are constant distractions. That’s not to say I won’t be working but to be able to work when and where I want without the pressure of having to show my face will be a relief and is more conducive to the focused, detailed, thought-intensive work required for generating new Thesis content.
I should clarify that when I say thesis writing is tedious, that isn’t exactly true. The recurring block I have for producing new work is self-doubt and uncertainty. The self-doubt in recycling previous work and reviewing corrections that need to be made is my fear that the work in question is shit. That I’ll look at it and see all the short-falls, or that the comments and suggestions from my supervisors will be inpossible to fix and that there won’t be anything worth saving. My main fear is that I won’t be able to justify my work in the face of criticism. The “why did you do that?” questions with an undertone of “What the hell were you thinking?!” There was also the fear that the bits of lab work that I’ve only just completed, which I should have done two years ago as foundational work, will contradict the newer stuff and I’ll look like a complete twat and a crap scientist. If the new work did contradict the old work, how on earth would I justify myself? All this is compounded by the knowledge that I did cut the occassional corner, and I was “lazy” and didn’t do things when I should have done, that fundamentally, I didn’t put enough effort in and didn’t try hard enough. In other words, there are several perfectionist thought processes underlying my fear and how I view the work and my judgements of it, and I allow them to reflect back on me and my sense of self and self-worth.
Obviously, that is the downside of perfectionism and it’s something that, now I’m more aware of it, I can begin to change so that it hinders me less. It’s not an easy process by any means but practising being aware of myself and my thoughts, and noticing when I’ve spent several days procrastinating, means I can sort it out sooner rather than later. Having a deadline (monthly progress meeting tomorrow!) also helps because it means I can’t leave it too long, else I risk letting my supervisors down and shoot myself in the foot in the process.
The other, somewhat related, thing I observed yesterday was that I am emotionally much more stable than I was three months ago. I was in my lovely yoga class with a teacher who is very into the self-acceptance stuff, being in savasana/constrcutive rest at the start of the class and taking stock of how I felt in my body in the present moment. She talked about accepting whatever feelings may rise up out of your heart centre and I realised I felt very good. Content and happy and relaxed with no great overwhelming feelings about to sweep across my internal landscape. It then occurred to me that this was completely different to how I experienced constructive rest back in January. Back then, an invitation to invite your heart and feelings in and to accept them had me in tears, silently crying on my yoga mat in class. Crying in front of others and making a scene is something I find absolutely mortifying, so to be on a mat, trying to accept how I was feeling but hating the fact that I was simultaneously crying and trying not cry, was decidedly not good. To realise then, that I could be in savasana and not feel like that was amazing and yet another sign of how much better things are.
It is also interesting to me that even though I was back at work in January after two months
of sick leave, I still wasn’t actually fully recovered. It also occurred to me that if you take into account when my physical symptoms started (July/August last year), I was an ill ball of stress for much longer than I realised. It follows then that the fact I got anything done at all between August and November is nigh on a miracle and is a testament to either my perseverance or my unwillingness to listen to my body and ask for help when I need it, depending on what sort of spin you want to put on it. Ideally in the future I won’t let it go on like that again and will ask for help sooner rather than later.
You never know, I might manage to look after myself better next time!