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.
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!
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!!
Trying not to panic here. But oh god, I want to cry! I’m so fucked, so very fucked!
But I’m not actually fucked. My feelings are exaggerating. I know this, but my breathing gets high in my chest, my throat feels all tight and my shoulders are tensly hunched forwards. I can calm myself down by focusing on my breath going through my nose but that doesn’t fix the thoughts that are causing the problem. The ones that tell me it’s a disaster and that I’m a screwed screw-up, and that there isn’t going to be enough time to fix it.
But none of those thoughts are true. I do have time to sort this Introduction out. That I can see what’s insufficient about the previous Intro means I can work out how to fix it. It means I’ve learned a lot these last two years, that I’ve read more and deepened my understanding of the topic. I can talk about the literature reasonably confidently, even if I can’t always remember the specifics of how a thing was discovered. I know how to reference these days and reading papers, if not exactly enjoyable, isn’t the worst thing I could be doing. I’ve also got a better clue how to make the point of the paragraph stand out, which I didn’t before. It’s do-able, I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
I should also note that I’ve started meds, and will have been taking them for a week as of tomorrow. I think they’re helping? They’re not giving me much in the way of side-effects, which is nice, as the internet and the patient leaflet was full of all the things that might happen. It’s messed with my sleep a little, in that I’ve been waking up ealier than usual and finding it harder to get back to sleep but it’s not too disruptive. My dreams have been wierd but again, that could just be me – they’re vivid and bizarre at the best of times, evenmoreso when I’m already a stress-ball. I had some slight digstive wierdness the first couple of days but nothing as bad as the IBS I had last year so that’s also fine. The worst thing has been feeling generally sad and mopey. HOWEVER, that’s better than feeling wierd like I was the last few weeks where the minute I stopped distracting myself I felt like I was going to fall apart? That I think was guilt and all sorts of other feelings all rolled up together? Feeling sad’s not great and it doesn’t really seem like there’s a particular reason but I think it’s an improvement? I’ve even been getting stuff done! Motivation has improved by the tiniest amoount? I woke up today and actually felt awake and motivated for at least 5 minutes? Transforming that into action isn’t really there yet but it’s a start? I hope it’s not just wishful thinking, is all!
Two things that have been interestingly rough are:
1/ Worrying that I’m making stuff up and I’m not actually ill ill, and I’m just using it as an excuse for why I’m a lazy fucker? And the meds therefore won’t make any difference at all? I had a couple of mornings where my thoughts were stuck on “you’re just making stuff up. You’re not actually depressed-depressed or anxious. You’re totally using it as an excuse to get extra time! Those two months you wasted – August and July – you felt fine! You were perfectly capable of doing the things you wanted to do! You could hold a conversation, play the piano, sew, go to the gym. Hell, you could get out of bed and sleep when you wanted. You didn’t feel sad all the time, you didn’t cry at the drop of a hat. I mean, you’ve been depressed before and this is nothing like that. You can still feel happy and enjoy pleasant things.”
However, while all that is technically true in parts, I had more than my fair share of melt-downs. I had two weeks where I couldn’t bring myself to do anything because my supervisors had been so harsh. I had zero internal motivation, only the panic of “If I don’t do something, they’re going to punish me”. I’m catergorically not the person I was in school in terms of my work ethic, and that is a direct consequence of the PhD. My work was/is definitely suffering. I was crying a LOT about work and what I was and wasn’t doing. Just writing these two paragraphs is making me feel shitty and overwrought. And even if I’m not depressed-depressed, that might just be because my standard for depressed is pretty fucking depressed. Also the medsI’m taking are for general anxiety as well as depression. And I am “anxious”, even though that’s not really I word I use much or really feel like I understand. It’s not as bad as generalised anxiety disorder, because it’s highly specific to the PhD (!) but it is enough that I’m finding it a real struggle to even open my uni email accounts because I’m so scared of what I’ll find. Fear and dread and being all tensed up/completely frozen, which are completely out of proportion to the task – yeah I reckon that counts.
2/ Online Anxiety/worry CBT = oh holy fuck.
I was checking out the self-help resources on the Uni counselling website, one of which was a self-help CBT thingy. It didn’t seem to think I scored particularly highly on either depression or anxiety (adding to point 1 above) but I attempted to work through a couple of the thought exercises on ways to cope with worries. Wowee, that was an experience.
Write down a list of worries, it said, so I did. However my worries are nearly all to do with the PhD. There’s nothing generalised about the situations in which I feel overwrougt.
Pick a worry and list ways it might be unreasonable. Sorry, no can do! Those are all reasonable fears! I could fail my PhD! I could run out of time!
List ways in which it might not happen, or by which it might be exaggerated. Umm, if I can’t put in the hours each day, I am not going to be finished in time…
Pick a “minor” worry and focus on it, describing it in detail. Oh sure, lets just get my over-active imagination working and have me picturing my loved ones dead by the side of the road as a consequence of not getting their car serviced. Yep, that’s totally gonna help!
Yeah, I’m not attempting that again without clinical supervision. Fuck me, that was unpleasant!
Things I’m going to stick to instead?
Talking to my family and saying when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
Yoga most days
Gym a couple of times a week
Deep breathing, and interrupting myself to focus on my breath when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
Short, practical to-do lists
Lists of “Things I Achieved Today”
Keep taking my meds
Eating fruit and veg when I remember
Get enough sleep
Wait patiently for my assessment with the mental health services
Wait patently for the meds to work their magic
Call the uni counselling service duty counsellor if I’m feeling really stuck.
In the mean time, here’s a picture of some cute puppies, with words courtesy of AnonPhD in the comments.