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.