Unexpected Feels: Safety, Failure, and Loss

Let’s start with the good news.

First, I have completely unpacked all my belongings and found homes for everything. The dining room is no longer a mountain of boxes and it has a dining table which is doubling up as my desk at the moment. I also found curtains for the living room. Second, with the help of Mum, I’ve finished digging up the weeds in the garden and sown my flower seeds. She also identified all the mystery shrubs. There’s a Weigela, a Ceanothus and a Hydrangea. There’s also a Himalayan Honeysuckle which is in bud. Very exciting!

In the interesting news category, this coming week is my last at the RCN. I am sad to be leaving but also grateful as I had reached the limits of the interesting bits of the job and have spent the last two weeks bored out of my skull with not quite enough to do. I am however going to miss my paycheck, especially as I don’t have anything lined up for when I get back from sailing.

Speaking of which, I’m going sailing on the Stavros in a week’s time! Much Excite! Southampton to Cardiff with a sea shanty group! Hopefully the weather will have the correct amount of wind, in the right direction. The bad news is that we are currently lacking enough Watch Leaders and Deckhands. I hope to Neptune they fill the volunteer crew positions in time else I am going to be VERY busy.

Pink weigela flowers

Flowering Weigela – very pretty!

In between all the things I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been having some interesting emotional outbursts. I’ll just start feeling sad for what seems like no reason and then tears follow. It’s taking me a long time to get better/faster at identifying what I’m feeling and working out the cause. In the interim between the realisation ofI’m having a FEELING and working out what’s upset me, there’s a period of flailling and crying “I don’t know what’s wrong, I’m just upset!”

Which is a great way to make yourself feel crazy and frustrate your partner.

Given enough time and cuddles however, I usually work out what I’m reacting to.

Lately, it’s been PhD stuff.

I realised that now I finally have my own house with Squisher that I feel truly safe and home for the first time in a very long while. Re-experiencing and remembering what it feels like to safe is bittersweet, as it’s giving me the chance to heal and come to terms with my PhD experiences. It’s still very early days, especially since I haven’t actually completed my PhD yet (bloody thesis corrections), but things are looking up.

I’ve reduced my citalopram dose and in a couple more weeks will attemtp to taper off completely. I’ve stopped having nightly nightmares, waking up in a panic after taking forever to get to sleep. I feel refreshed when I wake – at the weekends anyway. (Commutting is a b*tch). I can do the things I need to do at work and at home, to keep both ticking over nicely even though I still have the occassional day where all I want to do is stay in my pyjamas and marathon trashy TV shows.

The downside of feeling safe and having both time and space to myself is that my brain is working through the backlog of issues I accummulated during the last few years.

Yesterday, it was dealing with the loss of my dream that I would be a research scientist. I posted an article on Facebook about women in science (#girlswithtoys) and I was sad because they were doing awesome things in their career – getting to figure out how stuff works and do cool things like controlling the Mars Rover or whatever. I’m never gonig to discover a cure for cancer, become a Professor or win a Nobel Prize for my work. I’m not going to spend my days as a bench scientist or push for change so that Universities take the mental health of their PhD students seriously or force PIs and professsors to develop their personal managerial skills or reform the Complaints System so supervisory bullying and neglect are taken seriously and dealt with in such a way that the victim isn’t further penalised.

It makes me sad that I won’t achieve those things and I’m at a loss because I’m not sure now what it is I’m aiming for. I want to do interesting work. I want to contribute. I want to make the bits of my world that I can better, especially in the face of all the global problems I can’t change. But I have NO IDEA what these things look like any more. It’s both an amazing opportunity to create something new and utterly terrifying because I have but the barest sketch of a map to guide me.

Giving up the dream of being a research scientist also makes me feel like a failure. There are so many things I didn’t manage to do during my PhD, and I can remeber all the bits where I “gave up” a particular line of work, because it was too hard, too exhausting, or I just didn’t care anymore because I was so burned out. I take those things and many others and turn them into a narrative of how I’m a Failure as a Scientist. Because clearly with my brains and talent I should be able to do it and want to do it, and stick at it in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And that if I don’t take up my predestined role as a Scientist, anything else will be a waste. Anything I do instead will never be as good or as worthy as the thing I couldn’t acheive.

It hurts so damn much. Squishy’s off-hand comment about how I “didn’t exactly work full time hours” in my PhD was like him twisting a knife in my back because it hit at the core of my insecurity. Objectively, I achieved so much in my PhD, but the snide, persecuting whisper in my head says “yes, but you could have done so much better. You were capable of so much more but you were lazy and weak, and you gave up.”

And it’s true but it’s also complete bullshit. I could have done more… if the situation had been different. If I didn’t have a genetic and environmental tendency to depression. If my parents hadn’t separated and then divorced. If my best friend of three years hadn’t walked out on me and our housing contract four months in and left me to deal with her shit. If I’d had a supervisor who actually knew more than one method of supervison, and wasn’t an egotistical narcissist. If my objectively shitty situation hadn’t resulted in depression that went untreated for the better part of four years. If my counsellors had explicitly said “your situation is awful – you should really talk to your GP about trying medication. Oh and here, let us help you get active support from the University to deal with your supervisor problems that are not your fault.”

If. If. If. If. If.

So many ifs.

But it is what it is. As long as I get through my corrections, all that will ultimately matter is that I successfully completed my PhD despite a littany of “personal difficulties” (Gods, I hate that phrase).

So, in the face of what has been, I have the chance to create a new path for myself. I don’t know what I’m going to acheive next but I am sure something interesting will turn up. And if it doesn’t, I’ll join the merchant navy and sail tall ships. It is after all, always a good idea to have a back-up plan.


2 thoughts on “Unexpected Feels: Safety, Failure, and Loss

  1. *all of the hugs*

    I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I feel you so hard on this, because you watched me go through a version of it two years ago. It is fucking awful having to walk away from the Real Scientist dream. But you are awesome, and you will find a path forward that makes you happy. It will probably take way longer than you’d like before you feel like you’re on solid footing again, but in the grand scheme of things it won’t be all that long. In the meantime, just keep taking care of yourself and doing things that you care about, and you’ll figure it out, promise.

    *hugs again*

    • *hugs*

      Your example has really helped, you know. Your situation was legitimately awful but it’s been great to see you figuring out what to do next.

      My earlier plan was to take a year after the PhD figuring out what I wanted to do anyway. So as long as I’m (mostly) covering my share of the bills and I’m not in an abusive work situation, and ideally not totally bored by my work – I’m going to count it as a success. 🙂

      I think it makes sense to respect my PhD experience for what it was – a massive, life changing, personality altering experience – and allow myself a sensible period to adapt to being finally out of it. It’s like how you don’t expect to be over a long-term relationship in just a few weeks. If it takes a year, two years, so what? That’s how much time you needed, even if it seemed unnecessarily frustratingly long-winded at the time you were going through the immediate aftermath.


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