Mental health and my PhD

Mental health and my PhD

DISCLAIMER: This is my story of anxiety and depression. Please consult a doctor or health care practitioner if you are seeking help for your anxiety or depression.

Now entering my fourth year of my PhD. I sit here a bit stunned thinking “how did I get here”? Perhaps its because I am entering into my fourth year and only starting my proposal now. Perhaps its because I was supposed to get married and couldn’t because of COVID-19. Or perhaps its because I can hardly look at myself in the mirror and my hair is literally falling out. Whatever led me to this question “how did I get here” has me searching for answers.

I am currently reading rockstar and writer genius, Glennon Doyle’s book – “Untamed”. I am only 30 pages in and I am already on board and ready to drink whatever she is drinking. In her book she asks us to “quit pleasing and start living”. And the line that has stuck with my the most is

“Isn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this?”

I remember so vividly starting my PhD so determined to not get exactly where I am today. I exercised, I ate clean and healthy food, I took small breaks and even mini vacations. I did all of this to avoid the pain that I saw in every upper years PhD’s eyes. “I am not going to get to that point” I naively thought to myself. I was entering my PhD and so ecstatic to learn and follow my passion in my work. “I will aim for balance and do whatever I need to do to achieve that” I told myself with tenacity.

The graduate supervisor shared some advice that always stuck with me “the PhD is a marathon, not a sprint”.

The thing about this advice is, I had never run a marathon before. And I didn’t train for it before I started. And so here I am still trapped still running.

My first year was, of course, a wild ride. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and learned more than I ever thought I was capable of learning. I took a couple weeks off as a vacation before I worked all summer – thinking two weeks is what most people get as vacation, so this seems reasonable. But looking back I think I spent most of waking hours walking around like a zombie and at night sleeping as much as I could.

I entered my second year a bit more confidently, only to be knocked on my butt while putting what I learned into practice. During my second year, second semester is when I decided to finally admit that I need help managing my anxiety and depression. I went to see a doctor and we tried a few anti-depressants. None of them worked for me and honestly made feel worse than I already was feeling. So, in consultation with my doctor we decided it was best for me to stop.

After I stopped the medication, I actually felt the best I had felt in the past two years. Which goes to show how much the medication was negatively impacting me. I was so happy to be off the medication and I was ready to get back to balance – eat healthy, exercise, get rest; thats what we are told to maintain “good mental health” right?

Well life loves to gives me a good laugh. Right then and there I was knocked back down with some other family personal issues.

This led me into my third year, where I was supposed to complete my qualifying exam in June 2019, which was delayed to December 2019. And then delayed yet again because I needed to make revisions. Which I recently just passed in March 2020. Needless to say. this rejection set me back. A lot.

I didn’t feel like I could breathe until I passed that exam.

After I passed, I realized my nerves were completely shot. My face was breaking out in acne. And because of my perfectionist tendencies I have a mental health issue where I pick my skin, which makes it worse. I am experiencing Alopecia – a condition where your hair falls out due to stress. See bottom right photo where I have patches in my hair where it is starting to grow back again. I realized I have nothing left to give. Nothing to give to my family, my friends, least of which, myself.

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But I overcame it, while also going through a global pandemic, and here I am, asking

“Isn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this?”

As I starting to write my research proposal, I am also starting to think about how I can improve my mental health. My automatic response was – get into a routine, exercising everyday, taking breaks or eating clean. But I have to stop thinking this will save me. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. It didn’t work for me.

And although a lot of my research works towards dismantling dangenous and harmful systemic structures like academic and the expectations of women, I know I am not going to change that overnight, or alone.

Instead I am going to the opposite of what I normally would try. Instead of looking outwards, I am looking within.

I plan to put myself before my work by sitting in stillness.

No matter how uncomofrtable it feels. Or how much I telll myself that I don’t have time for this.

I know the answers to manage my mental health are within myself. And I need to find myself again.

I need to listen, trust, believe and love.

It’s interesting, although I feel broken – I also finally feel free.

Until next time,

Christine

Burnt out before I’ve even started? How I am putting myself before my work

Burnt out before I’ve even started? How I am putting myself before my work

After two and a half years of my PhD, my body feels depleted. Last semester, nothing went to plan, which has made January was one of the hardest months of my PhD this far. I didn’t feel like myself, my body gave up on me and my mind felt against me. How could this be? I have only just finished my course work, I haven’t even started my dissertation! Am I burnt out before I have even started? Today’s blog post will share how I am restoring my body and mind in order to hopefully continue on this PhD marathon.

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Mindset shifts for grad students

Mindset shifts for grad students

The end of a semester is often a busy time for most scholars. The past two months have been especially difficult for me. I am completing my qualifying exams, prepping to teach my first course, working on a research study, and other paid jobs. In times like these, it is easy for me to get caught up in a negative mindset. In this blog post I want to share how I have been trying to shift my negative mindset to a more positive one.

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Setting Boundaries in Grad School

Setting Boundaries in Grad School

I have recently started to prioritize boundary setting in my life – both in and outside of my degree. These boundaries started partly because I am learning to trust and care about myself more. But it is also due to the fact that I never thought I had the power to set boundaries. I never was in a situation to say no to opportunities (still not) and I felt like I was never doing enough academically (still do). All of this changed when I started to put myself first and push back on the demands of academia. Read more below to find out what I have learned about boundary setting.

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Tips for Working from Home

Tips for Working from Home

Hi Scholar Friends, I know it has been a while. I am deep in the midst of my qualifying exams and I am taking a break to write this important post. After finishing my coursework in the spring, I have officially moved onto the isolation component of my PhD. Everything I do from this point on is, well pretty much, on my own. My work space consists of a 9×9 room in my 500 square foot apartment, with no door and no windows. But it is a designated space, and I have the necessities. I have found working from home more difficult than I expected. I had worked from home before but never 7 days a week. Over the past few months I have figured out some strategies that have helped me in this journey. Below you will find some of my top 5 tips for working from home.

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Career Conversation on YouTube

Career Conversation on YouTube

Last week I was featured on Career Conversations. I completed an interview with Stefanie and during we discussed everything from mental health, time management and blogging during my PhD. In this blog post, you will find a link to the full video, as well as an overview of the key takeaways. Continue reading “Career Conversation on YouTube”

Time Management Tips for PhD Students

Time Management Tips for PhD Students

This blog post needs no introduction. If you are a grad student, time always feels scarce . I often feel like I don’t have enough time. My only option then is to make the most efficient and effective use of what I do have. Here are my top ten tips for making the most out of my time.

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10 personal reflections of a 2nd year PhD student

10 personal reflections of a 2nd year PhD student

After finishing the first year of my PhD program, I spent some time reflecting and wrote a blog post on personal reflections from that year, you can read that post here. This process helped me reflect and naturally I wanted to do it again for my second year.

Similarly to my first year, after course work was finished, I was exhausted and depleted. Although I finished a big milestone of finishing all my coursework, it suddenly dawned on me that I still have four more years to go. I just finished two of the most challenging years of my life but yet I felt like I was just starting again, moving into this new phase of my own research and teaching. Not only was this very daunting but also brought on even more anxiety than usual.

On top of this, I also had many other life events that arose. So recently, I took some days off and now I am feeling more like myself. If I am being honest though, I could still use some more time. But I also am realizing that I need to start making that time and building it into my schedule.

All this to say, a PhD is challenging and here are my 10 personal reflections from my 2nd year as a PhD student:

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Tips to Prepare for Academic Conferences

Tips to Prepare for Academic Conferences

It’s that time of the year for academic conferences. Where do I even begin? There is so much I want to write about regarding conferences, but for this post I’ll share my top 10 tips on how to prepare yourself for academic conference culture. I will likely be writing more posts on conferences so comment below if there is something you would like me to expand on.  Continue reading “Tips to Prepare for Academic Conferences”