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 it’s because I am entering into my fourth year and only starting my proposal now. Perhaps it’s because I was supposed to get married and couldn’t because of COVID-19. Or perhaps it’s because I can hardly look at myself in the mirror because of the acne on my face and my hair is literally falling out. Whatever it was led me to this question “how did I get here” and had 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 tells readers to “quit pleasing and start living”. One of the lines that has stuck with my the most is when Doyle asks:

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

I remember so vividly starting my PhD. I was 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 the things you were supposed to do in order 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, 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.

In my first year, the graduate supervisor shared some advice that always stuck with me “the PhD is a marathon, not a sprint”. 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. The thing about the advice is, I had never run a marathon before. And I didn’t train for it before I started.

I entered my second year a bit more confidently, only to be knocked on my butt while putting what I learned into practice. During the second semester in my second year, 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 different anti-depressants over months at a time. None of them worked for me and honestly they 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 over 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, talk to my therapist regularly, exercise, get rest; thats what you do to maintain “good mental health” right?

Well life loves to give me a good laugh. Right then and there I was knocked back down with some personal family 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 it wasn’t up to the standards of my committee and I needed to make revisions. I recently just passed in March 2020. Needless to say, this rejection and lengthy process set me back. A lot.

The qualifying exam process was baffling. I didn’t feel like I could breath until I passed that exam. And I am still trying to process how it all played out.

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 much worse. I am also experiencing Alopecia – a condition where your hair falls out due to stress. See bottom right photo where I have patches in my hair and where it is starting to grow back again so it’s shorter than the other pieces. Emotionally, 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 passed, 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 start 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, exercise everyday, take breaks, schedule a therapist appointment and eat clean. But I have to stop thinking this will save me. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. It doesn’t work long term.

And although a lot of my research works towards dismantling dangerous and harmful systemic structures like academia, as well as the expectations that are placed on 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. This is not easy for me.

I plan to sleep in, instead of waking up at 6am, just to sneak in a few more hours of work.

I plan to sit in stillness.

No matter how uncomfortable it feels.

Or how much I tell myself that I don’t have time for this.

I know the answers to manage my mental health are within myself – not within any outside sources.

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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What a PhD student (actually) eats in a day + healthy, fast & affordable eating tips

What a PhD student (actually) eats in a day + healthy, fast & affordable eating tips

Last week I posted a blog titled ‘what a PhD student (ideally) eats in a day’.  Today’s post is on ‘what a PhD student (actually) eats in a day’. Now this is not to say I eat one way or the other all the time. Realistically, I actually tend to lean more on the ideal side because I prioritize my health within my budget in order to do so. However, sometimes I drink too much wine, eat popcorn for dinner or order take out after a long day. These can be the realities of grad school. This post ends in healthy, fast and affordable eating tips to hopefully make it easier to stay healthy and happy as grad students!

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What a PhD student (ideally) eats in a day

What a PhD student (ideally) eats in a day

Eating healthy is very important to me. I have seen the benefits of what my body can do when I listen to it and fill it with nutritious food. Eating well also means that I have a better chance of managing my anxiety and whatever I can do to balance my anxiety – I will! However, that doesn’t mean that I am always able to eat healthy but I try my best. If are you curious to find out what I eat in an ideal day then just keep reading to find out…

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January Edition: Things I am Loving

January Edition: Things I am Loving

I often get asked about things that are helping me in my studies. These items include, books (both school related and fiction), food, fitness, conscious brands, podcasts and apps/tools. Also, with the @ScholarCulture community continuously growing, scholars often share with me some of the things they are loving too. Sometimes I try them out and if I end up loving them, I want to keep you all updated. Below you will find some of the things I am loving at the moment and things that are helping me through grad school.

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Feeling overwhelmed #gradschoolfeels

Feeling overwhelmed #gradschoolfeels

It’s the end of the semester and it’s safe to say that anyone in grad school is likely feeling overwhelmed right now. So I am not about to take up too much of your time with this post, just some quick tips on how to feel a little less overwhelmed during this busy season.

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Feeling Unmotivated #GradSchoolFeels

Feeling Unmotivated #GradSchoolFeels

We are halfway through this semester which sometimes can bring up feelings of being unmotivated. At the start of this school year, I had so much on my plate I was so overwhelmed it was hard to even start certain tasks. Now, I am currently at a roadblock with my writing which is leading me to a place of procrastination. Needless to say, there are many reasons that can lead you to feel unmotivated. Whatever the reason you are feeling unmotivated, I am hoping the series below can help you start to feel a little bit more focused moving forward in your work.

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How running is helping my perfectionism

How running is helping my perfectionism

I am not a runner. When my elementary school had track and field days, I would pretend I was sick so that I could get out of it. When people ask me to sign up for half marathons for charity events, I laugh at them. When I go to the gym and I see someone running for longer than 10 minutes, I am truly amazed. Trust me, I am not a runner.

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