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

How I am *trying* to stay motivated during COVID-19

How I am *trying* to stay motivated during COVID-19

Heading into week four of quarantine, I have a variety of feelings and thoughts – per usual. First and foremost, for anyone who has been personally impacted by COVID-19, I want to say I am thinking about you and sending you love. Secondly, for anyone on the front lines – from doctors, nurses, to those working at my local grocery store, I want to say thank you for all your work with those who are sick and for allowing us to have access to our essential services.

This post is not groundbreaking, I have shared all these tips before. As a PhD student, working from home has been my speciality. But, working from home during a pandemic, now thats new.  These tips are  simple reminders that are helping me stay motivated during quarantine.

I also want to put a disclaimer here; these tips are helping me, this is not to say the will help you too. Everyone’s life is so unique right – you could be experiencing job loss, or if you might be having to juggle work and homeschooling your children. But something we are  sharing right now is experiencing communal trauma. And for us PhD’s, we still have to continue our studies despite it. Here are a few things that are keeping me motivated.

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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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