After a little procrastination and fashion chat here is the 1st of a series of the promised posts about making corrections to a thesis. As you can see I’ve begun with a cheery title: PhD & Depression. Please stick with reading this post. There’ll be a few paragraphs of woe and misery as context but there is advice and cheer at the end
When I was starting to think about what I wanted to say, I came across and incredibly sad blog post. The author begins by saying something along the lines of ” My PhD has literally been an emotional rollercoaster — sometimes, I feel like a manic-depressive.” But, the real tragedy is the many comments which run from 2006 until October of this year from people stuck in a 5 year or 6 year black hole of revision, corrections, fallings out, rejections, bad advice and isolation. That’s 4 years of comments people. 4 YEARS OF COMMENTS from PhD students with pretty much nowhere else to go to articulate their very real woes. I can’t express how much reading it both touched and saddened me. It made me muster up all the loving kindness I can manage and send it out into the t’interweb of dreams.
Here’s a sample of what people said
I have come to terms with realizing the most difficult part of a PhD is coming face forward with one’s own weaknesses (loneliness, procrastination, fear of rejection). I think we all go through it.
I am into severe depression phase. I am just wondering can I get out of it someday, I feel like its just increasing day by day.
I’ve just been agonizing over endless visions and revisions. I’ve poured so much of my life into preparing for an academic vocation that abandonning the degree is out of the question. I would rather die than not finish
This has been a nightmare that is hopefully coming to an end now that I am letting go of it, but god it is painful, still.
The worse thing for me in this whole process has been the isolation
PhD depression has hit hard and I’ve contemplated quitting
I’ve become severely disillusioned by the way things work in academia and i’m becoming more and more cynical by the day
I so desperately want to say something positive and helpful now about the experience of doing revisions. At the beginning of the year a few people said to me “this will make you stronger and a better researcher” and ” you’ll realise that at the end of this process you’ll have a better thesis” . I’m sure these things are true, but to be honest I don’t feel them…yet. My experience has been emotional and lonely. Before gathering the strength to carry on I looked humiliation and doubt in the face. The treatment I received from one of the examiners, particularly after the viva, was so deeply unkind that it caused weeks of misery and insomnia, followed by a total crisis of confidence. Their behavior led me to question my own beliefs about anger and compassion and that is to say nothing of the effects on my finances, research, career plans, relationships and even the roof over my head. But it is possible to acknowledge these negative emotions and not respond and thus give into them. So let me really begin here by telling you a few things I’ve done to cope with the sadness and fustration in the hope they may help.
- Complain, but for the love of god, please complain sensibly. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Some of what is recommended will be useful, but don’t accept bad behavior on the part of the examiner. I registered my intension to appeal & went to the S.U and the vice chancellor and as dispassionately as I could manage – I made sure people knew how the examiner had behaved after the viva and what they’d very publicly done and said. Although I did not receive explanation or apology from the examiner, they agreed to step down from examining my work. Then and this is really important file away any remaining anger and put your energy into getting on with your work. Even say to yourself I will finish the PhD first and then deal with seeking an emotional resolution.
- Listen to the soundtrack of the 1972 Jimmy Cliff film “The Harder they come”. I’m not joking. This is a serious remedy.
If you’ve had a nasty set-to like me, listen to The Harder they Come track first: feel cross, imagine retribution etc etc and then come out the other side with an I’ll show you attitude, and by this I mean I’ll show you with the quality of my work not argy bargy. Draw your strength at Draw your breaks. Wallow in procrastination or marvel at the ineptitude of the university system during Sitting in Limbo. Purge yourself of desolation by listening to the achingly beautiful version of Many Rivers to Cross. Feel the stress and frustration at Pressure Drop – finally the grande finale: You can get it if you really want. I defy anyone to listen to this track and not feel even a tiny murmur of motivation
- Tell people who you care about and who care about you – how you feel. They won’t understand. It doesn’t matter. Simply saying how you feel will help. Be 100% honest. If you feel like shit say so.
- Separate yourself from your work. You are not your corrections. You are not your writing. You are not your thesis. This is your mantra. Chant it.
- If you can - get some exercise and meditate. Sit quietly for 5 minutes close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. Thoughts and anxieties will pop into your head, just acknowledge them and go back to how your breath feels. Monkey mind describes that horrible state when your brain is all over the place, thoughts are going off on tangents and it’s hard to concentrate. Just 5 minutes of mediation will really help to calm this and do wonders if you’re feeling depressed. It also helps with procrastination too.
Some more comprehensive and great tips on staying sane during a PhD & depression to be found here too.
I hope this helps someone a little bit. There is more to come I promise, especially on dealing with fear and procrastination, but meanwhile if there is anyone reading this who feels anything like some of the comments from the other blog post on depression I mentioned, remember you are not alone. I wish you the best.