Yikes. I spoke to my Dad last night, who apparently had been trying to get hold of me. Saturday, I spent a day phoneless on (partly by choice – I hadn’t charged my phone and didn’t go out of my way to do so) and Sunday I didn’t get around to recharging it till the evening. Honestly, I don’t know why he didn’t leave a voicemail, but we got there eventually. He informed me he would be coming to Brighton today to bring down some furniture, and lights for the new house.
Consequently, today involved a big tidy up of the flat, in case Daddy Thoughtsandmisthoughts wanted to come round for a coffee. Oblong helped me get up at a sensible time, so I cleaned and tidied the kitchen, including tackling a casserole dish and a roasting tray that I’ve been denying. I’m going to be honest. I often leave things to be done in the house. Oblong despairs, and likes a tidy space… I am messy, and I don’t mind messy too much, though it’s nice when things are clean and tidy. Mostly, I am just used to my messiness. Although I really try to practice self-care, I struggle with this when it comes to my environment, and I often have to make the decision between using my time and energy to tidy or to use it go out/do work/see friends/have a shower…etc.
Today though, Oblong clicked her fingers in the living room and bedroom, giving them floors clear of books, Christmas piles, and clean washing, and together we sorted a load of washing and I spruced the bathroom. She isn’t really a Mary Poppins but I sure wish I had one.
This morning, electricians began work in the house: a complete rewire. I scurried (plodded as quickly as possible) over to chat to them, stopping to buy them tea and coffee making paraphernalia on the way. As I puffed up the hills carrying this, and a couple of more bags of things I’d need later, I realised I should have thought things through a little better and brought a better bag, or found coins for a bus. Despite this, I was glad to have achieved a lot and it only be mid-afternoon, so I was positive.
Later on, I popped up to uni to do some work.
This makes me realise I have managed to write 22 posts here and not mention university. A year and a half ago, I finished my undergraduate BSc degree in Psychology, and then moved on to a Masters (MSc) in Genetics and Molecular Biology. What I am mostly fascinated by is the brain, the most complex and awe-inspiring organic machinery that exists. I begin a doctorate in January, in which I will be investigating the long term effects of genes involved in Alzheimer’s.
Although most of my Masters’ cohort finished in August, I deferred my final deadline until next month as a number of ups and downs over the year meant I wouldn’t have been able to complete without pulling numerous all-nighters and making myself ill. I’ve done it before (more times than I’m happy about or would care to admit), but I’ve drawn the line. Due to the nature of university-level taught courses (both under-and post-graduate), I have found myself cycling between medium and very high stress for six years. The fact that I push myself academically, and actually had fairly little institutional support for most of this time has only resulted in the high-stress periods becoming more impactful every time, and my anxious response worsening. It’s called conditioning (in this case fear conditioning) and sensitisation.
Individuals at the university have been (on the whole) understanding and supportive. When I refer to institutional support, I am referring to the level of support and accommodations provided by the university as a system, and funded by the government and university management allocation of finances. Part of the reason I have had little support is that accessing support is itself quite difficult for me (and can be for many others with mental health problems, and other disabilities for that matter), so it takes a level of hard work to get all the necessary things in place to help. Also, when I began studying in 2009, I was not entitled to much support through the university. This was not because I didn’t have pre-existing mental health problems (I did, and had for at least a decade), but in part because I had an awful psychologist once who essentially advised me not to disclose any problems (I will come back to this another time); and partly because until 2010, mental health conditions were not supported as disabilities in law. Additionally, even when my mental health problems were interfering with my work, and I spoke about it, most of the time I was not given the information I needed to access student provisions, and little appropriate or active support was given to me to help me access those. Giving me an email address or pointing out where the Student Support Unit is, is not active nor appropriate support.
Despite what it may seem, none of this is any way a complaint (maybe it should be). It overviews a part of my experience that would (should) be very different if I were starting now, and would likely be different for many others. There are more provisions now – partly because law gives me (us) some protection – and most people won’t have the same experiences with healthcare professionals as me (hopefully; I’m doubtful). Moreover, the Student Support unit here is now much more physically and psychologically accessible now than it was a few years ago, when (ironically), the area in which the Student Support offices were located was fairly inaccessible to anyone using a wheelchair or with mobility problems, and also the dark, permanently closed doors to the unit were psychologically imposing and offputting.
I’ve digressed. This evening I was at university, sat in a nicely quiet computer room endeavouring to do some work on my research project, the write-up of which is the upcoming deadline I was speaking about earlier. I’ve done very little work on it in the past 6-8 weeks (hence no prior mention), so I mainly focussed on re-familiarising myself with what I’d done. Had I completed this by September, like most people, I would have had three or four months off to recuperate before beginning my PhD.
Most people have summer breaks whilst at university, so recuperation time is embedded into their academic year. For one reason or another – personal, academic and extraneous – I’ve had few scheduled breaks. This, alongside the extreme on-off-on-off nature of assessments (and consequently my voluntary and involuntary self-imposed stress) has meant I have come close to having (or have had) burnout. I’d been looking forward to this autumn as a scheduled break for months.
Owing to my mental health, I have learned I can rarely rely on scheduled breaks being breaks. There were ‘scheduled breaks’ in the summers during my undergraduate degree, but most of them were not exempt from study or stress. As such, I have come to view my own mental health problems as my ally in earning myself the breaks that are necessary to my own survival. When I reclude myself, when I am unable to leave the house, see friends, communicate, have a shower, wash up, sleep, wake up, etc.; when I can’t face getting dressed, or sitting up, or thinking complex thoughts; when I appear to be doing nothing; when I can’t carry more than a handbag; when the thought of doing anything except nothing makes me short of breath and shaky… These are the times I rest. This is my depression and anxiety and overall mental health dictating I break and catch a figurative break. I treat it that way, and I’m happy to.
I say I’ve not been well, because I haven’t, but honestly, I needed that time. So, I think of every imposed rest day the same as those that are unimposed. I’ve never had half as much trouble as when I’ve been on taught courses, so really, I can’t wait for this project to be written up, even though most people would say that if I felt that way, I should have done it sooner. Sadly a lot of people would think that, but it is an attitude soaked in ableism.
As I’m coming to the end of this ‘downtime’, able to go out, be social, and have full and complex thoughts again, I’m easing myself into academic writing and an academic context again. Producing this blog has helped.
Do any readers have experiences they’d like to share relating to aspects of this post?
Image credit: Image of brain connections from Human Connectome Project, in Nature, ‘Neuroscience: making connections‘; ‘Break Time’ by orangecircle on Deviant Art; you can find products by the artist on Etsy.