Given that it’s been a few months since I was last posting regularly here, I thought I’d start with a general update to fill in some of the gaps. In many ways I don’t feel that the past few months have been particularly eventful, although there have been a few changes and noteworthy moments.
I shan’t write about them all here now. Gradually I will write about key things retrospectively as they come to mind, but for now I’ll deliver the potted version of the time since I left off.
When I last wrote in December I explained that despite delightedly immersing myself in the joy of Christmas decorations and Christmas fayres, intrusive thoughts show no regard for the season. I also was in the middle of writing up my Master’s Thesis.
I am happy to report that I finished writing my thesis in time, had it bound, and handed it in successfully. I would like to have had it proof read by my supervisor prior to submission (as was permitted), or have had time to leave it a day or two before proof reading the whole thing myself, but due to a relatively incapacitated spell in Autumn, I was working up to the deadline. I could have sent sections of it to be read, but in my head, since I hadn’t sent full drafts in October or November (owing to my poor productivity as a consequence of poor mental health), by the time it was December, I felt too guilty and ashamed to ask for help. I passed this off by saying I didn’t want to impose on her time and that it would be my loss if I didn’t get to send it to her in time. True enough, but also just excuses if I’m honest.
Nevertheless, I got my thesis in, and later found out I got a distinction for it at 75%, which I was reasonably happy with under the circumstances. It does make me think though (and this isn’t a new thought), I wonder how well I could do if I had time to proof and edit everything the way I like to? I have the chance at times, but not reliably. I’m working on it.
I started my PhD! By anyone’s standards this is quite a big thing, though it hasn’t felt momentous. Perhaps when* I complete it, it will do. I was excited to start 2016 and with it start this new Academic endeavour. One of the things I was most gladly anticipating was developing a good routine, personally and academically, part of which would involve developing my timing to allow for the proofing I mentioned above, whilst taking into account that things don’t go to plan. I probably won’t know for a year or two whether I manage to do that, so I shall have to be patient.
As far as my mental health is concerned, I wasn’t sure how the PhD would treat me in the day to day, but I know routine is beneficial. One of the things I had overlooked however, is that in order for me to benefit from the routine, it has to be one I am happy with, and actually has to include quite a lot of variety. I am still trying to establish what will work best in this respect. I did however decide at the beginning of the year (with my doctor’s approval) that I would try and put my physical health into the limelight instead of my mental health, and see whether that would help my mental health as a consequence. Now we are in April, I’m not sure this has been very effective, but I have found an inhaler that seems to be working well, and I have to say, it’s nice to wake up in the mornings not feeling like a gasping fish.
*if (I’m not a soothsayer)
I spent a lot of time in London in February, for various meetings and conferences. It gave me a chance to spend a little time with some excellent friends I made over a decade ago when I first started university. In 2004 I began a degree in Literature and Philosophy in York. Whilst I didn’t finish the degree, I did make some first class friends, some from the course, some whom I lived with, and several from working on University Pantomimes together. Pantomimes at Uni were as wonderful and ridiculous as you might imagine; suffice to say we spent many a night making papier-maché props at 3am instead of doing our reading (or sleeping). I don’t regret that for a minute: it gave light relief to some dark times, gave me confidence, gave me lifelong friendships, and introduced me to friends who took me to the Edinburgh Fringe in various backstage roles.
Aside from spending a little time with some of these friends in February, the month marked 2016 as a leap year so I got an extra day to feel like I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing on a day to day basis in my PhD (I am assured that this is normal, but I remain unconvinced). We also began to make some good progress on the House, though it’s slow going. I have been low on energy for a long time and it’s all I can do to get through what I need to for Uni without throwing all other aspects of life in. I concluded it was important to try and invest my energy into finding my feet in my new academic role, and then think about how to navigate everything else, especially as I was under the weather with a fluey cold that wouldn’t shift for much of the month.
In March I went to Manchester for a few days for a conference hosted by Alzheimer’s Research UK, and whilst it was great to find out what’s going on in the research around the country, I also appreciated the opportunity to get to know people from my own University with which I will have regular contact over the next few years.
I did however find myself repeatedly panicking throughout March about my progress and achievements so far in 2016, mostly academically, but also personally. I found this image early in the month, which summed up how I felt:
The feeling clearly hadn’t left me later in March, when I found myself saying this when in conversation with a friend:
I am all too familiar with 80 hour weeks; I often find myself working all hours available when I am feeling buoyant, to compensate for my states of torpor that can last weeks. Unfortunately, even by the end of March it was still taking me at least half again as long to do things, so long days and working hours were not resulting in much more productivity than if I was working at usual capacity for ‘normal’ hours.
And here we are in this month of Spring. April hasn’t been so bad so far. The days are longer and the light makes me happy. My mum came and stayed one night at the start of the month and helped Oblong and I start packing up the flat ready for moving. I’ve had some helpful meetings at work (university) and am edging towards feeling I have some direction in that; I have been doing my best to establish an environment in which I can be productive, and to find ways to give myself voice. Spring flowers are showing their faces all over the place, and it’s been nice enough to sit outside to do work on a few occasions. I’ve even cut some flowers for my desk to bring the season indoors. I’ve had coffee or lunch with friends more times this month than all year, albeit that that hasn’t been very often, and that’s been great. Also, Oblong and I went to London to see the excellent performance Backstage in Biscuit Land, which I will write about more thoroughly at some point soon, and I have been finding some creative outlets, both at work and home.
April is warming me up to 2016. I just hope it doesn’t keep speeding by quite as quickly. Time feels warped at the moment – it’s both flowing too quickly and too slowly.