I haven’t posted since I was told to change the topic of my PhD, so I think it is time for a quick update explaining why.
After being told that I didn’t have the skillset required to do the topic that we had spent a year discussing as well as having a supervisor who kept trying to steer me towards doing my PhD part-time, I kinda spun into a bad place. Or.. Worse place than I was already in – I think we can all agree that I was not in any way in a good place to begin with. Whenever I tried to think about work my heart started pounding and my mind got stressed out with anxiety. I ended up staying in bed, lights off, no food or drink, no tv.. just nothing, just me and the darkness and a mind full of grey clouds. I got really bad body dysmorphia and every time I looked at myself I wanted to take a knife and cut out the pieces that I didn’t like. I would pick my face for half an hour each evening. So yeah, I was in a bad place.
Luckily, I have some really great doctors. My orthopaedic surgeon and my pain management doctor both saw me on a bad day and my appointment ended up lasting 45 minutes where they simply just listened to me. They referred me to a psychologist. I have seen a therapist in the past and was both worried and optimistic about the idea of starting again, but I am so glad I took their advice and made an appointment to see this one.
I started seeing her in December. I remember how nervous I was when I was going to my first appointment. I was so close to just going home again, saying that I didn’t feel well or that I didn’t want to start anyway or something like that. Simply to just keep going the way I was. But I went in and the feeling I had afterwards was pretty amazing. It was the first time in a while I felt some relief. Not only is she a good therapist, she has the same chronic illness as me, so when I spin out because I feel betrayed by my body, she understands exactly what I am going through.
I have seen her every week since then, which has obviously helped my mental health, but the biggest improvement has been when we discussed me going on medical leave. My grant allows for up to 13 weeks of paid medical leave and the relief of being paid and having time off to get better was simply more than I could hope for. The letter for my funders is going to be signed by my therapist and my two doctors.
I have been on leave for a month now and I can honestly say that it was the best decision I have made in a really long time. I sleep at night, I do things I enjoy during the day, I have signed up for a new gym where they have classes which should help with my illness and I am generally happier. I don’t have the constant pressure of deadlines, supervisors, lab squabbles, London transport, background reading, trying to catch up to some unknown ideal of what it should be like… none of that.. I just feel normal now.
Obviously I still have good and bad days. The past week I have pretty much been stuck in bed because of a backpain so bad that I have been unable to move my head, arms or shoulders. It started exactly a month since it started last time, where it lasted a week, so hopefully I just have a few more days to go. Chronic pain sucks, but without the PhD to make everything worse, it is something I can live with.
I suppose that over the next two months, I will have to consider whether I want to start up again, what that will do to my pain/stress/anxiety levels, but as it is right now, that is not something I want to think about. I am taking time off and refuse to even think about what it will be like when/if I start again.