Happy PhD


So, after reading this blog post by Amber Davis, this post on Chronic Fatigue and M.E, and Anna Wood’s post on M.E I have decided to sign up for Amber’s Happy PhD course.

Now I feel very lucky and fortunate to be a funded PhD student, and I love what I am doing and feel excited and passionate about it. When I have energy and a clear mind I want to go and go like the Duracell bunny, working for 12 hours upwards. If you have met me in person you will know I am naturally hyperactive. When I get excited I want to throw myself into the work/project. Unfortunately this comes at a cost, it means I crash and then there’s a couple of weeks of brain-fog and pain, and a fatigue that means any worthwhile study is off limits. My specialist beat into me that it is about pacing and accepting my limitations. This is hard. In a world where most people think M.E is an invention, or that I am depressed, or have iron deficiency (yep, that’s a real one!) or that I need to have more vitamins, or that I don’t know what real tired feels like… it is hard to admit defeat and pace.

I also blogged about this back in May.

It is especially difficult in academia, especially as an early-career or PhD student, when to get ahead you must be balancing 10 plates at once. I got through my undergraduate degree by chipping away, a little every single day, and was very happy with the end result. After reading numerous blogs and accounts online, I have decided to resort back to this method, that a few solid hours of productive work are better than pushing myself and not delivering the good through anxiety over the work.

This isn’t to say I am only going to work for a few hours each day and then switch the telly on. But rather, I am not going to get completely overwhelmed and not know where to start. I started to have near-panic attacks back in November (having suffered them in the past) and although I managed to calm myself down, I was putting too much unrealistic going to split my tasks up, and pace them evenly. I am not going to pile my journals articles and 100 books up and put pressure on myself. I have since taken up yoga which has massively helped my stress levels and pain levels.

I don’t think having health issues is necessary a bad thing for work production levels: so future employers take note! I find it makes me highly-organised, self-disciplined and self-motivated, because I am have to be. It also means I want to help others, am keen on forming peer support networks, have empathy and understanding for others and am keen on how people learn.

I am very happy with what I am done so far, but it is easy to get performance anxiety when compared to others: “comparison is the thief of joy”. I would love to write 10,000 words a week, write 3 journal articles, 2 conference papers, teach, assist with research and write grant applications, but it isn’t going to happen, ever. Sometimes being productive means doing less, but doing the less better. This is a lesson I am going to have to learn. Shall fill you in over the coming months.

I am also going to get back into my blog and see it as complementing my studies rather than being a distraction, following Academic Coaches has convinced me that a blog is a good thing! It makes me write regularly, get instant feedback, formulate ideas, build a peer network, have something to share at conferences and events… It can also form part of a research diary.

I must thank all those fellow students and colleagues who are helpful, supportive and kind. It really means a lot.

Do you have experience of dealing with a health condition or disability in academia? What are your thoughts? I would be happy to hear them. Thank you for reading and keeping my blog growing.