So it is time for another blog post, and I thought I better put some of my recent thoughts down. Things have been going pretty well recently, cementing my view that the support I have been receiving has really been getting me in the right place to sort things out for myself.
My work in the lab has been pretty hectic, and I have embarked on a new project (hopefully one that works this time!). It has been quite a stressful period in terms of that, trying to make new things work, which is always easier said than done. I find myself getting worried constantly that when things don’t work it is something to do with me, that perhaps I am not good enough, and that is the real problem. However, the work I have been doing through the “mentoring” I have been receiving has really helped. I guess before I mention some of the techniques I have been using, I should give a quick explanation of what mentoring is, for me anyway, and a background as to why I have been receiving it:
So, in the period from last autumn until January this year (roughly relating to the period after my best friend committed suicide and I then ended up in intensive care with pneumonia…) I found it very difficult to motivate myself to remain at work, or to even get out of bed, and leave the house. This wasn’t something I had really had a problem with previously, even when I felt my worst I was generally able to keep myself going for the most part, but even with all the help I was receiving from my GP, psychiatrist, counselling, and friends (who are just as important), I just really could not find it in me to make the journey to the lab every weekday, which I needed to do to stay on track with my PhD. I was missing weeks at a time, or only making a couple of days a week, and my lab work as really suffering for it. Luckily my supervisor and my pastoral advisor had managed to find out that the university offered a mentoring scheme through its disability service, and very quickly I was assessed to see if it would be appropriate for me. It was decided that going ahead with this would be beneficial, and I started in February. The idea of the mentoring scheme is to try and tackle issues relating to work, along with the obvious emotional side of it, rather than just looking at the depression/anxiety side of things. It is not meant as just another type of counselling, and we really have focused very much on the work side of things, whilst also looking at any cognitive problems that might have been causing an issue. I would suggest that this has been one of the best treatments I have received, and it really has helped me turned things around. I had a few periods where I missed a couple of days of work (including the anniversary of my friend’s death), after slowly building myself back up, but other than that, I have been at work every single day that I should have been, doing more than the required hours, and getting my PhD back on track.
We have mainly looked at strategies for helping me cope when things aren’t going as planned, when things go wrong, and generally how to keep them on track. I have been heavily encouraged to look at making plans for every day, to make sure that I know where I am going, and to be okay when my plan doesn’t always come to fruition, for thinking about the reasons for that, whether they were under my control or not, and to think about what I should do in the event that the plan doesn’t quite get pulled off. I’ve learned to realise that “No plan survives initial contact with the enemy”, and that I can’t always control that, and even if things don’t go how I planned them, that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean I am somehow deficient as a person. I have been encouraged to think about the positive things of my day, to realise that there are actually many achievements during a day, and they don’t just have to be the big things. I’ve started to realise that things like cycling up a hill can be an achievement, and this is helping me to stay more positive, rather than just being continually disappointed for not being good enough, because I haven’t yet managed to publish my results in a high-impact journal, for example. We have spent a lot of time looking at my underlying thought patterns, and trying to challenge them. It’s difficult to do, but I would really recommend it to anyone. Every time you have a negative thought, challenge it, ask what the evidence for it is, ask what the evidence against it is, and then weigh it up. Sometimes a negative thought might be justified, but I guarantee you that most of the time, you will be able to prove to yourself that it wasn’t necessary. I suppose, as a scientist, that being logical and weighing up the evidence should be very easy, but when it is in relation to myself, I have always found it very difficult to remain logical. But writing things down on a form, looking at the negative thought, the triggering event, associated emotions, and evidence for and against has certainly helped me get to a point where often I can now actually stay on top of things and do that process without actually writing things down.
I have also recently been attending counselling at an eating disorders centre because I had quite a long term problems with binge-eating. I have found it a difficult thing to cope with because people just tell you to eat less and you will lose weight, and just be more controlled, and so I have often felt largely inferior, and this has probably contributed to my problems. However, after an initial assessment in the summer, I managed to do a lot by myself to gain control over my eating, and have subsequently lost around 10kg, and now with a weekly counselling session (for at least 6 weeks, up to 20), I feel like I am really getting on top of this, getting my eating under control, and being able to have snack foods around without worrying that I will go into some form of binge.
Hopefully, things will keep going this well as winter draws in, and I will be sure to send an update soon on my progress, as well as, I hope, discussing some of the earlier experiences I have had of different treatments, and what I feel has worked best for me.