Today, I had a minor slip in how I felt about myself, especially with regards to my work, and I wanted to talk about what was the problem, how I dealt with it, and how that has left me feeling now.
So, as I said in a previous post, we are in the process of preparing a paper for submission to a fairly high-ranking journal. As with all of these things, the closer you get, the more things that you find that still need to be done. We are working as a team on the paper, myself, a post-doctoral researcher, and another PhD student, but we all have our own areas (this is important for myself and the other student in particular, since we don’t want to be treading on each others’ toes when it comes to writing our theses, since we need to be able to tell the story of our research). It just so happens that at the moment, a lot of experiments keep coming up that I need to do, and these are really starting to add up. It seems that before I’ve even managed to get one lot of experiments done, another set of experiments appear that I also need to do.
Today, we had a meeting with our supervisor talking about the progress of the paper. As has become the norm in recent times, it again left me with a list as long as my arm of things that I need to do, just when I felt that we were finally closing in on being able to send off the manuscript for peer-review. After the meeting I felt very tense, very lethargic, irritable, had a massive headache and generally felt quite panicked. These were all signs that I was able to recognise were things that I tended to experience when I started feeling stressed about something. I was worrying that I would not be able to get all the work done, that I would not be good enough to get the work done, that it wouldn’t be done to a good enough standard (because how could it, this is me we’re talking about!), and that it would reflect badly on me, resulting in my boss being annoyed with me, looking foolish/stupid in front of my peers, and failing to publish the paper.
When I got home this evening I was still feeling irritable, and upset. I ate too much pizza too, which, given my previous problems with overeating, and self-image issues, was not wise, leading me to think about how fat I was, how my girlfriend couldn’t possibly find me attractive, how I was always going to be fat and ugly, and how if I didn’t lose weight I might end up alone.
I realised that I really needed to get a hold of myself and started asking myself questions about it:
Does it matter if you take some time to get the work done? No. The important thing is getting it done, and getting it done to the right quality.
Is there any evidence that you won’t do it to a high enough standard? No. Nobody has seriously commented that my work has not been of a high enough standard before. I may have construed what they have said that way, but nobody has really said that.
Is my boss really going to be annoyed with me if it gets done properly and well? No. For him, my training as a scientist, and the publication are the two things he wants, as long as it gets done, and I learn in the process, then he will be pleased.
Does anyone in my lab group think I’m stupid? Unlikely. I always contribute, I may not be the absolute best scientist in the world, but I try my hardest, get the fullest results I can, and try and do everything as thoroughly as possible.
Will eating too much pizza on one day affect my weight dramatically? No. A slip on one day is not a problem, and it isn’t even necessarily a slip. People often eat more than they should some days, it doesn’t make them obese if it is only once in a while. Also, I have been to the gym 12 times in 20 days, so clearly I must be doing something right, and have been very healthy in general.
Does my girlfriend find me unattractive? I don’t think so. I have to take her word for it, and I believe what she tells me entirely. Just because I am paranoid about something, doesn’t mean that what she tells me isn’t true. She has always been truthful to me, so I must believe what she says.
Am I fat and ugly? Probably not. I might be a little overweight, but there are far worse people in the world, and I have lost a lot of weight in the last year. I just need to be careful not to do overdo it, and remain healthy.
Will I end up alone? Nobody can tell the future. I have no reason to think that my girlfriend is going to leave me, especially over eating a bit too much pizza on one day. She loves me, and we connect brilliantly as people, a little bit of overindulgence is not going to change that.
So, having gone through all those questions with myself, I began to feel that I could get on with my work, and that it could turn out to be okay after all. It was just another slightly silly panic over very little, but I am pleased that I managed to cope with it much better than I might have done in the past. Now I just need to get better at practicing what I preach in the moment, rather than stewing in it for a few more hours than I probably should have!