Are cucumbers cool?

I have perfected the art of looking fine and feeling like absolute rubbish. I am a smiley, bubbly person, I make lots of eye contact, listen, ask questions, make jokes, appear as cool and calm as a cucumber (are cucumbers cool? – maybe they are just pretending like me).

Yesterday I had a work meeting and spent the entire hour smiling, laughing, feigning confidence, offering to do whatever work was needed and more. At times I thought to myself “who are you?!” I left the meeting and got into the lift almost in tears. I reached the ground floor, went into the toilet, entered a cubicle, crouched on the floor, cried, and self-injured. I felt absolutely rubbish. If my boss could see the sorry state I was in she would wonder what happened on the journey from sitting in her office to entering the toilet. What did happen? Absolutely nothing apart from the ‘front’ crumbled and was left at the entrance to her office.

I want to feel like the confident woman I pretend to be. My confident persona is much better than I am. I spend my life at home, often in bed, often fighting suicidal thoughts, climbing the walls inside my own head. I stare into space, achieving nothing as the hours slip by. Who am I? And what am I doing here?

‘Confident me’ wants to do all sorts: PhD research, public speaking, charity work, art, music, reading, writing. ‘Real me’ wants to self-injure, curl up into a ball, and sleep forever. How on Earth do I bring those two very different personas closer together? I’ve  been feeling like this for years and it only gets worse. I spend so much of my life in the sorry state and only have the confident edge when I am at a meeting (maybe 1-2 hours per week). I’m at a loss of what to do.

 

Pretend happy Demeanor

“Cheer up! It may never happen”

I was sitting on a bench in a supermarket waiting for my partner to go through the checkout. I was staring into space and a chap said the above quote. I gave him a smile and laugh, waited for him to be out of eyeshot and continued my staring. I feel crap for numerous reasons and sometimes I don’t have the energy to smile whilst staring into space. I have recently had a multiple sclerosis relapse, my blood sugars are up and down, and I am battling a way to recover from years of emotional trauma. Perhaps it feels like ‘it already has happened’.

I look back at things I wrote 8 years ago and it feels like I could have written it yesterday. Where has my life gone? Why is everything as messed up as it was back then? I am a problem solver and like to find ways to get through…but I feel completely trapped in my situation and I cannot find any solutions.

Where are my tears? I never cry but I wish I could. The distance between the person I am during meetings and the person I am in the rest of the 95% of my life are so different. I’m taking ‘faking it’ to a whole new extreme.

If I were to be a ‘fly on the wall’ and watch myself in those meetings, I would think ‘this woman has a good outlook, she’s very resilient, and somehow seems to find a way to keep going. How does she do it?’ I imagine a lot of us have a certain facade we wear to get through the day. When asked ‘how are you?’, we often say/lie ‘good thank you!’ I wouldn’t necessarily want that to change in my life. I am quite content with going to meetings appearing together. However what I want is to feel more like that resilient woman who seems fine. Or even if I don’t quite reach that stage it would be better if I was half way there, or even a quarter. How do I get there?

 

Progress has Diminished

I’ve been working on my PhD for 9 months now and I have completely ran out of ink. (I haven’t really had any ink for the past 8 months but let’s keep that between us.) From the above picture, it looks as though I have at least used some ink. However the ink has only created endless doodles. You would think I would have perfected my drawing of a cloud/tree/house/hill/flower by now, but I haven’t. My art is still crap and so is my PhD progress.

At the start of my PhD I attended a good workshop by Hugh Kearns called ‘How to plan your doctorate’. I am going to dig out my notes from this in the hope that I can start working. Hugh is part of ‘ThinkWell’ which uses research to help students/academics to achieve their maximum productivity. There are lots of good, and free, resources which may help which you can access here

Perhaps it is unsurprising that I am not working…I can barely get up sometimes. The toxic mix of mental and physical health problems cements me in my own body. I need something to change. If only I could go out and buy a pack of ink and then productivity would ensue. Alas the ink is merely an analogy.

So my plan is to break it all down and make very small goals. Hopefully these will be more achievable and I will begin to see some progress. Goals for today:

  • Make tea
  • Drink tea
  • Make another cup of tea
  • Drink another cup of tea
  • Check emails
  • Reply to 1 email
  • Read 1 paragraph of the ‘journal club’ article
  • More tea?

It’s a start.

Please halt Depression

It has been over a year since I posted a blog…what words would I use to describe those 15 months?

  • Symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

The word ‘sad’ doesn’t seem to quite capture the agony I have felt but it is a fitting acronym, preferable to ‘das’ or ‘ads’ or ‘sda’!

Symptoms have been unpredictably constant. By that I mean the nature of the symptom is unpredictable: sometimes it’s neuropathic pain, blurred vision, slurred speech, or crashing fatigue. However I can predictably anticipate that I will have a symptom of some form, hence the constancy.

I have found it extremely difficult to continue with my PhD whilst feeling so awful. The link between physical and mental health is so strong that it is impossible for one to have a tantrum without the other. It is quite a toxic mix:

Scenario A: I feel a bit more hopeful and less anxious today…but I have burning pain in my legs and feel fatigued. I know, maybe I will stay in and read my book but my vision is blurry and the pain is distracting. My mood crashes.

Scenario B: My body feels okay today! My legs are not in pain, my eyes are clear, I feel able to move, and my balance is okay. But I feel strangled by suicidal thoughts. Everything inside my mind feels heavy and unbearable. I want to sleep forever. My body begins to ache.

The ideal ‘scenario C’ whereby my physical and mental health are okay never seems to happen. I am considering suspending my degree for a few months but I am unsure if anything would change. My academic goals have always been important to me. However the development of MS and worsening mental health are making it so difficult to keep going.

I have become so isolated over the year so it is understandable that I am increasingly anxious. Is it possible to forget how to socialise? It feels tempting to hide when feeling so depressed. I do not feel like I have anything valuable to say or contribute. ‘What did you do on the weekend?’…’I stayed in bed trying not to hurt myself whilst having ongoing thoughts of dying’. That’s one way to kill a conversation. I opt for the vague but cheerful response, ‘I had a quiet relaxing weekend at home, how about you?’ Much better. However I have felt so shite for so long that I do not have the energy for this forced conversation. Yet the more isolated I become the more my physical and mental symptoms drown me. The viscious cycle is like a noose around my neck.

So where do I go from here? After many months of going no-where, I’ve started telling people. By people I don’t mean the post person, the cashier, the randomer who holds the door open in the library, or the neighbours cat who sits on our doorstep. I mean my PhD supervisors. It is difficult to explain the depth of all the invisible symptoms. I look fine and I am often hiding behind a confident facade but I feel absolutely awful. So my favourite method is to email a brief summary of my agony. I explain that I am good at hiding everything and begun to describe how things are day-to-day for me.

It’s scary being more open. I feel more vulnerable and exposed. But I remind myself that these feelings are not worse than the suffocating darkness. It’s a start and maybe it will be the beginning of a road out of this ditch.

 

 

Perfect hardware Discovery

It’s my second week of a part-time PhD and I am exhausted. Words are insufficient to describe how tired my body and mind feel. However I am amazed at the services available to make doctoral study available to people who have a range of difficulties. I had an hour meeting with the assistive technology support in the library. I walked away from the appointment with a range of software to help my vision, a bendy keyboard and the strangest ‘mouse’ I have ever seen:

tech

The device below the keyboard is the ‘mouse’! It uses a slider bar to move the cursor which you can press to click, a trackball to scroll and buttons that you press once for: copy, paste and double click. I never knew these types of hardware existed! Perfect!

Since developing MS life feels and looks different. I would not be able to engage with my studies if I did not adjust things to cater for these changes. It sounds like it has been easy getting to this stage but it hasn’t. I’ve been through a whole range of different emotions: anger, denial, depression, and at times acceptance. Sometimes I flitter through these stages all on one day but the important thing that I remind myself is that acceptance is there somewhere – even if it is small some days. With the help of the assistive software and hardware I feel more confident in my abilities and can see myself coping with the doctoral study.

 

Palaver Has Developed

Day 1 of my PhD and things have not gone to plan…Firstly my supervisor told me on Sunday that they have to attend an emergency eye appointment and therefore cancel our meeting. I’m more concerned about my supervisors eyeball than the cancelled meeting, so I was happy rearranging things and attending my first day anyway. My bag was packed, outfit chosen, documents organised…but I found out at 7.30am that the university closed today due to random pre-spring snowfall. Day 1 is spent working from home and all those first day nerves will have to be recycled.

day-1-snow-e1521459728239.jpg

I am starting my PhD in my comfort zone. I have spent the past 3 years working mainly from home on a range of psychology research projects. I am used to sitting at my desk, staring out the window wondering what I’m doing with my life, and making minor amendments to the organisation of my post-it notes. Everything is the same but everything feels different. Today I begin doctoral study, what? What does that even mean? What do I do? Can I do it? I have to keep telling myself to pipe down. These anxious queries are not helping but they are very common in the world of academia. I don’t think it is helpful to try and ignore them, perhaps acknowledge them and then let them go. It’s like the mindfulness river analogy of noticing leaves (thoughts) and letting them drift onwards. In this situation I keep having logs of inadequacy drifting along the river…I can either:

1) stop each one of them, examine them and ruminate. Before I know it the river will be blocked and overflow OR

2) I can notice the wretched logs and let them be on their merry way

Option 2 is the healthier plan but it’s easier said than done. It is worth a try.