Dear PhD…

8922368-256400255_2-s4-v1CN: Mental health issues, anxiety, depression, bi-polar, BPD

…It’s been a while since we last spoke and I’m not really sure what has been going on between us lately. I feel as though we’re not as close as we used to be and that maybe after all these years together we’ve started taking each other for granted. I always assumed you’d be there offering new and exciting challenges and you thought that you could rely on me to give you the commitment we both know that you deserve.

It’s not you PhD, it’s me. Things have been going on in my life and a lot is changing for me- I’ve not been honest with you about how they might affect you and our relationship. You’ve always understood my long and complex history of anxiety and depression, and I have learnt after years of struggling how to fit you in when I am well and to cope with you when I am not. We’ve taken a few breaks from each other over the years but we’ve always found each other again and managed to pick right up where we left off. Lately its all been different though. I can’t seem to achieve any kind of stability; one moment I am up in the clouds, kicking your arse and feeling more alive and engaged than ever before, but within days, or sometimes hours even, I’m crashing back down again.

I look at you and I don’t see the thesis I fell in love with, you seem kinda out of date, a little frumpy and just not as exciting as some of the other PhDs I see when I’m out an about in the academy.  I guess I’ve changed too- I’m not that feisty, naive woman I was when we met, I’ve grown and come to appreciate your complexities and even become critical of them at times. When I’m at my lowest, I can’t stand to look at you any more, I feel you judging me- righteous in your neglect and frustration with me. You see me going out and sloshing my energy around on new endeavours and you wonder how I can have so much enthusiasm for my new adventures but not for you.

I promise its not just you though PhD. I am letting people down left right and centre. Ducking out of appointments, not replying to messages and failing to communicate well in general. I’ve withdrawn myself from the last few weeks of teaching too, not because I don’t want to do it, but because I just don’t know, on any given day, if I’ll be able to, and thats just not fair on my students. It breaks my heart to be like this, you and my teaching ambitions were all I ever really wanted and the thought of not being able to deliver hurts and shames me.

Right now though, when it’s dark, its really dark. That niggly feeling of being a fraud which all of us in the academy seem to carry with us, grows and grows until the weight of it is literally crushing down on me; completely debilitating. I feel as though I am simply not good enough, not cut out for this, not capable, and perhaps not even willing anymore. But that’s just it you see, it’s a trick, a lie told to me by my demons to make me lose all hope to make me question if you (or anything else) is really what I want. I know this, but before, when the depression used to come in long, hard, dull swells I seemed better able to remember that I was being deceived. Since this rapid cycling of euphoria and melancholy took hold however, I just can’t seem to stand still long enough in any one emotion to reach out for those little handholds of hope and perspective that I spent a lifetime forging.

I’m scared PhD, I really am. This is all new to me. Perhaps the emotional toll of the last 6 months is simply coming home to roost, or maybe living alone has meant that I spend too much time in my head questioning, searching and following the little trails to ruin that I seem to set myself. I thought for a while that I was just having good days and bad ones like everyone else. The bad days felt familiar even in their new guise, tired, overeating, losing interest, not going out, trapped/cocooned in bed for days on end. But the good days, they were something new, something gloriously electrifying but maybe, in reality and retrospect, not really that ‘good’ at all.

Its not good to be awake and wired into the early hours, obsessively searching for new things to do with my time. It’s not good to be getting carried away with excitement and committing myself to more than I can manage, and it’s not good to be repeatedly making lists, and lists of lists, writing and re-writing, organising, planning, spending, booking, sorting, re-ordering, revising, revisiting, signing up, writing down and checking out. It’s not good at all, and in fact, I’m terrified that it might be manic.

I’m doing everything I can to fix this for us I really am. I’m working with a mentor via York Mind to try and help me set reasonable goals and to work on achieving some kind of routine that might at least enable the possibility of stability. I met with my GP and she has referred me for a psychiatric assessment mumbling something about ‘too rapid to be bipolar, maybe borderline personality..’. I’ve never seen a shrink before, plenty of counsellors, doctors and mental health support staff, but never an actual psychiatrist. Of course, I know that it makes sense, something is ‘off’ with my mental health even for me, and having it re-assessed has got to be the best place to start on working out how to fix it. But something seriously frightens me about the idea of it. What if they think I’m ‘mad’?… What if they don’t? What does me obsessing over it like this say about my issues? And of course, the biggest, perpetual ‘what if’… what if I can’t be fixed? What if no amount of changing my medication, rounds of therapy and CBT can make this better? What if I’m just broken?’

So I felt the need to write it all down, to try and at least explain my recent failings in place of being able to actually excuse them. To let you know that my commitment to you, my teaching, my activism and my life has not gone away, I’m just struggling to access it right now.

In truth though PhD, this letter was never really about you or to you, it was for me, to remind me that you matter, that I do love you and will keep trying to be better for you. You’re not the snazziest of theses, and hardly the most cutting edge these days, but you are mine and I am dedicated to reaching the end of our journey together, certainly a little older, maybe a little wiser and definitely a little worse for wear. I suspect that all researchers have ups and downs with their work, and that you and I are really no different. I take comfort in that at least, and might even be able to use this suspicion to sustain us a little longer while I try and get it all figured out. Hold on in there PhD, I’m coming back for you!

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