When you begin the journey of a PhD, it is all so exciting. You get the space to conduct your own research.. research that supports your own interests. You get to read a lot of interesting things. You get to interview and survey people to find answers to questions that you have. Those answers allow you to contribute a little piece to something bigger- the goal being to contribute to theory... to knowledge.. to practice! It may be a small contribution but it is a contribution! Hopefully a contribution that makes a difference- even if it is a small difference at that.
Yet... not too many people talk about all the other joys that come a long with the PhD. The joys of becoming very aware of your own mental health! I am so tired. More tired than I have ever been in my entire life. In September of 2013 I began this PhD journey. By September of 2015 I was still doing the PhD journey but also took on a full-time post at the University. And by this September, the PhD better be behind me.
I looked up the word 'tired' in the Thesaurus today. Did you know that there are 47 other words I can use instead of feeling tired?
(e.g. annoyed, beat, consumed, done in, fed up, worn-out etc.).
Yet, I am more than just tired.. I am absolutely exhausted. Interestingly enough, 'exhausted' doesn't even come up in the tired list! Probably because it is so much more than those 47 words combined!
(e.g. drained, debilitated, wearied, run down)
And yet again.. I am more than just tired and exhausted... I am depressed, anxious, and stressed. Most days I feel like a failure. Most days, I feel like a fraud. Most days I cry. And..even though I am exhausted..most days I can't even sleep because my brain just can't switch off.
To be honest, before I started the PhD.. I met people who had anxiety. I would listen to their stories and think to myself, "take a few deep breaths and stop worrying- it will be fine"- but then before Christmas I had my first panic attack. For the first time in my life I felt like I couldn't breathe. I couldn't just take a few breaths and be fine like I had thought once before. Nothing was fine.
I had just given a horrible presentation in front of an audience of people. I had too many other things on that week and felt unprepared, my head wasn't in the game and as I was presenting in a language that is not my own- I began to feel utter panic. After the presentation was over, I picked up my things and went into my office. I then sat there, began to cry and then couldn't stop. Crying- hyperventilating..my heart racing, the tension in my neck spread throughout my body. I am very thankful for those friends who were there for me that day. Who let me cry and listened to me. Those friends who said, "yes, it is hard", "yes, it sucks" and also took the time to remind me that I am doing well with everything I had on- they validated my feelings.
Since that day it has change for me. Anxiety is part of my daily life and it is awful. One minute you are fine and the next.. you are consumed with worry, fear and panic. The tears fall.. you take deep breaths, get some water and do your best to suppress everything you feel - because to be honest you don't know where the feelings came from to begin with. Is it the PhD? Is it the job? Is it the lack of security in a country that you call home? Its probably everything!
So here I am writing this.. and I humbly apologize to anyone who ever tried to talk to me about their anxiety in the past and may have felt dismissed by my actions or words. I didn't mean to dismiss you- I just simply didn't understand. And I know many of you who end up reading this- too will just not understand. But anxiety is very very real. Even though my logic tells me that I am on track, I will finish this PhD and that I will not be deported tomorrow, there are moments.. many moments.. where all that logic goes out the window and I just panic, feel like a failure and cry.
People don't often talk about the mental health issues that seem to come with this PhD territory. In fact, before doing a PhD, those who I know that have a PhD never really warned me of what it would be like. Maybe because it is different for everyone. But mental health seems to be a huge issue amongst PhD students. So many other students on this journey have been very open with me about their own bouts of depression, anxiety and stress that they have experienced throughout the PhD process. Imposter syndrome is a real thing- we all feel like frauds. We all don't feel like we are good enough and sooner than later our supervisors will see the con artists we really are.
PhDs are tough. They drain you of all of your mental, physical and emotional energy. So yes, if you do ask how the PhD is going (which many of you have), even when I respond that all is fine- keep in mind that it is probably not great.
I do see the finish line. I am walking there. I will get there. But I am not going to run the last 10 yards-- I am just too tired. So one foot in front of the other, I will keep walking and I will finish. I knew it would be hard.. I just didn't think it would have taken such a toll on me (haggard is one of the words that represents tired.. and boy do I feel haggard!. But- then again, maybe I should have known better considering that the 2013 Census reported only 1.68% of Americans over the age of 25 have a PhD.
dead on one's feet