In the bottom drawer of my bedroom cupboard lies a folder. Within it are papers documenting my journey through my illness. I made them at the insistence of my wonderful mum. She knew I was in no state to explain what was going on to the doctors. My world was filled with doubt. So much so, it was like I couldn’t trust the very ground I stood on, for fear it would give way...
It is a goal of mine to write about things that have influenced my life, and to do so in a way that is personal. It is one of the many ways I am trying to find others with similar ideas out there, hiding in plain sight, wanting to connect.
I have spent a long time in the world of a researcher and never really felt like I belonged there. In academia it is very easy to isolate yourself in your research - pretend like the rest of the world doesn't exist. Something I did to myself for many years. The following is about how counselling helped me out of my isolationist philosophy. I wrote this article for the Thesis Whisperer
Today I submitted my PhD thesis. To mark it, I would like to share my acknowledgements section. From reading several theses, I got the feeling that this section tends to be an afterthought in most authors minds. Which is understandable. The process of writing one is brutal. Possibly the mental equivalent of the many who take on expeditions up mountains or across oceans each year. Since the acknowledgements are usually written at the end and are one of the few sections which aren't examined, the individual simply wants to finish. To me though, the acknowledgements were the most important part. It is the only section I am allowed to express how the process made me feel, and perhaps more importantly the influence others had on me...
In 2015 I had Serotonin Syndrome. Overnight I went from someone who had never experienced any physical anxiety symptoms - to major panic attacks, agoraphobia, and constant general anxiety. I no longer had the capacity to do my PhD and took temporary withdrawal for a year where I had to learn how to function as a human being again. Upon returning to my PhD, a major achievement in itself, I realised the stress of even half an hour’s worth of work rendered me not only incapable of functioning for the rest of the day, but the day after too. If I was to complete my PhD, I needed to figure out how to work a stress-free day. Over the course of a couple of years I learnt and refined a routine that helped me to achieve this. I still struggle a lot of the time, I fall out of the routine and take shortcuts. I am human after all. But I sit here with a finished thesis and time to spare. The following documents a single day of the routine. This is how I did my PhD.
The day starts with the night before. I have found sleep to be the most influential factor in how stressed I am the next day. Have you ever noticed how you can feel extremely agitated and stressed in the evening and the next day as fresh as a daisy? Sleep. I have yet to discover a process anywhere near as beneficial for an anxious, stressed mind.
I try to be in bed by around 8 – 9pm with the aim to get up from 6am-7am. A couple of hours before I will clip on my special blue-light filter lenses (I realised a blue light filter on your phone is useless if you spend your entire evening bathed in artificial lights!). Just before I get into bed, I write my plan of tomorrows tasks to achieve, both work and socially. Then I write/reflect in my diary of all the things that happened today. Both these things help to dispel worry from my mind. Clearing it so I can be relaxed enough to get to sleep.
... it doesn't exist.
One in four people will suffer a mental health problem/illness/issue at some point in their life/the past week/the past year (delete as appropriate) is a statistic seen all over any type of mental health media. It has never sat well with me. Mostly because I always think if an individual is unsure about their current state of mental health, it is easy to read that statistic and be reassured that 75 percent of people will never have a mental health problem... ever. And go ahead and place themselves in that 75 percent 'I'm going to be alright' bracket.
I'm not sure mental health problems work that way. For instance, if I were to say to you 1 in 4 people will suffer a physical health problem at some point in their life, you would look at me like a crazy person. It is quite clearly 100 percent unless anyone has figured out how to 'cure' mortality - or vampires exist, one of the two. We all get colds, and suffer from the various physical problems caused by ageing. There is a spectrum of severity here, but all are bannered underneath physical health nonetheless. Why are mental health problems treated any differently?
Probably the first thing to mention is I can't draw... yet. So it took a little bit of trickery to make it look like I could - I'll show how later!
To make the video I used Adobe Premiere Pro. I don't have much experience with this software or any video editing software in fact, but I work with images a lot for my PhD so have plenty of experience with Premiere Pro's compatriots: Photoshop and Illustrator. I mainly use them for my final scientific figures, in terms of style and making images look good I have found that nothing really compares to Adobe's software, both in ease of use, and versatility. Hence probably why it is so widely used! I found Premiere Pro just as easy and intuitive to use (with the help of a few youtube videos).
Since there are tons of youtube guides on using Prem Pro, and really my trailer is just a series of 25-30 images total in a 1min video - I shall focus on how I seemingly made artistic images with the most meagre of drawing ability.