As my hand in draws ever closer (7 weeks and counting) it’s fair to say I am getting a little panicky. You may have noticed that the past few weeks have mainly been Mindful Monday episodes, rather than a weekly blog post from me, but this is because I am trying to concentrate as much as possible on my thesis and on spending any spare time that I do have with my husband, family and friends.
Part of the reason that I wanted to write this post is because mental health isn’t really spoken about so much in academia, or if it is, it is very much an accepted part of doing a PhD. Mention that you’re not sleeping, feeling anxious or overeating (for example) and quite often you’ll get a “oh yes, the joys of doing a PhD!” type response. I know that this is because people can empathise with your situation and that is extremely useful most times. But sometimes, it’s not easy to talk about things over the water fountain, so I wanted to share some of the struggles (and the joys) of coming to the end of my PhD in the hope that it helps people to understand what it’s like and in case this resonates with anyone who might feel similar.
First things first, it’s not a great feeling to recognise that I’m probably not the most attentive friend/wife/daughter right now and believe me, I do realise that I’ve become more and more focused on my PhD over the last few months. It’s difficult to explain but sometimes the pressure of what is going on around me makes me feel like the walls are closing in and it can be a horrible feeling at times, and one that makes you want to work on your thesis 24/7 because at least then, you’re making “progress”.
It sounds dramatic and I’m 99.9% sure that I will definitely get this done, but fear, pride…whatever you want to call that little voice in your head that helpfully chimes in with “what if you can’t do this?” can really make the final months difficult. One of my family members phrased it perfectly when they said at this stage it’s not a question of your ability, it’s a question of your mental stamina and to be honest I couldn’t agree more!
But stamina is difficult to keep up when it feels like you’re trying to run full speed, but the race is actually a marathon and not a sprint. In an effort to not go completely mad, my strategy is to make sure to prioritise sleeping, eating, drinking water and showering. All of these things are basic self care needs of course, but genuinely, the need to keep making progress on your thesis can do strange things to how you prioritise time.
Part of the reason that I wanted to write this post is because I wanted to say thank you to my family and friends who check in with me just to see how I’m doing, rather than always asking “how’s your writing going?”…I wanted to say thank you for my family and friends who let me know, that although this is an important event in my life, ultimately I am not completely defined by my PhD and that life will go as normal afterwards…and a thank you to everyone around me that has reassured me that they believe in my ability (which helps because I sometimes doubt it).
I’m incredibly grateful for my support network, both in and out of uni and I am extremely lucky to have such supportive supervisors. I’m also so glad to have found mindfulness and meditation when I did because genuinely I don’t think I could of coped without them. To any final years reading this or to anyone going through a stressful time that feels like they have no time to meditate, ten minutes of meditation either during the day or when you’re going to sleep will change your life and improve your productivity (honestly!). Or, twitter chats such as #PosiMH on Sundays at 8pm can really help you to get into a positive mindset for the week ahead.
All I would ask, and all that I would advise for anyone living with or supporting someone who is under a lot of pressure at the moment, be it uni, school, work or anything, is to please have patience. Also, don’t underestimate the impact of kindness, even if at times admittedly, we might not deserve it as we are a bit snappy or exhausted (in my case it’s due to writing, sorry!). But seriously, kindness means the world and it can really make a difference. For example, my husband made me a cup of tea without me asking the other day in my favourite mug and it genuinely made me cry (yes, really, this is level of hysteria that my husband has to put up with at this stage).
So to finish, I am so excited for what the future holds, and although this is a stressful time, I’m trying to take time to pause and take all of this in as it is all part of the experience. I’m also trying to remember that this feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach is there because fear is always there whenever you do something worth doing and whenever you are doing something worth growing for. Feeling afraid, in a non-life threatening situation, is a sign that you are outside of your comfort zone, and that is a good sign because that is where growth happens.
Praying for a positive seven weeks and a finished thesis, but until then please send all of your positive vibes my way – I will appreciate each and every one of them 🙂
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