Saturday, 14 April 2012

‘Write stories, including stories of your failures’

I thought that writing a blog about being bad at your PhD is a most gratuitous and silly thing to do. This explains why I have not been posting much on here. Why would anyone want to read a blog of my disgruntled chunterings about me doing something I am no good at? Why, you might wonder, would any sane person keep such a blog in the first place (instead of, say, quitting the horrible PhD and doing something useful with life, like teaching kids to read or serving customers in a shop, and allowing the nice PhD supervisors and the funding to go to someone who might actually enjoy it, and make good use of it)?
I thought that keeping this blog was a silly, gratuitous idea and I should not be doing it, and instead of writing about my failures, I should sit down and actually WRITE MY PHD.
Then one day, I attended a course on ‘Making the World a Better Place’, which is run by the man to whom I refer as ‘The God’. He is a Graduate School training provider, and often runs courses on boosting your motivation, surviving academia, and just generally being happy. At this particular course, he gave us this one bit of advice: to help you write the PhD, write other things, too; write a journal, a diary, write stories, ‘including the stories of your own failures’. Find words to describe the sense of your own vulnerability.
All of a sudden, this blog didn’t seem like such a silly idea after all, and it made me remember why I felt the need to start it in the first place.
We really don’t have much of an opportunity to verbalize how we really feel, if how we really feel is…well, shitty. We’re not supposed to sit there and pity ourselves. Facebook profiles are littered with the pictures of friends smiling and having a good time, making you feel bad if you so much as contemplate posting a gloomy post, advertising your unhappiness and asking to be cheered up. Understandably, there are never going to be pictures in Facebook of people crying, or angry at themselves, or not coping. Going on Facebook when you’re gloomy is a bad idea; it makes you (wrongly) feel that everyone else is smiling, and wearing nice outfits, and hanging out with nice, attractive people at all times, while you are at home, gloomy, perhaps crying, and… making yourself feel worse by wasting time on Facebook.
My biggest failing has always been a tendency towards depression and self-pity. I have never quite been able to shake this, and doing a PhD just seems to bring out the worst in me in this respect; writing a thesis gives me plenty of opportunities to sit alone, and silent, and not seeing anyone or speaking to anyone, and doing something which is difficult, so difficult, in fact, that it gives me the perfect excuse to tell myself that I am too stupid to be doing this job, that I am no good, not at this, or at anything else. And then the depression just creeps up on me.
I’ve been told all sorts of nice things that you can say to yourself to keep feeling good about yourself and your PhD. I’m told that you should be grateful that you can do a PhD at all, and that you should keep up this sense of gratitude, for your PhD, for the wonderful colleagues and students that you have. (this is true. They are pretty wonderful…) I’m told that you must not let academia ruin your love of the topic you’re doing. I’m told that, if you’re doing a PhD, you should remember that you would never have made it this far if you didn’t have some very special gifts. I’m told that you must never give in to anxiety and pessimism, that you must be aware of the thoughts you have, and control your thinking.
It’s true that self-pity doesn’t do you any good, and you might as well smile. The people I admire the most are the ones who stay positive at all times. But sometimes, just sometimes, you allow yourself the luxury of wallowing in self-pity (not necessarily over your PhD, which feels like it’s going nowhere; maybe you’re just feeling sorry for yourself because some of the other areas of your life feel like are not going well). Like me, today. This was a very bad idea; I have just lost half my Saturday to feeling sad. When I could have done something useful, like written a very small paragraph of my chapter (and every little bit you write, no matter how small makes you feel just that little bit more amazing); or I could have done something fun, like gone for a run, or a coffee, or a drawing class.
Well. If nothing else, I have just written 800 words. That makes me feel a little bit more amazing.
Here is a link which a friend posted on her Facebook lately, and which today I hunted out on her profile, because I like it:

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