Saturday, 15 June 2013

It's Good to Talk

can i just say: i bloody love therapy. if you are reading this, and you hate your PhD right now - oh my God, just DO IT. look up 'Student Counselling Services' on your university's web page and give them a ring. sitting there, having someone's undivided attention for 55 minutes, and getting to talk about YOU, is just wonderful. it is a luxury and i am hugely enjoying it. i'm kind of gutted that i arrived late to the last one, meaning that i missed out on five of those precious minutes available to me.

'hello, how are you?...' i asked my therapist when i came in. i was only being polite, you know. (but also - and here's the thing - i genuinely wanted to know. ever since i first went in for a session in January, the brain fog seems to have lifted, the crying has stopped, and I am more likely to mean it when I smile at someone and I ask them how they are.)

this one is a new one. my regular therapist suggested having a session with this one, for the sake of having 'a new voice' and a new perspective on things. i was all up for it, even though I don't necessarily feel that there's still something 'wrong' now and that i 'need' this; but it's available and it's free and i am determined to make the most of it while i can.

'well, i'm fine', she said, looking a bit odd, 'but it isn't ABOUT me, is it; it's about YOU.' and she smiled.

i love her.

later on in the session, she picked up on the fact that i'd said that. (I won't bore you with all the things I told her about myself and all the things she responded with; but she did go back to that 'hello, how are you' moment.) 'sometimes, when there is an individual such as yourself, very resilient and clever, socially adaptable, striving to be nice to people - and even today, when you walked in, the first thing you said was 'how are YOU?' ... and, like I said: it isn't about ME.'

I walked away from that session wanting to sit in a coffee shop by myself and think about the things she'd said. she made it sound like she thought i am going through life telling everyone 'i am fine', when actually it might be better if i said 'i feel shitty', which would be closer to the truth. but, i thought, we HAVE to carry on, and we HAVE to make ourselves be fine. what are you to do when you are a fifteen-year-old girl, and things are not great and you're feeling intensely sad, and you are anything but fine, yet there are GCSEs to be sat and a life to be lived? what good will it do you if you refuse to plough on and work hard? what can you do instead, anyway? it's not like you can disappear off to Australia for a fantastic gap year. you are not fine, yet there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well pretend you are fine, get the shit done, and... carry on. what else can we do but carry on?...

'sometimes, there then comes a time when we cannot carry on anymore', said the therapist. this was interesting, and profound. it's like Therapist 1 dealt with my more immediate issues, issues of the PhD and the gloominess; Therapist 2 now seems to be digging a little deeper.

i'm not sure where she was going with all this. all i do know is: ever since meeting Therapists 1 and 2 - and I don't know if this was just down to them, or if this was in conjunction with other things that were happening - some useful books i read, some sources of motivation i unearthed from somewhere, friends and family who said nice things - or maybe i just made more of an effort to have fun, and worry less?... - i don't know if it was the therapy on its own or a combination of things, but i do know that, since around the time I first went, i cry much less, and i have fun much more. 

and the PhD - although it seems to be crawling along at a maddeningly slow rate (and this is partly down to the fact that I no longer worry and no longer care), it IS crawling along. i have some chapter drafts (whatever form they may be in). i have started writing the dreaded literature review, and have surprised myself by thinking: this isn't so hard. i had to fill in an official progress form, and i didn't feel like i was lying when i ticked the 'satisfactory progress' box. i am going to be fine.

today's advice: type in 'Student Counselling services', followed by the name if your University, into Google. read what it says. consider doing what it says. imagine yourself picking up the phone, or filling in the self-referral form. it doesn't have to be scary, it doesn't mean anything, it doesn't say anything about you or define who you are. it's a resource available to you like any other, towards which you are contributing with your student fees; if you think it might be remotely helpful, use it. i do wish i'd thought of this sooner. i mean, for goodness' sake: a Bachelor's degree, then a Master's, then all manner of postgraduate pussyfooting-around, and only now, at the very end of it, did I pick up that phone. and all the while, this luxury was there, just there, within reach. i do wish someone had told it to me like this. 

today's book recommendation: Patrick Dunleavy, 'Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write & Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation'. 

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