Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Morose, pessimistic and self-pitying... sorry...

Caveat: this post is longer than I intended it to be and somewhat self-pitying. I'm sorry for this. Will try to be more objective and less emotional next time. If you want to skim-read it, just read the bold, and italic text.

As a science PhD student there are many things that you should do in order to be a successful researcher:

  • Read: journal articles and critically evaluate them, textbooks for extra information to aid understanding
  • Experiment: design, do repetitively to get reproducible results, analyse and interpret results, explain how they fit into the bigger picture
  • Demonstrate in undergraduate labs, mark lab scripts,
  • Write: quarterly reports, transfer (or upgrade) report, literature review, thesis chapters, journal articles
  • Exchange ideas: attend conferences: attend seminars, present seminars or posters, network, talk to supervisor/other members of research group or dept

I would say that almost all of the above have proved challenging or impossible for me to do at one stage or another. I have put it down to my depression/ low self-esteem. Feel free to disagree.

When I was depressed, I couldn't always concentrate on what I was reading. I often felt stupid and useless, because I didn't know things.

I sometimes found it difficult to do experiments for more than an hour at a time. Couldn't focus, couldn't get motivated, found it difficult to troubleshoot when equipment broke down, gave up far too easily. This didn't mean I was incapable of doing them, but after have many 'issues' I started to lose hope and give up trying. Then came my fear of being seen as lazy. I would hide from other people in the department, so they wouldn't know if I was in or not. This was made easier by the fact I had my own lab room at one point, which was lockable from the inside.

Again thinking ability hindered by feeling stupid and useless. Especially affected my writing. If you have no good results, either because of bad equipment or low motivation, what do you write about? Bad for quarterly reports. Eventually got some results, I could write about, but by this time I'm pessimistic about whether this could continue. But publications in journals are out of the question. It takes all my time and energy to just do the experiments, and work with the results.

Demonstration vetoed by lack of results. Incidentally, I feel I might have been good at this. I've been told by various sources that I can be a good teacher... well we'll never know.

Conferences seemed pointless to attend, when you doubt your results, your ability to talk intelligently, and your ability as a researcher. All those clever people, all seem to know what they're talking about. I seem fuzzy-headed and stupid. Brain full of cotton-wool. Nothing sensible to contribute, just asking silly questions and giving stupid answers. Feelings about wanting to hide resurface. Don't talk to anyone about research, not even friends and family. Forget that I actually enjoy science.

Then: don't talk to anyone about anything, they ask questions. How are you? When will you finish? What will you do afterwards? How is that relevant in the real world? I don't have the answers. I made something up at the time.

Please feel free to tell me I'm just a useless scientist, who should have never tried to get a PhD in the first place. I'm sorry for making you read this far.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Anchoring :)

Something that has really helped the past two to three days:

Anchoring and nourishment from the past are my two favorite right now.

Cheers, and happy resting!

Note: these relaxation "exercises" are for college aged individuals.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Link: High Functioning Depression on Reddit

Just googled for "High Functioning Depression" and three of the top four links were to my posts on Depressed Academics on the topic.  (Though our overlords Google knew it was me searching so maybe they bias the results.)   In a sense this is dispiriting: it would be better if there was lots of great information on the topic instead of these few posts.  

This is the top link: a thread on reddit.

Something leapt out at me as a description of what high functioning depression can be like: "for example, I can work hard all day long, write complex documents, provide legal advice etc. then I come home and I am almost crying because I just cant face doing the dishes."

Also while I'm here, it might be worth mentioning the subreddit (if that phrase means something to you) /r/depression.  It comes with a lot of caveats but does seem to be quite active.

The city of 2

I don't want to appear manic, but perhaps it will be apparent. I have not gone to sleep yet. I have officially been up for 23 hours. This might not surprise the well-versed insomniac, but for me, it is different. This is what I did as an undergraduate. This is what I did for my work, my papers, my professors, but really for me. I might have been burnt out most of my MA degree. But that did not seem to stop me. I worry about stopping. For if I stop, what will happen?

The city of 2 is safe. There is no glass on the ground. There is a quiet neighborhood. But I have seen it get wild on occasions. I have seen it dangerous. But, I must say I feel safe tonight/this morning/now. Yet, there is always a yet. I worry about tomorrow/today/now. I must get some sleep. Because if I don't this could mean a hospitalization. This could mean worse. I am not saying the hospital is bad, I am saying it could get worse than being in a hospital. But this is basic stuff, right? Sleep regulation is so critical to a mood disorder.

The thing is I am aware. But how much better is my awareness if I am to be spinning out of control? I have control, but where is it? I have been doing my breathing exercises. Deep breath 1 2 3 exhale 1 2 3. Regular breath 1 2 3 exhale 1 2 3. And so on.

But I can't stop the raciness. The urge for something, anything to fill my spirits. I am not talking about R's voices or sensations or "thoughts" as they particularly like to refer to them as. I am talking about me. About my stability, my essence. My spirits. How can I attain this? It's painful and brings me much ache to not be able to sleep. To wonder if sleep was ever possible. But of course it is, I have done it on so many occasions. Almost every night of this past six months. Why tonight? Why tonight when I need sleep more than anything--can't I sleep?

I am getting angry now. Angry to a mild degree. But I feel it in my heart beat. That this is not the way. I should be asleep. I get self-conscious, and then angry, and then paranoid. It is rather discontenting (for search of a better word).

I don't want to bore you all. I know perhaps a few of you have been here before. Perhaps not. But I feel like crying, but my tear ducts are dry. I am staring at a screen and typing. This is what I am doing. This is what I want to do on a lighter occasion.

For I know when this mood passes, I will be dried up like my tear ducts. I will not be able to cry with my body any longer. I will not be able to laugh so hard I cry. I will be dull. I will be unmotivated. I won't be functioning and I won't be able to write you.

The anger builds up inside of me now. It is probably making my face a hibiscus color-- purplish red? Can that count for a hibiscus color? Yes, I googled it and the answer is yes (according to google)....

The 2 city is breaking morning mist and an almost sunshine. I try too hard with the metaphors, I suppose. Regardless, I am just so desperate to sleep. I want to drive but I have banned myself from my vehicle as well as coffee and any sort of caffeine.

Maybe I will try again. I feel motivated.

Note: I do take low dosages of anti-psychotics as well as an antidepressant. I just thought I should state that for the record. This was prompted by why thank you paranoia. 

How to manage mania in (more than) a heartbeat.

I could introduce myself. But since there really was no beginning to when this all began, I shall start with today. I am hyper. Or as one might say "hypomanic". I have so much to say, so much in my head but I will start slowly. I will try anyway.

I like things-to-do lists because they are simple. Unlike me. Or my perception of what happens to me on a daily basis. I will discuss the unpacking of the language of mental illness at some point. If I don't crash, fall into a state of depression.

I am young, but old. I have had a mental illness for over ten years. Or rather, I was diagnosed at a really young age. Today was difficult though. But not as difficult as it has been or could be, if I let it get out of hand. They say I might have borderline personality disorder or bipolar. I don't know I don't I don't know.

So some observations about today (hypomania):

1.  Clear-headed, careful, cautious.
2. OCD tendencies (I have been washing my hands repeatedly and "checking" things. This is not usual for me and should have been a flag or a warning.
3. Thinking I am okay. "Knowing" that I am okay. Believing it with my whole being. I am okay, right?
4. An absurd amount of positive affirmations (really, it's okay to have affirmations, but when everything is really dang positive, it's hard to see the imbalance)

Some observations about today (mania):

1. Forgetfulness
2. Repetitive talk, circle speech, jumpiness in my conversations (topic to topic)
3. Fine motor skills lacking, difficult, inadequate
4. Mixed states crop up. I am manic one minute, and then balling the next. I feel destructive, I feel wonderful, I feel impulsive, I feel destructive, etc, etc.

Enough with meta-cognition, right? This is what Person X alluded to today, my paraphrase. I am severely aware of almost every thought, action, sensation, feeling and of course other people's thoughts, actions, sensations and feelings. I "know" they were laughing at me. I "know" they want to be my friend. I "know" they were judging me.

Take this as documentation. Of a person with hypomania. But I am to tell you how to manage right? Well, I can't tell you anything for You. I can only tell myself what to do. This is how I survived the day of days.

1. Support system. Whether this is Person X or my other friends. Whether it's family. Or my pet.
2. No caffeine (AT ALL)
3. No other stimulants such as nicotine (this was a challenge and a fail because I am quitting again and had to have a quit aid)

Those were the essentials. When I was bordering on more severe mania today, I had a lot of other ideas (purified water, smiles, hugs). It was so precious.

Take the list for what you will. Modify it, add to it, ignore it. For me though, this was crucial. Especially the support system tid bit. My friends (and family) were keeping up with me.

Achievement: To tell someone you love someone in a fit of joking, but to mean it nevertheless. For them to tell it back and to mean it. That is when you know it's golden.

They did fall asleep eventually. Which means they must have trusted me enough in my own safety. I was difficult. I cried. Well, sobbed actually. Hysteric bursts of crying and alternating laughter. It was a sight, I can only imagine.

So this is how I want to introduce myself. As a half-crazed, fully articulate hypomanic. Whether it's borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder or both, the symptoms are there. These are real. This is what I am going through. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Link: Hyperbole and a Half

I have been reluctant to post this because I assume everybody will have seen it.  But everybody will only see it if everybody cross posts it.  So here goes.

This is remarkable: "Depression Part Two" at Hyperbole and a Half".   Warning: like many links from here you might not find it a comfortable read since it has a lot about the inside of feeling depressed and some discussion of suicidal feelings.

I particularly empathise with the line "I don't necessarily want to kill myself, I just want to become dead somehow."  Though I don't want to kill myself, the thought of not being around can be quite comforting.  That is even though - as now - things are going quite well and I am only rarely miserable.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Celebrity role models for mental health conditions, and their analogous equivalent in academia

An article I read this morning, may be interesting to some people:

Successful people disclosing a mental health condition can highlight its presence, and remove the stigmas associated. But does this raise expectations, both of those suffering, and those that surround them, that they too, can similarly achieve? And is this a bad thing or good thing?

I guess it's all about managing those expectations. Not everyone can be a Catherine Zeta Jones or Stephen Fry. Comparing this to academia, the role models for me, when I started my PhD were the professors, readers, senior lecturers, anyone in fact with a permanent position. They seemed to be in a different league, and somehow unapproachable. At a conference I attended (just to help out, not to present anything) I remember being starstruck, when I got to put faces to the names I had seen published. I remember having to use alcohol, just to start talking to some of these people, and making a fool of myself in the process.

Would they have seemed more approachable if they had disclosed a mental health condition too? Would their achievements have seemed more attainable? Would that have made me feel less useless about all the difficulties I was having at the time?

At the same time not everyone can get a permanent position in academia. There are so many PhD students for every professorial position. So where does that leave the depressed PhD student, with no role models and low expectations, and useless results?

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Adjusting medication routines

My psychiatrist suggested I try changing my routines to deal with the drowsiness I get from combining Fluoxetin and Wellbutrin. Thus, since Thursday I have been taking Wellbutrin in the morning and Fluoxetin in the evening instead of both in the morning.

And as of yesterday, my brain chemistry is hitting back against the change in routine.

Yesterday and today both I have during early evening gone through approximately the same progression. I lose focus on the things I am involved in and grow detached. After a little bit the detachment grows into boredom and then into inexplicable sadness. After some time, or with sufficient distraction, it dies down again; but a return back to daily sadness bouts is not something I welcome particularly.

As for now, I'm going to assume it's a result of changing my medication routines. If this continues beyond a week or so, I'll get in touch with my psychiatrist.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Triggers and solutions?

I've said before that I was diagnosed with depression two years into my PhD studies (2006). Since then, I would have to say I've made a huge recovery. I've gone from not functioning on any level, to functioning on a 'normal' level for about 3 days a week. Right now, I probably wouldn't describe myself as even having depression.

However, I still have 'down' days. For a long time, they would take me by surprise; why is it I could feel ok and functioning at one point, and then, a few hours or few days later, feel completely depressed, and wish to hide away? Why would this happen every few days? Would I ever be able to hold down a full-time job? Or would it always be like this? Up for a few days, down for a few days, never stable, never consistent.

Recently, I've started to make some un-scientific observations: 
my negative thinking patterns get worse when I feel tired... 
Or could it be that having negative thoughts/feelings make me tired?

Not sure what the solution is. 
I've tried doing less (went to part-time registration for the PhD), but then felt useless for not achieving much, or taking so long. 
I've recently tried doing much more (taking on additional volunteering, study and tutoring), to give negative thoughts less air-time, but then have to crash at some point, and feel useless on the days that follow instead. Committing to lots of things makes me more edgy and restless: I worry more about delivering perfection, and I sleep badly because I'm worrying.

Two things that seem to help: 
1) I'm living in the moment a bit more (not always easy), and appreciating simple things like a cup of tea and chocolate biscuits... Today that's my favourite thing.
2) I'm doing more things which play to my strengths which helps. Just for the record, writing a thesis is not one of them. 

Any thoughts?

Saturday, 4 May 2013

And every so often, an off day

Yesterday my brother-in-law got married.

Yesterday was also and unrelatedly one of the first bad days in at least a week or two.

Yesterday, families came together and celebrated. Got to know each other. Pleasant times all around.

Yesterday, I could find no joy in anything. I could not mobilize myself. I'd follow along and obey instructions, but doddered around fumbling at tasks when I try to start them myself.

I didn't feel much anxiety, but I didn't feel much joy, or interest, or energy for anything. Eventually S suggested my functionality might improve from my anti-anxiety pills.

Like a flash, the pervasive, crippling sadness vanished. And as the families gathered and the ceremony took place, I was able to be pleasant, have fun, and be involved in conversations and activities.

Yesterday was a great day.

Yesterday was a ghastly day.

Yesterday was an off day.

The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive (BBC 4)

Stephen Fry produced a 2h documentary miniseries for BBC 4 exploring with his own bipolar disorder by talking about his own experiences, and talking with friends, experts, fellow sufferers and relatives about bipolar disorder.

Part 1:
Part 2:

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Overdone it?

Past few weeks have been busy... Probably you could say the past few months. Since I submitted the final version of 'that book' around the end of February, I have spent a week abroad visiting a friend, a week visiting my parents, a week on holiday with my partner, taught 14 hours of tutorials, spent an additional 10 days with my parents, while preparing said tutorials, and studying bookkeeping, not to mention doing the odd volunteering hours and applying for jobs, that no-one wants to give me, or even reply or give reasons for their rejection.

Forgive me, if I sound a bit overly dramatic and bitter. I'm not. Just tired. And when tired, I find it very difficult to control my emotions, put on that happy face and pretend I'm ok. I like to retreat into myself, and not face the world... Today is a bit like that. The sun is shining, and I do actually have a lovely treat for today: discussing some educational activities over tea and cake with some volunteer friends. But it's a slow start. And I have to get going, to make it happen. And right now I'm stuck in bed, and want to sleep.

I have overdone it. Tomorrow is also busy with tasks I have been putting off. The weekends also now seem busy, as I try to catch up with the tasks I scheduled in this week, and haven't done. If I don't do them, I start feeling guilty... another trigger on that downward spiral.

Enough rattling on... I'm sorry to have spouted... I'm now going to be late.. It's volunteering, it shouldn't matter, and yet that 'g' word creeps in...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Introducing myself and my depression

I'm a just-finished, soon-to-be graduated, PhD-er in an interdisciplinary science subject. I feel that my depression had a very significant effect on my academic career as it crept up on me relatively soon after the start of my PhD. I'm not even sure a career in academia is possible now. I hope that by being a regular contributor to this blog, I might come to terms with this, or find a solution into breaking in somehow. I still  really enjoy my subject and enjoy thinking about it.

I'm currently looking for a permanent non-academic job but this is proving tough. As my research area was interdisciplinary I'm a jack-of-three-trades and master-of-none. Also, I think any potential non-academic employer sees the PhD qualification on the CV and tends to run a mile in the opposite direction. To fill time I do private tutoring and volunteer at a local museum, as well studying bookkeeping to expand my potential skill-set.

I started my PhD studies way back in October 2004 at a different institution to the one I had done my undergraduate degree, eager to work and study hard, make a good impression and make the most of what lief had to offer me. Two years in, I had lost the will to continue, not just with the PhD, but with any aspect of life. I remember sitting in the car with my partner of 7 months, parked outside of the department. I remember resolutely refusing to go into the building. I remember feeling this hopelessness about life, and wanting to give up. I remember feeling like I'd had enough. That was my breaking point.