Hello! I’m back from my trip and just about recovered from jet lag – a 19 hour return journey always seems so much shorter when you’re excitedly booking a holiday, right? So Shanghai is great! Extremely different from Edinburgh, obviously. Once again, I highly recommend the SGSAH ‘Speaking My Language’ course if you’re interested in opening the doorway to a different world (sounds saccharine, but nay, China is genuinely that exceptional.)
While I was away I realised that I was definitely working my way through the ‘2nd year slump’ before I left. People had mentioned it to me, but I didn’t believe it was a real thing until I found myself on the other side of it. Having researched what other people have said online though, I could completely relate to almost everything they were listing, such as
- a lack of motivation
- trouble formulating new ideas
- a sense of isolation
- the urge to give up
to name but a few. I was also slipping in and out of the grasp of anxiety and depression – for me these are long-standing issues, but for a lot of people they only begin when the stress of research becomes too much. Personally I have an extremely helpful tendency to predict the future as a series of cataclysmic events that leave me longing to stay in bed.
For about 3 months, I was convinced that I could never offer anything new to the theoretical discussion in my field, that no one would ever want to publish my creative writing and that the poets I’m studying were laughing at me from beyond the gave because I was completely off the mark in my interpretations of their work. And then I traveled five and a half thousand miles from home and was so busy having new experiences there were days where I literally forgot that I’m doing a PhD. Stepping off a plane into a country where you’re basically illiterate really reinforces the fact that you’re actually really good at reading and writing when you’re at home.
Going to China of course isn’t an option for everyone (though the flights are surprisingly reasonable…we were going to go the Austria and then discovered a return to Shanghai was basically the same), but, and I know I keep saying it, getting away from my desk and giving myself a total break from my work was the best thing I could have done for my research. Now that we’re home I am FILLED with enthusiasm for my research. Yesterday, I almost convinced myself to skip dinner in order to carry on reading and I never pass up the opportunity to eat.
Throughout the most difficult points in my slump, the days where I had definitely decided in my mind that I was going to hang up my PhD apron (you all wear aprons too, right?) and give back my funding (thus bankrupting myself), I found it was really important to say those feelings out loud, to another person. I spoke with fellow creative writing PhD students and felt less alone because they were going through something similar. I told my boyfriend I wanted to quit at least 10 times a week and he was ready to support me, while at the same time gently advising me not to give up. And I met with my therapist (yes, I have one of those, can’t recommend it highly enough), who managed to weed out that I didn’t really want to quit and that I just needed to take a breath and refocus.
So y’know, do fun stuff! Go see a mindless film (I’ll be watching Bridget Jones’s Baby at some point next week – hit me up if you want to come along), read a book that has nothing to do with your research, do a cryptic crossword. Exercise is also great, even if you’re just going for a long walk in the morning to get your body moving. It’s also good to set daily, weekly, monthly goals and keep track of what you’re getting through. Word counts and hours spent reading can help you prove to yourself that you are working, that you’re making progress every day.
But whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of feeling alone or believing that this isn’t a real thing or that you’re a failure for needing a break. We’re PhD students, not robots. OR AM I? Dun dun duuuuun (I am not). Hopefully this has been vaguely helpful to at least one person.
Peace and Love x