One of the hardest things for me about a PhD is the lack of concrete achievements. In work there were always things I had to get to someone by a deadline that were either good enough, or they were substandard and needed redone, but shortly after needing to be redone they had to be done. Done done. Similarly with previous studies there were essays and exams, there were things that were final, and there were grades that told me how I was doing. PhDs are different to that.
I am very, very lucky in that I have supervisors who are very good at giving me timely and detailed feedback, which I really appreciate. But three years is a long time to be done done – not that I want it to be over faster because that would be unachievable, but it just is a long time. When I can’t really tell what and how well I am achieving things my mind can have a tendency to jump to conclusions, and that conclusion usually goes something like this:
You are achieving nothing! NOTHING!
played over and over on repeat. It doesn’t matter how hard I am working. It doesn’t matter whether I get good feedback. It doesn’t matter if I feel like I am doing the things that I should be doing. That is my internal monologue. Now mostly I can put this to good use, motivating me, spurring me on to work just a bit harder, to read just one more thing… But when other things go wrong (there is lots of illness in my family at the moment) it can shift from being motivational to being destructive. This is where the madness creeps in.
This week I have promised my partner that I would keep my chin up, keep my head strong, and maintain the happiness factor in my life. As a person with a tendency to ruminate on the trickier parts of life and to find solace in old, bad-for-me habits I am trying something new. I am going to try and celebrate something every day for a whole week. It’s not in my nature. At the end of the day I can usually write you a list of all of the things I should have done, all the creativity I should have been able to muster, all the papers I should have read – but I could not tell you a single thing that I did well. Doing so means really digging deep. But I’m going to give it a go…
Saturday 26th May 2018
Today my something to celebrate should be social because it’s a Saturday, and ya know – weekends are important. But my thing to celebrate is having almost finished ‘Genderqueer and non-binary genders‘ which is a super cool and important book, kind of the first academic book on this topic which is both shameful (that it is the first of this kind) and awesome (that the editors got something on this topic out there). I’m hoping to write a wee review of it tomorrow.
Oh a social thing! My celebrate something (I’m trying to work out how to do that in sentence) is the three wonderful women I went for lunch with, that I am lucky enough to call my friends. Each of them completed their PhDs years ago and now are doing amazing academic jobs. They are brilliant at telling me what is normal, what to expect, what is unexpected – they calm my nerves and hearing about them and their lives brings me tons of joy. Oooh, aaaand as I walked home I did a run around some second hand charity books shops and found ‘the Miniaturist’ which I promptly bought for a couple of quid! I watched the BBC adaptation with my mum over the holidays and it was super weird in a way that was pretty cool – but of course the book will be better.
Inevitably I am now worried…
Yeah that’s a thing! Whenever I write things it feel strangely permanent (even though it’s not I can delete any of these posts at any time – obvz!). I’m worried that I might be doing that thing people do where they perform their best lives on social media (I do it too, but this is a bit more purposeful), maybe I will add a little addendum to each post as a reminder that it is an active effort not to reflect on my worse life, and not in fact that I am just being a boastful Betty… Yes I think that’s what I am going to do!
Sunday 27th May 2018
So today I have made a real effort to do this things I’ve read about on the internet called ‘relaxing’ – to be honest it makes me feel a bit weird. Time not filled often leads to over thinking for me, and over thinking never did anyone any good (I mean maybe it did but not me, I bet Plato was a real over thinker and did some real good things with it)!
Sitting down to write this felt like a real effort that I would have preferred to avoid, but here I am and thinking about it today I do have something to celebrate. Firstly I managed to write this which is a good start to a commitment to myself and my mental health. But secondly I had an amazing dinner (sweet and sour chicken and jackfruit – it was really good) with some fantastic friends and a really good catch up. I feel like 2018 has not been good to anyone but we are muddling through. I was hoping that these posts could be a bit more achievement focussed – I think that’s definitely the goal for the next few posts, but for now this is all I have energy for.
Monday 28th May 2018
Today I have a worky achievement! Woo! I have a supervision tomorrow (always simultaneously super helpful and super terrifying). So today I spent some time marking out a map of some of the things I had been thinking about to test the water with my supervisors in preparation for the next supervision where I need to hand in a piece of writing on my methods and methodology.
As I’ve written about here I’ve been really confused about the extent to which it will be useful for both the project (i.e. me and my PhD, let’s be honest) and for my participants and most broadly all young LGBT+ people experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours to have participant involvement at each stage in the research. So today I spent some time (amongst other things, but we’re trying for concrete here) scoping out what I mean by ‘each stage’, and think about the pros of a non-participative, semi-participative, and fully-participative approach to the research. It’s tricky because when I talk about it I can think of lots of ‘and what about this’ kinds of question, but when I sit down to write I am not quite as clear. Anyway, for now I think I am currently leaning towards a semi-participative approach because of the potential sensitivity of my topic, but hopefully supervision tomorrow may bring me some clarity.
Tuesday 29th May 2018
Today was a lonnnng day – leaving the house at 8.30 and finding my way back at 11.30 after volunteering (which definitely counts as something to celebrate) – so this is a short post! But my celebrate something for today is a really easy one, I chatted to my supervisors about levels of participation in my research and have a plan for writing my current mini report on methods and methodologies! Win!
I didn’t take a picture today – so here is a song that has been in my head today.
Wednesday 30th May 2018
Today I knew would be amazing because I went with my bff Sophie to see Andrea Gibson do poetry.
So as you can imagine concentrated during the day was haaaard! However, after seeking help on target setting from Twitter I managed to write 2200 words before I did go for the most amazing poetry gig. If you haven’t checked out Andrea Gibson before you should, it is the most simultaneously painful and healing, and this are my favourites:
Thursday 31st May 2018
Another 1500 words written! And I got through the day by listened to Andrea Gibson over and over and over… So I’ll share just two more:
Friday 1st June 2018
First of all how is it June??? Secondly, today was a good day but one of those where you can’t really communicate your productivity in numbers – and to be honest, unlike in my research, I like to quantify my productivity. I started working through the words I had written this week to try and shape them into something that would make aaaaany sense to another person (i.e. my supervisors). I am really nervous because I have quite a lot of training this week that will mean I am not writing and it needs to be completed by Friday so I imagine quite a lot of the weekend will be writing! My second celebrate something for this day though was meeting my friend’s new cats this evening and then eating all the homemade pizza at my pal’s.
I have found it useful this week to celebrate my achievements, but I also found it quite difficult. I can’t quite work out whether this means that it’s good for me and I should do it more, or whether I should put it to one side. Celebrating my achievements makes me think about what I am doing with my time and look at what I am doing, but it has definitely not eliminated that feeling that I should be doing more. I think working out how I can get a sense of achievement through some of the smaller steps that go towards a PhD is a work in progress, and all suggestions are welcome!