Thursday, February 2, 2017

Time to Talk- Talking about mental health

Not strictly a PhD blog, but certainly one that impacts. Today (Time To Change are holding Time to Talk day, a day to promote talking about mental health. I talked about mental health for the first time on this blog, and anywhere really here ( here)

So firstly PhD/academic life and anxiety/depression/mental health. I probably didn't realise how much I was suffering through my PhD and how much damage was done by it- that's something I'm still realising. Luckily on the flip side I've found younger academics I've met to be some of the most open about mental health and it's them who have led me to be able to write this for Time to Talk day.

So how did a PhD impact my mental health? well it didn't create issues, but it certainly brought to the surface and made worse ones that were already there-mostly because I felt I had to keep them hidden.

The constant criticism that's inherently part of a PhD/Academia will wear anyone down. Throw in someone prone to anxiety and depression and you can end up locked in a spiral of crippling self doubt. The constant competition in academia is also no good for mental health of those with anxiety issues, the constant comparison to other people, and the fear-nay the knowledge- you will never be good enough leaves you in a constant state of anxiety. And gives you a feeling of worthlessness. And the fact that you come out the other end not with a feeling of accomplishment so much as a set of things you haven't done as well as you could have and a knowledge of all the people out there better at it than you.

Academia didn't give me mental health issues, but the culture has exacerbated it. And if we were able to be more hoenst about the damage we were doing to ourselves, we'd be better equipped ot deal with it, adn life after the PhD.

Son as it's Time To Talk day, I thought I'd be honest about how anxiety and depression affect my life.

Depression is the easy one, I'm prone to fits of dark despair, of feeling worthless, lacking motivation and that nothing will ever be right again. I mean that's about it. I'm lucky I don't suffer that badly, I can usually pull myself on through after a few days. That's how it is for me. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth talking about.

Anxiety for me is the big one. Here's a few everyday things that send me through the roof:

1. Phones.
Hate them. Been known to drop it when it rings out of sheer 'get it away from me'
2. Driving.
I'm going to crash. I'm going to get lost. Multiply by 10 if I'm driving someone I don't know well. Or my Mother.
3. Being Late.
I'm always early. But I live in constant fear I will be late and the world will end.
4. Plans.
This can be plans I've made. A lack of plan. Plan being cancelled. All of these make me anxious.

Add these to an overriding sense that I'm always *this* close to being fired from my job, that I'm therefore going to run out of money, never be employed again etc etc. It's pretty exhausting.

The big one for me is relationships. I will remember the most flippant innocuous comment from years previous, and be convinced that a) I am an idiot b) that person that heard it still hates me for it.

That's the most superficial level of it though, I can kind of turn the volume down on that a bit. The biggy is this: I'm only ever one message or conversation away from thinking my friends hate me.

I'm lucky that some of my closest friends share the same issues I do. I can go to them and say 'Do you hate me? because you didn't answer my text last night' and they will get it. Other friends, who don't share it, will understand if I do a more 'normal' version of that, saying 'Hey we haven't talked in a while is everything ok?'

And then there are those who don't. I've been called annoying, even manipulative for asking the question or raising the concern that I may have done something wrong. Because that's what my brain tells me, that I must have screwed up. And logical me wants to fix the thing that illogical me is essentially making up.

So that's my anxious brain. Now maybe, just maybe if we really did make Time to Talk then instead I could just turn to friends and say 'Hey, my anxiety is really bad, and I'm thinking like this can you just reassure me it's all in my head'

Maybe if we could make Time to Talk, make it normal, I wouldn't have lost a friend of 8 years reccently because my anxiety made me insecure enough to ask one to many times. If we made Time to Talk maybe they'd have understood it was my anxiety talking not me.

Maybe if we made Time to Talk we'd all understand each other a little better.