Tag Archives: Depression

Light Resolve


Okay, so I’ll come clean: I haven’t been loads brilliant at keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions nor my own, unwritten, plans for the beginning of 2014. Stuff has just kind of not happened the way I thought it would, and I’m a little bit behind with all of my goals.

After maybe a few weeks of feeling pretty darned rubbish and moping around like a sad panda, I’m determined not to let my stupid ambitions get in the way of feeling good with myself and resolve to use my hands to punch through the Wall of Awesomeness rather than to wipe the Tears of Inadequacy from my eyes. So, maybe it’s time to evaluate a little better what I want to get out of my (near-) future and where I want to be in life.

Perhaps I’m not so good at setting my own goals; and even less good at dealing with the disappointment when I inevitably don’t get along as far as I thought I would. Doing so usually leads to a whole bunch of internal disappointment, where I attempt to assess myself against some invisible barometer which marks my { contribution to society / likeability amongst my peers / perceived ‘success’ by people I don’t know } and inevitably come up short. A considerable problem I have is that I try to do too much – I try to live up to this unachievable role as someone who has a broad range of interests and talents, and who must maintain a grasp on all of these things at all time. I feel a compulsion to be ‘that guy’ who

[ plays all the video games ] / [ watches all the films ] / [ does all the music ] / [ makes video game costumes ] / [ does in-line skating ] / [ watches all the motorsport ] / [watches all the ice hockey ] / [ knows all the space stuff ] / [ does blogging and reviews and stuff ] / [ plays all the board games ] / [ does the whole ‘research’ thing ]

that I often appear to put a whole ton of unnecessary pressure on myself to keep active in all areas all  of the time; and if I’m not (or I just have a lazy day not moving forward or practicing any particular aspect) I tend to feel like I’ve wasted a day, a week, a year or however long. I feel an urge to see myself merely as a catalogue of statistics: someone who has +6 in Obscure Star Wars Facts and +4 in Playing Adventure Games – so much so, that if I feel like I’m doing something that I feel isn’t “improving” me in some way (or helping to benefit someone else), then I tend to get frustrated and anxious; as if the time could be better spent on something that is helping myself or others.

Now, this is pretty irrational, since Life inevitably must be filled with things that must be done irrespective of whether you want to or not (like, ‘doing the washing up’ or ‘burying the body of a deceased family pet that was accidentally put in the microwave by accident’). This can mean that I get frustrated quite quickly when I’m doing something that should be improving my Stats but – for whatever reason – isn’t delivering; maybe because I’m trying to overcome a particularly difficult task in my research or hitting a difficulty wall in a video game I want to complete/succeed at. In this respect, I don’t think I do so well with failure or rejection: I tend to reflect on the lost time more than on the lessons learned or the positive steps which were made along the way. For this reason, I’m quite sensitive to criticism or rejection, and I find it difficult to cope with situations that set me back in my goals; be it as cosmic-ly meaningless losing (unsaved) progress in a Word document or dying in a video game and having to go back to the beginning of the level. These clearly aren’t big things in the Grand Scheme, but they clearly trigger something in my brain that sparks anxiety and frustration beyond levels that are considered ‘normal’.

I also find myself worrying a lot that I’m not living up to the visions or expectations of the people I know (and the people I don’t): am I being everything I can be, that they want me to be, or that I deserve to be? What do I base this judgement upon?

I often tend to place unrealistic expectations on myself; usually based on some notion of what I expect people expect of me. Usually, these are far in excess of what people really expect; yet my brain thinks that, short of securing world peace or curing every disease know to man, everyone will have a persistent disappointment in me, everything I do an what I represent. I constantly find myself searching for what people want me to be rather than just being the best person that I can be (and not worrying if it’s not good enough for everyone else). In this respect, the Jimmy Eat World song ‘The Middle‘ (on their 2001 album Bleed American) is, perhaps, perfect for describing how I should approach the thoughts and opinions of the world around me:

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.

Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.

Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

[Jim Adkins / Jimmy Eat World]

Much of the time, I tend to do the polar opposite of putting myself on a pedestal – I put everyone else on one, then feel them peering down at me like towering, relentless critics; even people I don’t know and who haven’t done anything spectacular to warrant an ivory tower. I feel like an underwhelming nobody; someone who tries hard and is always in the running, but who fails to deliver and achieve ultimate success when it really comes down to it. I need to know and respect the limits of my talents/skills; to be aware of where the extent of my skills is and not to punish myself for not being able to push beyond them or not being able to be as good as someone else at, say, Olympic sprinting or nuclear physics – some people are good at some things; others at other things. I can’t excel at literally everything I put my hand to, nor do I need to. If I did, I wouldn’t be imperfect and, more importantly, I wouldn’t be human. 

Light painting by Darren Pearson http://www.dariustwin.com/

Light painting by Darren Pearson

Maybe I need to develop more of a thick skin to deflect perceptions that I’m a failure or a disappointment, or an anti-missile system that automatically takes down potential criticism (no matter how minor) before it begins to work its way under my skin to erode my self-confidence. Certainly for the sake of my health and sanity, I need to worry less. I need to live in the NOW and not concern whether it’s effective use of time in the grand scheme of things; just to do the things that make me happy, and to be comfortable with who I am and what I stand for. I need to take life more as it comes rather than trying to second-guess what it is I’m supposed to be.

To continue the proliferation of music lyrics in this post, there’s a fantastic quote from ‘The Hero Dies in this One‘ by The Ataris (on their 2003 album So Long, Astoria), which I reproduce here:

The hardest part isn’t finding who we need to be; it’s being content with who we are.

[Kris Roe, The Ataris]

And yes, I think that’s my greatest challenge for this year: to not race and rush to live up to some unattainable vision of myself, but to be happy with who I am and where I fit in with everything. I may not be perfect, but I’m more than just a jumbled collection of matter; with all the faults, feelings and faculties that that entails. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all that matters.


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Okay, so it seems that 2014 is charging ahead like a tasered bison and – aside from my declaration of a few Resolutions for 2014 – I haven’t marked my blogging copybook much since the turn of the calendar; a glitch I intend to rectify right here.

It’s been a fairly tough few weeks, and I’m not entirely sure why. I don’t know where my energy, excitement and exuberancy has disappeared to since the Xmas period, but I seem to be all out of everything right now. Perhaps it’s kind of a a void that’s opened up since I finally handed in the fruits of four years of work; a kind of anti-climax and the appearance of a complete lack of direction. I think that I expected some sort of epiphany or revelatory experience once I’d handed in The Thesis – like, as if the planets would align and my path ahead in life would suddenly be made clear and that I’d forge ahead with doing what I want to do and being what I want to be. Alarmingly though, the opposite is true: what am I supposed to do now? What’s expected of me? Who am I supposed to ‘be’ and why? Perhaps it’s simply the absence of something that’s occupied my head for four years that all those other feelings – the thoughts of insecurity, the lack of major life goals and the mountain of self-criticism – come to the fore and are no longer being shouted down by the noisier stresses that previously inhabited my brain. It’s little like emerging from a damp, dingy cave (made of Thesis-writing and headdesk) only to emerge into the sunlight to discover that it’s no warmer, dryer or less full of headdesk than where you were before; except now there’s a whole lot more of it, too.


Perhaps it was simply optimistic to think that everything would be a magical, rosy picnic once The Thesis was done, but when you’ve worked so hard on something for so long, it’s a natural feeling to feel some level of relief once it’s gone; I just thought it might last longer, that’s all. I’ve never been particularly good at embracing Change or shake-ups in life, although it must be said that I have learned how to be fairly adaptable to such change when it’s been forced upon me and to hollow out my comfortable life in whatever new regime. Right now, though, I’m in this sort of Limbo state of existence; halfway between a past life and some future one; all direction lost in the fog. The reference to Limbo (the video game) is more than just casual, since most of the inside of my brain currently feels a bit like a dark, atmospheric world that’s out to get me and I feel no more prepared for it than a nameless boy sent forth into it to seeks answers to questions that aren’t yet fully formed.

I’m more than a little aware, at the moment, of the passage of time. It seems to be rocketing by at quite a pace, and I’m becoming increasingly anxious that it won’t be too long before I’m due to be thrust out of my current job potentially into a gaping chasm of (at the moment, at least) Unemployment. I’ve been preparing a few steps towards establishing some sort of job, but haven’t really started Employment Quest™ properly in earnest; largely because I have no idea what I want to do. Sure, I guess I still have dreams, but I’ve lost a little faith in my abilities such that I’ll feel like a fraud if I tried making inroads towards them; and would be disheartened by the rejection when it inevitably came. I’m not scared of Change per se, but whilst I keep drawing a complete blank when pressed about what I’d like to do with my life it feels impossible to know where to start looking.

I suppose that’s the nub of the problem: I generally feel adrift. I’ve been happily pottering downriver in my boat, doing my best to bail out water that’s seeping through the hull and trying to avoid getting drowned in the rapids, such that now I’m in the open sea, I’ve lost all will and direction to figure out which island to visit first. Guidance about the correct path in life can only really come from within, but I’m struggling to decipher my true thoughts and feelings from amongst the deafening noises of doubt and self-criticism. There’s a general sense that I’m merely treading water in many aspects of my existence and function in my own little world; not really contributing to any firm Life Plan but simply trying to exist from one moment to the other without sabotaging my own sails or totally capsizing.


Of course, this is just a sticky patch. I’m aware that this is likely only a temporary period of feeling absolutely, truly mediocre and that I shall soon, with any luck, have my courses set for exciting destinations and rip-roaring adventures. If anything, I just need to keep trudging on through the viscous, gloopy treacle of insecurity and indecision. Perhaps, once I feel like I’m making progress with anything (from career opportunities, to actual research work, to getting my research paper[s] published, to passing my viva, to being more comfortable with myself and my appearance, to figuring out what makes me properly happy in life), all of the other pieces will start to fall into place and I’ll be able to make progress elsewhere, too. But, while I’m still feeling adrift and distant from everyone and everything, summoning the energy to start sailing  anew each day is a constant struggle; followed by fresh disappointment when night-time comes and I feel no closer to dry land. A lifetime on the waves ain’t no place for a steely landlubber, and this dainty swab thinks it’s high time he found harbour.

There’s a lighthouse out there somewhere I’m sure; I just need to make sure that I don’t needlessly sail myself into the rocks before I stumble across it.


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PhD Fraud #05: Crashing Around You


A few weeks back, before I went and had super-fun at Bestival 2012 (my review can be found here), I spent three days or so at Cumberland Lodge in the middle of Windsor Great Park discussing the prospects for a postgraduate-graduate and meeting with a whole slew of people from across the country and a whole bunch of PhD disciplines in a similar situation of pre- or post-thesis preparations. This post partly acts as a personal debrief for everything that I learnt at the event, but also explores a few of my continuing ‘PhD Fraud’ themes that have populated my other posts in this series thus far.

What may be surprising is that it was not the talks from interesting set of speakers, nor the discussions with other (confident) PhD students attending the conference that gave me the most food for thought, but a stimulating all-night conversation with someone who (in many ways) feels a lot like me, and in a similar position through her project, of feeling a complete Fraud at postgraduate research. Usually, I speak to students who’re still passionate and confident about their work, but rarely talk to those who’re happy to admit that they hate their PhD and just don’t want to do it any more. Perhaps we genuinely are the only people out there who are completely at odds with their research (and I don’t believe that for a second), but I was surprised just how much I didn’t feel able to connect with those who were perfectly satisfied (and passionate) about their work: I just couldn’t compute how that felt, to still enjoy what you’re doing, and to be excited each day to get back to work.

It’s no big secret that I’ve (kind of) fallen out of love with my PhD: I’ve misplaced the passion that I had for it, and now merely wish to see the process through and see the ink dry on the piece of paper saying that I’ve been passed and can finally move on to a different project, potentially at a different institution or field. I know for sure that it’s just a cocktail of coincedence: a combination of a topic that’s kept moving out of my grasp, a project that’s deviated considerably from its initial definition and the sheer amount of time I’ve spent concentrating on one, single thing. The chance to get started on something new is something that I will relish, and hopefully on a topic that I find more engaging than my current work. I’ve not lost my passion for all things space and satellites, but I’d prefer to move on from the miniscule little niche that I’ve chipping away at in one of the very lonely corners of that world.

I’m also just starting a course of mentoring to help me work better. A lot of the time, I find I have significant problems gaining the motivation to start work each day, that by the time I’ve raised the courage to really get started, it’s nearly the end of the day or I’m too tired to actually get anywhere. Maybe that’s the stress and frustration talking, but I kind of don’t really feel that there’s anything about my work/daily routine that gets me out of bed in the morning; nothing to motivate me to get working other than ‘it needs to be done’. Many of the other attendees of the conference were students from the humanities: for which they’ve chosen their research subject, presumably, because of some prior enthusiasm or interest for their chosen topic. I imagine this prior passion inspires armfuls of motivation to completely engross yourself in your subject, and pursue research out of both necessity (for awarding of degree) and personal interest. In the sciences, students largely move with the funding, occupying whatever task/project needs taken on at that time: often, passion for the field will reflect in the research, but perhaps less often: fr’instance, I wouldn’t dream of performing simulations of sea surface radar signatures in my spare time, but if I was doing a PhD on The Influence of Star Wars on Modern Science-Fiction Movies, I’d probably spend all my time in front of a DVD player and projector.

That being said, I’m still very aware of being switched ‘on’ all the time; always worried about my work, or that my whole life might come crashing down on me any minute – not necessarily about the work itself (I yearn for the night I bolt upright with some truly world-changing inspiration), but about its impact and on all that stuff I have to do tomorrow. It’s not so much that I’m kept awake at night over it (at least, not yet), but I can never seem to escape the Doubt nor switch on the Conviction to succeed. I’m desperately terrified that I’ll get “found out”, or that suddenly my supervisors/faculty will realise that I’m actually not a good enough student, and I’ll be kicked out into the street. Or worse, I’ll write up my thesis only for everyone involved to go: “Is that it?” and I’ll come out of this PhD journey with nothing; or worse, the ‘consolation prize’ of an MPhil or some other token degree that’s an acceptance that I definitely tried, but that I most definitely failed.

Heck, I even feel such a fraud that, should the stars align and I suddenly become the luckiest bastard alive and manage to pass my viva, I think I’ll probably feel guilty about calling myself ‘Doctor’; like I haven’t really earned it, I was just in the right place at the right time. Perhaps I’ll go the complete opposite way and change my name to ‘Dr. Thundersmash’, then at least my name will be about as credible as I feel.


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