In The Zone

My last blog post was pretty gloomy, and led to lots of people asking if I was okay. That wasn’t the intention of that post – but thanks to all those lovely people who reached out!

Good news is that things are going much better. That bit of Fear really gave me a kick up the proverbial and made me just sit down and do stuff. So now I’m what I like to call ‘In The Zone’, which has many benefits, but also its problems.

For me, being In The Zone is being (reasonably) focused, able and willing to get up, sometimes go to the gym, get breakfast, sit down at my desk, and being prepared to stay sat there all day. And often most of the evening. And then doing the same thing the next day. And the next. And over the weekend. Even the Bank Holiday weekend (I’m not bitter about that at all.. nope).

And really, that’s probably what most people expect of a PhD student, that constant pressure to be constantly working which I’ve fought against for the last almost 4 years. I’ve tried hard to keep my evenings and weekends free, but now it’s crunch time, and stuff needs to get done, so something has to give.

Sacrificing my free time isn’t one of the problems I was talking about, though – I always knew that would need to happen at some point. The problem with this phase of working is getting too stuck in your own head. You’re in there, just you, all day. I work mostly from home these days, so apart from the other half getting home in the evenings, I rarely talk to an actual face-to-face human. So you’re trapped in your own mind, talking to yourself (sometimes out loud), focused on the task at hand, and just working. And this is great! You get lots done, you feel good at the end of the day, so good you often continue working.

But it’s very easy to stay up there, in your head, when it’s time to come out. Like when your other half gets home and tries to have a conversation, and you respond with mumbled, half-formed sentences (sorry, Josh). Or when you meet friends at the pub on the one occasion you let yourself free of your study-prison, and all you can do is stand there wide-eyed and smile manically at the many people and noises and colours of the world outside (sorry, friends). It can be really hard to dismount your own brain for a bit and engage with the world, especially if you know it’s only for a few hours until you have to work again. But it’s important to try. Last night I gave myself an evening off to recharge and went to the Science Museum Lates, which also served to remind me of all the cool science and sci-comm going on out there, and why I kept at this sodding PhD.

So although The Fear was pretty scary and really not welcome at the time, through writing about it here and getting lots of lovely people saying lovely supportive things (along with a long weekend in Amsterdam), it has been enough to push me into what is rightly the most productive part of my PhD. But if you find me wandering around in the outside world, muttering spidery-sounding words and cowering from the bright sunlight, please shoo me back to my study.



The Fear


It’s nighttime. It’s here again. That hard, swirling knot in my chest, tying itself up and up again in endless ways, and me along with it.

The panic, the fear, the guilt. Panic of so much to do. Fearing it won’t, it can’t get done. The guilt at not having done more already.

It hurts, almost. I retreat into my head, trapped in an endless cycle of fear, forceful calm, then hopelessness. My heart is beating fast.

How do you stop it? What makes it go away? I’ve felt it before, many times, but I can’t remember just how and why it ends. I’ve a terrible feeling it’s just… Giving in. Stopping caring so much. How many times can I give in a little and let go, stop worrying, and still produce worthwhile work? How many times can this happen before I give up?

Reading this over in the cold light of day, it seems so dramatic. It’s just a PhD, just a thesis, just one document. How can it cause this much grief? Those who haven’t been through a PhD or similar may not understand – hell, even I don’t really understand. And those who are tough and organised and smart and confident (do these people even exist?) may not relate, either.

It’s subsided now. I feel almost silly for having felt that way, having written those words. Sort of ashamed.

But it’ll come back. And with deadlines looming, I know it’ll get worse before it gets better. I know I can hold on until the end. Push through, get it done. But will ‘it’ be enough? I guess only time will tell.

Also see: Taming Monsters & Fears of Failure 

I Couldn’t Wait To Write My Thesis And Now I Wish I Was Doing Literally Anything Else

Catchy title, eh?

I haven’t written a blog post for ages, so what better time than now, when I’m in the angst and terror of writing up my thesis?

Searching through my draft posts to see if there was something I could conjure up from those, I stumbled upon one from March 2015 entitled “I Can’t Wait To Write My Thesis”. HAH! Not only is that hilarious in itself, it also contained the line “love the idea of sitting and writing everyday – currently my idea of bliss. Sure this will change.” Yes, it damn well will change, Past Me, you moron.

Actually… it’s not changed that much. I still like the idea of sitting down and writing every day. It just doesn’t really happen. I write a bit, I change it, I write a bit more, I change that. I create some data tables, edit some figures. Then I get sidetracked and discover yet another gorgeous font I may or may not use. Usually at this point I leave the house and get annoyed at how lovely being outdoors is, regardless of weather, and return not feeling energised and enthused, as planned, but grumpy and bitter.

So I’ve got <*puts fingers in ears* LA-LA-LA, I can’t hear you!> months until my thesis is due in. Time is really tight. But, I think I’m finally getting to the point where at the end of a day, progress has been made, and I haven’t just written stuff and unwritten it again, or found something wrong with my code or analysis and spent the day fixing that instead.

It’s a really really weird time. I don’t go into work much; I write better from home. It’s lonely. I get absurdly happy when I’m outside the house, and if I manage to make it into a pub I almost weep with delight. It’s nice being on my own time, but there’s so much pressure to be working constantly, as there always is throughout PhDs. But I’ve settled into a kind of manic calm acceptance.

I won’t lie, I’ll be very happy when this is handed in. Or, most likely, I’ll be apathetic, as I’ve heard several people say it’s oddly underwhelming once you finally finish. Of course, handing in isn’t the finish, there’s the viva terror and then however many months of corrections.

So, um… I’m not entirely sure what the point of this post is, except to serve as something else to do instead of writing my thesis. And to share the weirdness of these final stages of PhD. I’d be interested to know how everyone else feels at this stage – pop me a line in the comments or tweet me @michelleareeve. Thanks to making it to the end of my thesis-fuelled drivel!

If you liked this post, you should probably be writing your thesis, too. Go on, go!