I’ve talked a bit about my background in the last post…or got it out of my system 😀 I mean there is a reason why some people claim that journaling helps so, let’s see about that J Moving on to my reflections on my first year as a PhD, which basically consisted of exclusively negative EVERYTHING!
However, let me start from the beginning:
Well, the first warning sign should have been how I reacted to getting a PhD position. I do not know why, it had been the goal I have been working towards for a long time, but when I got the news it was a very short-lived “Yayy!”, but it felt more as if it was more of a “ticking the box” moment of achieving something, that anything else. Like, ok did that, what is next now? I do not want to sound ungrateful here. Believe me, I know what incredible achievement it is, or at least I know how I should feel about it but I kind of keep this…hidden? A bit as if I think, meh, anyone could have done it. It is not REALLY an achievement. You HAVE to do MORE! PUSH yourself…
I’ve read quite about the initial feelings online and how other PhDs felt, and what I usually come across is this motivation diagram, which shows how PhD students feel about their thesis kind of. In addition to this a lot of people talk about the initial HIGH and EXCITEMENT they felt when they started their PhD…well, I can tell you I WAITED but it never came for me. Instead, I was terrified, all the time and doubting myself…CONSTANTLY! So in a way, I started with the valley of shit…
While I was waiting for the excitement boost, I also started to beat myself up for things I did not know (concepts, philosophers, traditions…) and tried to catch up and read more and more and more and more. MY “personality” kind of changed when I was at work/ a PhD environment: I would describe myself as a very confident, extrovert person, but I just switched completely, became super quiet, asked no questions and felt overall uncomfortable all the time. Reading seminars or anything where someone could ask me a question became moments of torture and massive inner stress…and I do not mean only the official seminars and lectures, but also lunch in the lunchroom. I never really felt like as if I found my place…or even DESERVED my place. I did not know how to talk to people what is the SMALLTALK you’re supposed to have during lunch?! I was just so tense ALL THE TIME!!!
Plus I felt like as if I was behind all the time, other PhD SAID they knew what they wanted to do and how, and I was just..ehm…IDK…I mean had an idea from the beginning, but others had an EXACT plan…So yeah. I was terrified and stressed.
I mean I know that it was not good to feel that way, so I started to google about this and came across forums and blog posts about other PhD students feeling similar and imposter syndrome. I read about it, not just online but even books…and even though some of it applied to me…I always thought yeah…this applies to others…but not to ME because I am worse…I’ve tried to tell myself the common things you should tell yourself, like; other have decided that you’re good enough to do this PhD, it is not your job to question that or every PhD project is different, you cannot compare yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself from a couple of months ago blablabla. You’re learning, view EVERYTHING as a learning experience. FUCK THIS!
Nothing helped. Some days and weeks I still felt like the worst failure in history, I cried and felt miserable and some days I could not get out of bed to do anything. I got so stressed about everything, and I also always felt bad…I questioned this whole PhD and the toll it was taking on my mental health.
I cannot really explain the desperate feelings I actually had…and I cannot say that I’ve completely overcome this…
I think pushing yourself is a good thing, but I’ve always done it in a really mean way. I am not kind to myself, quite the opposite, I am very self-critical, I expect so much from myself and I do not celebrate when I’ve finished sth or achieved something. Do not get me wrong, I appreciate the small things in life, and I would say that I am in general a very positive, optimistic person. I am happy when I catch the bus or if it snows outside 😀 But when it comes to ME, I am such a bad critic.
Weird thing is, that I EXCLUSIVELY got more than excellent feedback from my supervisors or comments on my assignment in courses…so why the bad feeling?!?!?!!?! I just could not stop it or help myself! Problem was/is that I simply do not believe them when they say something positive…or I think…why is this just a great text, not an EXCELLENT text, what could I have done more and BETTER?! Yeah, indeed, perfectionism is not really healthy, but it got me so far, what can I do now that it does hinder me instead of pushing me further?!
During my bachelor/masters, I always worked to push myself. To go the extra mile, to be mean and all this, but that was always during specific periods, just for an assignment and such, but now it is there CONSTANTLY! I guess this is the issue; well the issue is that I DO this, but I probably would have continued like this if the pressure was unbearable for just a short amount of time. However, this requires some action, and I know this. I am working on it and trying some things, but I will explain that in another blog post.