Stories from the borderline of madness

I wrote my first post-dissertation very quickly. Apart from writing, I lost my life. I slept days, I wrote the nights. I didn’t even go outside. That’s not to say that I went to my home outside of my home mainly to get food from a local Chinese restaurant. When you live for several weeks this way, you start thinking of strange thoughts. The increasingly fragile junctions of the decaying everyday world are beginning to become a nasty rash. The idea of ​​reality begins to loosen. I realized later that I should not be allowed to enter such a state. In between, you need to open windows and doors, let the light come in the form of other people and life.

Blurring the sense of reality is just one symptom that a researcher might encounter. I have already mentioned how the academic environment attacks the researcher’s self-esteem. One symptom of this is a phenomenon that is commonly referred to as a scam syndrome. ‘Syndrome’ is not a good name because it is not a disease or a syndrome. However, in the absence of a better term, this refers to the experience that a person is not a true or genuine researcher but a scammer who expects to be revealed. I am treated as a researcher but I am not really that. I look for someone to notice my cheating at any moment. The director throws me out, my dissertation is not accepted, I get a shoe.

I have not been able to find a study on the prevalence of such experience. However, something says that I suffer for many years. Of all the researchers I know (of which there are at least 100), only a few have not experienced this feeling. That is, practically everyone is feeling cheated and afraid of being exposed.

As we have already seen, the various symptoms of anxiety and depression are the most typical. When I talk about anxiety and depression, I am not just talking about anxiety or depression. Every person at some point in his life gets his share of the experiences of anxiety and depression. This does not mean that they are ill or have mental health problems. Medically diagnosed anxiety and depression disorders are different things than such everyday experiences.

I say a few words about depression because it’s the most familiar to myself. Depression is a deadly illness: two to seven percent of the victims commit suicide. Over 60% of sufferers have suicidal thoughts or plans. Depression is one of the key global factors that causes disability, exclusion, other illnesses and general misery of life. We really should stop and upset when we realize the fact that a third of postgraduate students suffer from moderate to severe depression. One-third of the nation’s future hopes, smart and young people with all life ahead. It is not a bad day, a gloomy moment, or a subjugation, from which “a guy is gonna rise by himself when he’s a little pimp”. Depression kills people, and the lives of survivors can well tear to shards.

As is well known, symptoms of depression include, for example, insomnia, involuntaryness, lack of initiative, emotional flattening, and paralyzing self-accusations. At worst, a space is created that is very difficult to describe for those who have not experienced it.

Imagine waking up in the morning after a couple of hours of sleep. The first thing that comes to mind is that you should have gone to bed earlier. When you go to the morning shower, you will be reminded at least three or four times that you haven’t done your job properly. You have actually failed. When you travel by bus, you see other people. They are all well, their lives are meaningful and they are loved. You are not loved and no one can love. Every moment feels meaningless and empty. At the workplace, everyone is reminded of how unkind and miserable you are. On the bus home you wonder how these other people can hope for a good life. For you, the future will not bring anything new, but only the same plucking from day to day. If you enjoy watching movies, you won’t enjoy it anymore. Now it mainly reminds you that you should be doing something useful. At night you try to sleep but it doesn’t work.

This description is not even close to the worst forms of depression, so that it is not even possible to work at work. It doesn’t work because the sick person is almost overwhelmed with getting out of bed. I myself, thank God, have gone so deeply. However, it is a reality for many.

Three years ago I got a diagnosis of moderate depression. The result did not come as a surprise to me: the space had developed over several years. The causes of depression are, of course, many, and I do not want to claim that it is solely due to the state of our academy and the demands of research work. For example, my own situation was affected by a difficult backlash from abroad in the aftermath of the return. However, it is clear that my work and working environment also contributed to my depression in many different ways.

I highlight one key factor that, in my opinion, reveals something both about the nature of research work and about the academic environment. Over the years, there was a development in which the boundaries of work and other life had disappeared. This is one of the dangers of summoning work, as has already been shown. In many areas, the loss of work and leisure limits means that the number of hours worked increases and leisure time is short. This can also be the case in research work, but the situation on my own was much more cunning. I didn’t use all my hours for work, I had a lot of “free time”, but the work was always on my mind. It captured my entire life, my identity, and absorbed all my goals and My goals. I and my work became one, whole object.

My UK research scientist is holding a blog where he talks about the difficulties of research at different levels. A few years ago, he wrote a post that was of particular interest to a colleague. This colleague was in a good position in his career, an internationally renowned researcher. Yet he felt dissatisfied with his work, suffering from self-accusations and feelings of inadequacy. Every criticism he received was like a blow to the heart. Uncertainty in his academic career was the uncertainty of his identity. The difficulty of the study meant the total failure of his life. He waited for the study to fulfill all the goals and goals of his life.

Only later did I realize that my friend wrote his blog about me. I was that colleague. I just couldn’t see it myself. Now, when the worst is over and I have been able to separate myself a better job, I can see more clearly my past. My friend saw me more outwardly than I did myself.

It is easy to see how such a merger promotes depression. The academic environment does not offer clear prospects for the future. It mainly offers criticism, if any. Lonely drilling shows that the problems encountered in the research are huge. If, in my mind, I draw the signs of similarity in life between success and success at work, I will fall into the bottomless pit because success in research is very difficult, if not impossible. As an award, I get epic depression.

How can I survive?

How then can a single postgraduate student protect himself / herself from such difficulties? In response, I do not have to offer just a bit of latitude. For example, depression is subjectively so heavy and difficult that good advice, such as maintaining physical activity and meeting friends, is automatically felt on the floor.

The above-mentioned study proposes the granting of a global mental health crisis and a swift adherence to action. Firstly, it proposes that universities pay more attention to supervising postgraduate students and promoting their careers. Doctors should not be trained if they do not have a job. Secondly, a major cultural change is required in the study. Depression and the suffering of the mind still carry some kind of stigma. You are weak if you acknowledge your limitations and inability. This phenomenon is stronger in the English Academy than in Finland. Yet it is our failure to give our own difficulties. It is difficult for a postgraduate student to bring such things up with his supervisor. Because the problems are so common and there is a great risk of the whole life being destroyed, a new kind of awareness of the mental health of the researchers is urgently needed.

I would like to draw particular attention to the third proposal for research: to find a healthy balance between work and life. This is also something that the British colleague I have mentioned above also emphasizes. A healthy balance does not just mean that the researcher keeps his spare time. This is just a good start. As it turned out, the researcher does not only work during his working time because he thinks all the time. It is precisely for this reason that the separation of work and leisure is a particular problem. At worst, the researcher finds himself in a situation where life and work merge.

There are many ways to prevent such a merger. It is vital to keep social networks out of work. Non-academic friends remove minds from work. It is important to maintain non-academic goals and activities. These can be almost anything. Begin with a new hobby where you can strive forward. Join a group, community, or association. You also need to care about these things. You must support and maintain the passions of passion and sources of enthusiasm beyond academic life. In your life, there must be diverse goals and meaningful efforts to make research failures fail for the rest of your life.

Families with no family are at particular risk. In addition to friends, the family is a key protective wall against anxiety and depression. The family gives out-of-work goals and meaning to life. It keeps the work in its place in order of precedence. Lone people do not have this protection. It is easier for them to slip into a situation where research-related thoughts color every moment and where research is the only factor that makes life meaningful.

In fact, I am trying to dismantle the symbiosis of my work and my minutes through therapy and life changes. I’m trying to change my behavior and thinking. Sounds simple but in reality it’s very difficult. Mind has a tendency to follow familiar paths. Tapping new ones takes time and energy. Learning new kinds of reactions, reasoning, and thinking means a kind of inner war in which one part of my mind is opposed to another part of my mind. The inner struggle consumes, so you should be gracious to yourself. Building self-confidence in an environment that aims to defeat it is a difficult task.

One way to fight the scattering effect of the academic environment is to strive to create peer groups where experience can be shared and supported. As the environment seeks to break down solidarity, it must be systematically built. You have to create your own bubble, where you can tell painful experiences and appreciate and help. Such an activity cannot be organized institutionally from the top, but must emerge from the bottom, friendships and mutual trust between people in the same situation. Maybe your group can meet semi-officially once a month or at least a few times a year. Set up a Facebook group or something similar.

A weak self-esteem inviting worker is at risk of saying anything. Because I want respect and respect, I am not able to refuse the tasks offered. That’s the honor for me. What would people think if I refused? They’d think I couldn’t, I’m not good enough. This must not happen. You must systematically fight for affection. The longer you spend at the Academy, the more variety of positions of trust, bureaucracy and more you can put on your desk. In my dissertation, the counselor gave harsh advice: automatically refuse anything that is not directly related to your research. Over time, however, these other tasks will be compelled by force. It is good that you get even a few years when you can concentrate on your research. That is, to protect yourself by learning from the very beginning the harshness and refusal. Learn to say no firmly and loudly.

Depression and poor self-esteem will easily lead to inability to judge one’s own work ability and performance realistically. Because there is no upper limit for either, the researcher will easily have any kind of distortion in this particular case. I myself tend to design my work according to perfectly imagined requirements. I think that because I should be able to do six articles a year, for example, I have to plan this work. In reality, jobs will go at least twice the time, usually in triple time, as what I have reserved for them. This, in turn, leads me to feel that I am always late and trailing. I can not achieve anywhere near all the things which I have planned to get time. This in turn results in a constant feeling of inadequacy and failure, regardless of actual performance. Therefore, in order to protect mental health, it is vitally important to learn to truly identify your own performance and to plan your work according to this realistic estimate, rather than an idealized imagination.

Finally, it is worth mentioning a few latitudes about the treatment of depression. Studies show that regular exercise is a very effective remedy for depression. Many have received help from medication, although I myself feel a bit critical. Often, the side effects of drugs are as if they clear the benefits. However, I do not want to criticize them too: especially those suffering from severe depression and anxiety have reached the state of medicine where other forms of treatment begin to work. Various forms of psychotherapy also disrupt depression. There may also be other benefits: you may learn to feel better and control yourself more effectively. It is advisable to pull down the threshold for seeking therapy. Many problems could have been avoided if the therapy had been applied earlier, not only when severe depression is on. Healthy lifestyles and diets also maintain good health and protect mental health problems. A few more years ago, they sounded like a laughter in my ear, which they are undeniably. But the fact that it is flat does not mean that it is not true.

Afterword

Every time a student approaches me in the postgraduate studies, I like to give them an intimidation, in which I paint in front of him the dark vision described above. My intention is to make them horrified. I do not do this for my own pleasure, but for their benefit. It is important that they have a realistic picture of the work and its challenges when they make their decisions.

Someone could consider my description biased and tinted with my own problems. This is probably true. Reality may not be as grim as it seems to me. In addition, the experience of many others of the reality of the researcher is brighter and more courageous. But my experiences are not random, but studies show many researchers feel the same. I belong to one third of researchers who suffer from mental health problems. It is also important to have their voice heard, even if every graduate student has 1/3 of the chance to join them.

Sometimes I hope someone would have scared me when I wanted to be a postgraduate student. Of course, this intimidation would not have stopped me, as it would hardly stop anyone seeking their vocation. However, it could have prepared me for the inevitable moment when my mind was attacked. Maybe I could handle myself in advance and not just afterwards.