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Friday, 25 December 2015

Research and Rollercoasters

Christmas has never been a good time for me. Listening to other people crap on about how much fun they're going to have with their family only makes me dread the day even more, knowing that spending time with some members of my family is about as enjoyable as having a fork jammed into each eyeball.

It's also when my mood is at its lowest. Though it wasn't officially acknowledged (ie. by an actual doctor) until half way through last year, looking back I realise that depression is something that has hounded me my entire life, along with (to a lesser extent) some form of anxiety. I don't know if it's solely the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain or evil brain goblins messing with things they shouldn't (if 'brain goblins' isn't a medical term, it should be), or if it was the result of relentless emotional and physical bullying (from 'friends' almost as much as enemies) I endured all through primary school and through most of high school, but I've never had any self-esteem and have never felt truly happy. I thought it was normal for people who were supposed to care about you to treat you badly, I thought it was normal to be sad all the time, and I thought it was normal to feel worthless and that no one would care if I didn't wake up one day. Sometimes that feeling suffocates me like a blanket and sometimes it's more like a shadow I keep glimpsing out the corner of my eye, but it never really goes away. While there's no real pattern to my mood during the rest of the year - it's kind of like an unplanned rollercoaster with highs and lows - my fish are always dead in December.

Unfortunately the medications I've tried in the past not only gave me constant, skull-breaking migraines (even worse than the ones I usually get), they did not play well with my heart condition, triggering 3-4 episodes of tachycardia a day that were so bad I actually felt like I was dying; at this point it seems my only options are to be miserable or be seriously ill. As a result, I haven't really dealt with it, because I don't know how to deal with it. I don't know if I can. I've tried exercise, and though it sometimes helps during my milder phases, it does nothing when I'm in a really bad way. It's also something I can't really talk about with other people, because a) most people generally don't care and only want to make every conversation about themselves anyway, b) those few people who would care suffer from similar issues and I feel bad about making things worse for them, and c) because there's no specific trauma or event that is making me feel like this (and therefore nothing concrete that can be done to 'fix' it), it's hard to justify trying to talk about it ("Hey, I'm sad because I'm rubbish and my brain hates me for no reason. Now what?"). The fact that I dislike talking to people at the best of times and most human company in general doesn't help (related: I feel a certain kinship with this shark), mainly because conversations often go like this:
People around me: You can talk to me any time, I'm always here for you. You just need to learn to ask for help. 
Me: *tells them I'm struggling and tries to ask for help* 
People around me: Just cheer up, you'll get over it. Now let's talk about  MY problems...

Depression also does not give a crap about deadlines, which makes doing a PhD far more difficult than it already is. It's nearly impossible to force yourself to read through stacks of articles and type up your findings and put it all into some sort of order when simply dragging yourself to your desk seems like it will take more energy than you possess. It's also a lot harder to concentrate on anything, so everything takes 2-3 times longer than it should. So you put things off, and put things off, and then you realise you have something due soon and you become paralysed by a combination of stress at not knowing where to start and guilt for not starting earlier, compounded by the voice in the back of your mind that constantly tells you that you're garbage and are not good enough and deserve to fail. As a result, the whole thing becomes a vicious circle of self loathing and chaos and sniffling pathetically over your keyboard at 4 in the morning as you shovel an entire box of Ferrero Rochers down your throat.

So far, the only way I've found to try to get around this (with varying levels of success) is to plan every little task that needs to be completed each day, breaking them down into sub-tasks where possible. It doesn't help when something takes longer than I anticipate, and people often make fun of me for being 'anally retentive' and being so obsessed with making lists, but sometimes ticking off one item on my list (even if it's something dumb like 'draw two character designs') makes me feel like I'm making some progress. Of course, planning things out so precisely means that when something happens to disrupt my plans (which is often), I get even more stressed. I don't really like change. Another thing that tends to happen is if I'm working on one thing, I feel guilty about not working on something else, so I go work on that something else instead, and THEN I feel guilty about not working on a third something (this also makes it really hard to do any fun activities like video games or social events because the whole time my brain is screaming at me "YOU SHOULD BE WORKING!").

I'm definitely stuck in a low part of the rollercoaster at the moment, but, I feel like I should try to end on a positive note, so I am thankful that my metabolism allows me to consume half my body weight in chocolate at once on a regular basis and still remain a size 10.

Guest appearance from my Nan's little dogs, Spot and Dash:


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