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Limbo-Log #3: Where did the week go?

This time I’m trying a different format for my ‘limbo-log’ post as it has proven tricky sometimes to remember to make a note of what I’ve been up to in the day/time format.

I’ve also been using Toggl to track my time. I first used this during the first year of my PhD, out of interest to see how my time spent on different tasks related to one another, but it’s proven more interesting to track my current status of various different types of tasks. The following is from a one week period, and I’ll describe my categories as we go (and mention things I DIDN’T track).

MUSIC PRACTICE (7 hours, 7 minutes) – this was a pretty decent amount of practice for the week. I almost always track my time spent on violin practice as it can sometimes be a motivating factor. Having said that, when I’m not doing too well, it can also be disheartening! I didn’t include in this the time I spent playing the keyboard with my brother to teach him how to read bass clef.

TUTORING (5 hours, 50 minutes) – this is the time spent only in the actual sessions. As it’s summer this fluctuates a lot, and this week I taught 3 different postgraduate psychology students.

DOG WALKING (4 hours, 15 minutes) – I don’t get paid for this, but I walk someone else’s dog to give me a bit of motivation to get out of the house and do some exercise.

WORK APPLICATIONS (3 hours, 30 minutes) – I include the time spent looking for things I’d like to apply to, as well as actually writing applications. A large chunk of this week’s time was interview prep, as I had to put together a session plan and a ‘micro-teach’ to deliver as part of the interview [I spent many hours on this in total and didn’t get the job].

FAMILY (3 hours) – Most of the family were away but I went to have lunch at my grandparents’ house.

OTHER MUSIC (2 hours, 11 minutes) – looking up music theory stuff, doing practice aural exercises, reading about music history, etc. I also made a separate category for ‘attempts at composition’ but didn’t do any this week.

TUTORING-RELATED (at least 1 hour, 58 minutes) – this is where I include all of the admin-type tasks such as responding to messages, managing bookings, and of course preparing content/exercises if required for sessions. I imagine this to take a lot more time (and mental energy) than recorded, as firstly, I often don’t record the few minutes here and there for replying to single emails etc, and secondly, I’m often thinking about these things in between other tasks.

RESOURCE MAKING (1 hour, 50 minutes) – separately to the resources I make for my tutoring students, I’ve also been working on making general resources over summer both for commonly-requested topics and to sell on TES.

MUSIC PSYCHOLOGY (48 minutes) – at the moment this is mainly reading and self-teaching activities.

PHD-RELATED (16 minutes) – this is where I include things that stem from my PhD work, such as the publications I’m working on with my supervisors. This week was just a quick discussion with one supervisor about a small section of a paper that’s nearly ready to be sent off for review. Things I maybe could have included here would be the long time I spent ordering guest tickets and academic attire for my graduation ceremony.

And what I didn’t log…

Food (eating, making, etc) – I often don’t spend long planning or cooking and it might be good in future to be able to mentally categorise these activities as productive!

A lot of the weekend time which was spent with my partner.

TV / youtube time.

Miscellaneous reading time – both fiction and non-fiction (which I’m trying to increase).

The Weight of Many Niggles

There’s always something slightly wrong, isn’t there?

Today I’m concerned about a tooth. For context, I have an extremely tough time at the dentist, but successfully completed 3 fillings and a root canal earlier this year and left with a clean slate after the last check-up in June. But I felt something weird earlier whilst eating crisps and noticed what looks like a possible cavity when looking in the mirror.

Small thing, right? May not even BE a thing if I give it a day or too. I hope.

If this was the first thing to crop up in a while, I’d probably be dealing with it a bit better. (Probably not dealing with it well anyway, given the stress and cost of a potential dentist visit). It isn’t though.

Last week I was at my GP to rule out vascular issues because I have something wrong in my ear that causes pulsatile noise. I’m in progress with a referral to physio and a referral to CBT (again). I also had a panic attack in the middle of the night and I’m incredibly constipated today. Sure that info isn’t all nice, but…it conveys my point.

These things weigh on a person.

Nobody wants to spend their time attempting to convince themselves not to worry about a concern that may or may not turn out to need attention. Nobody wants to spend their time being worried about the prospect of pain or other problems developing through inaction…or wasted time through unnecessary action. Nobody wants to spend their time on decision-paralysis over little niggles.

Interview and Anxiety

Tomorrow I have a job interview.

I’ve spent hours over the last two weeks putting together the written assignment that was set out in the interview invitation. I’ve thought about things I’d do if I worked in the job. I’ve dug out my smart clothes. I even made a plan to wait around in the city for 2 hours afterwards so that I could go and have dinner with my girlfriend who works at the same university.

Today I cried. I don’t want to go. I am anxious about a new situation and I feel under-prepared. I’m tired. I resent having to drive to the city and back twice this week. I resent that attending the interview is going to take my whole day. I resent that I have to put in all this effort an not have a guaranteed outcome. I resent that if it goes successfully, the prize is job where my anxiety would likely result in me sitting and crying every week when it’s time to go and do the teaching sessions.

People have advised me that that won’t happen, because it’s not the same as my PhD / associated teaching work. But that’s not the problem. I am problematic. In school, in university, in my PhD, in my teaching, in my casual job…I have pre-session-cried far too often simply because I am overwhelmingly anxious about having to attend a specific place at an externally-defined time.

I don’t know how to fix that.

Avoidance has been the typical strategy. I know that it is bad to always avoid things when I have the urge to avoid everything. I know that I need to engage with the world more, even if that’s just to ensure that I continue to get opportunities to engage with the world.

But it is not getting any easier. Take orchestra for an example – even after over 2 months of attending (with no bad outcomes) every week, I was still crying in the car park.

Motivation is important, but anxious doubts can easily creep into that. I want that job. It’s an ideal location (I could fit back into my burgeoning social and love life), it’s “only” 3 days per week but good salary (financial stability for the first time in 2 years AND I could still have time to do a lot of stuff I’m worried I’d miss), it will add a better institution and more ‘respectable’ teaching experience to my CV (and stop the ever-expanding “gap” between “real” jobs), give me real-life interactions with students, give me colleagues to talk to, a decent pension scheme, access to an academic library, and nobody (including me) can think I’m lazy anymore.

But. I’m scared I’ll hate it. I’m struggling to define what I like to do and what I want to achieve. I don’t want to have to move house again already. I’m not ready for another supervisor relationship. And I can’t promise that I can handle showing up at the same time every week without having a fucking breakdown.

Addictive Solitude

Tomorrow is the last guaranteed alone day I’ll have for some months because this weekend, my brother is moving in with me.

Now, I like my brother. He’s a pain in the arse at times but we’re on good terms, we look out for each other, and as much as he likes to pretend otherwise, he’s just as shy and socially-awkward as I am. We all are. It’s genetic, I’m sure. I can’t pretend that this change isn’t going to be incredibly weird for me, having spent most of the last five years living alone with only short stretches of staying in the same house as other people.

I’m an introvert by nature, and I absolutely detested living with (loud) strangers as an undergraduate. Naturally then, given a stipend and a new city to locate myself in, I chose to have a space that was entirely my own. Then I moved and did it again, with a bigger space. Then one more time: entire house that isn’t mine but I have to myself unless/until any siblings show up.

A battle I often have with myself is whether I choose to have an extensive amount of alone time because I enjoy it in some way…or whether I have an extensive amount of alone time because I get too anxious to sustain regular outside-the-house/social activities. I’m surprised I’ve sustained a relationship for a year – but then my girlfriend is of similar temperament and our ‘together time’ is often almost as relaxed as ‘alone time’ and we don’t put pressure on each other to go out and/or be energetic all the time.

Either way though, my brain seems to experience reward in response to solitude – whether directly, or through the abatement of anxiety, who knows. So it’s difficult to break the pattern. Yes, I do sometimes wish for something different to happen…but I don’t want to lose my rewarding solitary time. As horrible as it sounds, especially now that I ‘lose’ such time every week to spend with my partner. (What a horrible thing to even think, I chastise myself, especially having ‘wasted’ many, many hours even just today not enjoying the alone time I’ve had).

Somehow additional tasks sometimes weigh heavily on the alone time that I have…for example, an overnight trip (lasting less than 24 hours) is in my head for over a week before it happens. I sometimes resent teaching, the source of income that allows me flexible time, for chipping into an otherwise ‘free’ day.

I look forward to my next ‘free’ alone time…but am rarely satisfied. How long is long enough? And how come I still feel sad when it ends?

Rediscovering “Doing Nothing”

It’s taken a long time to regain some level of comfort in just being in a comfort zone – without a constant thought of having unspecified work to do, or having anxiety-provoking events hanging over me, or simply fear of failure. Some of these things are still present some of the time, but this weekend in particular allowed me to re-value the things that PhD-me might have regarded as “nothing”.

Sitting on the grass with my girlfriend and my borrowed dog, taking sweet pictures and lounging in the shade. Crafting a big dish of dessert. Watching TV concerts without simultaneously messing on my phone or emails or reading. Playing scrabble without keeping score.

The uniting thing here is that all of these things are made better when there is no time pressure. I wonder if the secret to starting to relax is starting to let go of constantly caring what time it is.

The Week in Food

MONDAY

Breakfast – Tinned pineapple slices, and strawberry jelly

Lunch – Chicken chow mein (microwave meal), viennese whirls, and chocolate

Dinner – Tuna sandwich, crisps, and viennese whirls

Snacks – Crisps

TUESDAY

Breakfast – Granola with dried strawberries, cranberry and raspberry juice

Lunch – Pork sandwich, pineapple slices, crisps, chocolate

Dinner – Mashed potato, baked beans and cheese, and crisps

Snacks – Ice lolly, chocolate, apple

WEDNESDAY (long conference day)

Breakfast – [oops]

Lunch – A slice of a bacon salad wrap thing, vegetable samosa, crisps, 2 veggie quiche tarts, slice of orange, slice of pineapple, and slice of cake

Dinner – Vegetable spring rolls and chicken flavoured noodles

Snacks – Ice lolly, kit kat

THURSDAY

Breakfast – [oops again]

Lunch – Supermarket salad bar’s pasta salad (Italian pasta, Korean noodles, and some Pesto pasta thing, all in the same dish) and 2 double chocolate cookies

Dinner – Ham and lettuce sandwich and another cookie

Snacks – Strawberries

FRIDAY

Breakfast – Cheese pastry

Lunch – Ham salad sandwich and a chocolate cornflake bun

Dinner – Roast chicken and potatoes with peas and gravy (my girlfriend made dinner! She’s a much better cook than I, and she actually enjoys cooking.)

Snacks – Jelly bears, an orange, bakewell slice

SATURDAY

Breakfast – Toast

Lunch – Bacon, baked beans, and chips

Dinner – Pasta with chicken, tomato, spinach, onion, and cheese (my girlfriend made dinner again and it was amazing!)

Snacks – Chocolate, cherry cake, cookies

SUNDAY

Brunch (it was breakfast but it was also basically lunch time) – Egg, bacon, and toast

Dinner – Cheese and tomato pizza with tortilla chips

Snacks – Chocolate, jelly bears, cheese and crackers

The Postgraduate Identity Crisis

This isn’t another piece on impostor syndrome (though that’s certainly a relevant concept), but rather a reflection on the odd semi-staff/semi-student role played by many PhD students.

As with many (psychology, at least) departments, PhD students at my university are required to teach up to 8 hours per week on undergraduate modules. Within the first week of arriving at the university, myself and my 3 cohort-mates were issued with both a student ID card and IT account and a staff ID card and IT account. The introduction of the two roles to play, if you will.

It should be the best of both worlds, with the benefit of being a student (no council tax, learning and personal development opportunities, feedback, access to student support, disability support, student union activities) and staff (regular income, longer library loans, evening and weekend office/lab access, relevant work experience and working with other academics).

I certainly emphasised myself as staff quite early on – as a 21 year old recent graduate, I wanted to be recognised and respected by my students and colleagues as someone who was qualified to do the teaching role I was assigned (although I’m not comfortable admitting that I really felt that I wasn’t qualified!). In doing so, however, I neglected some of the student aspects of my identity. On reflection I think that if I had embraced the ‘still a student’, I could have been more involved in student-led societies and activities on campus, as well as national postgraduate student groups such as PsyPAG. This comes to mind as I recently attended the PsyPAG conference (more on that later) and saw what a fantastic job the committee had done in putting it together – and how a lot of the post-PhD members were so much more ‘sorted’ in their careers already.

The problem is that I never felt 100% a part of either ‘category’. In staff-led meetings there would be instances of “oh the PhD students don’t need to be involved in this”. When I eventually joined student-led groups there was an emphasis on the typical undergraduate schedule (and often, stereotype) – often meaning that the activities ceased completely for 6 months over the summer whilst I was still on campus craving company and some form of routine to my week. This was even the case with disability services, where support was granted for about 25-30 weeks per year and it was incredibly difficult to even get email responses for 2-3 months over summer.

My advice to new postgrads? Definitely engage with both if you have the chance – don’t worry about staff seeing you engaging with a student activity or vice versa. Don’t try to push your image either way. Attend whatever events interest you and get involved in things that can help develop your skills.

Limbo-Log #2: My Mind is Melting

8.10 – Woke up and talked to a friend on the phone whilst getting ready. Already hot.

9am – Phoned about a council tax refund from the city I did my PhD in…they owe me £105 because somehow the final bill was paid twice. I was on hold for over 25 minutes. The hold music sucked, and was interspersed with messages telling me how quick and easy it is do use the website instead…and it’s not…I’ve tried several times in the last few weeks but the online form just doesn’t let you progress past a certain point. After all of that, the actual conversation lasted less than 2 minutes. Let’s hope that money reappears in my account sharpish.

10am – Was supposed to be a tutoring hour with a new student, but it automatically cancelled because the student didn’t confirm it online by 12 hours before the session…and I received no response to yesterday’s message asking them to either confirm or let me know if they’d changed their mind. So instead of making any money, I spent some money at the shop buying food, ate a pasta salad, and then looked over a half-written job application.

11am – Tutoring (an hour spent talking about ANOVAs)

12pm – Laid outside on the grass for about 5 minutes before being unable to stay out any longer, ate my remaining lunch, sent suggested booking slots to a student, sent an email about potential data collection for an individual differences research idea I have, and wrapped some presents for my girlfriend’s birthday.

1pm – Carried on with the job application I looked at earlier. This one is not ‘academic’ as such but is a remote-working science-writing type of job. I finished off the cover letter (I detest writing cover letters), but I’ve still got to prepare a writing sample in a specific style.

2pm – Tried to get confirmation of my graduation date; went for a short walk (and melted) and spoke to a neighbour.

3.30 – Made a few notes for my individual differences project idea and the writing sample for the job application, then spoke to my grandma on the phone.

5pm – Ate sandwiches and watched Young Sheldon.

6pm – Violin practice, interspersed with sitting down in front of a fan because it is too damn hot for any level of movement.

7.30 – Drawing a cartoon character for a friend.

8pm – Too hot to think. Just spilled water on my shirt and I wouldn’t be surprised if it all evaporates in the next 5 minutes. My plan was to get on with the writing sample once the temperature cooled off a bit…but I’m still struggling!

Anxious, not Passive-Aggressive

Recently I was witness to a conversation between people of the opinion that train passengers who occupy the aisle seat of a pair rather than move over to the window seat are making a passive aggressive attempt to hog both seats.

I have to disagree.

That immediately marks me as one of the aisle-seat hoggers. Yes, I’d do it if I ever rode a train. I do it in meetings and lectures. I do it in the cinema. I’m even the first chair violinist in my orchestra for the same reason.

That reason: Anxiety.

Trap me in and I panic. I would wholeheartedly prefer occasionally having to get up to let an inner-seat-sitter in or out over an alternative of sweating, feeling dizzy/ill/uncomfortable, hot, and entirely unable to concentrate on my reading/listening/looking at the scenery. If you’re mad because you want the aisle for some similar reason, I can empathise…but if you’re mad because you presume that aisle-sitters are row-hoggers, that’s not ok. As an aisle-sitter, it doesn’t matter to me much whether the seat next to me is occupied or not. All I want is to maximise my own chance of ‘surviving’ the journey/event/movie and having a relatively normal and comfortable time.

Things I want to learn (or wish I already knew)

MUSIC – I already take violin lessons and just completed my grade 8 theory exam…but I do have a fantasy of having some level of competency playing viola, piano, and maybe even cello (though my back would never stand for carrying a cello). Also composition…because I try but it doesn’t really happen.

HUMAN FACTORS – I’m interested in cognition and perception, but would like to know more about the applications of this. At some point during my undergraduate degree I got interested in aviation human factors (probably because half of the family are aviation engineers).

LANGUAGES – I took French GCSE, and learnt German in school too but couldn’t fit the GCSE into my timetable. I’d like to pick up with German again…but I’d also like to learn Latin…or Turkish…or Danish…or BSL. One preventative factor is my inability to pick one to focus on.

SCIENTIFIC DRAWING – I need more time to draw in general… 10 years have passed since I spent any considerable time and effort in drawing. But I love the kind of anatomical brain and bone diagrams…animals…plants…and would love to be able to draw some things like that.

COOKING – Not extensive cooking, but enough that I can easily make nice (but not too time-consuming) food that I’m actually enthusiastic about and enjoy.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE – Again, not extensive, but enough that I can get interested and motivated in leading a healthier life. I’d also like to sort out my posture.

CODING – Sometimes job applications would be easier if I had some kind of Matlab/Psychopy skills. I skipped a workshop where I could have learnt Psychopy once because anxiety. Ew.

DECISION MATHS – I studied A-level Maths and my class did Statistics and Mechanics for the two ‘applied’ modules…I always had a bit of curiosity about ‘Decision’ (and my younger brother taught me a little once when doing his A-level homework) but never delved into it in any proper sense.