Stuck and fed-up, and the perfect situation

16-Apr-17, 16:41
edited about 17 seconds later
by milo 1 star member
Avatar for milo
posted about 1 week ago
I have been registered on my PhD for 7 years on October, however I have taken quite a few months (18) off due to both good and bad life events. Good, getting married, extended honeymoon and paternity leave (10 weeks) and now 2 kids (7mo, 3yo). Bad, recurrent mental health issues including breakdowns, a bike accident ending with a broken neck (now okay) and general financial problems.

After taking 6 months off the PhD I have now returned and am trying to write-up. The thesis is okay-ish and about 50K words written. Currently I do not have a formal deadline as this has previously contributed to stress and mental health problems. To help me write-up my wife is staying with the kids at my in-laws. I still see them a couple of times each week. And so, you'd think this is the perfect situation?

However, I feel terrible. I feel bad that my wife and kids are staying away. I have heaps of time but simply no motivation at all. The less I do, the worse I feel. I try to write, but as I have so much available time, I can easily procrastinate. I could ask for a formal deadline but this is likely to trigger old problems. Even when I do gain some momentum, it runs out so fast. I have a job but its very flexible and currently we have just about managing. I think the upshot is that I need pressure, but it also scares me as I cannot face another breakdown.

I would love to hear some practical advice from you. I note that my situation may appear great to people that are time-starved, working all hours and look after kids. It is an odd problem I face, and I really don't know what to do.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully, your insights.
16-Apr-17, 20:22
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for bigproblems
posted about 1 week ago
Stop beating yourself up. It's not a lack of motivation - it's depression. And it is something you can work through.

Firstly take some time out from the stress and the feeling of you "should be working". I like to take walks - or give myself breaks. For me these can be watching one show of a series or calling my gf.

Secondly have a list of things you need to do. They can be small things. Read X paper. Or write X number of words. Reward yourself with a tea break or something after each one.

No one needs to work 18 hours a day. If they do they are probably spending 10 hours being inefficient. People won't like that but it's the truth.
17-Apr-17, 06:35
edited about 28 minutes later
by Pjlu 4 star member
Avatar for Pjlu
posted about 1 week ago
Hi Milo, I understand that you are concerned regarding formal deadlines and how having one might exacerbate anxiety or trigger some issues but have you considered that not having one might also increase your anxiety.

Right now the situation you describe has you in a sort of limbo-family living elsewhere to help out, no discernible deadline in sight. Do you think that it might help to work out some realistic deadlines with your supervisors, or your wife, support counsellors (whoever it is who you talk to who helps with this sort of stuff) even though you are worried about this?

(Without trying to minimise your feelings in any way), with some support and a bit of a plan you might be able to grit your teeth and work through the @11#y feelings for short periods of time. Acknowledge the feelings-not minimise or ignore them- but keep to some daily targets and rewards as Big Problems has suggested to help you get through them.

What I have found also is that once you have a realistic but definite deadline to work towards, momentum increases-not because you are enjoying it or intrinsically motivated but because you can see the endpoint (unless of course you are worried about completing...and that lies beyond your anxiety perhaps??).
17-Apr-17, 18:37
by fizzed
Avatar for fizzed
posted about 1 week ago
Hi Milo.

It doesn't sound like my perfect situation. I would hate to be isolated all day. I work 'home alone' during the day and the only thing that keeps me going sometimes is looking forward to my partner coming home. I don't have kids though so maybe, for you, the peace is a blessed relief.

That isn't very helpful though - I just wanted to say I appreciate your situation. I am in the 4th yr of my PhD and am probably at a similar writing stage. I too have health problems which make it difficult to put strict deadlines in place and have also experienced depression as a result of my PhD. I too find that the lack of pressure can lead to procrastination but that the opposite can also be unhealthy.

Maybe one thing I can suggest is that, rather than trying to work every hour of every day (and then feel guilty when you aren't working), set the hours you will work and those you won't. For example, I don't work in the evenings after 8pm and I (almost) always take a Sunday off entirely. I always have a lunch break (and a walk to the shops to remind me that their are other human beings out there!!)

At the moment my plan is to try and put something (good or bad!) in every 'box' of my PhD structure, starting with bullet points. I'm trying not to get too hung up on the pace or the quality of my work as that makes me anxious.

I am also going to be going back to a writing group next week which uses the Pomodoro technique. This method can be useful when you are finding yourself getting bogged down in your writing. Maybe there is something similar where you are?

I can't say these are proven techniques because for me they don't stop it being hard to stay motivated and on target, but I hope that they help a little. Let us know if you find any other helpful strategies.

: )


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