Feeling really low


I'm sorry to come on here and whinge, but recently I've been feeling really crappy, and I guess I thought I'd come here to see if any of you have any advice or comments. I'm doing on of these 1+3 PhDs, in the medical area, and am in the first year of the four. I started off ok, but recently feel like I've been working really hard, not so much in terms of hours, as I usually only work 9-5/6, but in terms of the intensity of the lab work I've been doing when I'm in. I've also got a long history of depression, and came off my tablets a few weeks ago as I felt things were going ok, but now I am constantly trying not to cry, and as soon as I get to work, I'm watching the clock, willing for it to move faster so I can go home and sleep. I have a project which I started in mid-October, and which is due to be handed in in mid-Feb, but I feel like I'm getting nowhere with it, and I really don't want to spend my time off at Christmas working hard, as I need a break. I've been getting good marks in the assessments we've done so far, but I'm a perfectionist, and am not very good at knowing when to stop reading, as I worry that if there's a couple of papers I've not read, they could be really relevant and contain information vital to my work.

In addition, I'm feeling really homesick (I'm from the north of England, studying in the south) and pretty lonely too, as I see very few people at work or at home.

Does anyone have any similar experiences?



Hi Matt

I'm assuming you came off your tablets gradually? Even if you did, there can definitely be a difficult adjustment period, I've been through it a few times myself. It definitely sounds like you need a break, I know that whole clock-watching, sleepy, verge of tears thing well and it only happens to me when I'm very stressed or hitting a real low point. Are you in contact with a doctor or therapist who's helping you through this transition, it really sounds like you need some support. You sound as if you're a bit isolated at work, are there any clubs or socieities you could join to get you a bit more social activity so it's not so lonely?

Aside from that, if you're getting good marks and working solidly, perhaps now it's time to learn to trust yourself and work on worrying less? It's going to be a tough 4 years if you keep doubting yourself and never feeling you've done enough (a certain amount of this is par for the course, but it can be downright disabling if it goes too far). A phd really is a marathon and learning to manage yourself in a sustainable way is as important as any piece of lab work. My advice would be to down tools, take a break, see your family and keep in touch with your doc regarding the meds situation.

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Hi Matt

I'm sorry to hear you're having a hard time at the moment. I can't really comment on the depression angle, but as to the feeling that you've been working really hard but aren't getting anywhere - I can totally relate to that. I'm a first year too, and for the past few weeks I've been feeling that I'm making no progress at all, and have this fear that I'm dropping behind other people who started at the same time as me, and that my supervisors will start asking me why I haven't achieved more when I know I've been working as hard as I can. Not helped by another PhD student who started a few weeks before me and keeps coming up to me to tell me how well he's doing and how far ahead he is! However, yesterday I had a meeting with one of my two supervisors, and he told me that he thinks I'm making real progress and have really sharpened my ideas since starting. I suppose what that shows is that our own impressions of how we think we're doing aren't always right, and we're probably doing a lot better than we think!

Homesickness isn't going to help, I'm sure. As I say, I can't advise on the depression, but I do think you need to find a way to give yourself a proper break over Christmas, even if it's only a few days - allow yourself time to not even think about the work and find ways to relax, there's absolutely no point trying to burn yourself out.

Hope you do get a good break, and take care



Hi Matt,

I think you desperately need a break! Seriously, can you take some time off over Christmas, clear your head, spend time with family and friends, and SLEEP? I think that although you are worried about getting your work done, it is absolutely essential to have a rest. Otherwise you'll work right up until your deadline in mid-Feb feeling resentful and frustrated.
Four years is quite a long time, and it's all about learning how to strike a balance. Too much work will inevitably make you stressed and upset. I had a total nightmare writing up my MA dissertation. I am not joking when I say I tried to work 16-18 hours a day. This was completely unproductive. I got very depressed and in a hideously destructive cycle.
If you're feeling low and lonely, make the time to see your friends. Possibly speak to your doctor if you feel that might help too. Don't worry too much you're entitled to a break, don't tire yourself out! M,x


Hi Matt,

Please don't worry- you are not alone. I'm also doing a 1+3, doing my MA at the moment, but I'm in the social sciences so I don't have any lab work or anything, just lots of assignments. I've been having a lot of ups and downs recently, I think because it's just so intense and there's a lot to learn.

I'm also known to be a perfectionist, so I have the same issue as you, as I never know when to stop. But I do now understand that you HAVE to set a limit. You have to understand when your mind needs a rest, and when you need to think about something other than your course. I know, it's incredibly hard, but usually when you have read the vast majority of important literature in your area, that's enough. For example, I just start reading the most recent journal articles related to what I'm writing an assignment for, then look in their references and find others...that usually means you get to the point where there are older journals that can just be skimmed to see if they're relevant. Basically, what I'm saying is try and set a limit for yourself, you will never ever be able to read every slightly relevant paper, try and accept that. I hope I'm not sounding harsh- I'm exactly the same as you and so I'm trying to be strict with myself!

I'm sure you're further than you think on the project that you're doing- could you maybe make a detailed plan of it? I find making detailed plans really help, because you can see exactly what you need to do, and when. I find the uncertainty of an assignment is the worst part, when you're trying to collect all the relevant literature but you don't know where you're going with it.

I've also got a history of depression...I've been fine for a good couple of years now but I still have my moments and I feel it's getting worse with the intensity of my MA. Would you consider going back on your tablets? Only you can make that decision, but if they helped you then maybe it would be something consider.

And homesickness is a pain in the bum! I've recently moved out of my parents house to move in with my boyfriend, so I now live about 2 hours away from my parents, and although it's not too far away I do miss them, my brother, and my dog! What doesn't help is that they're now selling their house and moving into a 2 bedroom rather than a 3 bedroom house...which means if I ever want to go home, I'll have no bed to sleep in! Could you maybe try a new activity? It really works. I've recently started rock climbing and as well as making new friends, it's such a great release to get away from all the stresses of my MA!

But anyway, just know that you're not the only one feeling like this and there are lots and lots of people to help :-)



Hey there. I have bipolar disorder, although the depression has always been more severe than the mania for me. Depression is horrible, and no-one can ever know how it feels unless they get ill with it so it can be hard for people to understand. One thing I have learnt about myself though is that I cannot do my best work if I'm ill with depression, so for me it's all about staying well and doing my best to get help if I'm not well....so you need to put yourself first, and the work will follow. Sounds like maybe you need to go back to the docs- did you feel as though the meds were helping? Do you have any other support, uni counsellors, mental health advisors etc? The other thing that has been important to me is to be honest with my supervisor and if I am unwell I let her know straight away so that she can take it into account- it isn't about making excuses or skiving off, it's just about letting her know and keeping her in the picture so she knows what to expect or not expect of me. Is your supervisor aware of your problems? I am always scared of telling people about the bipolar in case they think I'm a bit of a nutter or something, but I have been amazed at how understanding and accommodating most people have been. Perhaps you could try to get a bit of help and support, and concentrate on the easier/less mentally taxing tasks until Xmas- the boring stuff like entering data or doing reference sections etc, then have a good break and see how things are after Xmas? It can be hard to make the decision to go back on meds when you've been trying to come off them...I have my foot in plaster at the moment and have been unable to exercise as usual (I normally do 60-90mins serious exercise per day in the gym!) and my mood has just gone through the floor because exercise for me is an anti-depressant. I take meds for my bipolar anyway, but I have just had to admit defeat and go back on the anti-d's as well, at least until I get back to my normal self. Maybe it's worth going back on them for a while longer before things get worse? Anyway, certainly go see your doc I would say...all my recommendations are based on my own experiences so won't suit everyone! Hope you're feeling better soon, you will get through this, KB