I'm a long time lurker first time poster. I don't know if people can help me, this is more of a ramble. However it would be nice to share anyway and see what you think. I will try to keep this vague/unidentifiable where I can.
I started a PhD over a year ago, and in a similar fashion to people who have posted here I entered a toxic lab environment (concealed to me prior to joining) with a bullying PI with a notorious reputation. I lasted a few months before I got to point where I realised that I had to do something. I knew no matter what I should not complete this PhD with this person in this lab, for both my mental health and my academic career. Those before me had their lives essentially ruined by this lab and none were able to continue in the field. All knew it was unacceptable, but all were too afraid to speak out without anonymity. It was really hard but I made the decision to take a risk and formally report this person. The risk paid off in many ways , after a very long time at home waiting and waiting and I finally got assigned to a fantastic PI and I'm a couple of months in to a brand new PhD. The complaint is still progressing and my former PI is still in the same building as me.
I waited so long for this new PhD and was delighted that despite the pain I got another chance. However now I've started, I've found myself plagued with anxiety and imposter syndrome. I have read that when you've been through a bad experience your body can protect you by being numb to it , until the moment when you are "safe" again or in a better environment, and then you will process it. It feels a little like that... I feel constantly stressed and overwhelmed, to the point I've started having random panic attacks and chest pain. I've lost my motivation to read or really engage in my project (although I was beginning to get back into it, but then I ended up being involved in more meetings to discuss my old supervisor as the procedure took a step backwards - it's a year later :S ?! Anyway , I found this really stressful and discouraging). (Continued below...)
A few people have told me I'm courageous to have done what I've done , and then even more so to show my face again in the same place it happened. Which is nice to hear l, and I do try to feel proud rather than like a fraud. However after a while I just feel sad and let down by everyone for not helping me at the time. I am angry that I was the person who had to take this on, and even though I'm aware it's complicated and scary for all involved, I don't know why people's sense of morality stops at themselves and they don't demand better treatment. I can't help but feel bitter, as if people let themselves be treated like shit, it doesn't just hurt them, it has a knock on effect on everyone. I'm I feel completely disillusioned with academia and disappointed :( and I don't know why this is hitting me so hard now I'm in a good situation. I know I need to let it go, and stop this bitterness growing even more.
I am on a long waiting list for counselling , and I know I definitely need that. Not just because of this situation, but other stuff that was going on at the same time, I had to block out in order to get through the days. I'm aware it's been a rough ride , and that I should give myself a bit of a break... my passion for my PhD may just come back in time.
I know I'm repeating myself here, but I'm just really alarmed by my lack of motivation, I know I'm fortunate to be in the situation I have ended up in now in many ways, but I worry that I'll never start feeling better and I'm so tired of it. I try to challenge my negative thoughts about my own ability and worth , but perhaps they are engrained in me at a deep level.
I suppose I'm just wondering if any of you have experienced anything like this , and whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel ? Do you think the way I'm feeling is normal perhaps ? Is there any advice you can give ?
Thank you in advance
Your story is like mine verbatim and I have the same syndromes, all I can say don't lose faith in yourself, I know it is hard, but believe in the end of the tunnel, there would be light. Of course, it is a battle between the human and demon to drag you down, you should be proud of yourself as you didn't accept to endure this asshole PI, and be sure you will be more successful, just imagine what you have mentioned continuing with toxic lab and PI which will end to the wall. First of all, you have to love yourself and always remember that you deserve the best, it like training. Congratulations, I am so happy for you that you found a fantastic PI, just when these thoughts come to your mind, think about what is good is waiting for, please try to forget the past and those negative thoughts, you must learn how to be persistent.
I've been in a similar situation and having to fight cases like this takes a lot of energy and time so you may just be in need of a bit of a break before starting the new PhD. I can relate to the feelings of hurt after being treated badly myself, being in these situations can feel very unfair and you can find yourself very much alone. I even got trolled on this forum for sharing my experience at one point and had to get my post removed, which the moderators were quick to action. I've been fortunate to experience a very positive environment at the University where I did my undergrad course, compared to the toxic environment where I am now. Hence I know that not all places are like the one I am currently at, where there are seemingly leadership issues. This stops me feeling disillusioned and helps motivate me to get my PhD finished and progress my career somewhere better. Both places I have been are in the UK Russel group but are significantly different.
Just try your best, you may need to take things easy for a while and do a bit each day to build up momentum.
@Cat123, I think it is important to share what are the symptoms that help us before joining to know whether this place is really toxic, actually, I am in the same situation and maybe others. How you can make sure the next lab is really positive as I am afraid to repeat the same experience.
Monkia - I persevered at the same place. I made enquiries about PhDs elsewhere at one point and had quite different responses. Its not always the case that there will be a non-positive impression of you, its very much dependent upon individual views and experiences. I found it was best to be open early on about the situation, then you know if there is an issue or not. If someone jumps to negative conclusions that should be a warning. I have found having a supportive supervisor helps avoid difficulties so if you find someone in the right field who is supportive and understanding from the offset this will help. There are sometimes issues which cannot be foreseen. If there are a lack of systems in place to address issues, poor management etc. then negative environments could more likely develop. I won't go into details but I can understand why there are issues where I am and some progress is now being made to address these.
Try to have a positive outlook and have confidence in yourself. A lack of confidence can be a barrier to progress and affect motivation.
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