Struggling to write my thesis


I was supposed to finish my PhD 18 months ago, before my life fell apart and I was diagnosed with depression. I lost my home, my fiance cheated and dumped me, our mutual friends stopped speaking to me, no wonder I became depressed and isolated. First I extended the PhD, then I applied for a suspension because it was the only way to get extra time, and I still didn't get on with the work. I just sat at home in the dark with the curtains shut and cried and saw nobody, I couldn't sleep or eat and I lost 2 stone in weight.

My suspension has ended and I've applied to extend it, but I'm so scared they won't approve any extra time, and I'll have wasted the 5 years I worked on the PhD. Even if the extension is approved, I'm scared that I'm still so depressed I can't focus on anything, and I still won't be able to write the thesis. I still struggle to get out of bed in the morning and I'm still isolated. My funding expired and I'm living on savings now, so I can't afford to go out and meet people, I can barely afford to eat. I also worry that even if I finish, I can't get a job because I'm too depressed to cope. I just feel lost without my ex, I loved him so much and I wanted to marry him and have kids, and now I have nobody and nothing, I can never replace him. There's a really nice guy who's trying to support me through all of this, and he's crazy about me - he's so nice and I feel guilty because I keep thinking he doesn't match up to my handsome intelligent ex, even though judging by his actions he's obviously a much nicer person.

I'm just so depressed and I want the thesis to be finished - wasting all my hard work and losing my dreams and amibitions because of this depression would absolutely kill me, I'd literally be suicidal. Quitting is not an option, but I don't know how to pick my thesis up again and start writing. Plus I'm crippled by the idea that I'll push myself to start working and it'll be a waste because they'll refuse my extended suspension and kick me out anyway. It's difficult to focus on work in any case when I'm so depressed and isolated and broke, and I just don't know what to do.

My supervisor told me about another student who had to look after a parent dying of cancer during his PhD, then the parent died and he was only absent for a few months - as if to say I'm being ridiculous because losing my fiance is nowhere near as bad as losing a parent, and yet I've been absent for longer than this guy was. I feel guilty enough - I wish I wasn't depressed - but I am, and I don't know how to fix it.

Please, can anyone advise me on how to move forward, and how to get on with writing my thesis? I'm about halfway through it and I don't want this depression to ruin the rest of my life. Thanks in advance.

Avatar for Eska

Hi Mis,

Sounds awful. Is there an advisor of some sort you can speak to at the university? It sounds to me as if you need to get yourself stronger, and work towards healing your depression in order to complete. I'm sure you can take proper breaks in order to recover from illness - completing a PhD is so isolating and pressured, I can't imagine it would help matters.

Does your supervisor know about the depression? If not, maybe that would explain the comments about your time off.


Have you considered speaking to a counsellor at the university? They are there to help people with a huge range of emotional problems, some minor, some more serious like yours. They don't tell you what to do but help you find a way forward, and a way of coping. Please look into this if you haven't done already. It could help a lot.

Also are you getting adequate treatment for the depression? For example anti-depressants, or CBT? If what you have isn't working well enough go back to the GP and explain the situation you're in. You need to get proper help from the medical authorities.

But definitely look into seeing a counsellor. They're there to help you. Good luck.


I'm so sorry to hear about what you've been through but you need to start believing you can get through this. I know you may not want to hear that other people have got through this - I'm sure it doesn't feel like it and your supervisor is wrong to compare your situation to someone else's - but I believe it can be done. I was married at the end of the third year of my undergraduate degree to a man who cheated on me after four months and like you I felt my world had fallen apart. I didn't believe I could possibly go back and continue the rest of my final year but I forced myself to do it. It was very hard, I was a wreck and couldn't really behave like a normal person but going back to work and into my routine was the best thing I could have done. In spite of everything I got a first and Dean's commendation for my third year work. It was like all focussing all that negativity into something constructive really paid off and gave me a reason for living again. Obviously it's not as easy with a PhD but I think you may find that you will get better by starting work, even in a small way, in order to give you a new focus and redirect the energy that's going into your grief. I also recommend you get as much medical help as you can and rely on anybody you can (although I understand the pressure this will have put on some some friendships), including the guy who's crazy about you. He knows exactly where you are now and I'm sure can keep loving you as a friend as he's doing now. And if it's any consolation I found someone else and I'm getting married again. I'd also thought I'd never feel that way about anyone again and the fact is I won't: instead what I realized is that every time you fall in love it's different but it can be just as wonderful if not more so. I really wish you all the best.


Thanks for the responses.

My supervisor knows about my depression - he helped me to complete the suspension forms. To begin with he was supportive and tried to help, but I feel like for the past 6 months he's just washed his hands of me. He's like: If Lisa sends me work I'll read it, but I'm not going to bother her any more, because she never does anything I ask her anyway. He barely replies to my emails now, and I can understand it - he gave me guidance on what to write, commented on my work so far, and there's nothing else he can do beyond wait for me to pull myself together and do what he asked me to. I feel terrible though, like I've let him down. He's just frustrated and fed up with me now, as is everyone else. My second supervisor has never been very helpful, and he left the university last month anyway.

My doctor won't give me medication because he says there's nothing wrong with my brain to need medication - I have a legitimate reason for my depression and sorting that reason out will fix the depression without medication. He referred me for counselling, but it isn't very helpful. The counsellor just says forget about what happened and get on with writing the thesis and move on. I want to talk about what happened and figure out why I feel this way, but she doesn't think that analysing my feelings will help, she thinks I should just accept my situation and try to move forward. She's basically saying I should just get over it, which doesn't help at all. In any case, I only get to see her once a month for an hour.

I literally have nobody since my ex dumped me - he kicked me out of his house and none of our friends (who were really his friends) talk to me any more. I'm living in my parents' house rent-free because they're away, so I'm miles out of town with no transport and can't afford to move, and the only people I ever see are my aunt and uncle who live nearby. As I said, I'm living on savings now and I'm too broke to go out anyway, I can barely afford to eat. This supportive friend of mine works in another country and I don't get to see him so often, but he's always there for me, every evening when I'm lonely he talks to me and plays games with me online etc. I feel guilty that I can't love him as much as I loved my ex, because he's a wonderful guy and he truly adores me. Oh, and I have a dog too - she's the only thing that gets me out of bed every day.

Anyway, I got up today and I actually opened the curtains and let some light in, got dressed in proper clothes (not filthy hoody and tracksuit bottoms) and put some makeup on, then I took my dog for a walk. I'm going to force myself to look at the thesis later, though I have a panic attack every time I do so. I'm so scared they're going to refuse to extend my suspension and kick me out, I'm so scared of failing and of having allowed my ex to ruin my life, that even looking at the thesis terrifies me. I can't imagine a life beyond the PhD that doesn't have my ex in it, and I have no idea how things will work out, but I guess the first step is to focus on writing the thesis.

Avatar for Eska

Oh sorry Mlis, Megara is right, your supervisor should not have made the comparison they did! What I was trying to say was that, maybe it would help if your supervisor knew how ill you are, and how you are still struggling with that so much.

Avatar for Eska

If you have been diagnosed with depression, then surely that means there is a need for treatment of some sort, either medication or therapy/counselling which goes beyond 'pull yourself together'. Could you get some CBT at the Uni? Or you could request a change of counsellor, that is your right as a client, I've done it, a couple of times. I've heard CBT works wonders for depression - it sounds as if what you are going through is heavier than the usual break up stuff; it might help you build up a wider support network of your own too.

I wish I could help you more, but I just don't feel qualified. When I had problems at my last uni there was a postgraduate officer who I spoke to for advice, confidentially. She advised me what my options were, maybe your uni has something similar.

Whenever I've been depressed I've found company a great comfort, maybe you could do some voluntary work for a local charity one day or evening a week, it might help you feel less isolated.


Change counsellor - you are entitled to a second opinion and someone prepared to listen to your thoughts.

Initially, I would have also said to change doc but unless you are losing sleep and not eating over a long period of time, he might be right. There is a culture of quick fixes thro' medication, but that is because of the abject lack of counselling facilities in the health system (either good or bad). If you can, change counsellor (if that means spending a bit more and travelling, it will be worth it).


I'd try a different counsellor. University counsellors are separate from GP/NHS ones, and you'd be able to see them far more frequently. They are also experienced with what students need to produce and should be able to offer you better advice on how to get through this.

Your GP sounds like a twat :) Sorry, but if you are still this badly affected after this many months then medication might be able to help. Could you see another GP at the practice? Asking for a second opinion doesn't hurt.

Anyway it sounds as though you've taken positive steps today, so good luck with them continuing. I often have to return to my studies after extended periods away due to progressive neurological illness. I make up lists of things to be getting on with and then pick off the easier looking things. That way I build up my stamina. Hard, but it works for me.

Good luck.


Hi Mlis, I'm so sorry to hear you're feeling like this, depression is a horrible thing, and unfortunately some docs, and even councellors I think just don't understand, one of those have to have been there things possibly!

Like others have said, change councellor, no-one should say to you just pull yourself together thats not how it works, and often just makes you more depressed because you simply cant!!

I've had depression through the years, and I know how it affects productivity. I went to my university councellor and she was the best thing to help me, I still even email her occasionally if I just need a push and don't feel the need for a full session, and she's always helpful and caring. Also, they are not just there to help with uni related issues which i think alot of people perceive them to be there for! My mum abandoned our family afew years ago and having been one my best friends and a brilliant mum I just couldnt go on! I like you, couldnt get out of bed for days, thought I might aswell end life if i couldnt have her in it,and just didnt know how my life could be without her there. the uni councellor was fantastic and just listened to me talk and cry for an hour a week, or twice weekly at the start and eventually my life started taking shape again!

I'm very lucky in that I found my partner who was very understanding and caring and I've seen how wonderful my life can be - and actually much better without someone who can ruin my life and clearly not care enough about me to hurt me the way she did! From what you've said, this man basically ruined your life as you knew it, and left you feeling like there was no point in life without him, however someone who can hurt you in that way is clearly not worth it and didnt love you the way you loved/love him!

I know there are no quick fixes but getting up and dressed, putting make up on, is a fantastic start! well done :) apart from walking the dog have you tried any other exercise? i know its something you hear all the time for motivation and stress/depression but it really does make a difference, I'm no health freak and struggle to exercise lots, however i do try and go swimming sometimes and have just started going to a tai chi class which isnt very strenuous but calms you down tremendously, fixes your mind on something else for an hour or two and improves energy levels etc (or yoga etc!).

on the issue of medication vs therapy, i'm again no expert, however its a bit of a vicious cycle, although the original cause may be something that once fixed would improve and not need medication. If depression goes on, the chemicals in your brain can get imbalanced and maybe what you need is a light anti-depressant to go along with therapy. Like someone said, cognitive behavioural therapy is fantastic, my partner also suffers depression occasionally, and although triggered by chemical imbalance, he has many past issues that have built up over years and made everything worse. he was put on medication twice in the past, with bad therapy and nothing really changed, had a good spell and then fell back into it. however last year he was put on citalopram, just a low dose and received CBT for six months, he is now the best i've seen him in 5 years, has dealt with many issues and feels like that period of his life is over! It really takes getting a good councellor, and not always just a good on paper but someone you can actually relate to and feel comfortable with to talk to about things you might not tell your closest friends or family, and also finding the right medication, and right dose! (sometimes just a low dose to help numb the pain of dealing with the horrible underlying issues which you discuss in counseling).

Anyway, I hope you find something soon to help you, i would recommend finding a different GP to speak to and investigating uni councellors.

Also, this is a great forum to talk through every day issues and getting mo


On the medication issue, I would definitely recommend getting a second opinion. I was totally against the idea the first time I was put on medication (not because of a relationship breakdown but following meningitis in my teens) but it gives you a starting point to build on. When I finally dragged myself out of bed when my husband left I saw a doctor and said I wanted to go back on the pills and that's what we did. Many many cases of depression have a 'reason' to them - it might not always be an obvious one like yours and often it needs a psychiatrist to find it, but that's still a reason. Medication won't necessarily make you feel normal again but, in my experience, it will take away the huge pit of despair and replace it with a numbness in which there are no highs or lows but which will be better than the big low you're feeling now. It's not a long term solution and last time I was on meds I came off them because I decided I wanted to feel like me, even if the lows were bad, but I'm glad I went on because it took that step to get me into a position to make that rational sort of decision. I think you might find it would get you into a better place to start working from, or at least I would seek another opinion. Also, well done, great progress today with the dressing and make-up: little things like that make a big difference! :-)


heehee, i think my post was so long it cut teh end off!!

This was my last wee paragraph:

Also, this is a great forum to talk through every day issues and getting motivated to write! maybe try the on-going forums for productivity etc, I know many of us use it to tell everyone what our plan is for the day/week and then can go back to and say you've done it! even if it is just reading a paper or writing one paragraph, little progress a day is better than none. And having this support network is fantastic!

right, this is pretty long so good luck and let us know how you get on!

best of luck
KT :p


I struggled with depression for almost a year before my doctor accepted it wasn't going away and agreed to support an application for a PhD suspension and refer me for counselling. Being referred took four months, so I only received treatment for the last three months. If you could call a one-hour session per month treatment! The counsellor sees it like this: Lisa is depressed and can't write her thesis, so I need to push her to write it. I asked if we could talk about WHY I'm depressed, and she said no - why I'm depressed makes no difference now because it's in the past, what I need to do is forget it and get on with writing the thesis and moving on with my life. So all she does at every session is ask me if I've written anything and berate me for not doing it, then tell me I have to write something by the next session, and give me goals etc that I already know I won't achieve. Then I feel bad at every session for not having achieved those writing goals she set last time. I don't want to talk about the thesis, I want to talk about my life and my fiance and how sad I feel - I want to talk about WHY I feel depressed, and figure out how to fix it, but it seems that even the counsellor isn't interested :-(

I can't change counsellors because the doctor said she's the only counsellor who handles patients in this village. He also said that my current treatment is the best he can offer, he can't offer me weekly sessions or CBT or anything like that, I assume for budget reasons. I can't see the uni counsellor because I'm not allowed on campus while I'm officially suspended and off sick with depression - my supervisor said I'd get into big trouble if I was seen on campus while I was supposed to be off sick. I feel like I'm screaming for help and nobody's even listening - the doctor won't help, the counsellor won't help, and my so-called friends haven't even called me since my fiance kicked me out last year. I'm completely isolated - I have no transport to travel into town in the evening, and I can't afford to go out or go to the gym or a class or whatever - I'm living on savings and I couldn't even afford food if my Mum didn't occasionally send me money. My only option is to finish the PhD, get a job and earn money, then move away and get on with my life, so the PhD is like this huge barrier to me getting on with my life, and I'm trapped here until it's finished. The more time passes without me finishing, the more worthless I feel, and more scared of never finishing.

I guess all I can do is try to move forward a little at a time, and try to start writing something. I'm really grateful for the support I've received on this board - you people have listened more than my doctor and counsellor combined. Thank you :)

Avatar for Eska

OOOOHHHWw, what a bummer! Wouldn't they even let you onto campus for vital treatment?

There might be some telephone counselling services you could go for, my ex-boyfriend did it - once a week they'd ring him up. Not like personal contact, but better than none at all.

I'm glad the forum helped, you could check in here every now and again for a bit of contact.

Good luck:-)


What a situation, i really feel for you! :(

Same thought as Eska, surely for councelling or extracurricular help you can get onto campus, and whats the likely hood of anyone seeing you thats likely to know you're off sick? (its not like you'll be heading to the union for a pissup ;) )

also, could you phone student services or something and speak to them about it, there must be some independent body in teh uni you could contact to discuss this with?

Or yes, like Eska said, over the phone, which if they could phone you would prevent spending money on phone bills?

Keep coming on here and chatting too, there's always someone around to give advice, support or just a smile and know that you're not alone in this lonely PhD planet!

have a KT hug from me, I think friends usually find them rejuvenating, so i'll pass one to you through cybr space! ;)