I was amused in writing this post and using the term tear, and to clarify I mean tear in the form of a noun meaning a hole or split in something caused by it having been pulled apart forcefully.
I have written and rewritten this blog post many times. I now think like these penguins:
And, the purpose of this blog post is not to offload or overshare for my own ego, but, hopefully, for others to relate to. 12 months ago in May 2018 my PhD supervisory team and a close work colleague staged an intervention and requested I access formal medical help.
It would be so much easier to describe my need for medical help if it was for physical health, for example, a torn ACL or migraines or a chest infection. However, I needed formal medical help for my mental health. A combination of controllable and uncontrollable circumstances in my own ecosystem had torn my mental state. I state now, I think each person’s ecosystem is relative to them.
*insert light joke* Natalie Imbruglia 2009 smash hit “Torn”
Of course, I can express myself quite confidently (and with humour) 12 months on because my brain has processed that I had a few mental health tears. As you might be able to relate to, 12 months ago my brain did not accept it! And I can now chuckle/grimace about the argument I had with my GP about the misappropriated Western version of mindfulness and zen that I found was too problematic to engage with… Yep, sorry again, Doc! And a topic for another blog. The amusing (embarrassing) detail I will share is that the end of the conversation was me muttering that I was glad to be becoming a Doctor of Philosophy, and not medicine. Apologies to everyone in my ecosystem connected to health, I very much appreciate your qualifications and hard work. Anyway!
Beyond my little rant about the medicalisation of mental health, I have jotted down a few reflections. I do not offer professional or comprehensive advice, but things to ponder if you are supporting yourself (or someone else) with potential mental health sprains or tears.
I did not need time or space (or a course on mindfulness) from ‘normal’ life; I needed an adapted work/life balance and routine. This could be a simple as checking in each morning or evening via. email with colleagues or a WhatsApp group of friends. It mostly consisted of me being accountable for daily/weekly tasks (which included getting out of bed and exercising). A social model and adapted approach to daily life helped me come to terms with and achieve during my worst tear months.
The University of Worcester and wider UK university sector is investing in understanding more about postgraduate students and mental health which is lush. For example, the “UK Research and Innovation launches new Mental Health Networks.” And I think as a PhD student I was very vulnerable to mental health tearing, something that was recently written about in a Nature Editorial “Being a PhD student shouldn’t be bad for your health.” In my situation, my supervisory team and close work colleagues co-produced a plan with me to create safe spaces where I could voice or be quiet without having to explain why. The safe spaces were useful in my experience as they helped me to be able to go onto campus and function. To continue the physical health metaphor these spaces (which included Twitter) were my crutches and helped take the weight off my tears.
*Another musical interlude* Paramore 2017 smash hit “Hard Times”
About 6 months ago I realised I was behind in my PhD write up, had severed a number of friendships, and wriggled into a number of regional and overseas work opportunities to escape my day to day reality. I feel now, another 6 months on, I am in a better place… I am behind in my PhD write up, still have friendships to repair and I currently live in Japan! However, I know (sort of) what I need and what I want in my ecosystem.
Right now I am in my present (getting a tad zen). I am finishing my PhD write up, researching a super cool topic in Japan, and preparing my next blog post about the Japanese Sporting Footprint. I, also, have a much better handle on my tear and day to day ‘strength and conditioning’ of my own mental health. The latter sentence has taken me (and a great deal of people I am very grateful for) at least 12 months to achieve and that is what I am most proud of right now.
Finally, I am here and willing to listen or be a safe space. If you feel more comfortable with someone else I would recommend Mind (the mental health charity) https://www.mind.org.uk/ … This whole malarkey has taught me to be an advocate and transparent about mental health. It is daft to think everyone is mentally okay 100% of the time, 24/7, 52 weeks of the year, just plain daft.
Thank you for reading this, and as I said at the start I hope some of this has been relatable.