With the ongoing uncertainty regarding one of my medications not looking to end anytime soon, I have tried to distract myself with other absurdities going on in the world. In this blog post, I have combined two: ChatGPT and Matt Hancock. I hope that regardless of your political background, you agree that the UK health secretary during the covid-19 pandemic, Matt Hancock, made many mistakes (some with terrible consequences). I have been in and out of the loop of his, frankly, bizarre story. So, I asked ChatGPT to write an article for me by the wisest person I could think of… Yoda.
Mistakes, Matt Hancock made, hmmm? The Conservative politician, he was, yes. Many errors, he made, hmm? Mistakes, let us discuss.
Imagine the scenario. Potential impurities are found in some HIV retroviral drugs that produce a small increase in the probability of contracting cancer over their lifetime. I think the last thing you would expect would be the immediate stoppage of the production of the antiretroviral drugs in question. Leaving a patient vulnerable to imminent death as HIV progresses to AIDS is of greater importance than a tiny increase in lifetime cancer risk.
Yet, in the world of mental health treatment, this type of scenario has recently unfolded with the stoppage of the supply of Bupropion (Zyban) in the UK, leaving me and many others without the drug keeping them out of depression.
I went into the Christmas period with the goal of not putting on weight. Long story short, I failed. In the past, I have been very fortunate to have a metabolism quick enough to remove the excess fat from my waist. It only required a slight modification in diet. In the last few years I have made the definitely new discovery, that, erm, metabolism slows with age.
No matter, I thought. I shall jump on the bandwagon with all the other health-focused people in January – hoping I don’t fall off before February. First stop, counting calories.
In the past, I have been refused treatments that eventually worked, and had interactions with past clinicians that unintentionally drove me towards suicide, rather than away from it.
It took me a very long time to find a psychiatrist I trust. Once I did, we landed on a combination of medications that have progressively eased my symptoms over the last couple of years. I take one of these medications off-label (this means that the medication is licensed for another condition, not the one I am taking it for). My current psychiatrist is the first I have met willing to prescribe this medication.
I wasn’t exactly a natural at experimental work. My undergraduate lab marks were, erm, not brilliant. A poor memory mixed with a lack of practical intuition, a good experimental physicist, does not make. So, it is a tad ironic that I decided to do a PhD in electron microscopy – a mostly experimental field.
I liked planning experiments and analysing their results. I just didn’t very much like doing them. Sessions on the electron microscope always felt clunky. I had to frequently stop doing the experiment to note down significant events in my lab book and I was not the best at deciding which ones were worthy. Actually, I was terrible at deciphering happenstance from important experimental happenings.
I recently received an email from my mum with the subject heading “Dunhelm invisibility cloak”. The only words in the body were “Enjoy!” followed by three hyperlinks to Dunhelm’s website (a furniture store).
The first link was to a “Darcie the Deer” printed throw blanket. At first glance, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I mean, the colour was not really to my liking, but other than that it seemed like a regular, relatively inexpensive, blanket. My joy levels had not exactly skyrocketed.
This is quite possibly going to be the most self-aggrandising article I will ever write. Maybe I have finally descended into pure and utter delusion. But the experimentalist in me strongly believes that what I say in the title is true. I think my life accidentally became the near perfect experiment to discover biochemical causes of anxiety.
“How did I miss this?” I say to myself. I had just found a case study by Catalano et al.  describing the development of panic attacks in two patients shortly after initiation of the antidepressant Sertraline. Importantly, the patients had no personal or family history of any anxiety condition. I had been searching for an article like this since 2015. It was now 2021.
Referring to the article: A physicist’s experience of the mental-health system
and podcast: Start-up simulates quantum photonics devices, a physicist’s experience of the mental-health system
A while ago, my counsellor asked me to write something to give to a psychiatric researcher she knew from her work at a mental health hospital. She felt strongly that the things I was talking about in our sessions needed to be heard.
I obliged. I wrote a sort of manuscript looking thing. At that time I didn’t have the energy to write it in any sort of structure to help the reader. All I could do was splurge what was in my head onto paper. I cleaned it up as much as I could, then sent it off to her.
I realised quite quickly on returning to my PhD that it was immensely difficult to pull myself away from work when I was in the middle of trying to do a task or solve a problem. The “I can’t leave the problem until it is solved” feeling. As time went on, it would feel like I was getting closer to a solution, that I had laser focus, but in reality, I had tunnel vision. As time went on I became more and more stressed meaning my ability to solve the problem worsened. Further, if I went past the 25-minute mark, my stress levels would rise almost exponentially. It would potentially wipe me out for the day, or for a particularly frustrating problem, two. During which I would be limited to very simple tasks which would still feel quite painful to do. Meditating as a break in between 25 minute work sessions seemed to allow me to work for the full day.
Starting a PhD is daunting to say the least. The gap in knowledge between research and undergraduate study is a rather large one. Therefore many students, like myself, have experienced ‘imposter syndrome’ – the feeling that it was a mistake on the academics to choose you for the PhD project but they do not know yet. Here, I suggest perspectives that might help deal with this phenomenon. Part 2 of 2
Opening up about my own experiences of mental health through talks had a surprising side effect. People started to message me about their experiences and problems, some I go on to meet. I have found these conversations fertile ground for new ideas involving mental health. An important one of the many reasons why discussing mental health is beneficial. In one such conversation, an individual came to me about imposter syndrome. During our conversation, I realised that seeing imposter syndrome from the point of view of the PhD supervisor may help those feeling afraid of asking for help.