Personal blog of Dr Alex Mendelsohn

Category: Thoughts (Page 1 of 2)

Identity

I received an email from a very nice person seeking advice and help
about their future career choice. I replied saying that I don’t usually give
advice because of how complex individuals can be. One piece of advice that
might work for one person, may be detrimental to another. However, what I did
do was speak from my own experiences – hoping that themes within them apply to
their personal situation. I noted that what I wrote could be utter rubbish
!

The email correspondence between us helped me to get some of my thoughts
down on paper. And, I would like to put them up on my blog just in case someone
else finds value in my experiences. This is the second of five blog posts
.

Alex used to define themselves solely through their work as a physicist, but found it harmful to their mental health as they would take criticism of their work heavily. They also identified other risks to this philosophy, such as becoming stuck in a role and going against moral convictions. After counselling sessions, they started defining themselves outside of their job as well, and explored various interests and hobbies. This change in identity allowed them to take more calculated risks and feel a greater sense of freedom.


Before my rare severe reaction to an antidepressant, I used to define myself through what I did. i.e. “I am a physicist”. This, I found, was quite dangerous for my mental wellbeing. I would take criticism of my work really heavily – it was one of the many factors that contributed to my growing depression (which ultimately led me to take an antidepressant that caused my severe reaction). I was unable to separate who I was from what I did.

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Reframing the career choice question

I received an email from a very nice person seeking advice and help about their future career choice. I replied saying that I don’t usually give advice because of how complex individuals can be. One piece of advice that might work for one person, may be detrimental to another. However, what I did do was speak from my own experiences – hoping that themes within them apply to their personal situation. I noted that what I wrote could be utter rubbish!

The email correspondence between us helped me to get some of my thoughts down on paper. And, I would like to put them up on my blog just in case someone else finds value in my experiences. This is the first of five blog posts.

Alex shares their thoughts on career choice, based on their personal experience. They changed their perspective from “what do I want to do with my life?” to “who do I want to work with for the rest of my life?” after undergoing counselling. They realized that finding a job with people who share similar values and interests is more important than the job itself. Alex encourages readers to consider the people they will be working with when making career choices, and to prioritize finding a work environment that aligns with their values and personality.


Up until my severe reaction to an antidepressant, I viewed the ‘career’ question as: What do I want to do with my life? After around a hundred sessions of counselling or so, this question changed to: Who do I want to work with for the rest of my life?

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Breaking the connection with my smartphone

Alex claims that while smartphones are undoubtedly useful, they are also one of the fiercest opponents he has encountered in terms of mental health. The short, sharp, and seemingly never-ending rewards they offer can be intoxicating and almost impossible to remove once latched onto. Alex tried several methods to separate himself from his attention-sucking device, but nothing worked. He then tried using a screenless mp3 player, but the battery life was too short. Alex then decided to use a smartwatch as a proxy mp3 player to help break his connection with his smartphone. He was initially concerned about the battery life, but the expensive model he bought had a large battery that allowed him to use it throughout the day without needing to charge it constantly. Alex claims that he is finally free of the grip of his smartphone, although he still needs to use it occasionally.


Smartphones are the devil.

Okay, bit harsh. Smartphones are undoubtedly very useful. The “I got lost” excuse for arriving late is not valid anymore – a quick few taps in your mobile map app of choice and you can instantly find out where you are (and where you should be).

In terms of good mental health, however, smartphones are one of the fiercest opponents I have encountered. It isn’t necessarily the magnitude of the effect they have on my mood. It is the smartphone’s ability to cling to my brain like a leech. They are almost impossible to remove once latched. The short, sharp and seemingly neverending rewards smartphones offer are intoxicating. And this is putting it mildly.

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I also hung my washing outside last winter – it was a terrible idea

The blog post describes Alex’s attempt to save money on energy bills by hanging clothes outside to dry during the winter in the UK, using a rotary airer under a gazebo to protect the clothes from the rain. He experienced several setbacks, including the realization that the heating bill, not the electricity bill, was the primary concern, the clothes taking up to three days to dry in single-digit temperatures, and the rotary-gazebo airer failing during a storm. Additionally, Alex‘s dog used the gazebo as a toilet during rainstorms which caused problems. Ultimately, the author found that using a dryer was more cost-effective than the rotary airer method.


I am very fortunate that the current cost of living crisis in the UK only mildly affects me. It means I can afford to be creative when coming up with money-saving ideas without the consequences most would suffer if the idea didn’t work.

By the end of the summer of 2022 (I’ve just had 40-degree Celsius heatwave flashbacks, eurgh) the intensity of my generalised anxiety lowered to the point of being able to go outside and hang my washing out on my own.

I wanted to prepare for the winter ahead and the astronomical energy bills. After about ten minutes of solid googling, I discovered that the primary energy culprit in the home was dryers.

If I had persisted for at least ten more minutes of googling, I would have discovered that the electricity bill was not the one to be worried about – it was the heating bill. This was reason number one why hanging my clothes outside in winter was a terrible idea.

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Last winter I decided to disregard GMT and stay at BST: why isn’t this a thing yet?!

The blog post describes the experience of dealing with the time shift that happens twice a year due to daylight saving time. Alex decided to stick to British Summer Time (BST) and adjust half of the clocks in their house to GMT, instead of adjusting their medication schedule. Initially confusing, Alex became accustomed to this change and felt that their mood was significantly better due to the later daylight hours of BST. Alex argues that year-round daylight saving time could be a better option than switching back and forth between BST and GMT.


There are very few upsides to living with a severe mental illness. One of them is quite a bit of free time. Previous times the clocks have gone back have been a nuisance to me. Especially since I started taking antidepressants. For whatever reason, my brain is very sensitive to the time I take them. If I take my dose late, even by only half an hour, my reality is thrown from side to side like a ship in rough seas.

To be taken safely, my medications have to be taken a set time apart (therefore at fixed intervals in the day). This means that twice a year the time I take my medication shifts by an hour each day. Why don’t you take your medication at the same time all year round? I hear you ask…

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The errors of Matt Hancock: A Yoda-inspired analysis

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.

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I don’t like calorie tracker apps

Alex discusses his negative experience with calorie tracking apps. He attempted to use several apps to track his calorie intake but found that they all had fixed daily calorie targets, which he believes are not helpful for most people. He also found that the apps did not track calories accurately and only focused on how many calories were left to consume. Alex believes that these types of apps can contribute to mental health problems and eating disorders. He argues that apps need to be regulated to prevent coercing healthy and vulnerable people into obsessive behaviour. In the end, Alex decides to go the old-fashioned way and simply remember his calorie intake, believing that as long as he keeps his average calorie intake just below his calorie deficit and exercises regularly, he will lose weight.


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.

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Why not use bodycams for experimental work?

The blog post discusses Alex’s experience as an experimental physicist and the difficulties he faced in keeping track of important events during experiments. He suggests that using bodycams, similar to those used by police officers, could be a solution to this problem. Alex explains that the use of bodycams would provide a wide field of view and record all the problems that arise during an experiment. This would make communication between the experimenter and the supervisor more efficient and improve the replicability of experiments. Additionally, Alex argues that using bodycams would make experiments more rigorous, as it would be easier to catch mistakes and improve methodology. Alex concludes by pointing to NileRed’s YouTube channel as an example of how video recordings can be used to counter positive publication bias.


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.

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This photographer has out Dunhelmselves (sorry, couldn’t help it!)

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.

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The secrets to anxiety are inside my head – all someone needs to do is look

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.

Alex shares his personal experience with anxiety, which they believe was initiated by taking the antidepressant Sertraline. He discovered several case studies that also describe the development of anxiety symptoms in patients shortly after taking Sertraline. However, Alex’s anxiety symptoms persisted and worsened after cessation of the medication, unlike the patients in the case studies. Alex believes that their experience could be a special case that could help uncover the biochemical causes of anxiety disorders. Alex advocates for a more complex approach to understanding the causes of anxiety disorders that takes into account both nature and nurture.


“How did I miss this?” I say to myself. I had just found a case study by Catalano et al. [1] 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.

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