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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1 of 2
My PhD supervisor and I were standing in the lab preparing a sample for the electron microscope. It is a semi-dull activity, rich in opportunity for conversations about the minutia of life. I mentioned to him I was worried about the viva. I have always struggled with thinking on my feet. When my mind is stressed in such a way it takes the option of shutting down completely, leaving the occupier (i.e. me) to stare blankly at the wall. After some much-needed reassurance and useful advice, he says something which piques my interest. He mentions the viva is a “test of your knowledge”. Curious, I respond “I thought it was a test of my understanding?”. “Well”, he says in a semi-throwaway manner, “what really is the difference between understanding and knowledge.”