Personal blog of Dr Alex Mendelsohn

Category: Thoughts (Page 1 of 2)

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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Imposter syndrome – part 2

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

Alex writes about his experiences with mental health and how talking about it has led to fruitful conversations with others. During one such conversation, he realized that seeing imposter syndrome from the PhD supervisor’s point of view may help those who are afraid to ask for help. Alex explains that the fear of being kicked off the PhD is a primary symptom of imposter syndrome and that seeing the situation from the supervisor’s perspective can counteract this fear. He notes that a PhD student is at the beginning of their career, while the supervisor is likely closer to retirement, and choosing a PhD student is a major commitment. Alex emphasizes that a supervisor invests in a PhD student and it is within their interest to help with any problems or feelings the student has. He encourages students who feel like they are struggling to reach out to their supervisor and colleagues and that imposter syndrome does not have to last any longer than they decide. Alex concludes by saying that his PhD experience taught him that it is rather overrated and that he was no different the day after his viva than the day before.

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.

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Imposter syndrome – part 1

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

This blog post discusses imposter syndrome, the feeling of inadequacy despite having achieved success. Alex suggests that understanding and knowledge are two different concepts and that a researcher’s job is to extend their understanding to gain new knowledge. He argues that while it is normal for new researchers to feel like imposters when they are surrounded by people with more knowledge than them, they should focus on their ability to draw new lines of understanding. Alex believes that vivas test understanding, not knowledge, and that one’s ability to derive new understandings from previously known concepts is what defines a good researcher.

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.”

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