Ups and downs

If you read this blog more often, you might have noticed that it went silent in March 2019. I’ve taken breaks from blogging before, but no break was quite like this, and in this post I explain why.

Although I never wrote about it in detail, I also never made a secret out of the fact that I have been struggling with depression since my postdoc. I had therapy for some of the time and was in general managing things quite well – doing my job, blogging, doing sports, having a social life. The current me almost can’t believe I was able to do all those things. 

In the second half of 2018 things started getting worse. After my cat Buffy passed away in October 2018, I was at an extremely low point and finally decided therapy alone wouldn’t do. My GP prescribed me antidepressants and I started a period of sick leave (full-time at first, part-time later) to adjust.

The antidepressants seemed to be doing an amazing job – the start was slow, but then I started feeling better and better. I soon went back to working full-time, was getting a lot done and had a lot of fresh ideas. I realized I was probably depressed for longer than I thought, and that I was now returning to the “normal” me. This was exciting for me, but somewhat confusing for many people around me, many of whom had not known me that long. 

Eventually – around March – I started feeling a bit too good. The ideas were coming at me so fast I couldn’t keep up, and neither could people interacting with me. My partner recognized this as hypomania, and following a GP visit I was told to stop the antidepressants. The GP also gave me a referral to the psychiatrist, but I ended up on a waiting list. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more out of balance.

The grand finale was a psychotic episode, during which I was convinced that people I’ve never met were giving me clues I had to follow. To top it off, this happened while I was travelling alone. After a few days in a psychiatric facility in France, I was able to return home again, going back on sick leave full-time. The bright side of this episode is that I could see a psychiatrist immediately, who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder.

Now I am getting used to the new medication to stabilize my mood. Although the effects were noticeable straight away and I feel “normal” again, it has been difficult to go back to my regular life with work, blogging, sports, etc, feeling like an impostor in everything. I’m trying to accept that this is normal, and slowly building things up again. I am therefore not sure when the next post might be – but I’ll celebrate that this post is a win.

My goals for 2018 – blog, exercise and mental health

Last time I wrote about my most important goal for 2018 – writing. In this post I share a few other goals I have with regard to this blog, running and mental health.

Blogging

I’ve been blogging once a week for over a year, and I definitely want to continue this in 2018. I do have to admit it’s tough to do something every week. This year I would like to schedule more posts in advance, batching the writing, scheduling and other tasks on the blog.

But next to writing which is a process goal, I also would like to have a performance goal of some kind. Number of readers, number of comments… you get the point! Next to just “showing up” every week, I think this would motivate me to write better, and follow through with sharing my posts. For example, I am somehow scared to share posts on Facebook, even though the posts are public and I know they will be read by people who know me in real life. If I want more readers, this is something I’ll have to address.

After a discussion on the Academic Blogging group, I thought I would try AdSense income as a performance goal – hence the (hopefully not too annoying) ads you see on this page. The income is correlated to the number of readers, but with a “real life gamification” factor. So far I have earned a “grand total” of EUR 3. You could say it’s not worth it, but to me it’s an interesting metric to keep track of.

It would be great if I would get to EUR 25 or so, past the break-even point of the direct costs of this website. I feel a bit guilty about this, because I can afford it and, from what I hear on Twitter, I’m in a better financial position than many academics in a similar career stage. But at the same time I feel I shouldn’t apologize for what I find interesting to do – and spend a lot of time on.

 

Exercise

Last year I went from a cautious “just go running, anything counts” goal, to running two 10K races in reasonable time for somebody with my history of starting running and giving up again. Next year I will go for running 5-10K every week, and running 10K in under an hour. I don’t really want to run longer distances, but motivated by @Felienne I will also do the 15K Bruggenloop in December.

Maybe more importantly, I became more comfortable with talking about exercise. Similar to being scared of sharing posts on Facebook or wanting to have extra income from my blog, I have been somehow scared to share any goals related to fitness. If the topic comes up, I feel either embarrassed by my laziness (because the other person exercises every day), or embarrassed by my “first world problem” (because the other person is not able to exercise for whatever reason). I think we can agree that this is stupid and nobody should apologize for trying to be healthier.

 

Mental health

To continue on a similar theme, I would like to feel less anxious about a lot of things. Part of this is that I just need to do less things, so I should say no more often.

Another part is that I should get my brain to stay focused on one thing at a time, and not to overthink everything so much. Reading books, the Headspace app and journaling are helping with this, but there are definitely more things I could do, such as using my phone less and only checking email at fixed times of the day.

At this point these are more resolutions than goals. But I do see how most things can be turned into goals – maybe something to explore in another post?

 

Less

As I was writing, I realized there was a pattern in seemingly unrelated things like blogging and running. In her post about 2018, @DoctorPMS talked about having a theme for the year, and I kind of liked that idea, but couldn’t find a word. But now I think I’m on to something…

My theme would be “less“.

Less projects and distractions, less apologizing for what I want, less fear and trying to make everyone else (except myself) happy. To make space for more writing, blogging and being healthy.

5 strategies for saying no more often

5 strategies for saying no

“I should say no more often”, I often say to myself, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. For me the hardest part is not actually declining the request, but deciding whether to do it. There are just so many interesting opportunities and I would love it if I could accept all of them! As a result, often other projects (cough writing cough) tend to suffer. Then I start feeling anxious and guilty about all the things that I need to do, and it’s a vicious circle from there. Since the demands on my time are increasing, I have been (proactively) thinking how to approach this. This post covers a few strategies I have found helpful so far for saying no.

5 strategies for saying no

 

1. Does it help or hurt my goals?

Sounds logical, right? If you can do this well, you wouldn’t even be reading this post. But for me this is the most counterintuitive strategy. The things I say yes to always end up being helpful, perhaps even in ways I cannot imagine at the time of the request. By that logic, I should say yes to everything, which is of course not a viable strategy.

I’ve started realizing that the problem is that my goals are not defined clearly enough. I recently read “The Productive Researcher” by Mark Reed, where he gives several examples of his goals. One goal is something along the lines of “[important research thing here] while not being away from home more than 2 evenings a week”. Very specific and actionable, so I’m definitely adopting this one.

 

2. Data, data, data!

Keep track of how much you are doing already. For example, I always felt I couldn’t decline a review request – it was an interesting paper, an important journal, a nice editor, etc. Then I realized I was reviewing WAY more than my “share”, roughly defined as three times the number of papers you submit yourself. Now that I’m aware of this number, it is easier to say no.

It hasn’t been an issue yet, but I imagine that in future I might impose similar quotas on other types of activities, such as committees or travel.

3. Keep a list of things you’ve said no to

Next to my CV of Failures, this year I have also started keeping a list of opportunities I have said no to. This includes things I didn’t feel I should do (such as too many reviews), but more importantly, things I wanted to do but decided not to overschedule myself.

Just as the CV of Failures felt rewarding to put together, this list too helps me feel better about declining opportunities. Now, it is just a list of things I declined, but in the future, I might add “did I regret it”, to convince me myself it’s OK to say no.

 

4. No Committee

Get a few people together to join your own personal “no committee”. When you are doubting about something, your committee votes whether you should say yes or not! For a more in-depth explanation, see the post on Get a Life, PhD, where I first found out about this concept.

I find that it is not actually necessary to interact with your committee about decisions. You just have to imagine talking to them and think about the advice they would give.

 

5. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s no

Heard this one through Tim Ferriss (either his podcast or  “Tools of Titans”, which I highly recommend). Basically the idea is that if you are doubting already (it’s not a “hell yes!”), you should say no.

 

***

That is all I have so far – do you have any other strategies you find helpful? Leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter!

%d bloggers like this: