I don’t really know where to begin. I’m writing this lying on my bed listening to Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ album and it is throwing it down with rain outside. There go my plans for a walk out of the window!
The start of the COVID-19 pandemic seems years ago now, and we’re coming up to 12 months of activity that, for me, has featured a lockdown, coming out of lockdown, going on holiday for a week in the UK, seeing friends briefly at a social distance, Christmas and then back into a lockdown again. During this chaotic period, I was also writing up and finishing my PhD, which I finally submitted in January 2021.
✨‘Euphoria, forever until the end of time’?✨
Of course, I should feel a sense of ‘Euphoria’ after submitting the PhD, and in a sense, I did. I was all alone in my bedroom-cum-office and set up the email to send to my university’s research degree team. I attached the thesis document. I kept checking the thesis document out of paranoia to ensure that the contents page was correct and accurate. After a good 10 minutes of faffing about, I FINALLY hit ‘send’. That was it. Finished. I felt a sense of relief at this very moment, I emailed my supervisors, I printed out the title page of the thesis document and took a selfie and posted it on Twitter to legitimise and set in stone that it was done.
It may have been out of requiring a sense of validation for this accomplishment that I did this, or the fact that other PhDs do the same thing. I was glad that I did – the amount of support (in the form of lovely comments and ‘likes’) I received from other PhD’s, academics, and even Eurovision fans was wonderful. This just shows that (Academic) Twitter can be a nice place to be, even though other parts of Twitter can often be nasty, highly opinionated, and encourage endless arguments between ‘people’.
Negotiating the emotional ‘Arcade’ during the PhD writing process…
The writing process, however, has been a big emotional ‘Arcade’ for sure, and even more so since the beginning of the pandemic. The lack of social contact and unable to see other PhD’s and academic friends face-to-face in-person has been impossible. I have, however, been able to meet my fellow PhDs from uni through Zoom and we’ve done quizzes, which at the time was ‘new’ and a novel way of getting together and interacting.
As time has gone on, however, this novelty of using video conferencing software to communicate has worn off and I feel that these methods of communication cannot be an indefinite replacement for in-person socialising. On the flip side, I’ve felt that I’ve connected more strongly with my PhD supervisors during the pandemic. I’ve been rather lucky to have ones that have said ‘just contact me whenever, by email or text’ whenever I’ve needed help with any aspect of my work. So, where I’ve enjoyed video conferencing for PhD meetings or for quizzing and catching up with friends, I’m now at that stage where these processes of working and socialising have become a bit too normalised in my day-to-day routine and now, I just want to meet people without all the COVID restrictions. This in itself, I understand, could be a way off…
As well as my PhD studies, I work part-time in a public library. As a result of going into lockdown, I have had to work from home at various stages, which has required me to adapt to a new role working on my local council’s Coronavirus helpline. At times, it has been stressful and mentally challenging and at the same time I’ve had a rollercoaster of emotions associated with getting the PhD done. So, in the last 12 months, my desk at home has become my part-time working desk and PhD working desk. I’ve constantly been attached to my laptop screen in order to carry out and juggle these jobs.
To get away from all these stresses, I have discovered my local area a lot more. I’ve regularly been going for walks to local parks and checking out the daily goings-on around my local business park. During this time, I often contemplate and talk through my thoughts in my head, or just try and not think about the PhD at all. Usually during my walks, I would send friends voice memos as a way of letting off some steam, or just to talk my thoughts, worries, and anxieties with them.
Additionally, I’ve been keeping a writing journal to document the high and low points of the PhD writing process. I was aiming to keep this separate initially, but other emotions and aspects of my life often get mixed up with these, so the writing journal has become a bit more of a holistic therapy for me. At the start of 2021, I’ve also been keeping a ‘mood calendar’ which I saw someone create on Instagram last year. In this, I record daily how I have felt, whether I was ‘happy’, just ‘OK’ or ‘anxious’. Alongside this, I also jot down a few lines each day of what I’ve done and how I’ve felt physically and mentally. I wish I had done this a lot more regularly earlier on in the PhD process. I have found keeping a record of this helps you ‘let go’ and compartmentalise your feelings, to a certain extent, in a diary or journal.
I’m now at the stage of applying for jobs (haha my subconscious says), which is not going well – at the time of writing this anyway. Plenty of rejections – I have had 2 interviews for jobs that I didn’t get, but they have been very useful in order to prepare for future interviews. What I’m trying to say here is that the academic job market is even more competitive in the time of COVID and I’ve been feeling rather subdued, frustrated, and hopeless with it. In my mind, I get the feeling that my application(s) will be rejected so why bother? No doubt other PhD’s are feeling similarly, and in a pandemic, this feels much worse and stressful. For those in similar situations – you’re not alone.
‘Nothing holding me down, nothing holding me down’
For people that know me on Twitter will know that I’ve resorted to composing tweets of frustration about this and the writing process. It has been helpful, with academic and PhD colleagues and friends offering advice and support to ‘keep on going’. Even though it’s just reading these direct off my smartphone screen, it does help implant the phrase into my subconscious, so that I can come back to it when I’m feeling low. As well as journaling and diarising, listening to music – usually of the Eurovision variety – does help me push forward. Australia’s ‘Zero Gravity’ from 2019, performed by Kate Miller-Heidke, is one such song that gives me hope in bouts of anxiety, stress and now pandemic. The repetition of the lyric ‘nothing holding me down’ does help me think more positively and makes me shed a tear at times when I’ve felt really upset! I hope it helps you keep on moving, even in these difficult times.
Someone put me in hyper-sleep and wake me up in 2 years when hopefully the pandemic is over!
Jamie Halliwell is a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. Follow him on Twitter especially if you enjoy Eurovision!