Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Back on the keyboard

Right, so I  didn't manage to use the summer to get a lot of work done, but I did use it to poke my brain, see a therapist, discover that I actually have pretty severe anxiety, and start taking steps towards figuring out strategies to overcome this. Go me! 

Also, exposure therapy sucks mightily.

But today I scheduled writing time, made a plan, and actually did what I had set out to do. Words on a page. Not submittable, serious words, but words to clarify thoughts, lay out arguments, and so move towards submittable words.  This is progress. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Gymmening

The first time I went to the gym, I was walked around it and given a sales pitch about personal trainers and prices. 
The second time, I tried to give them money but got sent away because the person who could take my money wasn't there.
On the third visit, I gave them money and filled out multiple forms promising that I was totally healthy enough to start doing things to make me more healthy.
The fourth time, I was walked around the gym (again) and told how each of the machines worked, clearly with the assumption that a short demonstration of twenty different things would be easy to remember.
Today, I went back again and was reminded how to use a few of them, along with demonstrating that I could maybe do a pushup or two, so that the guy with the timer and the pen could figure out what he thought I should be trying to do.

I think I might have run out of delaying tactics now.  Next time, I will have to do The Exercising.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Songs Telling Stories

My friends on Facebook are making a valiant effort to keep communicating meaningfully and overthrow the algorithms promoting clickbait and advertisements.  People are throwing out conversation starters, random questions and crowdsourcing webcomic and song recommendations. 

One of today's requests was for songs with narratives.  Not 'just hinting', but straight out telling stories.  And...well, a good portion of my music is folk music / singer songwriter / indy whatever that means (I am bad with music genres, just go with it) so I was valiantly restraining myself from posting whole albums.  And then I started thinking about it more, and thinking about the types of stories different songs tell. 

[ I mean, I long ago faced up to the fact that much of the music I adore comes from a very specific background and tells the story of a particular person. 

Really, I have so many stories of the woes of white American men in declining industrial regions, harking back to the golden age of the American Dream and pretending it was a real place...
And then there's some of the British folk, which talks dreamily about soldiers or lords or labourers, and I don't think it's possible to love the music and the tales without implicitly giving it a pass on the things it doesn't talk about or the people who aren't quite counted as people enough to have their stories told or hardships remembered.  And then there's the damn gender politics...
- Which isn't to say that some contemporary folk singers aren't doing an awesome job of rebalancing that, through re-interpreting, rewriting and doing their own damn thing. ]

Anyway, that was mostly a lead-in to me linking to a whole lot of music, because I refrained from swamping the Facebook thread with my enthusiasm.  This may turn into more than one post on the subject.

First up - because he was the consummate story-teller, and I really can't think of any of his songs which aren't narratives - Harry Chapin.  Humanitarian, overworked campaigner, fundraiser and apparently infuriating when he got onto his pet subjects, Congressional Medal of Honor holder, and guy who sang about a very particular America - a combination of the one he lived in and the mythic 'America' that he felt it was a part of. 

Okay, he got linked on the original thread for 'Cats in the Cradle'.  And, well, that's nice and it went on to be the song he's really well known for, but I think there are better ones. 

I mean, the guy wrote a ten minute single based on shootings at the University of Texas.

 And sometimes he sang stories about people being ignorant about their oncoming destruction, despite plenty of warning.  (If he was still around, I think he would have been one of the people getting Very Angry about climate change deniers, and then he would have sung about it)

I do think that my affection for his stories is one of the reason my music tastes get called depressing.  There's a lot of songs where things go wrong, or people end up regretting past deeds and dreaming of what might have beens.  Actually, this one is more like a horror story involving a succubus, if your mind twists that way.

And there are less creepy love songs.  Some of which are autobiographical, and many of them include that same kind of wistful quality of wanting something and just missing.  This one even has a story within a story.

The sad thing is that I could have posted about five songs instead of one for each of those examples.

However, since his post was inspired by my friend SF, I will finish with a song which was written with the kind of poor taste that I think he would appreciate, taking a fatal crash and turning it into a comedy song.  A song about a truck, a town called Scranton, Pennsylvania and....30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Summer Developments

I know, I know, it;s been a long time since the last post.  I seem to have spent the Spring (and most of the Summer) in the grip of depression and anxiety.  On the plus side, I now have a therapist who was able to actually point out to me that I do actually fit diagnostic criteria for pretty severe anxiety.

(Me: But I don't really feel anxious unless I do something like try to work or talk to someone, and I don't get panic attacks.
Him: So, do you avoid doing any of this long list of things?
Me: Oh yeah, pretty much all of them. The thought of them is terrifying.
Him: Yeah. That's anxiety.
Me: *Lightbulb* Ooooooh, so I'm actually just so awesome at avoidance that I don't even notice I'm doing it any more? Wow, my brain fucks me over in some interesting ways...)

This has been...interesting and kind of awesome in that now I'm learning how to recognise feelings of anxiety instead of just...oh, I have an overwhelming desire not to do that thing that I was planning to. Unfortunately, the internet has provided no magic ways to get over this, except CBT and graduated exposure - which kind of condenses down to 'get the fuck up and get over it (but, you know, over time)  and you might just have to accept living in a degree of discomfort for ever. But hey, you'll notice it less as you go on to do even MORE uncomfortable things'. 

So, I've been trying to do more things, and notice what my brain is veering away from and seeing if I can redirect it.  Which is useful but also exhausting because it adds an extra level of fighting myself.

(Apparently one thing I need to get used to the discomfort of is letting myself exist in social situations. So I'll start with the internet, post a few things and then maybe actually tell more than one person that this blog exists.)

The other thing I need to get into is the habit of writing.  Expressing myself is one of the things that I've slowly let dwindle away - honestly, it's much easier to say nothing or focus on being utterly unremarkable than risk venturing an opinion or being creative...and that's a line of thought that I've been following for years.  And of course, because I rarely risk it, I never learn to get over that fear of exposure - putting myself out there (where ever that somewhere is) where another actual person could have an opinion about me or my words. 

Why yes, I do need to write a 100,000 word thesis in the next two years.  And publish papers in journals. And speak at conferences in front of people I would like to be able to consider as peers. 

These things cannot exist together.  So, either I suck it up, retrain my brain and fear reflexes and learn to live with discomfort, or the PhD I've been working towards for 5 years will turn out to be a pipedream.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

February Review

Winter still had a sting in the tail for me. Was it that I said I was so glad to be rid of January?  It's now just one week away from the end of the second University term, and I'm not really sure what I've achieved so far.  February had... Nights out with friends and obscene jokes, a Valentine's card, adventures squeezed into the back of a tiny car, mashed avocado on toast, a film festival and guests visiting, velvet jackets, a ride in the boot of a car and talking with ghosts in a cathedral.

On the other hand it also had antibiotics which triggered depression, two colds which left my head thick and fuzzy, frustrated attempts to find a house for next year, avoiding people and my office, too many days of missed seminars or talks and nights both wishing and unable to go out. 

It is largely because of those that this update is so late. I looked at the targets I set myself and they seem like a joke, however moderate they were.

February targets:
  • 2 long bits of writing  - I haven't even achieved 1, though I have managed quite a few pages of notes
  • 5 blog posts (this one doesn't count) - I posted 2
  • Attend 3 large social gatherings - I'm trying to remember...I definitely made it to two, possibly three
  • Read 1 theoretical text and 1 biography - I think I did read 1 theoretical text, but not a biography
 Books bought: 2
Significant things:
  • Three cheers for CBT?  I have my doubts about it and I think it is a far from universally good therapeutic technique, but I think I am at a stage where it can be helpful.  That is, I am aware that I am mildly depressed and want techniques to help me stop my brain spiralling onwards into more serious depression, because it's been there before and has bad habits.  I'm taking a course which seems to be helping spur me into helpful actions at least.
  • I have started to organise my notebooks and type up notes from last term.
  •  I had another meeting with supervisor. She still seems happy with what I am doing, so...
  • I volunteered to write a survey for the department.  This should be exciting :)
  • I have started 'timesheeting' my work so that I can keep track of where time is going and note down when I've worked on what
March targets:  (In March I am having minor surgery and it is also includes some Easter holidaying)
  • 1 piece of longer writing for second supervisor
  • 2 short first draft pieces of writing for first supervisor
  • Finish organising notebooks
  • 4 blog posts
  • Complete survey successfully and prepare to send out
On the plus side, the sun is coming back, the days are getting longer and warmer, and I think it's almost time to hang up my winter coat.

Friday, 13 February 2015

A Late Realisation

Today I realised that wanting to stay in bed all day and not leave to eat or fetch entertainment is actually a sign that I am ill, and even if I COULD force myself out of bed, I probably wouldn't be able to achieve anything.  The issue when your job mostly involves thinking very hard about complicated things is that when your head feels like it is made of cotton wool then there probably isn't much point in even trying to force yourself to engage.

Now, you'd think that I might have realised this way before now, but apparently I really hadn't. I think its the after effect of years of borderline mental health issues, where I assumed that if I could just get over myself and actually leave the bed / room / building or pick up an article and concentrate properly then I'd get over my general malaise and be able to work properly.  Well, today I picked myself up out of bed by the early evening, and took myself out to a couple of lectures that I've been looking forward to for a few weeks... And while it wasn't a total waste of time, I was aware that I just wasn't capable of engaging with it as I would like to.  It was taking all my energy just to follow the arguments, I didn't have a hope in hell of evaluating them.

When I realised this, it was a light-dawning, choirs singing revelatory moment where suddenly I could accept that I'd actually been ill today, rather than just kind of crap.  Accepting that I couldn't realistically have done any work suddenly took away a whole burden of background guilt about 'taking the day off'. 

I'm not sure if, now that I've finally come to this point, it will stick.  So, this post is partly here to remind myself in the future that it's actually not the usual state of affairs for me to want to do nothing and not move for the day - and when it happens it means that I'm probably ill.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

January Review

A month I am very glad indeed to see the back of.  Going from the end of sumbel season (and, admittedly, a very good New Years' party) and travelling back to the north east, trying to get back into the working mindset.  Still just as cold and dark as December, though, with no real sign of days getting longer.  Walking home in the dark gets old, and the snow was lovely but the ice is perilous.

I did have another PhD student look askance at the fact that I could enjoy the prettiness of the snow though. I pointed out that it wasn't going to settle, and it was practically CGI quality snow falling in front of a cathedral lit up for the night - glorious. His response?  "Well, when you get to my age you don't really find it that exciting."  He is twenty-three.  I responded with the hope that once he reached my grand old age of twenty-six he would once again take delight in the world...

So, achievements this month:

Long bits of writing done: 1 (should have been 2, that is now trailing over into February)
Blog posts written: 3
Books read: 0 completely (Theory is, if I start tracking it, it will improve)
Books bought: 3 (not too bad, a little high. On the plus side, did discover a couple of ebook repositories, and am arranging a loan of another text I want to read.)
Significant things:
  • Sat down for a morning with some bibliographic software, put together a system that works and organised most of the PDFs from last term.
  • Had an excellent supervision and set some targets for next month.
  • Found login details for most of my blogs and actually started using them.
  • Managed to arrange social things to happen twice.
  • Had a really crap month, but have not dropped anything really important, and have made plans to help with next month.
February targets:
  • 2 long bits of writing
  • 5 blog posts (this one doesn't count)
  • Attend 3 large social gatherings
  • Read 1 theoretical text and 1 biography