Ways of getting through the Tough Days

I am an expert at catastrophising. You want a worst-case scenario? I’ve got you covered. Need to feed that sinking dread that it’s will all go to custard? No problem.

Yesterday was tough. It hit home that I was not going to meet a goal set at my last supervision meeting for completing revisions on a draft. I knew this was likely last week but it really hit home as I faced preparing and sending the agenda for the meeting on Friday. Here was something that was supposed to be a small piece of work for which I’d given myself a really generous timeframe and I won’t meet it. I’d had some fantastic days getting into ‘the zone’ while working on the revisions. I had felt fantastic, the revisions were flowing and I was enjoying the process as well as the product. Then I had to acknowledge that there was more work here than I was going to be able to accomplish in the time remaining.

Cue sinking feeling.

What has made it even harder is that factors beyond my control were major contributors and I still have no idea how to influence them. Crucial and incredibly helpful feedback from one of my supervisors didn’t arrive until nearly two weeks after my last supervision meeting and I’d sent that draft to everyone over a month before that. I know that  supervisors have an array of competing demands on their time and that PhD projects don’t always get the highest priority, and that Life Happens as well. I don’t expect anyone else to be as involved with this as I am, but getting what I need to meet agreed goals is fairly important. Thing is, I don’t know what I can do differently and somehow I end up feeling this is a failing of mine rather than as a result of other circumstances. It started me thinking about what this may mean come chapter drafting and revising time, drifting on an increasingly choppy sea of worry.

Realistically, I know I have some great stuff in this draft and that this isn’t the end of the world. The revising process has led to another pile of relevant literature which is exciting and useful. The commentary on that most recent draft has been amazingly helpful and I want to encourage more rather than whinge (which is unattractive at the best of times), but I needed it three weeks ago to meet my goal.

I need some ways of getting through Tough Days that don’t involve getting stuck, running away into distraction or succumbing to the drowning feeling. It’s highly likely there will be more and I need have ways of getting through that don’t involve sitting around wanting to chuck in the towel due to frustration. I need some way of being angry with my supervisors constructively when I don’t get what I need from them. I need a way of getting clear and explicit information about all sorts of assumed or implicit knowledge that I just don’t know. At times I feel like the whole field keeps shifting, not just the goalposts, and I can’t keep up. I’m also uncertain about how to ‘not cope’ here in a way that is okay and prompts a helping response. Part of my fear is that there really isn’t very much in the way of help and I’m pretty much on my own. What I don’t need or want is for supervision meetings to turn into counselling sessions.

I do have a lot of things I can do, and do regularly, to manage my ambient level of stress and keep it in that sweet range where it is motivating but not paralysing. It’s a fine line sometimes but just these last few days it’s romped over that line with the gusto of an excited labrador puppy. Part of my frustration is that I follow so much of the “advice to PhD students on how to manage your supervisors” and it still hasn’t worked.

Tough days are tough, and they are enough to obliterate my view of all my achievements so far. It’s easy to see all the red ‘track changes’ and not the vast tracts of good writing. Things can and regularly do go wrong in the research process and they can end up producing some of the most amazing results. Dealing with my inclination to catastrophise is my task and I’m usually onto it. Maybe I need to put this down to part of the learning process, but it’s hard to learn how to deal with some aspects of it without some guidance.

Something more to keep revising.

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