Six months into taking Sertraline (which is an anti-depressant) the recurring thought I had was: ‘is this how chill my non-anxious counterparts feel every single day’?
My PhD did not cause my anxiety; my earliest memories have some aspects of anxiety within them. Like my six-year-old self constantly asking my parents if they were going to die. And seven-year-old me placing my palm on my heart at least five times a day to make sure it hadn’t actually stopped beating. Everyone knew I was a worrier and that I’d worry if I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Anxiety is that gnawing fear that something may go wrong any second now. And even though in my case I have lived with unrelenting phobias for years that have never actually come to pass, a stronghold is so pre-fixed for a reason.
I started my PhD on a high, convinced that my learned coping mechanisms (with no diagnosis yet or medication) would suffice for this four-year journey. Little over four months in the pressures took their toll: homesickness, loneliness, living on my own for the first time and the resurgence of some particularly terrifying phobias. I reached out for help at my university counselling services, realising that my complacency had opened me up to this crisis: years of anxiety management have taught me that failure to maintain my mental hygiene during a high could lead to a crash soon after. A few weeks of counselling helped me find a new balance. And towards the end of my first year of PhD, I felt much better within myself. However, at this time the pressures of research started to work on my nerves.