Monday, October 17, 2016

I didn't expect depression

I don't mean to do an injustice to any woman who has given birth to a real child and finds herself dealing with postpartum depression, but I feel like that is what I'm going through right now.

People in academia always refer to a PhD thesis/dissertation as a baby or child. There's the same long gestational period, the same anticipation, a lot of work and effort that goes into preparing, a supervisor (birth coach) who helps throughout, regular "check ups," physical and emotional ups and downs, all the people giving you advice about what you need to be doing now and what to prepare yourself for it, vulnerability (being "exposed" to outsiders) and, at the end, there's an incoherent flurry of commotion and activity as many different people rush around frantically to help bring this new "life" into the world. Then suddenly the moment comes and the pressure stops instantly.

Are you convinced of the appropriateness of my analogy yet?

Over the past several months, I have been prepared for the experience of submitting my thesis and finishing my PhD in many ways, but I have discovered that I was not adequately prepared emotionally. The past month before submitting itself was an emotional roller coaster. There were so many things to do, of course, but aside from stress, there was also so much anxiety, ebbs and flows of confidence, etc. Towards the last two weeks, I had difficulty sleeping and could go from perfectly peaceful to churning with anxiety and nervousness in about five milliseconds.

Although those crazy side effects mostly abated after submission (thankfully), sadly, others have jumped in to replace them. All at once I have lost my:
ability to plan or get anything done
quick smile
desire to see, talk, or spend time with anyone outside of my closest friends and family

and found:
an insatiable craving for donuts
and a new affinity for staring off into space

In short, I feel like my life has fallen apart.

For the past several weeks I've just been wondering what is wrong with me and why I all of a sudden can't get anything done, or even care much about getting things done (it took me a week to finish this blog post). My list of "to-dos after submission", which I was really excited about and have looked forward to for months, has almost not been touched at all. I even feel like I have lost my spark of spirituality--I've been finding it very difficult to read the scriptures, to say meaningful prayers, and to focus in any church setting. This is uncharacteristic and disturbing to me.

So I've been thinking. And talking to people.
My sister mentioned that it sounds like coming home from a mission. That inspired comment is really what triggered me to realize what I'm going through: Depression. I just wasn't expecting it.

I've dealt with depression at other times in my life, so right now I'm doing the things I know will help me get through.
I'm waking up each morning and giving thanks for the sun coming up and out (on the days it has come out)
Even though I often don't feel like it, I'm choosing to kneel in prayer to express gratitude--I know I have so many things to be grateful for;
I'm trying to do a better job each day at seeing all the ways the Lord has worked and is working in my life, and choosing not to believe that He's suddenly not real anymore;
I'm exercising every day,
And eating healthily (minus the donuts, but I'm cutting myself some slack there).
Although I almost can't stand it, I'm still coming into University and forcing myself to work.
I'm trying to serve and get outside of myself at every opportunity;
I'm trying to be honest with others about what I'm experiencing, so that I don't put up a false front and so that I can benefit from the relationships around me;
I'm trying to remember that the best is always yet to be, and there is a bright future ahead;
I'm trying to be patient with myself and my current situation,
To not look back or give in to feelings of sadness,
To be close to, open, and honest with the Lord,
And most of all, to press forward with a steadfastness in Christ (2 Nephi 31:20).

These things all sound so simple on paper, and they are things I generally take for granted at other times. But right now, in my current situation, little by little, they are making all the difference in my life. I'm still dealing with the depression, and each day is still a struggle in its own way for different reasons, but I've been reminded by the Spirit recently of this fact:

In that truism, I'm reminded that trouble, challenge, and trial are part of the mortal experience, and there is nothing wrong with admitting they are there or that they are difficult. However, giving up, or wallowing in the difficulty, is to be avoided. In these truths, I am finding happiness. Mostly I am finding happiness because I've been reminded of Jesus Christ--I know that I have much to be happy about and to look forward to, because of Him. He is the Light of the world, the Life of the world, and the Hope of the world. He is these things to me.

Because of him, I (and we) still have great reason to rejoice. Even when it's raining.

Love love,

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Life Lesson from a PhD #1

If there is one piece of advice I love/feel is the most important to give newbie or struggling students who are looking for a special bit of help in their study or life it is this: never, ever, ever do your homework on a Sunday. And you will be blessed!

Sound too easy to be true? Trust me, it's not!

I have learned this lesson so often. As a child, I remember attending one specific sacrament meeting when I learned about Sabbath day observance. The person speaking talked about JOY as an acronym for how our lives should be ordered: Jesus, Others, Yourself. She gave an example of her son doing his homework on Sunday. She asked him, "son, who are you serving by doing your homework today? Is it the Saviour? Is it others? Or is it just yourself?" I was only young (probably middle school), but for some reason, the lesson hit me hard. I don't know that I had ever done homework on a Sunday up to then, but from then on I made it a point never to do so. It wasn't too difficult when I was in high school, but that resolve could have been tested more robustly at University. When life was packed to the brim with assignments, deadlines, and fatigue, I was sometimes tempted to just squeeze some reading or a quick writing assignment in on Sabbath afternoons. Luckily, I had gained a special piece of knowledge my first semester that helped me stick to my resolve: one day at church early on in the year we sang Hymn #147: "Sweet is the Work." Verse two was particularly instructive to me: 

For me, that line came as a lightning bolt from heaven to my heart. It was an answer and a resolve: for peace in my life, to maintain balance and sacredness and show the Lord my trust in and devotion to Him, I could give up even worrying, thinking, or being concerned about the rest of my life on Sundays. I could just put it all on the shelf on Saturday eve, and when I came back to it Mondays, it would all be okay. That is the inspiration I felt. 

And you know what? By following that, things truly were okay. There ended up being many late Saturday nights and early Monday mornings at BYU, but I know that I made it through my bachelors degree in large part simply because I put the right things first and was blessed for it.

It is a similar story for my PhD. Work weeks here can be rough. At different times, I have regularly worked 70+ hour weeks, for weeks and even months on end. This is (or has become) normal for me and many of my colleagues, yet I feel like I have a secret superpower/source of energy and refreshment that they don't. It's called 'keeping the Sabbath day holy.'

Taking one full day off each week (and guarding it strictly from work, school, or research related problems) gives me many wonderful blessings:
  • I get a reprieve from life every single week
  • I get to rejuvenate and recharge and start over for the week
  • I get to think about the things that generally have to get put on a back burner the other days of the week, and a chance to be myself without the challenges of regular day-to-day life. 
Additionally, giving that day fully to the Lord (in the sense that I go to church, don't generally shop, travel, or spend money on it, focus more on serving others or doing things with longer lasting potential, and try to keep it free from all other worries or cares of life) has further rewards:
  • I get outside of myself and remember my place in this world, in my family, and among my friends--some things are actually more important than that which we tend to spend our most time on
  • I receive peace, direction, help, guidance, and answers as I turn to God and remember my place in His plan
  • I get to partake of the Sacrament, which renews, refreshes, and, I believe, cleanses me for another week. 
These things may sound somewhat small, but I can tell you, they  make a huge difference. On Monday mornings, when I come in to the office and greet my colleagues, we chat about the weekend. How I wish they believed in my secret when I find out that, while I almost always feel chipper and happy and ready for another week ahead, they often feel groggy and overwhelmed and discouraged as a result of having spent the whole weekend at the office, never-endingly working on a project which they are fully and utterly sick of. Additionally, I wish I could share with them some of the freedom and joy and strength I feel because I know and have learned how to ask and allow God to help me with my burdens rather than trying to manage them all on my own. Sadly, I guess because of the anti-faith and -religion world we live in, when I do share this secret with others, it is often met by resistance to it; many of my friends still suffer with their burdens alone, rather than trying this out.

I'm not trying to suggest that keeping the Sabbath day solves all of life's problems. It doesn't fully, by itself. There are still some tough weeks, and sometimes, depending on callings or events, Sundays actually aren't all that restful at all, unfortunately. I'm also not trying to set myself up as an example, or to suggest that I am especially good at keeping this commandment. Rather, I just want to share my experience. I am grateful for the instruction from the Lord to keep the Sabbath day holy.* I have definitely seen the wisdom and blessings in this one. My burdens have been made lighter, my work has been made better, and my efforts have been helped along by unseen aides because I've tried to keep this day special. Truly, the Sabbath is a delight to us. Given to bless and refresh and help and happy us, and not to make life harder. I have seen it in my own life, and if greater peace, ability, balance, and happiness are something you are looking for, I invite you to test this one out. But don't just take a day as a break--give it to the Lord. I promise He will give you back so much more in return.

Love love,

*Sidenote: I actually feel like all of the commandments that the Lord gives us are, in reality, special insider tips about how to get along easier and be more happy in life.

Life Lessons from a PhD

Big news: I am finished with my thesis.

I submitted last Wednesday with two of my sisters visiting from the US and some good friends in tow. I can't really tell you how it feels to be at this point. Sort of empty/dazed/nervous/excited/depressed/ecstatic/tired/sad/happy/grateful/other things too. Now I just have to wait for the examiners (I'm not allowed to know who they are) to review it and send back comments before I do my final oral defense--I'm expecting that will all be finished by March next year. In the meantime, there is still lots to do.

There are presentations to prepare,

journal articles to write,
emails to reply to,
library books to check out and read,
country music videos to catch up on,
friends to spend time with,
family to visit,
hikes to go on,
a couple more institute classes to teach,
kms to run,
strength to gain,
new foods to try,
time to spend in the Temple,

In addition to those things, there are some blog posts I need to write.

Introducing a new series in my blog: Life lessons from my PhD

Many times throughout my PhD, I have reflected on whether or not it has been what I thought it was going to be. I feel like the world expects that I have some sort of new abilities or knowledge or expertise now that I'm about to get three new letters behind my name. I  know that is true to an extent, as I definitely know a lot more than you probably care to wonder about the Tongan diaspora and German history in the South Pacific, although being me at this point basically feels the same as being me at seventeen, albeit with a few more memories, experience, and confidence in between. Looking back, the most important and valuable education I feel I have received has come outside of my PhD program. These things can't be put on a CV (resume), and they won't affect my income level, but they are invaluable life lessons that I (hope) I am better off for learning. I thought I'd share them with you. You're welcome.

me, my sisters, and my child, who had a 3-year gestation and is now currently being cut up with scissors by strangers. #yourewelcomefortheanalogy #happinessandalsotears