In November I wrote that I should learn next time I have a stressful PhD thing, to pace myself and not think that I can do All The Things right after moving and starting a new job. That was good advice to my future self. I was writing about my APR (Annual Progress Review) stress, without actually writing about what happened.
I also wrote that people who were well-meaning would ask how I was finding living in Scotland, and I genuinely didn’t know how to answer. Moving up here was not the same as my last move when I went to Northampton a few years ago and I felt very much a stranger here. How do you know when you start to feel settled? When you don’t feel like a stranger at home? When you don’t have to use google maps to find your local *whatever shop/place you need to find*? When you stop feeling your way around your own house when you get up in the night and need to find the light switch but can’t feel your way to the switch on the wall because it’s not yet etched into your memory?
Finally someone asked me this week how I was finding Scotland, and I surprised myself by saying that I like it. Most of the time, I am glad I moved. Yes, I know where the light switches are in my flat. No, I don’t need google maps for some places but I do still need it for other places. And no, I really don’t feel like a stranger at home. I know my neighbours and their cats. We even sit in the garden sometimes together and one of them is a joiner and has helped with stuff (and yup this surprises me given how introverted I tend to be). Also, I have found some yoga folk who are lovely. Super lovely actually. They are people who notice when you are away for a week, and who ask how you are and remember when things happen in your life. Having your presence (and absence) noticed is one of those small things that is not a small thing at all. Lastly, there are some people I consider friends and that definitely changes how you feel in a place.
Back to the PhD. Which is the other thing people ask about after they ask how Scotland is. I submitted my work for the APR (the review you do every year, to determine whether you can officially progress). Did what I thought would be OK, but was asked to make a lot of revisions to my work in order to pass. I re-wrote my literature review, wrote two new methods chapters, changed the theory that underpins my work, and ended up submitting three chapters 8 months later. It passed in the end, but I couldn’t even tell you how many revisions of chapters went through supervisions. My work is much more developed now. And I am absolutely OK with where I’m going with it. But this all makes me reflect.
So when people ask how it's going, I tend to say ‘ah yeah. It’s slow.’ Or ‘it’s getting there’. Or ‘Yeah, it’s moving… slowly’. Which is all true. Huge emphasis on the slow progress. Slow tends to be my code-word for 'I am super tired and I can't believe I've been doing this for three years...' That is not to say that I don't care about my work. I deeply care about my work and my topic. Understanding about domestic abuse - doing feminist domestic abuse research - is important. I think it's important to contribute to knowledge in meaningful ways and do work that might one day contribute to things being different. That women, children and survivors are taken seriously. But there's a PhD process too. I see so much on Twitter and hear others saying that it’s a journey and everybody has a different experience, you have to roll with the unexpected and not compare your process to other people’s. But really, it is true, and I think that’s one of the reasons it is hard. You’re a lone wolf playing a big game yet you haven’t toughened up your skin yet, so each hit feels raw and painful. Of course, you heal, you grow, you toughen up and move on. At least, hopefully with enough support, encouragement and kindness, you can do those things. I am very fortunate I have friends around the country, and supervisors who hold you up and don't knock you down. I am immensely grateful for that. But still, this year has been the hardest PhD-wise. I am accepting it as part of one of the many PhD stories I’ll have to tell at the end.
No one can really prepare you for moving universities, changing half your supervision team, changing disciplines and new jobs. Doing that whilst trying to pull yourself out of an eating disorder relapse, is not something I’d do again. In hindsight I’m not entirely sure how I did that, but we do what we do, and we live to tell the story. This year was the PhD year where I learnt a whole lot about not giving my ‘success’ with work the power to determine who I am. I also have started re-evaluating my relationship with what failure means and how fearing getting things wrong and messing up can be powerful in shaping how you live your life. In and outside of academia. All things considered, this was not the worst thing to happen. Still here, and PhD is still moving, slowly. But moving…