“Our value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see our worth”
Just like most of us, Arti (name changed), 28 and a PhD student at a premier Indian research institute, also knew her worth deep down. But the issues that she faced during her PhD kept her far out from this realisation.
“While trying to figure out the reason behind the issues I faced during my PhD life, I would initially blame myself. I thought I was a misfit in this whole system. Maybe this is not for me.”
Right from childhood, Arti didn’t share a great equation with her father, and with her parents not staying together, she often wondered if her family issues were the root cause for any of her chaotic circumstances.
I was not able to cope with my PhD life and I was trying to figure out what the problem was. I had a lot of issues.
One prominent part of a PhD scholar’s life is to have a supportive and motivating guide, a Project Investigator (PI). But unfortunately, due to her PI’s unpredictable behaviour, Arti’s relationship with her couldn’t cement very well.
“I never thought I’d have an issue with my PI. She was generally supportive but she’d switch her mood at the snap of a finger. She was very unpredictable and I didn’t know how to approach her.”
Arti often felt directionless. Due to her uncertain relationship with her mentor, she started feeling overwhelmed. She’d worry more about how her PI would react than about her research work commitments.
“I didn’t know how her mood would be if I were to ask a doubt. It was like even when she was okay and you did something worse, things might go fine but when things aren’t bad but she’s in a bad mood, the whole conversation can go down south.”
Along with this uncertainty, Arti faced some other problems. After almost 1 and a half years into her research, she changed her project and her self-doubt amplified.
“After I shifted my project, within a few months I had to prepare a new topic altogether and give a seminar. I did it somehow but a lot of it came from a feeling that I wasn’t fit for a PhD. It took a lot of courage to quit what I was doing before and shift projects. It was scary but I still did it.”
Arti’s challenges didn’t crop up one fine night. She was constantly dealing with them, with courage at first. But later, she realised that she was trying to cope with multiple thoughts at the same time and this reached a point where it all erupted like a volcano.
“I didn’t know how and where things were going. I went to see a psychotherapist at first but it didn’t click well. It was more like one sided ranting and wasn’t solution-oriented.”
While at one end Arti’s first therapy encounter didn’t go well, on the other, her problems kept piling up. When the lockdown struck in March 2020 and with Arti’s batch of PhD scholars being the first one at their institute, she struggled with academics too.
“We don’t have any seniors and now I’m almost going to finish my 3rd year. I should have had data on 1 or 2 papers but I’ve had nothing. I started my fieldwork in March and even that couldn’t happen due to COVID.”
Arti was still determined and tried her best to keep everything from falling apart. But there was one thing that wasn’t going to get any better.
“I’m okay with dealing with my issues, I remind myself that there are many out there going through lots but when you start having issues with someone who’s supposed to guide you as your PI, then it becomes more problematic.”
Things got even worse when her issues started reflecting on her performance. Being her practical self, Arti knew it too well that she wasn’t someone who can tick all the boxes prior to when things need to get done. But she was slowly turning into a different person.
“I became lethargic to a point where I’d find excuses for not doing things be it as basic as minor chores. I couldn’t stick to my PhD commitments too and my PI, on top of all, would blame me, holding me accountable for my poor performance. She’d say that I was being lazy and ungrateful.”
While dealing with her issues, when Arti needed motivation the most, there just wasn’t enough around for her to hold on to. When 2 of her batchmates quit their PhD, her own doubts about continuing cropped up. But considering the unstable job market due to pandemic and how she had to partially support her household, she decided to continue and meanwhile connect with a YourDOST expert to figure herself out.
“I connected with a couple of experts, took assessments on YourDOST platform and found out that I had symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and anxiety disorder. So I asked for an expert who specialises in this and I connected with my clinical psychologist, Puroitree.”
Arti began her therapy with Puroitree in June 2020 and for her, this is the longest she has stuck with a therapist.
“My therapy is going well. Things have become better as now I at least know how to handle some of the tough situations if not all. As recommended, I’ve also started medication based on psychiatric consultation and I can say that I’m trying my best.”
Problems do not vanish in a day and Arti’s triggers still haunt her and she responds with a defence mechanism, convenient to her.
“My relationship with my PI still stands on edge. At times, I have piles of work but instead of putting my thought into my work and finishing it, I worry about facing my PI. I switch off all my work notifications and every time a message pops from her, it just puts me off.”
Just how everything needs a balance, Arti’s finds her balance in her therapy sessions. Her therapy has helped her get a better perspective of her situations which have now moved from worst to bad and that’s progress for her. She understands that it takes time to improve and she’s okay to invest her time and effort into it.
“There were points where I wanted to blame everything on my circumstances and be a black hole. I knew I wanted someone to say that to me and Puroitree did that. She said I understand there are problems but keep on blaming and not doing anything about it will do no good. I can say I’m not where I was last year and I’ve surely progressed.“
After closely working with Puroitree, Arti tried to commit to things that she likes doing and see if they make a difference.
“I like doodling and I did it for a month as my expert suggested and I felt really good. Talking to her about it felt nice. I wasn’t answerable to anyone and still I did it because I wanted to.”
Arti strongly believes that she’s yet to conquer her anxiety but she’s sure that she’ll get there.
For those who are unwilling to seek help, she has a quirky advice –
“You may not want to hear ‘Oh you’ve xyz issue that’s why you’re like this’ and that’s understandable but you need to be okay with seeking support similar to how you’re okay to visiting a doctor for fever. It may not be within your limits to avoid some issues. Don’t rub it off.”
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