The image of that morning after stands out everytime I try and think of what happened. It has been over seven years since the switch went off. When I try and imagine how I started building the walls, that image of me lying down on the floor; worn out, defeated, depleted, comes to mind. I remember what was going on in my mind was “How could this happen to me? To us?” I cried my first and last tears over the relationship that had ended in such a crazy way. The attempted suicide, the manipulation, the blood on my floor and walls where it splattered, the pieces of glass all around the room when I came back from the hospital. That was the day I picked up the first brick and started building the wall that has now become so thick on my heart.
You cannot break down the walls until you know what materials were used to build it.
So, I am going back to where it all started. I refused to give it any other thought after I cried about it that morning after. I hardened my heart and told myself to be strong and move forward. My strength just continued over time and became yet another set of bricks and cement to add to the wall. It soon became impenetrable and in my defence, I was protecting myself. No one has been allowed to enter since, not completely anyway.
But Jesus is knocking down the walls. I’m going back to where it all started so that I can get back to being vulnerable, softer, trusting.
Don’t be too afraid of pain that you numb yourself completely, because that shuts out all the other feelings. You cannot experience joy without pain!
Keep your standards high and your expectations low
This is the lesson of the week!! It is only Monday, but this day has made me think about my standards and what I value most in life. These are lessons I will keep learning as I grow older and experience life. I think what I have been building over the years through personal and intellectual development allows me to say yes or no to certain things. I really want to stress that in the search for an identity, your place in the world, career or whatever it is, it is very very important to know what you will be willing to stand for and what is a NO NO!!
I am realising that in the process of looking for what is next and in making a transition we are often tempted to take the easy way out. We get impatient and we don’t want to struggle. We want the path of least resistance and this is human nature. But, I learnt today that anything that makes me lower my standards or go against my values is not worth it. Anything that requires me to sell my soul to the devil in order to say I have made it to the other side is definitely not worth it.
If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything! ~Alexander Hamilton
My standards remain high because I know what I am worth! There are people out there who are just waiting for the opportunity to tell you that you are not good enough or that you need them to become anything in life.
I have low expectations of this world, such that I am pleasantly surprised when I meet really good and kind people. The world we live in has become such a terrible place, with individuals who are preying on people’s desperation to exploit them for their own benefit. There is no amount of money that is enough to make you lose your value. There are people who might look at me as a person of colour (POC) and judge my worth as less, that is the world we live in. However, if you know the value of what you bring to the table, racism or discrimination must not discourage or bring you down. There will be a handful of people willing to hire you based on your merit and not the colour of your skin, you just have to keep going until you find them. Unfortunately, being black and African in a world that accepts the one narrative of Africa as an impoverished and aid-dependent continent often means that when people meet us, they first want to offer us the bare minimum and we are expected to be grateful. I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to sell myself short just because someone in a position of power and privilege feels I am only worth as much as they decide I am worth. It is disrespectful to what I stand for as an individual and my core beliefs.
My personal identity, if you have been following this blog you would know that it is first and foremost, that I am a child of God. Everything else is secondary. This identity makes it impossible for me to be tossed around by individuals in this world who seek to take advantage of me and offer me less than what I deserve as a daughter of a King.
I have been reminded to stay vigilant and watchful! Never settle for anything just because it is available.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour~1 Peter 5:8
It is amazing how much of a mindset shift can occur when you change your perspective. A change of perspective simply means looking at an issue in a different way, choosing to believe that there is more than one way to understand something. A different perspective!! I want to take this moment to thank each and every person who reached out to comment on my post yesterday, you can read it HERE if you missed it. I got so encouraged to think in a different way and I am honestly happy to have shared my experience because sharing it showed that there is strength in community. So here is how my day went today:
Today I chose gratitude as a new perspective. Instead of looking at all the things that are not going so great, I chose to be grateful for being here today. As I write this I thank the Lord for this stage of my life which I am now beginning to see as a period of learning and growth. I choose in this moment to focus on what is going well and not what is on standstill. In this period of waiting and resting, help me to
“turn this pity party into a cycle of praise” ~Pastor Judah Smith
Today I came across my happiness activity journal and I realised that I hadn’t written in it since February this year.
I really love how it allows me to reflect on what made me happy this week and what made me unhappy. It doesn’t just end there, it then asks me to think about what I will choose to focus on to be happier next week, and has space to share an inspiring quote for the week as well as lessons for that week.
Today I said to myself, no type of schedule (busy or not) should keep me from keeping track of my happiness, although all the evidence points to the fact that I had in fact allowed the craziness of the past few months and my current circumstances, to steal that away from me. I chose to continue writing in my happiness activity journal and just doing that shifted my mood a great deal.
Today I got out of bed and did something useful with my time. I think movement is good. I just wish I was the exercise type, but sadly that is furthest from my mind. I did take a walk and got caught in the rain with my friend. Hong Kong weather has this weird impromptu rain around this time of the year, that only lasts a few minutes and then it is back to being hot and humid again. When it started raining, we didn’t have umbrellas because when we left home it was not showing any signs of rain. Me and my friend Abi didn’t even bother running for cover, it felt so good getting soaked for a bit, we even held hands and started singing. The rain felt oddly therapeutic, I just hope we both don’t catch a cold. Those are the rare moments of joy that cannot be captured except in our memories. Who would even have the time to think of taking out their cellphone to take a rain selfie? You would be surprised with the way we humans love our selfies these days. If people can take selfies at a funeral, then anything can happen.
Today was a good day. This blog reached the 200 followers milestone today.
See what happens when you count your blessings, you see more and more of them in the least expected places. I am so glad to be able to share this space with all of the people who read and take the time to interact with me. You all make it worth while.
It looks like this is going to be a series of posts related to my post-phd transition and the depression that I have now come to know about through experience. If you have not already, you can read my previous post Post-PhD life…when will this phase end? . I am writing about it as a way of coping with it and I also hope that this could inform other postgraduate students of its existence.
I am currently in the 4th week since completing my PhD and I did not expect to feel the way I am feeling. Nothing and no one prepared me for what I am going through now. These are the signs of my post-phd tension (I don’t think I am in full-on depression mode just yet).
The not knowing what to do with myself
The first few days after my exam, I just didn’t know whether I should sleep all day or go to the office like I was used to doing for the past three years. Now, four weeks later, on some days I happily sleep in and tell myself that I deserve the rest, but on other days I feel so guilty that I am not doing anything. A close friend of mine said that I just don’t know how to relax and that made me think, mmmh, perhaps! I wrote in my previous post about how I am trying to stay busy, but not all days are the same.
The stress comes from not wanting to do anything, but feeling guilty when I don’t, if that makes any sense.
Anxiety about the future
Because I am completely surrendered to God’s will for my life, I am actively trying to avoid any negative thoughts that might make this situation worse. You know those “you’re not good enough”, “you cannot do it” type of thoughts. They are very unhelpful, but they do creep in from time to time. The expectations I might have had during my PhD about life after the degree might not be what I am experiencing, but I still have hope that I will feel that sense of accomplishment one day soon and it will not be fleeting or momentary. Everyday I wake up, I remind myself of His promises about my future and his plans for me. I am sure you know which verse comes to mind:
Comparing myself to others
Now this is a slippery slope, because we all have different life journeys and we will not all get the same opportunities at the same time. If one of the graduates in my cohort gets a postdoc or a job offer before me, I should not be discouraged. I am trying to fight the urge to look at how others are faring with their transition and the effort itself is draining. It is a conscious effort I have to make everyday.
The grass always looks greener on the other side, so I am trying to stay on my own journey and experience it for what it is and not based on what is going on with others around me.
I dread checking my emails now, but I kind of have to check them everyday in case something important comes up. The only emails I want to see right now are the ones where I am being offered an exciting new position, LOL. The rest are just causing unnecessary tension in my life right now and I cannot deal.
I could not get out of bed today
Not from a lack of trying, but I just could not manage this activity today or interact with a single human being. I did manage to write this blog post, so I cannot say I have been completely idle, but outside of that, I really cannot be bothered to do anything today. If this happens again tomorrow, then we might have to call this something more than tension. I am also dreading social engagements because I really am not in the mood to discuss what is next in my life when I haven’t even figured it out yet. The pressure to have it all figured out is what is causing all this tension in the first place.
The above may be completely normal adulting blues, but because I am experiencing this shortly after completing what should be a huge milestone in my life , it is making me reconsider if it is normal.
If you are reading this and you feel this is normal and it is just a phase which will pass soon, please drop me a message or send some encouragement my way. I will greatly appreciate it. Maybe you are also going through the same thing for completely different reasons, let me know what you are going through and how you are coping. There is strength in community!!
A couple of months before I completed my PhD, I started sending out job applications. I filled out countless job application forms, each needing a cover letter and often had to change my CV around to suit each position. Before starting this process, I sought out a mentor in my department, a Professor whom I admired and asked her for advice about the job hunt. She told me three things:
The academic job market is a jungle
It is survival, not of the fittest, but the most persistent.
Getting a job in academia depends on the relationships you have built over the years through networking.
She also said that I would need to send out a 100 applications in the hopes of getting one. I took her advice and started applying, but I was never prepared for the constant stream of rejection emails that ensued. I never thought an email could spoil my day and the first rejection email, I took it well because I had been told this would happen. However, after the twentieth or so email, you start to feel a little discouraged. But I carried on with the applications because
I found out that post-PhD depression is an actual thing. Some statistics in this blog state that 80 % of postdocs (someone who has completed a doctoral degree) hope to get a tenured academic position, only 10% get that offer. This leaves the other 70% feeling like they wasted years of their lives getting a degree that cannot land them a job. The writer of the article also said something about our expectations as doctoral graduates not matching the reality of what is out there in the job market. He also suggested taking a step back and rethinking your goals and values.
I came across this quote and I think it is so profound.
Instead of wallowing in my discouragement, I am going to use this opportunity to encourage others who may be going through the same thing and for current students to know what to expect post-phd. Every case is different of course, we don’t all go through the same trajectories. What I am doing now to deal with post-phd stress is to take it one day at a time. I was comforted the other day to realise that I am not the only one going through it and I have started engaging in conversations with others around this.
What this has done for me is to remove the mentality that I am the only one going through this and to just keep going. Understanding that this is a transition phase and with all transitions comes this period of discomfort as you try to find your feet again. I do hope the phase will end soon, but what I have also been trying to do is to enjoy the moment. I have nothing going on right now, I should be enjoying this free time before actually settling into a new job. This is the time to find a new hobby, start an online course that might be useful in the future or catch up with old friends. I recently attended a Christian youth camp for a week, and that was a nice new experience for me. I made some new friends and spent time in a new location. I also stepped away from my current circumstance which gave me a new perspective.
By refusing to view this stage of my life as negative, I am slowly changing the narrative.