After more than 1 month’s journey as a PhD student, I encountered one of the biggest depressions, or emotional breakdowns in my life so far. What makes it worse is that, I have never experienced such a situation that I was deeply bogged into the vicious circle of self-criticism and self-doubt. Such a feeling has been accumulated by dribs and drabs of my life and academic work. At first, I tried to overlook them, pretending that nothing was wrong
and I was still in control of the balance of life, work and study. Despite the occupied schedule kept me busy, it seemed that everything was fine as I could submit my assignment before deadline; I could keep “good” communication with my family members, students, friends and colleagues as usual; I could even work out as planned 6 days a week. But all in a sudden, my inner world collapsed when I sat before my laptop and was not able to write one word of the literature review for 3 days, which has never happened before.
Instead of a procrastinator, I tend to be more like a “precrastinator” as I am always comfortable with deliberate planning beforehand with a notice period set by me. One outstanding example was that I finished my master thesis 2 months before the deadline since I began to read and think about my thesis topic of interest 3 months before writing. To be honest, I used to be proud of my organized working style, and even now I still believe that being organized and prepared is beneficial rather than harmful to me. But at the same time, it makes me an inflexible person which drives me crazy while being a PhD student for the last a few weeks. The reality is that I was not given enough time ( or at least I think it is not enough) to fully prepare for my lesson and assignment; I suffered from insufficient confidence in what I have read and learned; I began to make mistakes and became scared and embarrassed when I made mistakes or was imperfect in what I said and wrote, which pushed me to make even more mistakes. Therefore, the pressure grew so heavy that I could not comprehend what I have read on the paper and had absolutely no idea what I should be writing for the literature review. The time kept going, the deadline was approaching and nothing seemed to change and grew worse.
At first, I broke up crying, in front of my parents even though I could not clarify why I did so. I turned numb, staying away from books and all the things that could relate me with learning. I did everything such as housework, dog walking, hanging out with my friends that I did not dare to spend time on before as I was so busy with my study, reading and work. However, it did not help a lot. One day, I approached my wardrobe that had not been tidied for months. I looked at it for a while and began to fix it up. For that whole quiet afternoon, I was concentrating on folding, categorizing and putting the clothes back to the right place. What was magic was that I felt energetic after I finished the work, and I watched the neat wardrobe with unprecedented satisfactory and peace. It suddenly came to me that I was like the previous version of the wardrobe, messy and unorganized. With the door closing, the chaos inside could not be seen or detected from outside. But what shall I do? To solve my problem would never be as easy as tidying a wardrobe, but at least I got the courage to confess that firstly, the balance of my life and study had been broken and simultaneously, I could not perform perfectly at all aspects. And then, I sat down and wrote what my anxieties were since I wanted to know what exactly were the problems that afflicted me. Beyond my expectation, I did not figure out too many of them. I had thought that list would go for at least two full pages, but it stopped with only 6 items. Next, I tried to imagine what would be the worst result if the items listed happened, and found out that none of the results would really drag me to the hell. Finally, I went back to review the questions again, and found out that all these problems were more or less pointing the “what if” questions, which seriously distracted me from focusing on and enjoying what I was doing and what I was supposed to do.
On that night, I returned to my routine and started my literature review writing, with one thing different from before. I told me that it did not matter if you make mistakes or if you failed, as at least you had tried and could enjoy what you were doing at that moment. The reason why I wrote this experience of mine is not to feed anyone the chicken soup for the soul since everyone has his or her own situation. My solution would not necessarily work well on others, or even on me next time. I just want to provide a small window for people, or for me in the future who is faced with the similar plight, to view it from a different angle or try another method, like simply tidying your wardrobe. Perhaps you will find a way out in this process.