[COLLABORATION] Bad Thoughts: A #MindfulPhD Post by Dr. Katy Peplin
[Content: mental health struggles, celebrity suicides]
When I decided to train women academics, researchers, evaluators, and scientists on how to deliver effective presentations, I prepared myself for a lot of things. I was prepared for a lot of push back for wanting to change the status quo of #DeathByPowerpoint. I was prepared to be ignored, because that's easier than change.
Surprisingly, the one thing I wasn't prepared for was the high levels of self-doubt and negative self-talk I would hear from people who are trying to design better presentations. I'm not sure why, given my own personal experience with self-doubt, toxic work environments, and some really difficult grad school moments (I talk about those in this podcast interview).
So when I saw this post by colleague-friend, Dr. Katy Peplin, it resonated with me pretty deeply. I've thought almost every single one of these thoughts, and more -- like "you suck at public speaking" and "you're just going to forget all your lines and make a fool out of yourself" and "no one cares what you have to say" and "you'll never be good at public speaking."
I thought her post might resonate with you, too, because I've heard similar comments said by others. So I asked her to let me share it on my blog to share it with you, and if she'd be cool with me illustrating it. She was, so I went for it.
Then, a few major things happened while I was working on it: (1) Christine Liu wrote a fabulous post about how our current framing of "imposter syndrome" lets toxic environments off the hook, and (2) Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.
All of a sudden, everyone on my Twitter timeline was talking about how our society, culture, and institutions perpetuate, cause, and contribute to mental health challenges. For every, "call this hotline" tweet, someone added that many people have reached out but could not afford or still did not have access to adequate support. There is still stigma, we have the scam that's the US health insurance system, and all the other institutional barriers that prevent folks from getting sufficient help. My PhD is in community psychology--which is a degree focused on using community-based research/evaluation to create organizational, community, and social change to promote health & well-being. So, I am thrilled that so many people are talking about how our culture creates problems, and that our culture needs to change.
I wanted to support and join this momentum, so I added a little bit about this to Dr. Peplin's original post, asked her what she thought, and she said she "could not love it more." Yay!
Together, through organizational, sociopolitical, and cultural change we can prevent or intervene in cases of mental health in a variety of ways. I'm not saying anything new here, and there's a lot more to be said (and has been said). I'm just being clear about my stance on this issue, and that I support positive change so that the academic/scientific field (and society in general) promotes healthy & well-being.
Also, I highly recommend that you check out Dr. Peplin's website and her program, Thrive PhD. She is a genuinely nice person, supportive coach, and I'm glad to have her in my network. Thanks for doing this with me, Katy!
[Original post by Katy Peplin, PhD]
This is in no way a comprehensive list of bad thoughts I've had about my PhD life.
I should be working more.
I'm not working hard enough.
If I were smarter, I wouldn't have to work this hard.
I don't have enough time.
I'll never finish this.
I should have started this earlier.
I hate myself for not starting this earlier.
Everyone else has started already.
I will never catch up.
I will never get a job.
I am unemployable.
I'm a bad teacher.
If I were a better teacher, my students would like me more.
If I were a better writer, my advisor would like me more.
My advisor hates my writing.
My advisor hates me because my writing is so bad.
I'm ashamed to let anyone see this.
This isn't PhD material.
I'll never be PhD material.
I shouldn't have taken that time off.
Taking that time off really put me behind.
I'll never catch up.
Things that help.
- Writing down negative/swirling thoughts as they happen to make them external as well as internal helps.
- Noticing patterns in my thoughts, and how those patterns correlate (or not!) to other sensations or triggers helps.
- Taking time to see if there are any more positive thoughts, and paying attention to those as well helps.
- Reminding myself that my thoughts aren't necessarily true, or valid representations of the situation helps.
- Talking about the most persistent patterns in the thoughts with people I trust, and mental health practitioners helps.
- Treating all thoughts as thoughts, neither good nor bad, helps.