Good Things: April 2019

I haven’t blogged in over a month. I’ve been way too busy with work stuff, Science On A Postcard stuff, friend stuff and family stuff. It’s been a busy month, and I’m determined to get back into the swing of regular blogging – so I’m kicking off with a look back at the good things that happened during April.

Excellent humans

April’s excellent human of the month was my counsellor. I started person-centred counselling in the first week of March, and fully expected to be attending weekly appointments for at least the next few months. I’d planned to transition from weekly, to fortnightly, and then monthly appointments, with the aim of feeling more myself by the end of the year. I’ve spoken about how I’ve tried counselling before, that didn’t work out for me so I expected this attempt to take a while for things to begin to settle and for me to see improvements. Turns out, when you find the right counsellor things can start to feel good pretty quickly. I had 6 sessions in total, the last one just a few weeks ago, and I feel like my brain is finally allowing me to enjoy things again. April wasn’t 100% excellent headspace-wise, but I feel like those sessions have helped me a lot, and for the first time in a long time I’m looking forward feeling almost entirely positive.

I also met Dr Claudia Antolini in April! I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while and she will also be one of the speakers at Aberdeen’s Soapbox Science event in May, so it was wonderful to finally meet her and talk all things science communication, inclusion and diversity. She’s a fantastic science communicator and if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should.

Cool places

I knew that this category would leave me underwhelmed every month since I listed places in Berlin and Washington DC in my January ‘Good Things’ post..

Does ‘in the air’ count? My partner took me flying in April, and we had a very lovely time. Though he did make us go upside down without warning me which was a little alarming to say the least.

April was pretty quiet in terms of travel, I went to Edinburgh Science Festival, but I’ve mostly stayed in Aberdeen. That said, I’ve really enjoyed working in coffee shops lately – I find that I can get on with work without being interrupted. The fact that I’m sat at a table with my laptop and strangers may see me not working means I’m more likely to knuckle down and get on with things. Also – cake and coffee.

Cult of Coffee has been my favourite, because look at this cake platter.. To be clear: I did not eat this by myself, and I went home and had a nap afterwards. Even between 2 we didn’t finish it, but holy cow it was delicious.

Book(s) of the month
Online media
One specific moment
  • As some of you may know, I have an Etsy shop (Science On A Postcard), and this month I went to my first local Etsy meet up. There’s a group of volunteers in Aberdeen running our local branch; they put together the Etsy seller fairs, they put on super useful creative workshops, and they have lots more creative and business experience than I do. I had a bloody lovely time at the meet up, and my favourite moment of the entire month was walking into the meeting and someone I didn’t know saying ‘oh cool, you’re from Science On A Postcard!’. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy because this tiny little business is reaching people that I haven’t nagged to buy stuff – incredible!
Work thing
  • This month I’ve had a Masters student working with me and it’s been so, so good! I still feel like an academic baby, but the first few weeks of working with a Masters student has been amazing for my confidence. I do know stuff, I do have experience, and I can share those skills and experiences with other people. Also she’s a fab student and I’m super excited to see how the project comes out, so that helps a lot.

What did you love about April? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

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Good Things: March 2019

HOW IS IT APRIL ALREADY?! Seriously, this year is going by at an unbelievable pace and it’s beginning to freak me out. I’m back today with my Good Things post for March. I started doing this in January as a way to open up a bit more and make this blog more personal, but I then didn’t do a one at the end of February because the start of March was filled with things that were very much Not Good, and it didn’t feel right.
The 6 broad categories that I used in January seemed to work pretty well, so I’m sticking with them for now – let me know if there’s any other categories you’d like to hear about!

Excellent humans

I’m starting off this post in a hugely mushy way – bear with me, this kind of slushy shit won’t be around for long. At the start of this month I lost a friend to suicide. It was really, really horrendous, and I’ve thought about him a lot over the last few weeks. The only good thing that came out of that entire horrendous ordeal was making sure the people around me knew how much I loved them. My partner, my Mum, and my friends, have all been highlights for me this month. I feel lucky to have such a fabulous group of humans surrounding me, and this month has been very much about making the most of free time spent with them. I’m sure there are other excellent humans in the world that I don’t know personally, but right now I’m pretty sure that my tribe trump all others.

Cool places
Lunch at Bonobo, Aberdeen
  • A few weeks ago I went to a local vegan cafe for the first time. I’d wanted to go for ages, but it was actually waaaaay more gorgeous than I thought it was going to be. If you’re in Aberdeen, go to Bonobo, but don’t go too often because I want to make sure that I get a table every time I go.
  • At the start of March my partner and I went away for a weekend, nowhere super exciting, but we had such a lovely time. We went to the cinema in Dundee, stayed in a hotel near Edinburgh and got room service and watched Crufts (I really love dogs ok), and on the way back we went to St Andrews for lunch and a wander around. It was the perfect little old couple day, and I loved St Andrews so much that I then met a friend there for lunch later in the month. It’s a super cute little city, and I’ll definitely be visiting again over the coming months.
  • In a really sickening way, I’ve loved being home this month. Aberdeen is bloody lovely when the evening start to get brighter.
Wandering about in Aberdeen
Book(s) of the month
Online media
  • Podcast: Polarised – Denialism, with Caroline Lucas & Keith Kahn-Harris. Polarised is a podcast from the RSA that aims to investigate ‘the political and cultural forces driving us further apart’, and this episode was the first one that I listened to. I listened to it when I was driving from Aberdeen to Edinburgh for an event, and found myself having to pull over multiple times so that I could pause it and scribble down ideas that I was having as a result of the points the guests and hosts were making. Expect a few blog posts that refer to this over the coming weeks.
  • Blog post: Public engagement can fight against health inequalities – but only if we do it right: Imran Khan for the BMJ blog. Imran Khan is the Head of Public Engagement at Wellcome, so it’s not at all surprising that he’s managed to perfectly articulate the value of public engagement and the potential impact that it has on health research. This piece made me a bit emotional, and I’ve bookmarked it so I can send it to people in the future.
  • Article: False balance – what it is and why is it dangerous? Sophie Cremen. If I remember correctly Sophie wrote this about a year ago, but reshared it on Twitter which was how I came across it. In short, read it, it’s bloody brilliant and raises crucial points about the way ‘balance’ is presented in the media, particularly when it comes to stories about scientific topics.
One specific moment

A few months ago my wonderful friend and colleague, Dr Heather Morgan, asked me to design the artwork for the new podcast that she’s launching. I agreed to, but was nervous to actually do it because doing design work for people is terrifying because I’m not a designer. When I eventually got round to doing the thing and sending the image to Heather, I got the biggest warm fuzzy feelings ever.

Artwork for Higher Education, Human Employment (HEHE)

I’m sneaking another moment into this category because it was so lovely that I can’t not mention it. The wonderful team at NUI Galway sent me a huge hamper of Irish goodies! I’ve worked with these incredible humans for a few years now, and I have loved each and every project we’ve worked on together. The fact that they sent me this gift complete with PhD-related congratulations actually made me tear up. So unexpected, so unnecessary, and so bloody lovely. I am so lucky to work with this team, and I hope the collaboration continues for many years to come! (Also, strawberry and champagne jam is up there with the best things I’ve ever tasted)

Irish goodies gifted from colleagues at NUI Galway
Work thing

Earlier this month one of my fab colleagues, Dr Katie Banister, went into a few of the local schools to talk to students about clinical trials. She invited me to go with her and it was SO FUN! We talked about the trials that are going on at the Aberdeen Trials Unit, as well as the subjects we chose at school and University that then led us to the careers that we’re in. I left feeling suuuuuuper passionate and motivated to get stuck into work, just like every other time I do meaningful public engagement.

What did you love about March? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

Why Do I Have Depression? Making My Experiences Worthwhile

I’ve talked about depression a lot on my blog recently. I’ve been very open about my own experiences, but I’m acutely aware that my experiences are individual to me, and on the whole, we don’t completely understand why people experience depression, why they experience it in certain ways, or how we should treat it best. Sometimes it can be really frustrating to live with depression; previously I’ve found myself feeling a bit jealous of people that don’t have this heavy blanket to carry round with them – why do I have these experiences? Why don’t others? If I have kids will they have these experiences too?

Instead of being jealous or frustrated, in recent months I’ve mad a conscious effort to make my own experiences of depression feel worthwhile. Whether that’s been blogging about it, providing online support to people that I’ve never met, talking to people in real life.. it’s been a weirdly nice way to ensure that something good comes out of such difficult experiences.

Now, I’ve decided to take part in a research study.

My entire PhD looked at participant recruitment in research (specifically, clinical trials), so I know that recruitment is hard. That said, I’m not taking part because I don’t want the researchers running the study to stress-cry more than absolutely necessary. I’m taking part in a research study about depression because it makes me feel like I’m contributing to solving the problem. If I have to live with depression, then I may as well use my experiences to help researchers understand it more thoroughly. Maybe my contribution to research will help answer why I have these experiences, why others don’t, and whether any potential children of mine would be at risk of these experiences as well.

So, what’s the study?

Recently, researchers at King’s College London launched the largest ever single study of depression and anxiety. They aim to recruit at least 40,000 people living in the UK that have experienced depression or anxiety at some point in their life. This study, the Genetic Links to Anxiety and Depression (GLAD) study aims to ‘make important strides towards better understanding of these disorders and improving the lives of future patients‘.

If you live in the UK and have experience of depression or anxiety, I would really recommend that you watch the video below, and read on to find out more information about what taking part in the GLAD study involves.

It’s really important that we try to get as many people from as many different backgrounds to take part. When lots of similar people (i.e. people of one ethnicity, people of a limited age group, people of the same gender etc) take part in research, the results are at serious risk of bias – meaning that the results would only be applicable to the group of people that took part in the study. The GLAD study team has explicitly said that they want to recruit from diverse groups that represent the entire UK population, and they are actively working to address the complex barriers that exist for some potential participants by working with mental health organisations that have links to various different communities around the UK.
Clearly, it’s important that everyone with experience of depression or anxiety takes part in this study, but if you do know of any mental health organisations, or community groups that you feel may be difficult to connect with via the methods that the team are already using, please do forward them this blog post or direct them to the study website (www.gladstudy.org.uk) for more information.

How you can take part in the GLAD Study

Step 1: If you have personal experience of depression or anxiety, and live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, head to www.gladstudy.org.uk. Scroll to the bottom of that page and enter your details to sign up.

Step 2: Read the information sheet carefully to ensure that you understand what the study entails, and what will be expected of you if you take part.

Step 3: Go through the consent process, this is a series of 15 yes/no questions, and you’re also asked for your address and NHS number (I didn’t know my NHS number and was still able to go ahead and complete it – I’ll go back and complete my NHS number when I have it later this week).

Step 4: Complete the GLAD study survey. This is quite a long process, but it’s where the bulk of the effort comes in terms of research participation – after this involvement is pretty minimal (but still important) going forward. I think it took me about 30 minutes or so to complete the survey. The survey is split into various categories, the sensitive ones also include an option to skip if you don’t feel comfortable answering them, which I thought was a good way to ensure that the research doesn’t trigger anyone with particular life experiences.

Step 5: A GLAD study saliva kit was sent to me within just a few days of completing my address details in step 3. Open this up and make sure that you have everything listed in this ‘what is in my saliva kit?’ section of the leaflet enclosed.

Step 4: Follow the instructions to fill the saliva sample tube – note, make sure to brush your teeth 30 minutes before giving you sample, and don’t eat or drink anything in that time. You need to fill the tube to the 4ml line, and there will already be 2ml of a DNA stabiliser in there. This may take a few goes; 2ml of saliva is a lot more than I expected, it took me 5 goes to get enough! Pop the lid firmly back on the tube and shake it up.

Step 5: Put everything in the freepost envelope that comes in the kit, and pop it in the post box.

That’s it!

When the study team receive your sample, they will extract DNA from your sample. Samples will then be stored without any of your personal details; if you are from England and Northern Ireland, your sample will be stored at the NationalBiosample Centre (NBC) in Milton Keynes, if you are from Northern Ireland, some of your sample will also be stored in secure facilities at Ulster University in Coleraine, if you are from Scotland, your sample will be stored at NBC and some will also be stored at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at the University of Edinburgh, if you are from Wales, your sample will be stored at NBC and some will also be stored at National Centre for Mental Health/MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomicsat Cardiff University.


This post is in no way sponsored or affiliated with the GLAD study. I enrolled in the study as a participant following the steps described above after seeing a post about the study on Twitter. I wrote this post as I want to highlight how quick and simple study participation can be, in an effort to encourage people with experiences of depression or anxiety to take part themselves.
For more information please visit www.gladstudy.org.uk.

Popular Science Books on My Reading List

When I first started this blog (2 years ago, can you believe it?!), I wrote a blog post about 5 popular science books that I recommend to anyone who dares to ask me about the subject. That post had a really good response, and since then I’ve been reviewing books on this blog individually after I’ve read them. I’ve been reading lots recently, but more fiction than non-fiction, which has left me with a pile of popular science books that I still need to get to. I’m not sure which I want to tackle first – I just want to read them all, so I figured I’d list them here, and then if any of you have read and enjoyed them you can let me know.

Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez

From the inside cover:
“Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.”

This. Sounds. Incredible.

(and rage inducing)

I preordered this book a few months ago and totally forgot about it. When it landed on my doorstop I did a little squeal of excitement, but now I’ve seen eeeeeeeveryone talking about it on Twitter and I’m nervous that it’s not going to live up to my expectations. Does anyone else get that?

The only woman in the room: why science is still a boys’ club by Eileen Pollack

This is another book that looks like it’s going to make me rage – there’s a theme beginning to form here..

I bought this book when I went to Powell’s City of Books in Portland last year, and despite carrying it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s been tucked away on my bookshelf since then. It looks like a book I’ll love (and again, rage as a result of), and I’m excited to get to this one. It was named one of the notable non-fiction books of 2015 by the Washington Post, and it focusses on Eileen Pollack’s quest to find out why, even now, relatively few women pursue careers in what she calls ‘the hard sciences’. I really dislike that dichotomy of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences, because it implies that there’s a difference in quality, rigour and as a result, respect for and value of. To be clear, I don’t think that there is; so-called soft sciences should be equally as valued as so-called hard sciences – both can be done badly, and both can be done well. Poor phrasing won’t stop me reading this though – I’ll just be mindful of Pollack’s potential biases when I’m reading it.

The war on science: who’s waging it, why it matters, what we can do about it by Shawn Otto

This is another book I carted home with me from Portland, and at 514 pages it’s not the lightest.. I think it’s size is the reason why I haven’t read it yet – it weighs a tonne and the quotes on the back emphasis how ‘well researched’ it is, which is a good thing, but it’s making me hesitate to pick it up in case it’s really dry and full of jargon. Given the subject matter, I really hope that’s not the case!

I’ve never seen anyone talk about this book either. It doesn’t have many reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, but the reviews that are there seem good.
Have any of you read it? I think I need someone to rave about it to finally convince me to start reading.

A guide to making science matter: Escape from the ivory tower by Nancy Baron

I ordered this book after speaking to Jim Handman; science journalist, Executive Director of the Science Media Centre in Canada and former senior producer of science radio show Quirks and Quarks. Jim is kind of a big deal when it comes to science journalism, so when he recommended this book I bought it straight away.
Nancy Baron is a communications coach with an incredible track record, and I am SO excited to read this. From the back, “No one understands scientists the way Nancy Baron does. This book helps connect the worlds of science, journalism, and policy in very entertaining and insightful ways. If you care about linking science with action, this is the book to read.” (Pam Matson, Scientific Director of the Leopold Leadership Program, Woods Institute for the Environment and Dean of the School of Earth Sciences Stanford University).

I already feel like I’m recommending this book before I’ve read it. This is on my April reading pile so expect a review relatively soon.

The state of medicine by Margaret McCartney

Another of Margaret McCartney’s books, ‘The Patient Paradox: Why Sexed Up Medicine is Bad for Your Health’ was included in the 5 science books blog post I mentioned earlier, and this is McCartney’s newest book. Released in 2016, this looks at the NHS – in my opinion, the best thing about the UK.
The back of the book claims that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the UK has to a national religion’, the reason behind that being that it unites people across social and class divides. This book isn’t an ode to the NHS though, it’s about the financial strain that the service is under, and the political decisions that have led to the situation we now find ourselves in.
I love Margaret McCartney, I’ve fangirled about her on this blog before, and I know this book will not disappoint.

If there are any of these books that you’d like to see me review, let me know and I’ll try to make those a priority!

Making Sure Depression Doesn’t Get in the Way of Life

It’s been over a week since I last posted. That’s partly because I wanted to take some time to step back and intentionally switch off from the extra things I do outside work (i.e. blogging), but also because I wasn’t sure how to follow up a post where I talked about depression in such a direct way. The last week has been better, I’ve spent lots of time with my boyfriend and we’ve helped each other through the emotional rollercoaster of grief. Before I start posting about public engagement, Fellowship adventures, and clinical trials, I wanted to acknowledge how I deal with depression on a daily basis, and how I make sure it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life.

Image credit: Ruby

I’m lucky that I’ve got to this point; as recent events have taught me, many don’t, but if you do live with depression these points might be good starting points to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by the low points.

Finding joy in the little things

Every night since our friend died, my boyfriend and I have told each other two things that we’ve enjoyed that day. That first night was difficult, and I ended up saying something like ‘I had a really good cup of tea’ and ‘I listed to some fun music when I was driving home’, which felt pathetic and stupid because after those two good things we literally found our friend dead. That said, doing that made sure that I had reminded myself that the day wasn’t completely horrendous, even if the previous few hours had been. Now we do this every night before we go to sleep, and it reminds us that even though some days are thoroughly crap, there’s always something good in them. Some days it’s hard to limit those things to two, and those are extra good days, but on the days when it’s difficult to find good points in the day two is enough to remind you the life is actually alright most of the time.

Talking to someone impartial

A few weeks ago, I started going to see a therapist. I’ve been to a therapist once before and I didn’t click with her at all – the advice she was giving me didn’t sound constructive or like it would actually result in anything good, so I stopped going. I tried therapy through the NHS but had to wait for 18 months, and then again I didn’t click with the therapist. Since then I’ve been hesitant about going back because I wasn’t sure how to find someone I clicked with, and honestly, because it’s expensive. At upwards of £40 per session, as a PhD student I wasn’t keen on the trial and error approach to finding a therapist that I liked. Anyway, now I’m in a position to pay for therapy, I went online and did some research on therapists local to me. I visited each of their websites, read their ‘About Me’ sections, found out what areas of therapy they specialised in, and then emailed one. I told myself I’d do one session, and then reassess and figure out if they were the right fit – so I didn’t go in expecting to have found ‘the one’. Luckily, I felt like she was a very good fit, she didn’t recoil when I swore (I’m a pretty sweary person), laughed when I laughed, and seemed very in tune with my body language etc, noticing things that I hadn’t even realised I did. I’ve only been to 2 sessions so far, but it’s been really helpful. Even just two weeks in I’m finding myself stepping back and being able to reflect on things so that I can figure out how I can manage them.

Image credit: Ruby

10/10 would recommend speaking to someone that is completely impartial – the guilt I sometimes have when talking about heavy stuff with friends or family isn’t there, and it’s nice to be able to talk about my thoughts in a completely judgement free environment.

Letting myself be sad

Some days, it’s not possible to pick myself up and keep going. Sometimes, I wake up and know that I’m going to have a low day, and that’s totally ok. It’s fine to take some time out, but the last few times I’ve felt like that instead of laying in bed/migrating to the sofa at some point in the afternoon, I’ve really tried to do just one thing. I usually target one thing on my to do list and do that. That one thing might take me longer than usual, but it’s one more thing than I would have done otherwise. Usually, after doing one thing, I feel a bit better and try to tackle another, and that makes sure that I’m still feeling productive even though I might do doing the things whilst sat in my pyjamas.

Image credit: Ruby

Sources of Support for Those That Are Struggling

This is a weird blog post to write, but I didn’t want the week that I’ve just had to go by without saying anything – it’s too important.

My first day at my new job as Research Fellow was supposed to be Monday 4th March, and I’d planned for this week to be about getting stuck into work, writing lots and getting a feel for the new project that I’ll be working on for the next 2 years. Instead, on Sunday evening my partner and I went to our friend’s flat because we were worried about him. He hadn’t been answering text messages, he wasn’t answering the door to his flat, his phone was going straight to voicemail, and no one had heard anything from him since the early hours of Saturday morning. We got the spare key to his flat from another friend, and let ourselves in. We found him dead.

This week has been one of the most surreal weeks of my life. It still doesn’t feel real, and I’m not sure that it ever will.
The point of me writing this blog post isn’t for sympathy, or messages of support – we’ve had lots of them already, and everyone around us has been understanding, supportive and kind. I feel lucky that we have people around us that we’ve been able to call ‘just because’. Some people don’t have that, or don’t feel that they have that, so I wanted to highlight sources of support that are available to people that need it.

I’m based in the UK so these are UK-centric, but I will try to include links to international organisations too – if you know of any further sources of support, please leave details in the comments below and I will add them into the list below.

Helplines

Mind

Infoline

The Mind team provides information on a range of topics including:

  • types of mental health problems
  • where to get help
  • medication and alternative treatments
  • advocacy.

They will look for details of help and support in your own area (UK).
Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 123 3393
info@mind.org.uk
Text: 86463

Legal line

The Mind legal team provide legal information and general advice on mental health related law covering:

  • mental health
  • mental capacity
  • community care
  • human rights and discrimination/equality related to mental health issues.

Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 466 6463
legal@mind.org.uk

Blue Light Infoline

Mind’s Blue Light Infoline is just for emergency service staff, volunteers and their families.
The team provides information on a range of topics including:

  • staying mentally healthy for work
  • types of mental health problem
  • how and where to get help
  • medication and alternative treatments
  • advocacy
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • existing emergency service support
  • mental health and the law.

Find out more about the Blue Light Infoline.
Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
0300 303 5999 (local rates)
bluelightinfo@mind.org.uk
Text: 84999

If you’d rather not speak to someone on the telephone, Mind also offer a web chat service, there is more information here.

Samaritans

Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can call them on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

Websites

The Mental Health Foundation
Mental Health UK
Mental Health Matters
Mind (charity)
Types of mental health problems
Supporting someone with mental health issues
How to access mental health services

Starting points for international organisations/sources of support

Canada
USA
Australia

Also, another point – the language that we use around mental health and suicide is important. Research has shown that using stigmatising language can deter people from seeking the help that they need.

“Suicide is no longer a crime, and so we should stop saying that people commit suicide. We now live in a world where we seek to understand people who experience suicidal thoughts, behaviours and attempts, and then to treat them with compassion rather than condemn them. Part of this is to use appropriate, non-stigmatising terminology when referring to suicide.”
– Susan Beaton, Suicide Prevention Specialist

With this in mind, Samaritans recommends:

Phrases to use:

  • A suicide
  • Take one’s own life
  • Person at risk of suicide
  • Die by/death by suicide
  • Suicide attempt
  • A completed suicide

Phrases to avoid:

  • Commit suicide
  • Cry for help
  • A ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’
  • Suicide victim
  • Suicide ‘epidemic’, ‘craze’or ‘hot spot’
  • Suicide-prone
  • Suicide ‘tourist’

Depression Doesn’t Just Go Away When You Go on an Adventure

This is a weird post to write, but I think it’s important so I’m sitting down to write it in the hope that it helps someone else.

I’ve lived with depression for a few years now. In reality it’s probably been more than a few years, but a few years ago a Doctor told me that I had depression, so that’s where the ‘official’ timeline started. I’ve spoken about having depression before, and I genuinely thought that I was ok with things, I thought that I understood my depression; how to manage it, how to spot the signs that I wasn’t doing too well and needed a break, etc.

Now, I’m in the USA on the trip of a lifetime, and it turns out I wasn’t actually ‘ok’ with the whole depression thing at all. The last few weeks have been incredible, mind-alteringly, life changingly brilliant, and I’ve felt like someone without depression. Even when I got snotty-gunky-gross sick, I was still pretty happy, just miffed that I was in New York being snotty-gunky-gross sick. There was a little part of me that thought, ‘Oh my God, maybe it wasn’t depression at all! It was stress, burnout, a series of unfortunate events that were making me sad – I probably don’t have this weird lifelong mental health thing at all, how brilliant!‘ That little part grew without me even realising it, until I woke up earlier this week with the familiar feeling of numbness. That heavy blanket feeling that makes getting out of bed too difficult.

Unsurprisingly to just about everyone else in the world, it turns out that just because you go on an adventure to explore a subject you’re passionate about, depression doesn’t just go away. Even when you’re not stressed, worried or under pressure, that whole depression thing – it’s still a thing. That realisation surprised me.

I’m aware this sounds really naive, but I think it’s important to talk about. The issue of burnout and stress in relation to the PhD process is talked about so much, but it’s not always stress that makes life difficult for people. Some of us are living with the knowledge that at some point we’ll be right in the middle of a brilliant week, and the heavy blanket feeling will return with little or no warning.

All of that said, I’m still feeling pretty lucky to be lugging my heavy blanket around Washington DC rather than Aberdeen. Travelling has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and so I’m going to spend my weekend exploring new places around DC. That is potentially the most privileged form of self-care I’ve ever planned, but I’m here and me and my heavy blanket are determined to make the most of it, gently.