Okay, so I had intended on writing a year in review post on December 31st, as I have done in the last few years, but I was busy playing violent card games and sleeping and enjoying my last few days in Ireland, so it kind of slipped.
Today is 12 months exactly since I started my PhD, meaning that I am officially a second year student. So I guess it’s as good a day as any to look back on the last 12 months, right? I mean, it’s kind of a milestone, even if not as big a milestone as the actual change of the year.
In actual fact, I’m gonna include the few days before I started my PhD too, because there was a kinda big event in there, you know.
So yeah. To start off. I moved to London and started a PhD. That’s been, well, interesting.
London is big, scary and faceless, and full of people. The first probably six months were atrociously hard. I spent most of them thinking I was drowning in college work and loneliness and confusion and not being a proper grown up. I’m still not a proper grown up. But either way.
General college-related things… I’ve done a lot of reading and research, and failed miserably at reading everything I should have read. I’ve got a fleshed-out thesis plan and the guts of my upgrade chapter. I have a literature review, or the skeleton of one, which needs to be fleshed out. I’m currently working on my upgrade, which means that I have to write an entire chapter of the thesis, write a literature review, produce a plan of what I’m going to do for the next two years and then defend it in a mini-viva. That’s what’s going on in the next few months, and it’s bloody terrifying, but I think I can do it.
I hope I can do it!
I’m a student of the centre for publishing, in the Department of Information Studies, so for the first few months I worked in the DIS PhD room, which is quiet and has a computer, but also has the temperature turned up to a truly ridiculous 25 degrees. It was alright in there, but there wasn’t much company or chatter, so during the summer I started working in the DIS common room. I enjoyed that, because there were lots of Masters students writing their theses, so I had plenty of company and lots of friends to chat to. The only problem with that was that come September, they were all finished and I was bang out of luck and on my own again. Around the same time, my supervisor went on sabbatical, so I got a new supervisor (who had previously been my secondary supervisor) who’s in the faculty of Laws. Why Laws instead of Law? I don’t know, but there you go. I started spending more time in the Laws PhD room, and that was actually much better, because they’re very friendly and welcoming, and I enjoy spending time there. Plus there are social nights on relatively frequently.
I went to a few boards beers and managed to find some friends there, which was a relief. Incidentally, one of the boardsies used to live with my brother-in-law, so if that’s not a coincidence, I don’t know what is. Boards was a real help in meeting people and getting out of my flat, which was difficult, to be honest, at first.
Living arrangement-wise, I spent the first six or seven weeks staying with my brother, but after my nephew was born, I started to feel like I was crowding the place, so I rented a room in the flat of another PhD student. It was fine, and it was a lovely flat, but being a lodger made me feel a lot like I was intruding on someone else’s space the whole time. When my six-month lease was up I moved on to a flat which is further away from the college, but where I’m an equal stake-holder. It’s also not exactly what I’m looking for, so I think I’ll be moving on within a few months, but it’s not been the worst thing in the world. It’s not bad living here, just certain things can get very frustrating, mostly being off the tube lines. Won’t be going south-east again!
The start of the year was pretty hectic as a whole, with the golden trilogy of life events – hatching, matching and dispatching all happening within a two-month period. My nephew, who remains the cutest thing in the world, arrived on scene, my gran sadly departed and my brother-in-law Shane finally gained an official spot in the family, not that he wasn’t there in every sense already.
After Easter, things started to go downhill, though. I had a lot of difficulty making friends (the moving to the common room thing didn’t happen until about June) and I was incredibly lonely. I tried to fix it by spending extra time with my brother, but to be honest he’s not really the type of person to really appreciate that, so I was mostly just annoying him and upsetting myself. It wasn’t until May that I admitted to myself that I was depressed again and actually went to the doctor. I went back on the anti-depressants, but told nobody, once again ashamed of being too weak to stay happy by myself. But, of course, that was dumb as balls, because nobody who knows and loves me would judge me.
In any case, I went to the doctor and I got the pills and for most of the summer I was functioning again and it was all good. But in September then I got a phone call which I had been expecting but dreading for oh, months. It put an end to the whole situation from July 2012 (you know the one I mean) and, although it wasn’t anything I hadn’t expected, I was absolutely floored by it. I was gutted that it was a no, even though every ounce of logic in my brain had told me that it would be a no. What made it worse, though, was that I had nobody to turn to and nobody to tell and for a week when all I wanted was a hug, I didn’t have anyone I could go to with it. It was an absolutely atrocious, horrendous week. And it really hammered home to me just how alone I am here. I have Shane, yes, but he’s not… I’m not as close to him as to the rest of my family. And I have friends here, but they’re just buddies, not actually people I can properly talk to about big things. And this was a big thing.
For a week or so, all I wanted was a hug. Just a big massive, squishy hug which says everything will be okay.
And it was that week that I realised that I don’t hug anyone here. At home I’m incredibly free with the hugs, but over here the only person I hug is my nephew. And, to be honest, he’s not that keen on being cuddled, he mostly tries to squirm away.
So yes. That was tough. It was incredibly tough. I lasted approximately a week before I had a total breakdown in the middle of a park and finally admitted to myself that I needed to go to counselling to help me get past this.
So I did. I went to counselling, and it was… it was weird. A lot of the time it felt like I was just being told things I already knew, and I would have had about as much success and personal development talking to a wall, but between it and the pills, eventually the fog lifted. I’m not done yet. I’m still healing. I’m still on the pills and I’m actually in floods of tears as I write this, but I’m getting there. I’m slowly, very slowly, moving on.
After that, in September, things did get better. I joined the concert band in the university, which has been incredibly positive. I’ve really missed playing music, and having an outlet for it has helped beyond anything. It also has lots of social outlets, which is good. I even went to see Wicked (for the second time) with people from the band, which was equally as good as, if not better than, the first time I saw it four years ago.
As well as that, I kept going with college, and did a seminar for my sponsors in November, which went really well. I’ve made more friends, which should hopefully help me from getting into a situation like September again. I mean, I still don’t hug any of them, but maybe there are people I could talk to.
The physicality of being in London is… annoying. In the weeks when I’ve been home (and there have been about six of them), I’ve been able to just go over to someone’s home and have a cup of tea and a gossip with them (or a full ham and turkey dinner in someone else’s home while they hide in the kitchen, I mean whatever), which just isn’t something I can do with my closest friends (or my sisters, parents, or Alex) while I’m over here. The distance really got to me this year.
BUT there’s never likely to be another moment like that one in September again, so I don’t think I have to worry about it too much.
In general, like, being in London is great! There’s so much to do! There are so many things to see! I have been the ultimate tourist/resident. I’ve done lots of things that I did when I was a child (museums, why always the museums? I have millions of memories of going to museums!) and things that I had never done before (never been to Madame Tussaud’s in London, but went with Sinéad during the summer).
My relationship with my family is still good. I am an expert at Skype, and I am intimately familiar with the details of the ceiling coving, because my mum is too lazy to hold the tablet up while she’s talking to me.
Things with Alex haven’t been perfect this year, but by God, it’s a million times better than when I was in France. We’ve had plenty of visits, and the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other was eight weeks which, in the grand scheme of things, is really not that many. If our relationship is as strong in the next two years as it has been in the last one, we should have nothing to worry about until I get home. That’s when actually being in proximity to each other will begin to freak us out. After all, in the last three years, we’ve only been in the same province for six months.
In general though, last year was good. I know this blog post doesn’t make it seem that way, but it has been.
I love my PhD. It’s big and terrifying and overwhelming and my sponsors are really scary, but I adore what I do. I love researching and I love keeping up to date with everything that’s going on. I’m really looking forward to the next two years (although when I think that come June I’ll be halfway through, I come quite close to hyperventilating!).
I love my university (have to say uni over here, if you say college they think you’re still in sixth form), and all its bizarre oddities, especially the dead body in the box. I really, really enjoy the concert band and am happy to be here. I think it would have been much easier if I had started in a September, rather than a January, but sometimes life just throws you a curveball and you have to deal with it. The uni is weird and wonderful, and the people I’ve met here are really nice to spend time with. I really am enjoying being here.
Living on my own is strange – I know when I was in France I was terribly lonely, and being a lodger gave me a lot of the same feelings – with added doses of feeling like intruding on my landlady’s space whenever I tried to cook. Although, I must admit, sometimes I did have terrible cooking skills. I did set off the fire alarm, after all. The flat I’m in now is nice, I like the feeling of being an equal and I’m quite fond of my flatmates. I must admit I’m not fond of the sink being blocked for over a month, that was no fun, or the bathroom flooding the hall and part of my bedroom, that was no fun either, but hey, at least they were adventures!
I am happy here. This year has been strange and difficult and sad and lonely, but it’s also been interesting and delightful and wonderful. New additions to the family are wonderful (there isn’t a child in the world cuter than my nephew, and Shane Byrne is pretty alright), I’m in a relationship with an incredible man who puts up with my country-hopping, I have a family who love me and a great PhD, as well as lovely and supportive friends – overall, if I were offered a chance to re-do this year, I don’t think I’d change it.
On balance, the happy times won out. It wasn’t the BEST year of my life. But it was certainly one of the most interesting.
Also, I got an iPad. I think that makes this year a win!
^Mark, Sinéad, Alex and I at Aoife and Shane’s wedding.