Autumn running and research FOMO

It’s a cool, rainy Autumn morning – finally. I’m inside, with the kitty, planning to do some work on the lit review before heading into uni to do more testing, reading and writing once traffic subsides.

Pearl Izumi
Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2. Love the red, black and lime combo.

My body is feeling quite sore, but a good “done lots of things” sore. On Friday I did a short walk/run with a friend around a bay that’s close to uni (very lucky, running by the water – lots of dog-, people- and boat-watching), on Saturday I did the usual parkrun (10 sec slower than my PB, dammit), followed by more home decluttering – the pantry looks lovely and manageable now (although how long will that last?). On Sunday I did some trail running (almost 10k very slowly, I came 3rd last in my age and sex category, but I enjoyed it a lot). I hit the trails in my new shoes for the first time, and they felt very grippy and secure, although more neutral than I’m used to (less arch support) which I’m not 100% sure about.

It’s sinking in that in just over a month I will be going overseas (North America) to present my research at two conferences. I’m still testing participants, which means I won’t have much time to analyse results and think about discussing the findings. (So I’m quietly terrified.) I’ll be spending some time in the US and Canada beyond conferencing. I’m going with a friend, and I think it’ll be fun – apart from becoming enlightened and covering our dear alma mater with glory,  I think we’re going to hit up some haunted/creepy places, catch trains, and trial some fine local fare (especially of the liquid variety).

Conferences are funny things. They make you pay to attend even if you’re a presenter – so, essentially, you are providing the content, and yet you have to pay for the privilege of being there and providing said content. Also, I’ve just found out that one of the two conferences I’m going to won’t be providing lunch this year – outrage!! And yet we do it, because it’s good experience, good “networking” (ugh…) and not least because the university subsidises the attendance of research students and academics.

Lately I’ve had massive research FOMO. My degree is a combined clinical and research degree, and my research as part of this degree will finish in a few months. I’ve been going to quite a few research seminars and colloquia, and I really wish I was sticking around to do more research – I have ideas on how I’d like to continue the research I’m doing, but it involves more experimental work of a kind that my current university is not really equipped for. Also, I don’t want to lose my clinical skills (hard-earned over the past three years), and I do really like clinical work. So the sensible option is to finish, get a job, and then think about coming back for more research later, which is something lots of psychs do. I just have to make my peace with not being able to Do All The Things at the same time…

On blog reading and writing

I really like blogs, and I read a fair few. Apart from friends’ blogs, I mostly read those of other health professionals, health students, scientists or researchers. It helps if they post food pictures, are snappy dressers or creative, or discuss both professional and personal matters. Being in the health field, its tricky discussing the last two due to confidentiality constraints, both concerning patients, and the professional’s life, in the Google-your-healthcare-provider-or-potential-employee age that we live in. I realise, however, that the blogs I enjoy the most are ones that discuss the personal, at least to some extent: reactions to tricky professional situations, travel, self-care, family. So with this in mind, I’ll try injecting a bit more of myself into this (so far, pretty dry) blog.

This week, I felt more like the bug than the windscreen. I didn’t get a job that I had pinned my hopes on and that would have been a really good fit, my research participants all cancelled, there are some family health issues, and exercise (which I use, not just for fitness but also for mood) felt painful and like a chore.

There are quite a few jobs out there in my field, but I had not realised how stiff the competition is. Not getting this job makes me worry that I won’t get a job, and feel angry at the thought that I’ve spent so many years studying and working hard, and there might not be light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, no one’s promised that there would be a shiny job at the end of the hard slog, but being human* means you assume things such as hard work -> some sort of reward. It’s also especially frustrating when you know that the mental health needs of Australians are far from decreasing, and that all the services you’ve done training with are stretched beyond capacity, with high rates of burn-out for clinicians – and yet there aren’t enough new jobs. (I should mention that I haven’t been applying for heaps of jobs, just very specific part-time ones, since I’m still doing my research. Not to mention that many/most positions are not available for people still finishing their clinical degree, which is fair enough.)

This brings me to the second point: I’m trying to finish my research, and even though I am still really interested in it, I also feel disheartened by the publication cycle and how hard it seems to get my last lot of participants. People are very generous to volunteer their time to participate in studies, and many have already done so for my research. So much goes on “behind the scenes”, before I meet with participants: out of those who contact me to say they’re interested, I end up talking to and screening about 2/3rds. Out of these, maybe half are eligible. Then I have time set aside for assessments, and it sucks when people don’t turn up. Even when they do – there’s a lot of forward and backward emailing, calling, schedule-checking, etc. Of course, there’s no reason for participants to know all this background information. TL;DR – research is really time-intensive and it makes me sad when participants cancel or don’t show up, which happens regularly. (Even so, I’m grateful that so many people have been interested in my research.)

Running, which is my preferred form of exercise, normally helps with life’s bumps and jolts, such as the above. I’ve recently come back from an (amazing!) overseas trip (honeymoon, actually), with some unwelcome residual sinus issues probably made worse by rapid changes in climate and aggressive airplane air conditioning. This has made running painful for the past couple of weeks. Bad breathing -> huge stitches -> sad runner. I’ve powered through: two painful Parkruns, a painful trail-running race, and a painful short run with a friend. I’ve tried to stay mindful, and the beautiful scenery of the trail run helped, but still, not the best outlet. Happy to report that this morning’s Parkrun was relatively-pain free, probably helped by sucking it up and taking some antihistamine medication.

So where to, from here? I’ll apply for other jobs that seem suitable to my stage in training. I’ll keep screening research participants, whether or not they end up coming in. I’ll keep going. And I’ll also see how this personal-and-professional blogging thing goes.

 

* Really, an instrumentally-conditioned animal.

Self-care

So, I’m now almost a full semester into my clinical program, and a few short weeks away from starting the first placement. I’ve learned a lot in the past few months – I’ve picked up knowledge and skills, and I’ve heard plenty of both inspiring and shocking things (which doesn’t mean I feel at all prepared, by the way). What I am coming to learn about providing psychological therapy is that, essentially, its purpose is to get people to do all the things they don’t want to do: face terrible situations they don’t want to face, perform actions that they really don’t want to perform, do things that are really hard and painful.

Because the training program is demanding, we are told to implement as many self-care strategies as we can, now as students, and as future clinicians, to avoid burn-out and damage to our own health (pity these things aren’t built into the program).

So I thought I’d run through some of the things I do for self-care, as a reminder to myself when things get even more full-on, and also for anyone else looking for ideas.

1. Live life.
There’s often a temptation to hole up and shut the world out while you get through study. At some point last year, I noticed that if I held back from social occasions or other fun things I would stay home, possibly mope, most likely procrastinate, whereas if I did go out/have a holiday etc, even though that would leave less time for study, I would be more efficient. So this year I’m doing things outside the course (within reason – as there are some hard limits on my time and energy).

2. Exercise!
I cannot emphasise this enough. I started running 6 months ago and I’m *very* slowly building up to 5km. (In honour of Dr. Isis, I now refer to this as “rundouchery”.) I believe that I finished 4th year with my sanity mostly intact because of exercise. It’s an antidepressant, anxiolytic, analgesic, promotes neurogenesis (= will make you feel good *and* SMRT!), and also can give you a goal to work towards. WIN.

3. Good food.
Get your 5-6 veg + 2 fruit a day and everything will be better, I promise.

4. Be around people.
Family, friends, pets, professionals – whatever your needs are, don’t isolate yourself, as tempting as it may be when you have a mountain of work to conquer. Let people know you’re struggling, and that you need help. Get the help you need, practical, emotional, whatever it may be. Spend whatever time you can afford with the people who make life good.

5. Games and TV.
I am a big fan of games that have defined points where you can leave, e.g. finishing a chamber in Portal or a chapter in a story-driven adventure game. Also TV shows that are interesting but don’t leave you hanging (like Elementary). Sometimes you need to ‘switch off’ for a while, without getting sucked in.

6. Maintain interests outside of study/work.
It’s good to have interests outside of professional ones, however, this I haven’t very good at. I haven’t written, drawn, painted, taken photos, gone bushwalking or caving in a long time – I hope to get back into this sometime soon.

This is what helps me – I’d be happy to hear about what works for other people, when the going gets tough.