I started my studies in mid 2007. Back then, I was optimistic, well motivated, perfectly organised in my life and research schedule. I got married in mid 2008. All was well, and I was a happy young woman, looking forward to the future.
A few months after my marriage, my husband left to work abroad. I was on my own, seeing my husband only once a month. This situation lasted for 2 years! I missed him so much! I started feeling depressed, but research was my priority: I used to work very hard, spending ridiculously long hours on my thesis.
Things got far worse in 2011. After submitting my thesis, I received ‘revise and resubmit’ when I had my viva. I was devastated. Could I make it? Would I ever complete this PhD? I had not realised how bad things were until I started suffering from frequent migraines and severe insomnia in 2012. I could not sleep properly, no matter what. At the same time, I developed severe obsessive compulsive disorders. Yes, the obsessive numbering kind of thing … Eventually, I was briefly hospitalised after a panic attack. Soon after I started hearing voices inside my head.
I talked to my doctor. It was very difficult doing so. I was scared, embarrassed, I felt vulnerable. I also felt that I had gone ‘bananas’ and I was ashamed of my situation. My PhD resubmission stayed on hold. I talked to my supervisor and received extensions. I started taking medicines in early 2013. The doctor made it explicit that I need counselling as well as taking medicines.
Unfortunately, mental health problems still remain a taboo in academia. I did not want to associate my ‘academic persona’ with schizophrenia. Who would ever hire me? Who would ever offer me funding or a post-doc? I would be ‘stigmatized’ for ever. I wasn’t even sure if I did the right thing when I told my department about my condition, but in the end my doctor convinced me that I need help, and even personally wrote to my department twice! I was lucky to have received help from people who were very supportive and did their job properly.
And then a little miracle happened. I started seeing one of the counsellors of my university. I used to see her once a month – she helped me stand on my feet, control my anxiety and insomnia and motivate myself to resubmit. I still take my medication, I am not 100% mentally well, but at least I resubmitted my thesis and eventually passed the second viva with minor corrections!
I now feel better. I have also landed my first academic job and I am about to publish my PhD thesis as a book. I hope that my story inspires students and academics to keep going, even if they face mental health problems.