Guest Post: It’s a never ending battle for a peace that’s always torn

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Hi gang! I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest post from Adam Snow! As you all know, I’m really interested to hear all of your explanations of what depression means to you. Following on from my last post about depression in literature, this thoughtful post talks about the links between the PhD, depression and music. Remember to send some love Adam’s way at @addz8!

What’s it like doing a PhD?

This is a question I have never been asked, for sure some do politely enquire about what I am studying, and after about 5 seconds their interests wanes, at 7 seconds a glassy look comes across their eyes and by 15 they have probably forgotten what question they asked.  If I was ever lucky enough to be asked that question, I honestly don’t know how I would reply.

Certainly the self effacing side of me would probably see ‘well it beats working’.  But that doesn’t really come close to the actual hard slog, the daily worry, that endless pit in your stomach as you think either a.) you won’t finish or b.) your work is worthless.  Sometimes you give into that fear and think it is hopeless, sometimes you don’t.  That is what it is like doing a PhD.

To a certain extent this is also what it is like suffering with depression, which for me is like an existential crisis stretching over a life course.  Sure there are moments of happiness, achievement, pride but there are also moments of frustration and just a wish that it will all go away; the feeling that everything is ultimately pointless, difficult and tiring.

For anyone reading this who is also doing a PhD then you can start to see the parallels between a PhD and depression.  In an earlier blog Jessica described how fiction provided insight into depression, well as I tweeted after reading that blog, for me music  and song lyrics are perhaps the medium that capture the feelings best.

It’s a never ending battle for a peace that’s always torn

Bob Dylan, Shelter from the Storm.

This song, taken from Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks, following his divorce from Sara Lownds (Sad eyed Lady of the Lowlands (another Dylan Song)) perhaps more than any song describes recurring bouts of depression, a never ending battle, the existential crisis writ large across life.  Even in ones happy moments there is a fear that the bad will come back, it is a torn and fraught happiness.

Another of my favourites is Ryan Adams, who just captures heartache and a sense of sadness like no other.  Top of his lyrical list is ‘Please Do Not Let Me Go’

If the walls in the room could talk

I wonder to myself, would they lie?

It’s like some kind of jail beams of light

Fall through the curtains onto the bed

I’m all alone now, I can do as I please

I don’t feel like doing much of anything

Ryan Adams, Please Do Not Let Me Go

Again we see this yearning for something to motivate oneself and yet the simple seduction of doing nothing “I’m all alone now; I can do as I please.   I don’t feel like doing much of anything.”  Again this is a constant thought running through my head during the PhD, I have a desire and the freedom to do meaningful work and yet ultimately I don’t feel like it, generally because I believe it will be inadequate, or not worthy of much.

I think my final song that really does capture the dual relationship between depression and doing a PhD is the Eels song; Grace Kelly Blues:

The tractor trailer driver radios

Help me someone I’m out here on my own

Truck driving from the black night away

Praying for the light of day

Now for anyone who doesn’t know, Eels front man Mark Everett Oliver (or E) has more cause than any to be depressed.  But again these lyrics really capture both the feeling of the loneliness that accompanies depression ‘help me someone I’m out here all alone,’ and the small ray of hope that on occasion bursts through, ‘Praying for the light of day’ much like the PhD on more positive days.

Perhaps the last words should be left to E:

But me I’m feeling pretty good as of now

I’m not so sure when I got here and how

Sun melt in the fake

Smile away

I think you know I’ll be ok.

Grace Kelly Blues, Eels

And I think this is my experience with both depression and doing a PhD, it does end and occasionally joy is possible.  Anyway on with the PhD, just over 12 months until it must be completed, and as of today my thought is ‘it will be completed!’

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