But she started it…

December 3, 2011

A number of years ago (nine, in fact, is the number in question), I lived in a shared house with four other girls. Take five girls who haven’t yet lost the adolescent appetite for drama, and put them in a house share. Shake vigorously, open lid with caution, contents may be explosive. It was a fucking nightmare.

I did actually like a couple of the girls and although we’ve drifted apart over the years, we got on well enough at the time. Had we not lived together, and so not associated each other with the horrendous house-share from hell, we might have stayed in touch. The other thing I’ll point out is that all of these girls were, in fact, drama students. I hate to generalise (but I’m going to anyway so I guess we’ll all have to live with that) but drama students do seem to have a higher than average collection of neuroses, and feel a compulsion to draw attention to these neuroses in a variety of ‘interesting’ ways. Of course we all have our issues but in my experience, there is certainly a correlation between obtaining a BA in Theatre Studies and a propensity to see the world as a play in which you are the fatally flawed heroine and other people are mere bit-part players, who wander in and out of your scenes. Every time the action flags and your lines aren’t showing off your talents, you rewrite a little and ramp up the melodrama. Either studying Brecht and Artaud is enough to put you in therapy, or UCAS recruits drama applicants directly from the books of therapists.  If this stereotype seems a little cruel that’s because it is. But a lesser-known fact about me is that for two years, I was one of these students of drama. For two years I ‘externalized the internal’ for dramatic effect, indulged in ‘invisible theatre (which meant standing in the middle of Covent Garden in a bra and sandwich board). I ran around with no shoes on, cultivated an image of a tortured soul, and cried late into the night, raking through every corner of my cushy middle-class life for more ‘material’. The thing is, I wasn’t very good at all that self-loathing combined with self-adoration and after two years I realised that a 2.2 in BA Exhibitionism  was not what I wanted out of my university career. So I switched to English where the pretensions were just as pronounced but of a slightly more tolerable flavour. But my point is, that I speak, if not with authority, then at least with some first-hand experience. I am sure there are lots and lots of talented and well-balanced students of drama the world over. Perhaps I’ll meet one of them one day.

Anyhow, in this shared house, we were all a bit like this – total emotional fuck-ups, mostly by design. But there was this one girl who was possibly the best example of all of these things that I have ever come across, and consequently the most irritating person in the world.  And maybe also a little bit evil. We’ll call her Tit. This wasn’t her name but it’s not wholly dissimilar to her name and is certainly apt. She was competitive, manipulative, and totally self-absorbed. Anyway, the point of this is that after two years of living together, a sort of vague generalised dislike intensified into white-hot burning anger. I think this is the only time I’ve ever hated anybody. Day after day was ruined by her very existence and any interaction we ever had became a tense, point-scoring dialogue of thinly veiled fury. My mum would tell me to avoid her and stay out of her way. The thing is, when you live with somebody, you can’t stay out of their way. It’s impossible. I remember sitting in my room, crying angry tears of frustration because I could hear her on the phone outside my room and every time she spoke it was like somebody stabbing me in the eye with a fork.

I despised Tit so much that it became almost an obsession. It was all I could think about and therefore all I talked about. Conversations with friends and family became a monologue  – me just listing the things she’d done or said, going over them from every angle: her audacity, my outrage, how she started it, how justified I was. People listened sympathetically at first but (understandably) began to get bored and even a little disturbed. What I wanted, I guess, was for them to feel what I felt, for me to somehow bypass words entirely and just plant the picture I saw in their heads, transplant the ball of rage and hatred in my stomach directly into theirs.

Eventually I moved out, took stock, and the anger faded and with it the hatred. From this vantage, I looked back at myself with more distance and was thoroughly ashamed of what I saw. I let her turn me into somebody I didn’t want to be, somebody who was fuelled by bitterness and anger, somebody who had no room for anything else in her life, somebody who was petty and childish and who had become every bit as despicable as Tit herself.  I resolved never to let that happen to me again.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because I need to remind myself just now that in the face of provocation, I can walk away. If somebody attacks me, then it doesn’t matter who starts it, who’s right or who’s wrong. It doesn’t matter who was to blame originally. If I react with anger and enmity, it will eat away at me, not the other person. It will damage me, not her. If she throws acid at me, it might burn me. If I throw it back, it will ricochet and still burn me, gradually corroding everything until I’m just the skeleton of the person I would have been.

So, Tit, and all those who come after you…do your worst. You can’t touch me.

P.S. Well done if you’ve read this far. I think we’ve all learned something here today. Mostly, that I am a little bit insane.

P.P.S. Just re-read this and can’t help thinking I might have belonged on that drama degree after all. As a wise man (my dad, I think) once said to me, you can take the student out of Drama, but you can’t take drama out of the student.

So to bed…

November 14, 2011

It’s been one hell of a mixed up weekend. I would say more for therapeutic purposes but it’s late and I fear that if I start, it’ll all tumble out like when you try to pull one item of clothing at a time out of the washing machine but it all comes out in a big wet tangle of tights and jumper-arms tied round each other like string round cat guts (Ugh. That all went more unpleasant than I thought it would). And I have to be at work in the morning so no time for washing machines or cat guts right now.

Speaking of cats, here’s the one in my bed. Think I’ll go and join her. Goodnight, lovely Internet.

How to coat a clean bed sheet in fur and influence people

My, my, what have we here?

December 12, 2009

Search terms used to find your blog:

Help me feel less anxious about my PhD

I am sorry, anonymous searcher, that you are in that dark and frightening place. I know the anxiety, the panic, the nausea, and it sucks. Especially when it does that creepy thing of sidling up to you when you least expect it, sliding its cold slimy fingers around your neck. And then the sun goes out and your heart frosts over into a ball of fear. Oh, wait, I think I’m getting the PhD mixed up with Dementors again. Oh well, semantics. I am sorry you feel this way and I am sorry that you submitted your desperate plea to the Internet and that google, in its wisdom, responded, and that you pitched up here. I am fairly sure that my self-indulgent ramblings were not what you were looking for (although they are probably of more relevance to you than the to person searching for ‘can chinchilla catch swine flu’).

Perhaps you had something else in mind? Maybe yoga lessons, betablockers, or a whale song CD? In which case, you need to be a little more specific with your search terms, my friend, because although Google moves in mysterious ways (and who am I to question its greater plan for us mere mortals? Many a time it has saved my vegan bacon by coming up with a page number I have forgotten to record, or locating some obscure article at the back of one of its sock drawers) it has, alas, not yet completed its PGDip in Counselling, and is therefore unlikely to reduce any anxiety you feel as a result of the rocky path that is the PhD. The fact that it brought you here, to my blog, where there is anxiety and self-indulgent ramblings in abundance, but not that much in the way of practical help or advice, is a case in point.

I can’t help feeling Google let you down on this one, my anonymous friend, so I recreated your search to see what your other options were. Let’s have a look at this:

Help Me Feel Less Anxious About My PhD

So on the right-hand side, we get the sponsored links. Helpfully, Google suggests ‘findaPhD.com’ Because, clearly, the anxiety you feel could be helped by the addition to your life of one of the ‘Thousands of Postgraduate Courses’ on offer here. I am presuming that your anxiety has arisen in response to a PhD on which you are actually enrolled, rather than merely the prospect of one on which you might or might not be enrolled at some point in the future, yes? Thought so. Ok, moving on.

First up in the results list, we have this article from the New York times, which I think must have been written especially for ‘ International No Shit Sherlock’ week. Go on, I’ll wait here while you join the stampeding millions whose excitement Ms Reynold’s had clearly anticipated with this ground-breaking report. Appaaarently, exercise is good for us! And wait, not just for our bodies, no, but for our minds too! Who the fuck knew?? Just hang on a mo while I do a couple of star-jumps and readjust the laptop so that I can type this while adopting a casual reverse warrior pose. Ok, thanks, that’s better.

Look, it’s not that I doubt that exercise helps with our mental and emotional resilience. Having read the article with the curious yet cursory skill that seven years of higher education has honed to a dark art,  I would have liked to have seen the single mention of dopamine extended a bit so that I could rip it out, fold it and put it in my pocket with all the other bits of paper I mean to look at later but will probably use instead for hygienic chewing-gum disposal in cafes.

But I digress, as is my wont.  We all know that anxiety, depression, poor concentration and all those other little bastards can be helped by doing something slightly more active than cocooning yourself in a duvet on the sofa and watching BBC iplayer from beginning to end in an effort to stave off the crippling panic you feel when you contemplate the self-worth-trashing effort involving in making some kind of dint in the 80k words standing between you and the viva. But forcing rats to run around in little sweatbands (ok, they probably weren’t wearing any kind of rodent-sized leisure accessories, but in my head? They totally were.) and then forcing them to swim in icy water which, readers, it would seem, ‘they do not like to do’, is not going to make the difference between somebody googling ‘Help me feel less anxious about my PhD’ and actually getting off the sofa and onto the bloody step machine.And the reason for this is that the anxiety causes poor productivity, which means that you go to bed each night knowing that there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything you need to in order to catch up, which means you feel even more anxious about the work and time slipping away like a grounded teenager in the night. It’s a cycle of causality that turns the screw of panic deeper and deeper into your heart everyday and, although you might know that going for a jog would help, that kind of panic is more conducive to alcoholism than exercise. Hey, I’m not defending this position, I’m just sayin…the dumbells don’t work.

For most of us, that is. There’s always one, isn’t there? Here’s a little taste of what Dr Silva, (PhD, doncha know) contributes to the discussion in the comments:

I do jogging since I was 22 and by the way I ran two half-marathons during my PhD at Penn State Univ. Perhaps my healthy lifestyle has helped me to mold my professional career on brain performance.

~ Dr Elson Silva, PhD

Ooooh, Elson, not one but two half-marathons while you did your PhD?!!! We are a little goody-two-shoes, aren’t we? Who reckons that Elson was the one at school sitting at the front of the class with his full range of highlighters out on the desk before him, his hand up like the reverse warrior every time the teacher dared to ask the class a question, or else smugly laughing into his hand in a not-so-discreet way, every time the teacher picked somebody, please anybody, than Elson to answer.

To be honest, Dr Silva (that’s Dr as in PhD for those of you who might not have noticed the letters after his name there and the mention of it in the comment itself), you’re something of a drive-by comment-leaver on the news sites and I think you might be starting to get on people’s tits a bit.

Maybe it’s the fact that rather than having a breakdown during your PhD like the rest of us, you do jogging and ran two half-marathons??? In conclusion, my response to this article was less an urge to renew my gym subscription and more an urge to push Dr Silva into very cold water.

And so, after this little foray into the world of science, I no longer think that Google exercised particularly poor judgement in placing my blog at number 2 in its results list for our anonymous friend’s search for  ‘Help me feel less anxious about my PhD’. In fact, I now feel a sort of responsibility to anxious PhD candidates everywhere who might potentially become anonymous searchers themselves and stumble onto this little outlet of anxiety and self-loathing. So much so in fact, that I leave you with a tip of the day for feeling less anxious about your PhD:

Do not ever Google the terms PhD and Anxiety. No good thing can ever come of it. Instead, why not visit me here again? Go on, I’ll wait while you add me to your bookmarks or hit the subscribe button all the way down there at the bottom of the blog. Done it? Good, see you next time for more cathartic outpourings of self-pity.

A bientot x