History · PhD · Uncategorized

Time off PhD for recovery

Prior to starting this blog, I previously started one documenting thoughts on my PhD, wittily called ‘PhD – (Please help Daniel)‘. It begins with a couple of posts where I’ve tried to be proactive as an academic. Ignore them, they’re dry as hell.

Jump forward one month and it’s a very different story! The following is a post from the above blog that I wrote last week, right after I began my leave of absence from the PhD to focus on anorexia recovery. It’s an introduction to my struggle during the past 2 years of PhDing, and how I feel that I can’t research and recover at the same time.


I don’t write much. Any writing I do is purely for others (Facebook messages, Christmas cards, love letters to Nigella Lawson, the like). So I really didn’t really expect to be writing this, and yet, it’s been a long time coming.

I don’t know who’ll read it, if anyone, but it feels important to me to get it out of my head, and onto paper. Well, the monitor, whatever. For my own good as much as anyone else’s, but with a small hope that someone else will identify.

I’m now on a temporary leave of absence from my PhD, currently scheduled for 3 months but extendible as needs be. It’s not been an easy decision, and even now my mind’s a bit all over the place, but the more I think about it the more certain it becomes.

Prior to the PhD I had recovered from a struggle with anorexia. Somehow, through the strength and support of everyone around me, I made a full recovery within a year and was back to a healthy weight and mindset.

Since beginning, these past couple of years have seen me in and out of relapsing almost constantly. After returning from a great conference in the US just over a month ago, my weight’s plummeted again through the stress of travel, presenting my research to the pros of the field, returning and trying to catch up on work, figuring out where I’m going with the research question, and above all trying to shun the demons telling me that I’m totally incapable of doing it.

The PhD isn’t the root cause of the disorder, but right now, attempting to recover from this nadir while also trying to stay above board with research are two conflicting goals. My ill health means that I can’t focus properly, which means work falls behind, which causes additional stress and subsequent ill-health. It’s a Catch-22 that needs to be broken.

Everyone told me so, but I pressed on regardless, convinced that I was coping. In fact, the PhD ended up being a distraction; an excuse for not eating properly, for being reclusive, and for generally encouraging all my bad ED behaviours.

I’ve been blessed to have the full support of family, supervisor, friends, doctor and Student Services. They’ve reassured me throughout the whole process that this is the right decision; that taking time off to focus on physical and mental recovery from anorexia is necessary. It’s got to the point that health can’t take a back seat any more.

It’s not a failing to admit that I need help.

Success isn’t two letters at the start of my name; it’s two fingers to the demons trying to take it all away from me, and two hands on the reins to take control of my life again.

Thanks to Ian Gent at http://blog.depressedacademics.org/ for sharing this original post. I wholeheartedly recommend his blog on his own struggles with depression and anxiety; knowing you’re not the only one on the journey makes it much easier.



2 thoughts on “Time off PhD for recovery

    1. Cheers Cornie, knowing I have friends as encouragement when things go right and support when things are going wrong is a huge boost to me. 🙂


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