And it’s the weekend again… :)

I just had dinner. It’s quite late, almost 23:00h, but I am feeling like writing. I haven’t written with peace of mind in the last three weeks. I was rushing. Today I am relaxed. I am calm.

So what’s up?

I am happy. I am stable. I am satisfied with what I have in personal and professional life even though things are not going as per the plan in both aspects of life, but everything is under control. Everything is fine. It’s life.

I have been getting more and more stable since almost one month. It’s a highlight. Really. I was in a very bad state of mind for almost nine months. It affected my personal and professional life. It feels good to be normal again. :) I am a cheerful person. I like to have fun. I like to act childishly, which is something I cannot do when I am not happy from the inside, I noticed. I like to work on my hobbies. I like to do nerdy stuff. I like to have fun with friends and family. I am a social person. I have relatively strong connections with my extended family and sometimes with their relative and friends as well, and I maintain these relationships. I talk to people once in a while and I keep in touch. I do it because I like to stay in touch with people. I enjoy it. I am starting to do all this again after a very very long time.

But this is all personal life. My bad mental health also had a huge impact on my professional life as well. But it had started to go downhill even before I started my PhD, so let’s start from the beginning.

I have always enjoyed science: as a kid in school, in college, during my master’s. But something went wrong in the second year of my master’s that put me off. Things were going well until I got into the second year and started a research project in my department – the department of high energy physics. I was enjoying what I was doing to a good extent, but I was not enjoying the atmosphere in my department. My advisor was a horrible person. I had mental health issues during the six months I worked under him. It was the first time in my life when I had to see a counsellor. It was bad. During that project I decided that I am not going to continue my PhD in TIFR. I hated the atmosphere in the department. I hated the mindset of some people in that department. I couldn’t go to any other department, so I decided that I will do my second project in high energy physics as well, as was the requirement, and then leave the institute.

So that’s what I did. I did my second project in my department. I was just settling for something. Again, I enjoyed the project, but I still hated the department. I just finished my project in siz months and moved on. I was required to do a one year long master’s project in the third year, so I moved on to the only other department I liked – theoretical physics. I had no affection at all for condensed matter physics. I didn’t have much interest in Astrophysics and Nuclear physics either, so theoretical physics was the only place where I could go, and the only place where I really wanted to go.

I wanted to do a project in astroparticle physics. I enjoyed particle physics during the first two years of my master’s. That’s what I was specialising in. I wanted to do something that’s a mix of theory and experiment, so I approached two professors in DTP who worked in astroparticle physics phenomenology. Both of them said no. I guess I was not smart enough. Well, then I approached other people. I heard about cosmology. I didn’t know a thing about cosmology, but I was very interested in learning more about it. I definitely didn’t want to do condensed matter theory and collider physics. I couldn’t do QCD, QFT, and string theory stuff. My fundamentals were not that strong. 😬 Moreover, I wanted to do something that had a mix of theory and experiment.

So again, cosmology was the one and only thing I wanted to do and the one and only thing that was available. I chose that. Before I talk about the troubles (they started soon after this stage), I want to say that I had so much fun working on this project. I mean, I loved the subject so much that I was willing to do PhD in cosmology. I still enjoy reading about this field. I just love it…

But, the problems started soon after I started this project in July. I had the GRE exam two months I started my project. I couldn’t prepare and freaked out. I did badly in the exam. My project suffered. I shared my worries with my supervisor and he gave me time and helped me recover. Then I started to get back on track but soon after corona happened and I came home in March.

Working from home was troublesome. The end date of the project was approaching and I had no idea about what I am going to do after that. I was sick and tired of the pathetic life of PhD studens in Indian academia. I thought about taking a job after my master’s. I thought about applying for a PhD somewhere outside of India. I didn’t know what to do. I was not sure if I would get an opportinity in of either of these options. I was certain that I didn’t want to do a PhD in India because of pathetic working conditions and low salary (scholarship, actually).

I finished my master’s. I was still working on my project with my supervisor. In the meantime, I also applied for some many jobs. I didn’t get any response for almost two months, and then I heard back from one. I had the interview and I kind of got it. At least I got some confidence. But around the same time I realised that I have a very good chance of getting a PhD position outside of India as well. My academic record was good. I had done good things. I had people who were willing to write the recommendation letters for me. I was very much interested in Physics. It’s just that I was frustrated due to some of my experiences during my master’s.

So, I applied for PhD and got it. Now I am here in the Netherlands.

I had a good start and a bad ending of the first year of my PhD journey. When I started, I was dealing with many things. A new country, new people, no interaction with people due to covid restrictions, new culture, breakup, no friends in this new land. Many things. All this on top of the loss of motivation I had during my master’s. After two to three months I made some friends and had a great time with them. In the meantime, I did very well in the first six months of my master’s considering I was still new to the project. Just when I started to feel comfortable in this country and at work, just when I was starting to get my motivation towards science back, shit went down in my personal life and everything fell with it.

My social life was basically non-existent. My mental health was very bad. I was lonely. My work suffered, and that put a lot of pressure on me, which made things worse. My aunt died unexpectedly sometime in November last year. I loved her but I couldn’t mourn over her death because I had my own troubles. I didn’t have the bandwidth to process anything else. I haphazardly decided to go home in December. I went. I was present there physically but my mind was here. I didn’t take presents with me for my friends and family in India, not even for my parents. I met my relatives and family, but I was not enjoying it the way I normally do. I was mentally absent from there. I basically went home and came back without even realising to full extent that I was at home.

In the meantime, work continued. I attended the meetings while I was at home because I was working from home for some part of my time there. But I could barely do anything. I was not focussed. My mind was troubled. I came back to the Netherlands and my troubles continued. My work kept suffering. The pressure from seniors in my working group kept growing and I broke down. Badly. For months. All this while my personal life was still miserable. So all this was happening when I had basically no support. It was tough.

I started writing these blog posts around this time. This is one of things that makes me happy. I like to spend time with my hobbies. This is one of the many things I like to do with my time. As time passed, I reflected on my personal and professional life. I focussed on improving my mental health. No matter what happened at work, no matter how urgent something was, I never gave up working on my hobbies, doing sports, and relaxing on the weekends. I desperately needed these activities. It was the only support structure I had during those days. And it worked.

I wrote my thoughts in my diary. I am a social person. I need to talk to people. I need to have heart-to-heart conversations with people. I don’t like superficial friendships in which we don’t share good and bad things with the other person. I need to share. It’s just me. But I didn’t want to share with anyone during those days. I just wanted to deal with my issues myself and to not bother anyone because everyone has their own issues. That too worked. I made a habit of writing a diary. It’s not a new habit, by the way. I have been doing this since I was in high school, but I never did it so regularly because I always had an old friend to talk to. Now I didn’t want to share with anyone so shared everything with my diary. It was a very good decision.

I reflected on my actions, my personal and professional life, my goals, my ambitions… I made routines for myself. I did sports. I did certain activities on the weekdays and others on the weekends. I developed these habits. I did things that helped me stay sane. I figured out my needs and ways to satisfy them. I grew a lot in the last three months as a person, mostly because I decided to do things by myself. I was under my own influence. I was following my own advice, the things I learned by talking to myself through my diary. It helped me to start believing in myself again – personally and professionally. It was a life lesson, I would say. I learned how to handle myself in the worst times and how to handle others as well.

I was having some serious trouble at work during the last five months. It grew with time and eventually became unbearable. But the things I learned in the last three months by spending time with myself helped me cope with this pressure. I had confidence in myself, even though everything was pointing against me, because I had reflected on who I am, what I am capable of doing, and what I have done in the past.

I gained stability slowly due to this feeling of self-respect. I fixed my personal and professional life, and here we are today. By fixing I mean that the troubles are still there but I have the strength to cope with them. Now it’s easy, so it’s no problem at all.

This regained awareness about myself also made me aware of my career ambitions. I am again conscious of my affection for doing science. Now I am again aware that I enjoy it so much. It’s a good thing to have regained this awareness. I have already started to look at my Phd project in a very different way. Now I am much more invested in it. It feels like the lack of motivation phase that started towards the end of my master’s due to some bad experiences is now over. Maybe it would have ended in the summer last year had my mental health been okay but who knows. I am just glad that it’s over now. I am back to loving science. I am enjoying it again, and I would do my best to keep doing this after my PhD. It’s a strong statement. I could not say this at all in the last two years. I had doubts. I am saying it now. It means something.

It’s 00:59 h. Let’s go to sleep. I am glad that I could write so much. I sat down like this for writing after almost a month. It feels good. Now that it has became a habit, my week feels incomplete when I don’t write on this blog. :)

Shab Bakhair!