PhDisabled: What I learned from taking two weeks off

Joely Black
Jan 2, 2020 · 4 min read

How to give yourself a break, and come back stronger.

This is not me. But this is how it feels right now. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

“So, do you get time off doing a PhD? Or is it, like, all the time?”

We were at a party, right before Christmas. There was a weekend of intensive partying in the last heady weeks, and I was feeling like I’d reached the final miles of a marathon and desperately wanted to see the finish line.

There is a running metaphor for everything in life, I swear.

It was a weird question, and it took a minute to answer. Usually, people assume if you’re doing a PhD that you’re a student, living according to the semester rules. Strangers to the academic system think you must be getting all those long summer breaks and chilling out with all that great vacation time.

A PhD, not so much.

I wasn’t sure how to answer, because a PhD does feel like all the time. The boundaries between what’s obviously work (writing, researching, reading) and what’s not (thinking about what you might write, exploring ideas, figuring things out while you’re doing something else) are so vague.

Somebody came to my rescue that week with a tweet giving the official guidelines from my funding body. The AHRC recommends that PhD students take around 40 days off per year. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That includes times when the university is officially closed (over Christmas and Easter), state holidays, bank holidays, and then 28 days of vacation time.

Taking time off is essential, but hard. By the end of last semester, I was shattered. I could barely concentrate. Symptoms of cPTSD were worsening, which happens when I’m tired. The strike action, and the building stress of the fight behind it, all contributed to feeling run down and rather broken.

On top of that, academic culture has a toxic attitude to rest. It can feel like we’re in a competition to prove who’s worked the hardest, who’s doing too much, because there’s so much to do. Taking time off, taking care of yourself, feels like gross indulgence when you could be reading. Only some activities count as acceptable in rest time. If I say I spent two weeks reading fiction and playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, people look shocked.

But that’s what I did. And it was the best thing I could have done for myself. It’s given me an insight into how damaging it can be if you’re working all the time, and taught me a few new lessons about self-care in the difficult final nine months of a PhD.

If you’re going to take a break, it really has to be a break.

Do pointless things.

Embrace laziness.

Come back gently.

The view from here…

PhDisabled

Surviving life in academia with chronic illness and…

Joely Black

Written by

There will be dragons. Ancient magic, academic and fantasy writer in love with Egypt, cats and rats. For more dragons, fantasy, and magic: https://fiveempires.s

PhDisabled

Surviving life in academia with chronic illness and disability

Joely Black

Written by

There will be dragons. Ancient magic, academic and fantasy writer in love with Egypt, cats and rats. For more dragons, fantasy, and magic: https://fiveempires.s

PhDisabled

Surviving life in academia with chronic illness and disability

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