Matt Marshall

2 Posts with Tag mental health (All tags)

16 Feb 2019, 09:35

2018 was a Long Year

2018 was a long year.

I've put off writing a little reflection on 2018 for a while now. Part of that has been due to how tired I am. Part of that will be simply due to my priorities not laying with updating a blog. Part of that will be me not wanting to sit down and take account of everything that happened.

I hit burnout this year. It had been building for a while. You know the kind of burnout? The kind where you can spend every week day exercising and doing fieldwork and analysing data intensley and then can't summon the emotional fortitude to pick up the phone to make a GP appointment, or speak to a supervisor. Unfortunately I think it was a pretty typical progression; supervision for my Phd has been problematic for a while. I've had five named supervisors for a while, and no real supervision. I'd not see a supervisor for months at a time, and when I did see them I felt obliged to tell them everything was ok. To essentially lie to them about how I was feeling about my PhD. That's its own problem really -- eventually I want to write a piece about life at Open Lab and the issues around supervision there, and how I never felt that it was possible to approach or speak to anyone. To sum up my experience; for the latter half of my PhD (around halfway through Stage 2) nobody ever asked to actually see my thesis. Not once. I had to attach it in its current state to my annual progression panel. That caused me a lot of anxiety. The progression panel were fine with the state of the thesis -- I had publications. My supervisors were usually attentive to my work when it was CHI time.

The environment in Open Lab turned actively toxic. Patrick Olivier's abusive management style was beginning to be reproduced by some of the academics in the lab. The other professor in the lab, Pete, sat back and claimed ignorance when confronted with the reality. I know this was not a genuine claim. The emotional support I was giving others was necessary but also taxing. Partially due to the specific way I was suffering under Open Lab made me feel I couldn't speak up and thus others kind of presumed I was fine. Nothing was put back in my tank. As much as I love my friends and colleagues at Open Lab, I am upset they never really made efforts to ask how I actually was (with a few notable exceptions).

At the same time, my relationship with B was growing steadily worse. Not due to her, but because of my ignorance and self-absorption in my own mental health issues. I'm so sorry for everything. I can explain it. I did genuinely have mental health problems, and probably have for a while. Probably will continue to have for a while. I can't excuse it. My relationship to Helmsley Road (my home of seven years) was also deterioating. The walls that had once acted as shelter and opportunity, and an incubator for my growth started to steadily warp into something else. It had been building for a while. I couldn't leave because of the financial uncertainty that came from my funding running out and my perceived dependance on my pull-up bar and the "flexibility" of the landlord. I would sit there, being the only one who ever did any cleaning for years, feeling trapped.

It came to a head in August. I couldn't take any more. I sent a 'state of the union' style email to all five of my named supervisors. I received a mixed set of responses from ones that actively blamed me to ones that took responsibility for their failure. I also spotted my dream job, and in September I was offered a role at the Open Data Services Co-Operative. I also moved flat and broke up with B. All of these rapid changes across the last quarter of 2018 also took their toll. It was really tough, and those decisions each have had their lingering negative effects. But they've given me the chance to start the next stage of growth. There's been a few false positives with the mental health. I was feeling better and then took on too much again, and once again it came to a head recently where I was socially exhausted and nothing was putting back into the tank.

Right now, I'm fairly positive I'm on a better trajectory. I've got steady employment, meaning my anxiety over money is a lot less. I'm in a lovely new flat with an amazing new flatmate and the place is very much what I need in a home. It has a central hub around the kitchen table where I spend time alone and time with my flatmate. I'm still writing my thesis. I still miss B, but I need to be alone to recuperate and reflect to rebuild my foundations. I watched the sunrise over the beach today; an annual ritual of mine. The solitude and headspace felt right. I'm ready to put in the work to make myself happy again.

I think 2019 is going to be a long year too.

life reflection work academia phd 2018 mental health

12 Apr 2019, 08:18

(Almost) Off into the sunset; what I've been up to for the last six months

I last wrote something longform in this blog in February, about how 2018 was a long and brutal year for me. The post reflected on 2018 and low-key announced that I'd landed myself a new opportunity. I wanted to give a sort of update, sort of belated announcement of what I've been up to for the last six months since October.

On October 8th, 2018 (2018-10-08T09:30:00+01 for all you ISO 8601 fans) I started my first day of work at the Open Data Services Co-operative (ODSC); my dream job. Why my dream job? Well:

  • the work follows naturally from where my PhD will leave off (status update on that later) in the open data world. ODSC support many amazing open data standards such as Open Contracting (OCDS, not to be confused with ODSC), 360Giving, and International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) among others. It's meaningful work, that I adore doing even in the midst of "the daily grind"
  • it's remote work. I've been looking to transition to remote work for a while; partially to escape the UK if the far-right rise up, but also partially to experience a bit more of the world. This is a relatively low-key requirement for me but the fact I've managed to find work that ticks this box so early in my post-academic career has been mindblowing for me.
  • and most importantly -- it's only a bloody worker co-operative! Many know I lean quite far to the left and that democratic worker control is a really important thing for me. Worker co-operatives are pretty much the best a worker can get under capitalism and ODSC have proven time and again that they (we!) value each of the workers and strive to provide an environment that grows each individual in a way that means we strengthen the group. I'll add an obligatory footnote that we don't really discuss politics much at ODSC (besides Brexit) and that, unless someone's really good at hiding it, I'm the only commie there. There are many political stances that advocate for the worker co-operative model and I believe that ODSC nurtures members with a wide variety of political views. As a group we are by no means a-political but we're certainly not positioning ourselves as a leftist organisation.

I've by no means hidden my new job from anyone, but I've held off of making a proper "announcement" online for these last six months. That's because the probationary period at ODSC is six months. So… I am ecstatic to announce that as of Monday 08th of April I am a full worker-member of Open Data Services Co-operative!! I have never been more proud to contribute to an organisation as I have ODSC. During my time there I have been moved to tears on more than one occasion due to the genuine passion and care that these people have for each other and their work. Whether it's writing a policy to give workers generous parental or sick leave, the daily act of reminding you that you're working too much and to take some time for yourself, or the systematic way they've incorporated expressing gratitude to others as part of the culture there via a dedicated IRC channel -- I leap out of bed every morning to go to work and return to bed grinning after the day's done. As a full member now, I am expected (and keen) to become more involved in working directly on the co-operative itself. For now I've elected to join the Staff Welfare group (to scratch my Shop Steward itch) and Finance (to actually learn about the financial processes of running a business). I've participated in three quarterly Ordinary General Meetings (although my first one was on my third day and I didn't contribute much!) where there is always a rollercoaster of emotions as we discuss the future of the co-op. I am under no illusion that being a member in a worker co-op is (shock-horror); work. This is work that I'm looking forward to. I'm more than happy to trade the false stability of market-salaries and keeping my head down being told what to do for control over my destiny and furthering the cause of worker control. I was braced for a future filled with workplace struggle through union battles and, for a while at least, I get to redirect that potential energy into the co-op.

This has been a far-cry from the late days of my PhD; where I was experiencing a lot of depression and anxiety and would outright not feel up for making it into the lab some days. It's safe to say that the environment ODSC have created for me to visit every working day has been the major contributor in my recovery re my mental health. There have been other factors, too. A massive shoutout goes to my new flatmate Rosie who has provided a wonderful environment to grow in. Seriously, thank you. Another focus of my gratitude is my lover V who has been a bulwark of support and patience these last six months and who provided an amazing rest period over the Winter Solstice for me in Madrid.

The journey of my PhD is not yet over. I've still got a thesis to write. My writing has been... slow. Part of that is due to fear of the thesis, some of that has been lingering anxiety reactions from the trauma of my Phd, and some of that has due to being plain tired at the end of a fulfilling-but-long working week. My supervision is slightly better now, but still not ideal. I'm debating playing with my options for extending the write-up through looking at extensions or dropping to 0.5 for the writing year (if that's even possible!). At the moment, though, I want it done. It rattles around my brain at night (though I've actually been able to rest). I'm ready to write it but we'll see what's a healthy rate for me. The lessons I'm taking forward into the next six months are that I need to be better at getting what's owed me from my supervision, and that integrating writing into my new life is key. I owe it to my participants and myself after last year.

I'm not sure when I'll next write something that isn't a response to evaluating some open data, or some thesis. My priorities aren't with a blog until my thesis is done. I can't say that I've left my old life behind but it's certainly fading to nostalgic sepia tones; a series of loose ends that just need a few knots tying off before the sails are rigged and I can cast off.

Last Modified: 12 Apr 2019, 10:31

life work recovery phd writing open data mental health co-ops odsc