On being down (and not quite being ready to get back up)

There are different ways to be down during a PhD, Masters, or postdoctoral fellowship. You can be down in terms of writing time, just struggling to get words onto a page; you can be down in terms of your mood, feeling low and tired and unable to carry on. You can also be down on your luck, if data gets lost, supervisors change institutions, or funding applications fall through.



I am currently down. I have two blog posts half-written that I cannot seem to finish. I have two papers that have come back from reviewers with mainly positive comments, and suggestions for fairly minor and quite manageable revisions. I have odds and ends that need doing. But even though all of this is actually quite manageable in size and scope, I just cannot seem to do anything. All I really want to do is lie on the couch and watch back-to-back episodes of ‘Bones’, and maybe check my email from time to time and send a response or two.

I am worried about this down-turn in my desire to be productive and energetic about my research. Because, while I have all these little manageable things to do, there are much bigger things waiting: a book that needs to now be written, an edited to book to finish putting together and finalising, a mountain (no I exaggerate not) of raw data that needs to be catalogued, organised, coded and fed back to research participants before year-end. I am worried that if I keep lying on the couch, I will not only lose the will to do the small things, but the bigger things will stall as well.

I remember feeling like this during my PhD, especially towards the end of each of the three years, as I took time off over Christmas and then struggled to get going again in the new year. I am trying, now, to remember how I got myself up then, because I am battling with feeling unable to really get up now, and also wondering if I want to get up. The work waiting is SO much. I am not finding it easy to take my own advice, and just get up and going again.

What do you do when you have lost your work mojo? I tell myself: just do it. Just sit down and do the revisions. Just sit down and finish the blog posts. Just sit down and work. But then I open my email, and fritter away my mornings sans children with silly things that are not getting my work done. Interestingly, I don’t feel as ashamed of this down-turn and what can only be described as laziness as I have in the past. Perhaps I am finally getting better at being kind to myself? Maybe. Perhaps I really am just tired, and my body and brain are recognising that I do need a rest, and they’re taking it. Either way, the mojo is on hold, and while I am not terribly shamed by my non-productivity of late, I am still worried that if I don’t un-funk myself soon, I will get stuck for longer than I can afford to get stuck.

I am sure I will now, as I have in the past, get up. Downs are certainly part of the journey – any journey – as we seldom travel along flat and easy paths only. A PhD, a paper, a book – these are definitely full of highs and lows and everything in-between. I don’t have any good advice for myself today. I just have kindness, a mental hug, and a commitment to at least open one of the the papers that has to be revised, and make a list of things I have to do to finish it. And hope, hope, hope that the mojo will kick in on Monday.

7 thoughts on “On being down (and not quite being ready to get back up)

  1. jaimack says:

    Spot on as usual Sherran. You can see I’m ‘down’ right now as I’m fiddling with emails and commenting on your post instead of getting on with my writing! But I do the same as you, just keep sitting down at my desk and trying to get on with it. I always break through the downturn in the end. 😊

  2. sherranclarence says:

    Thanks for the comment. I am actually sitting here, opening the file and making notes. So at least one thing for today will be done. Then I can reward myself with more episodes of ‘Bones’ without too much guilt! 🙂

  3. katyleighkennedy says:

    I’m definitely experiencing an ebb and flow during this PhD. Right now things are ebbing, after a few weeks of solid flow. Mainly because of other life stuff, but perhaps also because this thinking business is just hard and it’s difficult to focus on it too hard for too long before you need a break. Today I had no expectations (it’s Friday, I’m usually exhausted on Fridays), but taking the pressure off has resulted in more work and less guilt than I would have had otherwise. I also have a DIY retreat next week so I know I’ll have great productivity then! Good luck with your mojo 🙂

  4. sherranclarence says:

    You are right – thinking is hard work and we do need to give ourselves time to recover. Have a good weekend!

  5. rebeccagelding says:

    Stumbled on this tonight and you have so wonderfully put into words all that I’ve been thinking over the last month. Even my supervisor commented today I need to take a break over christmas find my mojo again and write a plan for the new year. So thanks for sharing this and reminding me I’m not alone in struggling with this and reminding me that I will get through it (and shouldn’t feel guilty).

    • sherranclarence says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. I am actually writing a post today about taking a holiday from your PhD! I hope your break is a restful one, and you come back in 2017 ready to get going again. 🙂

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