COVID-19: Time is so arbitrary

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COVID-19: Time is so arbitrary

Editor's note: This article was originally published on the blog Shruti's PhD and has been republished here with permission. The author, Shruti Turner, is a PhD student with the Royal British Legion Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College London. 


Gosh, I didn’t realise that it had been around a month since I last wrote. Here in London, we’re still in lockdown and working from home. Whilst in some ways I feel I have adjusted a little too well to lockdown life, other aspects are very difficult to get used to. For instance…the passage of time. Some days feel like they’re dragging over an age…others feel like they’re gone in a flash. I’m a little shocked that we’re in week 5 of this routine.

That’s not to say nothing has happened in my socially-distance, working from home bubble. The past few weeks have been a rollercoaster for me, some ways I think were predictable but others were not so expected.

The first couple of weeks of this I was super productive, I drafted up 5 sections of my thesis, I felt like I was on a roll. My thesis would be down in 2 months. EASY. 2 weeks in, however, my motivation for writing had dried up. I don’t know what it’s like for others, but I just feel like I’m making no progress when I write up things that I’ve already done. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything new, I’m not moving forward. Obviously, I realise that making steps writing my thesis is super important if I want to get to the end of my PhD but mentally I can’t change how it feels when I’m in that slump. The best thing to do, I find, is change it up a bit: do something different.

This, however, let to the feeling of free fall…not the good kind where you feel like you’re flying…the kind where your stomach is left behind and you feel somewhat queasy. What on earth was I going to fill my time with now? I was meant to be testing, which obviously I’m not now. Who know if/when I will be able to? I was meant to be working with surgeons for some qualitative research, again, that is not something I’m pursuing anymore. So… what? What can I fill up my thesis with that is still going to have a benefit?

Through ups and downs, the process of denial, guilt, anger, tears, acceptance was true for me. At first I was like…yeah, I’ll be back in the office in a couple of months maximum. I’ll jump right into testing and be feeling smug because a chunk of my thesis would be written. Happy days. Even though rationally, out of the PhD context I knew that wasn’t going to be the case, it’s the mentality I had when tackling my PhD worries. It really hit me that I had to adapt. It felt like an adapt of die moment, but I feel that might be a bit dramatic…

In recent days I have been feeling more grounded – I have a plan for my thesis, how I’m going to make more of some plans and substitute others to be possible in the current climate. Every so often though, something triggers a worry or difficulty and it pours out of me. We had a virtual team meeting, and one of the other PhD students in the lab presented their work. They had collected all their data before lockdown and has been spending the past couple of months processing and analysing etc. All the stuff I wanted from my PhD, the data you can get your teeth into. As an outsider looking in, it was everything I wanted from my PhD (it doesn’t help we work in related fields with amputees). Though I had my plan, and it was achievable, watching the presentation was a slap in the face reminder of what might have been in my PhD and it hurt.

Rationally I know that I can’t change it. I can’t dwell on what could have been because that’s not going to help me deal with what it. We just have to pick ourselves up and keep on going. Also, it’s important to remember the good things – which I am notoriously bad at doing…so here’s my list:

  1. I am learning a lot about myself and my resilience adapting and moving forward
  2. I can still get a PhD, it just doesn’t look like how I imagined it but that’s not to say it’s worse
  3. I am still being funded so I don’t have to worry about living
  4. I have a super amazing and supportive supervisor
  5. Good things are still happening: my paper *finally* got accepted a couple of weeks ago! <<<— really this is a big deal. It’s my first paper from my PhD and I sort of just skimmed past it. The relief and the meh, still in lockdown. My husband made sure I did something special for it and we had a celebratory dinner and some wine.

I’m finding it difficult to measure time and finding it difficult not to hold myself to the standards I set for myself in more “normal” times. Got to keep things in perspective here…it’s not just a change of scenery, but a way of life and the impact that there is a global pandemic happening “out there”. I didn’t think that part would affect me, sometimes I’m not sure it has/should, but it’s always there. It’s everywhere. I have friends and family who are key workers, I’m worried about my grandparents and in the end we are part of a society/population and it sucks that there are so many out there suffering and I can’t do anything to help them.

A long one here today…it has been a while and apparently I had a lot to say. This lockdown is an interesting one for sure, bringing out the best and worst in us. We’ve just got to keep going through this, there will be an end and we will be stronger for it in many ways.


Do you often feel stressed? Wouldn't it be nice to share your highs and lows with a group of researchers who understand you? Join Researcher Voice, a support group for researchers on Facebook that focuses on their physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Click here to join and read this article to take a sneak peak into what's going on in the group.

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*Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

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Published on: May 29, 2020

PhD Researcher, Imperial College London, having previously done an MSc Biomedical Engineering and BEng Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Southampton
See more from Shruti Turner


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