Interview for Grad_SelfCare

1. Tell me about yourself. What do you do? 2. What is your journey to where you are today? How did you get here? I’m a 4th year PhD student in chemistry at the University of Nottingham. I’m originally from Italy and moved to the UK to start off my PhD programme. When I was in high school I was bullied by a group of jerks that made me feel like an idiot every day. My depression started back then when I was 15. I always thought very poorly about myself, but my family always encouraged me to do well in school. I felt my hometown at 19 and I moved to Rome to start uni. I felt like reborn and kind of blessed to start a new life. I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that I wasn’t the loser people made me feel my entire life.

3. What has your mental health journey looked like? My mental health journey has been up and down. I recall periods of feeling good and periods of feeling very bad. However at the age of 23, when I was about to start the last year of my master, I had a major breakdown and I have been slowly recovering recently after making the decision of taking antidepressants. Cognitive therapy is also helpful. Over the last 6 months, I started noticing all the triggers of the unhelpful thinking and managed to feel a bit more positive about myself.

4. What does self-care look like to you? Self-care is a brave new word to me. Honestly never heard in 28 years. My ex-boyfriend introduced me to it. I have always lived a frenetic life and told myself “why are you sleeping or lying on the soda instead of doing something productive?”. I’ve been learning how to slow down, pause and take a breath. Practically, self-care means going for a walk, doing breathing exercise, make a cosy environment at home, buying new clothes, going to a nice cafe for lunch.

5. What is a factor that hinders your productivity, and how do you use self-care strategies to overcome it? Dealing with depression and doing a PhD isn’t the best match. Compared to my labmate, I work far less, I get tired quickly and I need loads of time off. Some days, even getting out of bed is a struggle. But I learned how to be gentle with myself and don’t think of this as a negative thing. My supervisor is also understanding and he’s okay with me to be late at work if I have therapy sessions or go to the doctor to get medications during working hours.

6. How do you use social media for science, self-care, and/or mental health? Turning out to social media was one of the best decisions I made ever. I found loads of like-minded people and I made real connections. Many followers are close friends now and they helped me going through difficult moments such as the break up of my relationship. I also met up with many people like Mafalda, Rachel, Emily, Nina and Sophie, Tatiana. 

7. What advice do you have for women interested in pursuing a STEM career? My advice to young girls who want to do science and women, in general, is “forget what people think/say/want you to do”. Society puts a million stereotypes on women, you can decide to follow them and live the life other people want you to do or you can decide to live your own life and do your things. Also, no matter how good (or bad) you do, people Will always be criticising you. Step up from the criticism and don’t care less about personal opinions. Honestly, you don’t need them, we don’t need them, the world doesn’t need them. 

Finally, follow me on social media, Susanna Harris and PhD depression, the 500women scientists or 500 queer stem to find support and any other group that promotes diversity and inclusivity in science. Don’t ever think that you are alone in the struggle.