About obsessive thinking


[letter from another student and my response]

early 30s F PhD Student ADHD

from:  xx sent 5 days ago

Hey, how are you? I read your posts with interest because I have the EXACT Same problem with obsessive thinking when my PhD stuff gets tough. I was supposed to finish writing this year and spend the first 7 months of 2016 obsessively reading about the stock market and playing stocks (ugh) and just realized today I have finished NOTHING this year.

Have you managed to make any progress with obsessive thinking? How do you cope with the PhD stuff when you look around and everyone is moving forward and you’re underperforming? The emotional stuff is the worst part…


re: early 30s F PhD Student ADHD

to: xx sent just now

Haha oh dear – I hadn’t even thought of playing stocks. You’re giving me bad ideas 🙂 Thanks for getting in touch, it’s really nice to hear from someone in the same position.

I managed to make a lot of progress with the obsessive thinking by going to therapy for 2 years (thank you public health system) Yup, no short cuts. My therapists (I saw one then another after they had left) had 2 techniques, both of which made a lot of sense. Therapist one guided me deeper into the obsessive thoughts (which were about flats that we should have bought instead of the one that we did.) He asked me to tell him about it, what did it look like,how did I feel there? What was life like there? In my vision of the ideal flat, it was beautifully tidy. I felt happy and I was entertaining friends at a barbecue on my balcony. In my ideal flat, I realised, I didn’t have a PhD. I also didn’t have (the symptoms of) ADD. That thought experiment helped me to see that the fantasy was about a wish for a more peaceful life without the godawful burden of writing a dissertation, rather than logical worry about a disastrous decision that had been in my control about which flat to buy. Therapist 2 had a different technique which was to advise me not to engage with the thought spiral at all, but instead to ask myself the question: “What do I need”? when my thoughts got too frantic. Often, the answer that would bubble up was quite concrete, like “I need to get some rest”, or a bit vaguer “love”, or “security.” She trained me to see those obsessive loops as a little cry for help from myself. Refusing to engage in the mental warfare but instead asking that question sometimes brings me back down to earth.

For people that live so much in our heads (I am presuming that you do too, as a PhD student!) and are pretty smart, it can be tempting to believe that thinking can solve everything. Since I was very young, I have relied on my thoughts and analysis to work out what was going on, strategise, and survive the world. I guess the last few years have taught me that those same lightening-fast thinking faculties can also trap me. In this situation, one small action is worth a thousand thoughts. Cleaning the kitchen or folding some clothes instead of (or as well as) fantasising about the flat where everything looks perfect. Dragging myself to a cafe and bribing myself with a good coffee if I read one article instead of spending the whole day beating myself up for not following the perfect and ambitious study schedule I had set for myself. Moving my body in a dance/yoga class instead of sulking in bed surfing Facebook. These actions are the best possible balm for obsessive thinking.

Phew! Ok, that was a very long reply to your question. How are things going for you? Do you have support for ADD, and are you “out” in your university environment? How do you deal with the stress? And also, what part of your work do you like? Lots of questions…I’d love to hear about how its going. permalink


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