Digital Fantastic: PhD Life is a Fairy Tale

On early PhD life, demystifying the APR and becoming a cliché

Hi all!

I just wanted to add a little note to let you know that this blog will be ‘rona free. I hope that it can give you a few minutes of distraction during a difficult time.

Love,

Gabe xoxox

P.S. I’m technically an English Lit researcher, so the PhD experience I’m talking about in this blog is primarily an arts one. Also, it’s just my opinion and often hyperbolized for the sake of comedy! You probably won’t agree with everything I have to say, nor should you! It’s all in good humour (or supposed to be)! Please read my disclaimer, but there are no trigger warnings today!

OK. I think I’ve covered my ass.

We hide | Cute animals, Funny animals, Animals beautiful
Phew! That was close lads.

Are you sitting comfortably?

If not TOUGH LUCK, because it’s time to begin…

Once upon a time, in a tall ivory tower, a message was sent to all of the scholars in the land. This message comprised of three letters:

A P R

The scholars were all in a flurry. They could be seen scrambling for papers, ingesting impossible amounts of a mysterious brown beverage and weeping into their books, most of which were upside down. If approached, the scholars would beg to be left alone and if pressed seemed capable only of mumbling those cursed three letters over and over again:

A…P…R…”

Friends and family who were wise thought it best to leave the scholars alone. The wisest of them even left tributes of food at their scholar’s door and some would even send etchings of cats in an attempt to ease their burden. They wanted to help. The problem was that no one knew what ‘APR’ even meant…

Well friends, I am here to explain it to you. It’s time to demystify the jargon and reveal the arcane secrets of the APR process…

If Sorting Algorithms Were Pokemon - Monique Tuin - Medium

(For my colleagues who know what an APR is: first of all – I’m so sorry, we’ve TOTALLY got this, second of all – please join me for a session of masochistic mockery as I recount the details… )

For those of you who were wise enough to choose a sensible career path, APR means ‘annual progress review’. It’s that time of year when PhD students must discuss their work with a panel comprised of their supervisors + someone new who will provide helpful insights into our projects – or proceed to beat us about the head with our own misguided words.

Alan Rickman Slapping GIF by Cheezburger - Find & Share on GIPHY

As much as they like to tell us that it’s not a test, it is a test. PhD researchers must submit a specified number of words of their project (around 7000 for UofG English Lit researchers – look, I know it used to be 10K, please stop bitching about it) alongside a few forms including an especially fun and not at all irritating box-checking activity called a Researcher Development Log. We complete the paperwork to prove that we’ve been doing things other than our research such as organising events, attending research development training courses and ‘networking’. The whole thing is an elaborate charade designed to help the university pretend that it’s teaching us skills which are applicable to ‘the outside world’ so that it doesn’t have to feel bad when we can’t get a job in academia after graduation…

JUST KIDDING GUYS. 

Of COURSE doing an arts research project teaches us valuable skills that helps us secure later employment. 

OF COURSE bureaucracy is useful part of developing reflective research skills and not a waste of time. 

OF COURSE the research development training courses are always of the highest quality and contribute to our employability. They’re not at all designed to help us check the more obscure boxes of the researcher development framework.

OF COURSE the researcher development framework is intrinsically useful and not something that universities must use to shield themselves in order to justify the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, which is no longer deemed useful by wider society because it’s difficult to commodify…  

OF COURSE we understand the benefits of this process. 

Of course we do. We get it. I swear.

Actually, I’ve heard that APRs can be genuinely useful: they’re rare a chance to talk about our work with people who understand it and the process can be a bit of practice for our viva – a much more formal interrogation meeting us researchers must complete at the end of our projects. The reflective logs also give us time to think about all of the hard work we’ve been doing outwith our projects and consider how this has developed our professional skills. If we’re lucky we might even get a little pat on the head to acknowledge our hard (often unpaid) work.

Pats head GIFs
mmmm serotonin

YUP! Us layabout, late to rise, work from home skivers actually DO things you know. Even lit students can’t just sit around looking at books all day anymore. We have to make IMPACT (whatever the fuck that means) and take part. We have to be do-ers; as a misanthropic introvert I feel as if I was grievously mis-sold this lifestyle… The agony. (Press f to pay respects in the comments please!) 

Anyway, all of this APR stuff and bullshit useful reflective exercises made me think about the start of my own PhD. Not just the research project, but the experience in general. Honestly, I feel really blessed to be doing something I love, but at the same time I have faced difficulties, I have journeyed-

Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered

No, it’s fine. Really. 

My research is my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, especially as I’m one of the lucky few who is actually paid for my work. I can’t overstate the fact that I am incredibly privileged to have the means to do what I love as my job. (Thank you to the University of Glasgow: you have been the Sugar Daddy that I always wished for. Please don’t get mad at me for teasing you… I do love you so!)

it was love at first stipend payment

So early PhD life has been going pretty well, aside from one thing… I’ve become a cliché. I mean, I’m practically a walking meme: I’m that weeby-smol-big-tiddy-goth-girlfriend-sarcastic-millennial that never grew-out of emo music, eats avocado and had a mid-life crisis (well, a quarter-life crisis, now that I’ve quit smoking – going 44 days strong – gib congratz in the comments please). For some reason being a PhD student cliché is even more awful because I SWORE when I saw the sad posts and memes that I would avoid every trap and be my own person. Alas, clichés are clichés for a reason: they’re lived experience converted into shorthand. Although we cannot entirely understand a cliché until we experience it, they are stories that are there to guide us. 

Just like fairy tales.  

My first chapter (and APR submission) is about fairy tales, well, fairy tale video games. It has been an especially challenging start because I burnt my whole life to the ground and was extremely mentally ill folklore is such a dense topic, full of long intersecting histories and counterhistories.  Situating my research within the field seemed like an overwhelming task. That was until I found Jack Zipes. Jack Zipes uses Dawkins’ theory of mimetics to define fairy tales as MEMES. Now, if you’re my facebook friend (in which case I’m so, so sorry) then you know that memes are things I can get behind (or on top of, or underneath).  Now, I’m going to hit you with this theory rather gently so I don’t accidentally self-plagiarize (and because we don’t have a safe word).

Kink Spank GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Basically, Zipes describes a meme as a ‘a unit of cultural transmission’ that must be ‘relevant’ in order to be replicated. 

I’ve outlined what this means in this extremely fancy and SCIENTIFIC flowchart down here:  

 *See the annotated bibliography for sources that more fully explain the concepts below.*

The short of it is that ideas become memes if people find them relatable enough use them to communicate something to other people about themselves. As a meme comes into contact with individuals, it mutates as the teller shapes it in order to make it feel more relevant and more personal. If the meme remains relevant to enough people, it continues to proliferate. Fairy tales are stories which have persisted, remaining relevant enough for their continued use as a means to communicate with each other about ourselves in relation to society.  For something to become a meme, or a cliché, it has to have been true for a long enough time to continue spreading, and versatile enough to be adapted from teller to teller and generation to generation….

I was a fool to think I could escape. It’s extremely tiring to understand how painfully average one’s existence is, BUT at least I had those memes to help me when I was facing difficulties… They reassured me that I was… normal?  

Me? Normal. 

Well, OK then.  

IF YOU SAY SO. 

What I’ve come to learn is that PhD life isn’t just one fairy tale, it’s pretty much all of them.

Fairy tale: Rapunzel

The story of a princess shut away in a tall tower by her witch of a stepmother.

Book tangled rapunzel crown lila bored bed cama rubia GIF on GIFER ...

Reality: tangled up at home

We are both the princess and the witch.

The nature of our work means that researchers often end up shut away at home. There are some provisions on campuses for researchers to work, but unlike many corporate workers, only a few of us are allocated desks or an office to work in. When we’re not attending events and meetings, we likely have the freedom to create our own workdays, so those of us who like to work from home are fortunate enough to be able to. It’s a personal choice for me as it’s cheaper and easier just to stay inside (plus, Pixel is great company).

Fairy tale: Cinderella

Forced by her stepmother to work all day whilst her family go to the ball without her.

Cleaning gif 19 » GIF Images Download

Reality: ‘when you do something you love you’ll work every day of your life’ (Ruth EJ Booth, 2020)

Being our own bosses and working from home means that it can be difficult to separate work from leisure time. For at least three and a half years our work is never done. Nothing can ever be truly finished until our submission date. Many researchers are also unfunded, meaning that if they’re not financially supported by their families they often have to get another job on top of their research: very few of us have fairy godmothers (funding/rich parents/sugar daddies).

Fairy tale: The Golden Goose

Everyone wants to pet the pretty, golden goose, but they quickly change their minds once they are stuck there.

goose knife cute weird untitled goose game...
fucking honk

Reality: if one more person tells me to play more video games, i’m going to fucking stab a bitch

People say that it’s a good idea to study what you love as that passion makes the project more intrinsically motivating, however, disciplines such as Game Studies and English Literature often require us to cast a critical eye over our objects of study. To see its flaws. When you spend all day picking literature or video games apart, it can be difficult to disengage the critical mind and enjoy it after hours. Studying something and enjoying it are VERY different things and require different mindsets; switching between the two can be challenging. This is detrimental as not only does it become more difficult to enjoy ourselves, but often, there is an expectation that PhD researchers should be broadly knowledgeable about their subject areas, when actually specializing in a subject is the antithesis of general knowledge.

Note: losing interest in leisure activities is also a symptom of depression which can be difficult to identify if it’s high functioning. Any researchers out there struggling to disengage from work should consider having a check-up – I did!

Fairy tale: Little Red Riding Hood

She was supposed to follow the path to grandmother’s house, but was distracted by a wolf…

Red Riding Hood GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Reality: sidechicks – hot or a heavy burden?

Most of us have chosen to study something we love. Our projects are like spouses: we adore them, but the road is long and after a while the novelty and excitement wears off… Sometimes it’s all too easy to venture into the woods and get distracted by a tasty little side project! Side projects can be great and sometimes they can even support and reinvigorate your relationship with your research – however, it’s important not to neglect your main squeeze.

Fairy tale: The Three Little Pigs

Built their houses of straw, sticks and bricks – only the latter house survives the wolf’s wrath.

three little pigs | Tumblr
“I’ll huff and I’ll puff,’ said the wolf, “and I’ll blow your-“
“-do you promise?” interrupted the pig.

Reality: we are the wolf, reviewer three built their house of bricks

To be competitive in the academic job market, researchers have to get published! In order to have our work published (an honor that is largely unpaid, by the way) we have to go through a process called ‘peer review’ in which other academics read our work and leave comments. Many reviewers, such as those who take part in Press Start journal are considerate, knowledgeable and leave constructive feedback. Some are reviewer three. Reviewer three knows only destruction. Fuck you reviewer three – did you even read the paper? (The answer is almost always no.)

Fairy tale: Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin span straw into gold for the miller’s daughter, later returning to claim her first born as his reward. He would only relinquish his claim if she guessed his name correctly.

Rumpelstiltskin GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
“Say my name.”

Reality: impostor syndrome

Researchers are the Miller’s daughter and our thesis is Rumpelstiltskin.

One of the biggest PhD realities is that despite our years of training in academia, none of us feel like we know what we’re doing. Experts aren’t born, they are made, and experts are only human. We can’t know everything! Please don’t expect me to know and remember every game every made – most of the time I can’t even remember my way home!

I Have No Memory Of This Place GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s likely that we know a lot about a very niche thing, so when questioned broadly, some of us must seem like frauds (sometimes it makes us feel like frauds too). Furthermore, during the process of becoming an expert, we have to trawl through so much research and write so many terrible drafts that sometimes it feels like we’re the miller’s daughter spinning piles and piles of straw in the HOPE that it turns into gold.

And just like the miller’s daughter, we are always searching for that illusive name… The TITLE of our project. We often begin our work with a clear idea of what we want to investigate, but the more we work, the more we learn and the more the project changes. “Speak my name!” Our thesis cries before bursting into flames! Our projects should change – that’s the point. If we already knew what we needed to know, we would have our doctorates.

On a darker note, like Rumpelstiltskin, the PhD is capable of stealing our children if we let it. Kind of. OK, this one is a stretch, but for a lot of women, PhDs take place during childbearing years. Although many people are capable of both completing research and having a family, sadly, some feel as if they must choose one or the other.

It’s cool Rumpel, if i ever have a kid then you can keep it. lol

Fairy tale: The Little Mermaid

Gives up her voice in exchange for legs.

The Little Mermaid Ariel GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Reality: losing our voices

It’s a common stereotype that PhD researchers have no social lives because our work takes up so much time. What we don’t talk about are the social dynamics of the job. Except for organizing the odd event, there’s little incentive to work as a team. Outside of term time, we can go for days and weeks without speaking to anyone (at least I do, if I’m lucky). It’s easy to forget how to communicate like a functional human, especially if you don’t have a cat to talk to.

We have cohorts and are encouraged to bond and help other researchers, but sometimes this can exacerbate things. Sometimes (not all the time and not everyone) researchers have a way of accidentally pressuring each other. Even though logically we know that our projects are unique and we work in varying ways at different paces and have very diverse circumstances (full time/part time, family/single, funded/unfunded, supported by family/self-sufficient, etc) a lifetime of comparing grades to ‘be the best’ so that we can join a PhD programme in the first place has made it difficult to speak to each other about work without somehow feeling the pressures of competition.

Many researchers are so overworked and so stressed that spending time together may not produce the chillest of vibes. To make matters worse, those of us in similar fields will be competing for the same few jobs when we finish….

But hey, I’m just antisocial anyway. Maybe let’s forget about being competitive and go for drinks when the world has healed? (´。• ᵕ •。`) ♡

Fairy tale: The emperor’s new clothes

Two weavers promise the emperor an exclusive set of threads: in reality, he’s just naked. Everyone pretends he’s dressed until a child points it out and shatters the collective lie.

Emperors New Clothes GIFs | Tenor

The reality: we are fragile monarchs of very tiny kingdoms, please appease us

We’re all pretending that our arts qualifications are leading us somewhere and that we’ll get something out of it at the end. Our loved ones are complicit in this elaborate lie: “But you’ll have a doctorate,” they say. “You’ll get a job easily,” they say. The harsh reality is that the letters are about as useful as the emperor’s new clothes these days.

We’re not just naked, we’re also also fucked.

Just please don’t mention it to us.

WE KNOW!

Fairy tale: Hansel and Gretel

Lured in by the promise of gingerbread and nearly cannibalized.

Mean Lisa Simpson GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The reality: cannibalized by the system

Have I mentioned that there are scarcely any relevant jobs for PhD researchers after graduation? To be fair, we were warned. Senior academics are quite transparent about the state of the academic job market, but we enter the gingerbread house knowing how fragile it all is because it’s fucking delicious and maybe, just MAYBE, our particular gingerbread house won’t have a witch inside. Or perhaps if there is a witch inside, she’ll magic-up a contract for us that isn’t precarious.

But what about the happy ending?

Believe In Your Dreams GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

According to Tolkien (because we CAN’T talk about Fantasy without mentioning Daddy), one of the most important functions of fairy tales is ‘the Consolation of the Happy Ending’.

They are there to make us feel better because life is beautifully flawed and full of disappointment.

So you see, PhD life is a fairy tale. It just so happens that it’s the shit bit at the beginning, rather than the good bit at the end.

Just kidding!

Researchers! How would you describe your experiences using fairy tales?

Annotated Bibliography 

For mimetics: Dawkins, C. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Some fairy tales (gruesome): Grimm, J., Grimm, W., & Mondschein, K. (Eds.). (2011). Grimm’s complete fairy tales. Canterbury Classics.

More fairy tales (cutesy): Perrault, C., & Betts, C. J. (2009). The complete fairy tales. Oxford University Press.

Apparently Pratchett talks about a lot of this stuff, but I haven’t read it yet – it’s a cheerful book and I’ve been depressed: Pratchett, T. (1997). Hogfather: A Discworld novel. Corgi Books. 

For a happy ending: Tolkien, J. R. R., Flieger, V., Anderson, D. A., & HarperCollins Publishers. (2014). Tolkien on fairy-stories. HarperCollins Publishers.

Relevance theory: Wilson, D. and Sperber, D. (2008). Relevance Theory. In The Handbook of Pragmatics (eds L.R. Horn and G. Ward). 

Fairy tales and memes: Zipes, J. (2006). Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre. Routledge. 

Armchair Psychologist in session: to meme, or not to meme, that is the question

A disclaimer:

Before we proceed, I would like to remind everyone that as an unprofessional I have adhered to the strict unethical code of armchair psychology. As such, in response to the serious and important topic below, I have provided an answer that is both lacking in substance and facetious in nature.

As I don’t want to get sued care about my readers, I found it prudent to include further resources regarding support and suicide prevention at the end of the post. I would also like to advise anyone who is struggling with such thoughts to speak to someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about.

Trigger warnings: death, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation.

Now, let us begin before we all succumb to the inevitability of decay.

*****

Dear armchair psychologist,

Ever since the beginning of the year I have had an unhealthy relationship with death. I turned 30 this year and I feel like my life is over, all of these years wasted. It has certainly helped me re-evaluate my priorities and I’ve spent less time on social media and more time with my family, but it also sends me into existential spirals filled with feeling of overwhelming dread. I guess I don’t really have a question, per se, but I struggle with keeping these thoughts in check and any help would be appreciated. Mortality is just such a heavy topic and I have no idea how everyone walks around with this weight without talking to other people about it.

Yours faithlessly,
The influential existential

To the influential existential,

Thank you for your question (even though it was really more of a comment). Before we dive into the listicle, let’s break down your problem.

‘I have had an unhealthy relationship with death.’

Out of all of the unhealthy relationships to be in, this one is a real doozy because you can’t break it off. Death is the morbid spouse you never asked for. However, you haven’t consummated the marriage yet, in fact, you haven’t even met. Your relationship with death is an inexpertly arranged marriage. Really, you’re in an relationship with the idea of death, rather an death itself. As death is an abstraction, rather than a reality, therefore, you may be able to improve your relationship to it by changing your perception of what it means. But how?

Not to worry! All will be revealed in the listicle below: point 11 will CHANGE your LIFE.

I turned 30 this year and I feel like my life is over, all of these years wasted.

OK. Let’s assume that you’re being honest and not overly critical of yourself. Maybe you have wasted time – but, don’t lose hope! In our youth-centric society, a ‘quarter’-life crisis is only natural, but you (probably) still have many excellent years ahead of you (excluding traffic accidents and terminal illnesses). Some people are late bloomers. There’s still time to turn things around, if you’re willing to put in the effort.

If a strong dose of personal responsibility doesn’t help, then try picturing yourself as one small part of a larger whole: the un/intelligent and spectacular/ly useful/less human race. If you think you’ve made mistakes pal, take a glance at the 200,000 years that humans have inhabited/destroyed the planet. Like your shitty decisions, our shitty decisions are what got us to this point. Flawed as we are, we tried our best under the circumstances. Could we have made better choices? Yes. But it’s too late to worry about it now. The Titanic is sinking: listen to the violins, have a scone and enjoy yourself while it lasts mate.

‘Mortality is just such a heavy topic and I have no idea how everyone walks around with this weight without talking to other people about it. ‘

In my unprofessional opinion, the reason that we are (mostly) able to cope with our impending extinction is because as a species, humans have repressed the shit out of it. We have distracted ourselves via displacement. To paraphrase A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis , displacement is the process by which someone shifts their emotional energy from one thing, to another. All of us know that death lurks behind every corner, so we distract ourselves by doing other things (like making listicles)… If you’re unsure about how to silence the crushing knowledge of your mortality, why not select something from the veritable buffet of distractions below. (Number 9 will SHOCK you…)

11 Ways to Ghost Your Existential Anxiety

1. Religion

Religion was CREATED to solve this very problem. People find comfort in religion for a reason. Some people enjoy the community it fosters, others relish the sense of purpose that scripture gives them and are consoled by the idea that life after death is more than just oblivion, others just enjoy being told what to do to give their minds a break. If you’re too much of an atheist edge lord to admit that you’re capable of faith, just watch some Jordan Peterson and he’ll tell you what to do instead. Clean your room bucko.

2. BDSM

BDSM was CREATED to solve this very problem. People find comfort in BDSM for a reason. Some people enjoy the community it fosters, others relish the sense of purpose having a sub/dom relationship gives them and are consoled by the idea of being fucked into oblivion, others just enjoy being told what to do to give their minds a break. If you’re too much of a prude to don your gimp suit and call your Master ‘daddy’ then just watch some Jordan Peterson and he’ll tell you what to do instead.

Image result for contrapoints daddy

3. Nihilism

Admitting that life is meaningless can unburden you from the responsibility of having to live a meaningful life (which is such a lot of effort). So just chill the fuck out, because nothing matters anyway!

4. Cardio

Related image

Bro, have you tried walking it off?

Medical professionals and medical unprofessionals agree that exercise CURES ALL MENTAL ILLNESS, so ignore that crippling anxiety, remember that fatigue is an illusion and get on your bike you lazy shit.

5. Yoga

Image result for yoga meme

Worried about death? Well try stretching in a silent room full of people without farting! That’ll take your mind off it.

6. Essential Oils

Just rub some lavender oil on it babe, it’ll totally cleanse those chakras! And if, like me, you want to be your own boss and set your own schedule, you can join my essential oils marketing team for the low, low price of a starter set (£300). Start your journey to self-actualisation today!

7. Join a Cult

Image result for creed cult gif

If you’re down on cults, then you obviously haven’t seen Wild, Wild Country. I mean LOOK AT HOW HAPPY THEY WERE. Being a part of a tight-knit community can really help with what ails ya (if you can ignore casual acts of domestic terrorism).

8. Catch ’em all

Image result for catch em all meme

If joining a cult is a bit too sociable for you, then you’re in luck! Playing Pokemon, or similar creature collection games, may be the key to reducing anxiety surrounding death.

Terror management theory, as summarised by McIntosh & Schmeichel suggests that people can reduce death-related anxiety by collecting things as these collections allow for the collector live on symbolically via their contribution after their demise.

There’s good news for stamp-haters! Game Studies researcher Sonja C Sapach suggests that this feeling can be digitised, as by collecting creatures, players obtain a feeling of immortality by ‘contributing to a fragmented database of collective knowledge’ destined to outlast them (at least until someone deletes their save file).

There’s no better reason to catch ’em all than to evade the fear of one’s inevitable demise. Though, it might be best to avoid Lavender Town if you’re maudlin.

9. Meme it

There’s no greater proof that many of our generation are existing under the rapidly gathering storm clouds of our impending personal and planetary demise than memes; death memes, depression memes, suicide memes.

Poor taste?
Yes.

Hilarious?
Also yes.

Though depression memes aren’t to everyone’s taste and may look like idiocy at worst and insanity at best to ‘normies’, you have to admire the creativity of the movement surrounding them. They’re part of a special form of displacement psychoanalysts term sublimation which is the process of channelling negative emotions into a productive activity: like music or art. It’s 2019. Memes are art now. Make a meme page and sublimate the shit out of it.

10. Make a plan

One thing that has helped me cope with my mortality is that knowing if I die, then at least I won’t have to worry about anything any more. However if you’re a Type A asshole considerate person and worry about what will happen to your loved ones after you pass away, try alleviating this anxiety by getting your affairs in order before you go. Make a list, check it twice, seek professional help.

11. Personify Death

Image result for grim reaper meme

OR Maybe you don’t like death because you haven’t got to know them yet. If you’re still having a tough time, why not try having a chat with death and see what happens? Turning death as an abstraction into something more concrete by personifying them might make the idea easier to deal with. You could write a letter, a short story, or a play. What would you say to death? What do you think death would say back? Read your conversation aloud, or leave it in the comments below. It might be cathartic.

Conclusion: death is millennial culture

If you think that you’re the only one walking around thinking about death all the time, then THINK AGAIN sunshine. You must be talking to the wrong people or visiting the wrong parts of the internet (or the right places, depending on your perspective). I’m sure that members of prior generations had equally bleak mindsets and equally difficult anxieties (don’t flame me boomers), but growing up with the internet has intensified millennials’ existential angst by giving us a never ending supply of depression porn (instant news) and a plethora of terrifyingly dystopian echo chambers where we can all gather together and masochistically bitch about it.

Speaking of dystopian echo chambers, come for a chat in my discord server!

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist

*****

Aftercare:

Mental Health Resources

List of international suicide crisis lines

NHS List of Mental Health Helplines

Samaritans Contact Details

The University of Warwick Counselling Service’s advice on existential anxiety

Academic disclaimer ***

I realise that in this post I’ve misused theoretical frameworks and left a lot out for comedy/convenience.

If you’re interested in a more thorough look at the topic, try the below resources which give a better overview of the psychoanalytic views on death anxiety and signpost more appropriate primary literature.

Freud on Death (an overview)

Freud (1856–1939).  Reflections on War and Death.  1918.

On ‘the fear of death’ as the primary anxiety: how and why Klein differs from Freud.

Notes from an Armchair Psychologist: Strategic Santa Part Two – How to give a ‘thoughtful’ gift

GREETINGS! I hope you’ve had a good holiday season. I’m sure you’re fed-up of hearing about it, yet HERE WE ARE. READY TO CHAT ABOUT IT AGAIN. HO HO HO BITCHES.

Last time we took a look at the different motivations and methods we might have for giving gifts, so if you’ve joined us late then head over to part one to catch up! Otherwise you’re a bad person and I hate you.

*jUsT kIdDiNg!*

Anyway, we figured out that the best reason to give a gift is because you appreciate someone (no shit); so now it’s time for some *spicy* tips about how to find the perfect gift for that lucky person in your life.

1: DO THEY DESERVE IT?

Think about who you’re getting a gift for. Is your relationship an equal one? Have they done something to deserve your time, money and effort? Do they enrich your life in some way, or are they a wonderful person in need of cheering up? Make a list of everyone you’re buying a gift for and think about why they’re there. Cross-out anyone that doesn’t deserve to be on the list – AND DON’T GET THEM ANYTHING.

Conflict avoidant personalities beware: if you stop gifting suddenly, it could cause gift-withdrawal, the chief symptom of which is DRAMA.

If you find yourself in a situation when it’s difficult to cut-off their access to Santa’s stash, then try weaning them off the gifts gradually. Maybe get something smaller first, maybe just send a Christmas card, or maybe have a tentative conversation explaining that you can’t give a gift this year. They might surprise you and may take the opportunity to cross you off their own list. If they persist in asking why consider why u r friends with this bellend just mention that you’re short on finances and hopefully they’ll feel too awkward to pry any further.

2: Play the long game

Finding the right gift is a lot easier if you spread the labour/cost throughout the year. Start early. Find a place to keep the gifts (if you have space) and resist the temptation to give them before you’ve planned to, because you might end up buying extra gifts and spending more than you intended or undermining the sense of occasion.

3: Utilise techmology

Create a spreadsheet or a private amazon wishlist where you can collect ideas throughout the year. If you happen to be browsing online or shopping and see something you think would suit someone, make a note of it for later. For a really quick and easy gift, type something you know they already like into google shopping (like pandas, baking or vampires) and see what comes up. You might be able to snag something to add to their collection.

4: Embrace your inner-stalker

The best gifts are thoughtful. Pay attention to those you’re buying gifts for. If they mention something they need *make a note of it*. If you’re out shopping and you see something they like *jot it down*. If you can’t think of anything, then obsessively check their facebook until you find out what they like. If that fails, speak with someone close to them and see if they have any ideas. If that fails, break into their house in the middle of the night and check their sock drawer to see if it needs topping up. While you’re there you might as well check their underwear drawer too consider taking the opportunity to start a new hobby with them, or introduce them to something you think they’d like.

5: Be manipulative

If you can’t find out the recipient’s actual wants/needs, then create a situation to make them aware of desires they didn’t know they had. 😉 Maybe you’re at their place having tea, and they only have a kettle. Mention how pleasant it might be to have a teapot, or comment about how nice their teacups are – if ONLY they weren’t so small. It’s a bitch move but it’ll work if you’re already a douchebag because no one will be able to tell the difference.

Tip: this works better closer to the holidays so they don’t buy the object for themselves before you can gift it to them.

If you get really stuck, break into their HOUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND SMASH ALL OF THEIR TEACUPS SO YOU CAN REPLACE THEM
you could always ask if there’s anything they need, then hope that they forget the conversation by the time the holidays roll around.

6: Generalize – but be specific

If you’re still not sure how to buy a thoughtful gift (maybe you don’t know this person as well as you think you do??? Maybe you should be more attentive and spend time with them IN DAYLIGHT. WHEN THEY’RE AWAKE INSTEAD OF WATCHING THEM THROUGH BINOCULARS ) then buy a generic present whilst still keeping them in mind. If you select a set of cosmetics, try to find out whether they have sensitive skin or allergies and what kind of style they go for. Are they the kind of person that takes a bath in Lynx, or are they more into hippy-dippy organic stuff? Think about whether they are health conscious or intolerant to certain substances before you buy them food they can’t eat, or products they can’t use unless you want them to suffer.

If you must reach for the classic gift of socks – find a pair that are quirky and relevant to their interests. If you have the cash, perhaps find a piece of merch from someone they stan.

7: USELESS QUIRKY SHIT

If you buy something that LOOKS really weird and oddly specific, then people might think you’re a bit odd and rightly so but it will seem so strange that they’ll think that you really must have put a lot of effort into it. Places like Paperchase are full of cute shit, or you can lean right into the weirdness and go and find something really obscure in a charity shop or ebay.

8: Don’t fall for the craft hype

It might seem like a cheap/thoughtful option to try and make a gift, however consider your skill cap and the practicality of the gift itself. Food goes off, things are often harder to make than they look and if you’re shit at making things you may have to start over/buy new materials. Unless you’re skilled, a child or have your heart set on making something specifically suited for the recipient, it’s probably best to buy something cheap and thoughtful-looking instead. Unless you want to punish the person you’re making it for: give them some trash they’ll feel too guilty to throw out.

9: Go digital

I know you annoying English students are going to have a bitchfit, but if you’re on a budget then digital media can save the day! If you can’t really afford a gift, find a good, cheap ebook and send it over. It might not be much, but it shows thought and willing. Send someone a fantasy world, don’t fetishize the material commodity.

10: Be mindful

Because the holidays are a tradition, you may do things in a certain way or function on autopilot. You might have left home and still rely on your parents to add your name to family gifts, you might not bother with certain people at all, or you might keep buying people you don’t care about pointless gifts. Just remember that it’s never too late to change your behaviour until you’ve reached the sweet abyss of death. Be adaptable. Think about your habits each year and make adjustments.

SO THAT’S IT.

Whether you’re Mr, Ms or Zee Santa – I hope that this guide has helped you take a more machiavellian mindful approach to gift-giving.

Happy Holidays from,

Santa’s little hoe hoe hoe

The armchair psychologist.

Note from the editor: I hope this advice was helpful! What was the most thoughtful gift you received this holiday season? Leave a comment below!

Notes from and Armchair Psychologist: Strategic Santa Part One – Gifting Styles

*We interrupt our scheduled questions to bring you an obligatory SEASONAL LISTICLE and will return to our scheduled therapy sessions in 2019!*

Gift-giving! A selfless expression of affection or an inconvenient obligation? Either way, thinking about what motivates us to give presents can help us choose what kinds of gifts to buy. So in this very special, holiday armchair psychology session we’re going think about different gifting styles and strategies to help you to find the perfect gift – whether you’re giving to put a smile on someone’s face, or to save face.

Punny Ghosts

SO let’s JUMP right INTO it.

In order to consider why we give gifts, we’re going to do what armchair psychologists do best and simplify everything into digestible categories (I’m looking at you Psychologies Magazine). The list below is OBVIOUSLY exhaustive so don’t even bother trying to challenge my authority and don’t even THINK about leaving an angry comment ranting about how I’ve left something out. THAT IS NOT A CHALLENGE. Just trust me, ok? I’m not a doctor.

Christmas Present

Gift giving style 1: Gifting to get back

What’s better than giving? GETTING OF COURSE. We all have those people we swap gifts with for no other reason than the fact that someone else’s money is always more appealing than our own.

Rugrats Angelica

Gifting strategy: Any old gift set will do. Spend as LITTLE as possible or buy something that’s cheap and then dress it up in pretentious hipster wrapping to make it LOOK expensive. Even that might be too much effort tbh. Just get a voucher and stick it in a card: the more generic the shop, the better – department stores are usually a safe bet. It’s always a gamble though… WHAT IF THEY GIVE YOU LESS THAN YOU GAVE THEM AND YOU DON’T BREAK EVEN?!

The Grinch hating

Gift giving style 2: Obligation

Was your sibling inconsiderate enough to have a child? WELL CONGRATULATIONS. Now you’re stuck with a little wallet-drain you never asked for. WOOP-DE-FRICKIN-DO. You know you’ll look like a cold hearted demon-person if you don’t get the little brat something – even though their bank account is bigger than yours AND THEY CAN’T EVEN WALK YET.

Scrooge and bunny

Gifting strategy: For child money-magnets get something loud and annoying to piss off their parents, but cute enough for the kid to get emotionally attached; that way their parents will feel too guilty to throw it away which will prolong the torture. If you really cba, then get any old toy for whatever age range. Maybe something with lots of teeney-tiny, swallow-sized parts… That’ll teach them for daring to inconvenience you with their birth. Isn’t the world already miserable enough without more fricking people in it?

Jack Skellington

*Disclaimer – please buy children safe and suitable gifts. KIDZ R AWESUM B KIND 2 DEM*

Flossing

Gift giving style 3: The flex

Because people need to be reminded that you are better than they are.

The Pauls

Gifting strategy: Do what you’re good at you bourgeois prick and buy something expensive – the more useless and trashy the better. Bonus points for ‘accidentally’ leaving the tags on. Go for something large and distinctive, that way its absence will be too noticeable for the recipients to swap it for something they could *actually* use.

poor muppets

Gift giving style 4: Love and appreciation

I’m not saying that it’s the only reason you should be giving gifts, but it’s the only reason you should be giving gifts. FUCK the obligation. We all might feel like we have to do things a certain way because that’s what our family does, or because media, or because WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY, but maybe we should chill for a moment and think about what our actions are really achieving.

The Office

We should take some time to remember the point of giving gifts in the first place. We could do so much more for the people we value if we adjusted our priorities.

In our next armchair therapy session, we will be exploring ACTUAL gifting strategies which can help us buy thoughtful gifts to give to those in our lives who *really* deserve it.

Kind regards and Happy Holidays,

The armchair psychologist

Note from the editor: Thanks for reading! Did you find yourself identifying with any of the gifting styles above, or do you have any more to add to the list? How long is your Christmas present list this year? Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post please consider helping me keep warm this winter by giving the bestest gift of all!

Armchair Psychologist in session: Why the fault is not in our fucking stars

Dear armchair psychologist,

When I find myself in times of trouble I dive headfirst into astrology, tarot, and other forms of cheap affordable divination because the idea of predestination makes me feel calmer and more focused. Why am I so against my own freedom as an individual? How can I outgrow this crutch?

Yours,
Astral Confusion

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Dear Astral Confusion,

Thank you for sending in your question.

Let’s begin by engaging with one of the most important traditions of the school of armchair psychology – making some broad, and possibly offensive, assumptions about you by deconstructing your question.

Kati Morton, Shane Dawson, Psychology

Your question shows a divide between your fatalistic attitude and your empowerment as an individual. We’ll look at your fatalistic tendencies first.

‘When I find myself in times of trouble… dive headfirst… the idea of predestination makes me feel calmer and more focused…

The explicit message here is that you find the idea of destiny comforting. You ‘dive headfirst’ into the murky waters of divination as if you’re trying to escape from something. Have you thought about what is it that you’re escaping from?

What kind of sinking ship are you abandoning?

Is the ship just doomed?  Even though you did the health and safety checks and cracked open a bottle of champagne on its hull, somehow, the fucker still caught fire and sank?

Saying that you ‘find yourself in times of trouble’ suggests a lack of control. Indeed, sometimes accidents and bad situations happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. Depending on your belief system it could be that the fault IS in your stars, or the world is just a shitty place full of shitty people who like to set fire to your motherfucking ship. (Or maybe someone just left their straighteners on.) There’s no denying that there’s just some things we can’t control, and need to escape from.  If we can’t physically escape, perhaps we can at least emotionally escape by engaging in a pastime we feel may offer answers.

But let’s go back to my first question: what is it you’re escaping from?

Proceed with caution: this T is hot.

Addams Family, Spooky, Spoopy, Halloween

Maybe it was your fault the ship started sinking. Maybe you didn’t put enough lifeboats on the ship, then you steered it into a motherfucking iceberg.

Sometimes we fuck ourselves over. We might like to think that we just happen to ‘find’ ourselves in trouble when we, in fact, have been human and imperfect and have actually contributed to the shitty situations we find ourselves in. Denying our part in the hardships we experience can be a defence mechanism – a way of preserving our fragile egos. The idea of predestination may appeal to you because it helps you minimise your part in the trouble you ‘find’ yourself in. It’s tempting to repress that imperfection allllllllllllll the way down into our unconscious – where it belongs (jk). However, repressing something doesn’t make it go away – and I don’t think you need me to tell you this, because babes, it looks like you already know.

Let’s remember that diving isn’t falling. Maybe you’re ‘diving headfirst’ into the oceans of divination, because that’s where the treasure is.

‘Why am I so against my own freedom as an individual? How can I outgrow this crutch?’ 

I don’t think you are against the idea of your personal freedom, I think you’re trying to find your empowerment, but you’re afraid of it. By saying you want to ‘outgrow’ your divination habit and that it’s a ‘crutch’, you’re suggesting that it’s something that you shouldn’t be doing. But, crutches are useful things! Crutches help you get around, but, they might not be a permanent solution. Maybe don’t be so quick to discard something that helps you (especially something relatively benign, such as divination) and instead look at it as a prosthetic extension of self – understand why you need it and how it became part of your experience. Don’t see it as limiting your freedom, but an expression of it.

Now, let’s get mystical!

Sybil Trelawney, Harry Potter, Divination, Magic, Tarot

Divination, in general, is interesting because its origins aren’t quite as mysterious as you might think. The Ouija board was marketed as a toy, and tarot cards began as playing cards (Farley 2009: 3). They became tied to ‘divinatory interpretation’ in the 19th century when the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn adapted them (Farley 2009: 2). This isn’t to say that it’s all bullshit. Although they weren’t intended for divination, this doesn’t mean they can’t be used as such (Farley 2009: 6). Just because something isn’t meant to do a thing, doesn’t mean it can’t do a thing. The importance is the context in which they are being used – The New Age movement even used Jungian psychology in an attempt to understand the cards’ symbolism (Farley 2009: 2).

And WE ALL KNOW JUNGIAN PSYCHOLOGY IS LEGIT SHIT. LOBSTER DAD SAYS SO.

ContraPoints Jordan Peterson LobsterALL HAIL LOBSTER DAD.

Jordan Peterson Meme Marxism Father Daddy

One way of engaging with divination is by taking a structuralist approach. You might want to consider that you’re engaging in a tradition of people who are attempting to find meaning, to find order in the chaos of the world. You’re trying to find where you fit in as a part of something bigger than yourself and by the very act of divining you are participating in a collective act and putting your individual spin on it. It can be nice to have structure, nice to have rules, and if they help you live your best life then that’s cool.  Just don’t get obsessed with it. To avoid becoming insular, you can share this interest with others. Assuming you’re giving and receiving tarot readings for free – let’s not get into critiques of the way that such artefacts have been commodified and used to exploit people –

Marx Communism Meme

then you can use the tarot cards as a way to displace your emotions and talk about your feelings more easily and figure out where you stand in relation to the society you’re participating in.

If you’re getting annoyed at this post, you might be less of a structuralist and more of a postmodernist.Foucault postmodernism

Since the rise of post-structuralism, divination has taken on new significance. The emphasis has shifted from interpreting symbols as static archetypes, and has become more about what they mean to the individual. A tarot card, for example, need not even have a fixed meaning.

SO EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS? What’s the point of living? We need to return to simpler times, to grand narratives, to binary gender, to rescue our fathers, to-

Bucko Jordan Peterson Toronto

NOT NOW DAD. I’M BUSY

Actually, if nothing has a *fixed* meaning, then its meaning depends on perception and is therefore more meaningful to each person.

If we consider tarot cards in this manner, then their origins are less significant, as is their association with ‘ shoddy soothsayers and confidence tricksters’ (Farley 2009: 1) and their connection to a divine power. As the context of tarot shifts, so do the meanings of the cards. Since 1971, tarot readings have been more about coming to one’s own conclusions rather than being interpreted by someone else.

Considering the significance of divination as a means of self-expression and exploration, perhaps your fear of your ‘freedom as an individual’ isn’t being expressed by your use of divination itself, but your desire to outgrow using it. What you’re escaping from, or what you’re repressing won’t just disappear.

It’s calling to you.

Using divination is a way of understanding yourself. You might think you’re chatting with a spirit, but perhaps you’re communicating with someone closer to home. Maybe you’re really having a conversation with the parts of yourself, or your experience, that you’ve repressed. Perhaps the ‘higher power’ you’re in conversation with is your unconscious mind.

And if you ask me, that’s much more terrifying than any ghost.

Kind regards,

The armchair psychologist.

*****

Aftercare: I hope you enjoyed this post! I find divination fascinating and I have my own pack of tarot cards. Let me know how you engage with (or avoid) divination in the comments!

If you liked this post and would like the armchair psychologist to solve all of your problems, please post a question anonymously or,  if you feel more comfortable contact me some other way.

But, don’t forget to read the health warning!

*****