Advice needed: I think I might be damaging my health

Hi everyone, 

I had a bad year last year (depression, loneliness etc) and ended up with an Asperger's diagnosis. I'm still coming to terms with it and it's really messing with my head. I'm 34. 

I had shingles over Christmas which may have permanently damaged my eyesight and I have also developed some kind of acne on my face. I was just prescribed an SSRI but I've just found out I can't take it because of the problem with my eye. 

I really don't know what to do as I am in the middle of a funded PhD. My partner is also 8 weeks pregnant. Should I take some time off or ask for an extension of my studies? Should I just quit altogether? I can't claim benefits because I'm too high functioning and I need to do some kind of work because I enjoy it.

I'm a bit worried I'm just running myself into the ground and I genuinely don't know what to do. I don't know if I can approach the university about this at the moment - I was thinking of contacting my local autism charity to see if they could offer any advice or advocate to the university on my behalf. 



  • Hi tintal. Calm down. One cannot take important decisions in a state of depression like this.

    The first thing I would say, if you applied and doing PhD, it is your talent and interest, your aspiration and it reflects your values. So hold on to this. Otherwise you would be letting a dx or a disability to undermine your values and aspirations.

    When I had bad depression, everything was doom and panic and I couldn't see any positive possibilities. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain, as you know. So rebalance your brain... There are other types of medication, CBT, if you can't have that particular type, that is more the reason to ask your GP to give you something else that will work and fast.

    I don't know how PhD works administratively, getting an extension based on your eye situation would be prudent, but I don't know the implications.

    Obviously having all these things together is a huge shock and you need some limited time to regroup, so a limited time off could be good. I personally found that short time off , let's say 3-4 weeks as better than many moths, because then you disconnect, get out of the good routine and it might become permanent. But that's me. The university student support services , they are supposed to have a department dedicated to support of student with disabilities and SEN, so talk to them first, they would advise.

  • To me it sounds as though you at least need at least a little time out to reflect and also to begin the process of accessing some post-diagnostic support.  Even if this is just to explore your feelings and air your concerns with someone outside your immediate circle, I think this might prove worthwhile to you.  Is this something that the local charity might be able to either offer directly or signpost you towards? 

    I would also suggest a 1:1 with your tutor/lead professional (?) as it may be that there are other options which might take off some of the immediate pressure and head off any longer term issues which might be arising from this difficult time.  If you feel hesitant about this, though, maybe drill down into your reasons.  If you think they'll not be supportive then yes, maybe an advocate would be able to step in and help.  

    i'm also wondering whether your stress levels have affected your immunity and left you more open to shingles.  The Asperger's diagnosis, PhD and the new pregnancy all demand some adjustment and effort, even if they might, in themselves, be very positive for you.  Plus from my experience shingles can have quite a long recovery period - more of a convalescence, i'd say.  What are you doing for self care right now?  Your post outlines the demands on you but where are you in all of this - your choices, preferences and ways of relaxing?  

    i think I'd probably get a brief list together, just simple bullet points of the main concerns, then get straight on to the charity as a starting point.   


  • It sounds like you have had a very difficult time, but please think carefully before you decide on the future of your PhD studies.

    If you are doing a funded PhD, that means that the funders (be it the university or the research body) recognise that you are talented and capable. This also means that they will be willing to support you in any way that they can to ensure that you can complete your research. I understand that it is difficult approaching the university when you feel anxious and worried - I have similar difficulties in this area. May I suggest that you speak to one of your supervisors if you have a good enough relationship with them to do so? Failing this, most universities (if not all) have a Disability or Wellbeing Service. You can make an appointment with them and they can make reasonable adjustments for you which your supervisors must observe; they can put extra support in place if you need it; and they can log any mitigating circumstances which would help if you ask for an extension. It is also likely that there is a faculty member specifically trained and designated to deal with students who have additional needs and you could approach them.

    I hope you manage to sort something out.

  • Hi, I'm really sorry to hear that you've had so much happen in such a short space of time. It all sounds quite overwhelming!

    Finally getting an ASD diagnosis can be a lot to take in. I find that chatting with people on here is really helpful and  good source of support. I'm also thinking, because it sounds as though you are already seeing a GP for your depression, that it might be worth asking the GP to refer you to your local Autism services to see what support you can get? 

    The shingles sounds painful! Has it damaged both eyes or just one? The acne could be a stress reaction but it might be best to get your GP to check that it isn't anything more serious. It must be frustrating that you can't take the SSRI's. However, there are other types of antidepressants. Your GP should be able to advise on which of these would be most appropriate for you.

    It's a long time since I was at University but I seem to remember there being a student support service or somewhere that you can go to ask for support and help if you have a diagnosed disability, which you do have. I think it may be worth paying them a visit to see how they could help. It sounds like a month or so off might help you to level your head out a bit. It might be better to get student support involved with this so they could help if you need to apply for an extension to your studies or anything else.

    Congratulations on your partner's pregnancy! How are you feeling about that?

    I think that contacting your local Autism charity is a great idea or as I said earlier, get your GP to refer you.

  • This does sound like a stressful situation! I can understand how much you have to deal with, depression, loneliness, aspergers, shingles, damaged eyesight, PhD, funding, partner pregnant, etc. Perhaps you can ask your supervisor for a meeting to talk about all this. You may also like to check to see if there are any university staff/offices who are responsible for tutorial administration stuff who you might be able to discuss with and explore possibilities of intermission or change your course to a part-time PhD. Also I personally don't think there's any embarrassment in asking for an extension - it'll greatly reduce the pressure of finishing within a limited time, and it might give you more time to make your work better quality. There might also be advice services within the student union that might be able to help you with these things, or share stories/experience of previous people with similar situations.