Latitude: -62 39.11 Longitude: -57 45.91
Hello! I’m Nusrat Noor, the Marine and Aquatic Invertebrates Collections Manager at the Auburn University’s Museum of Natural History. When I was first asked to join the Icy Inverts team I was beyond ecstatic. My first thoughts were…” wait really?? Is this actually happening right now? To me??” I quickly tried to bring myself back down from cloud nine and think about exactly what I would be agreeing to. I will be on a ship sailing down to Antarctica over the course of 3 months with a group of amazing scientists who share the same interests as me, going on an honest to goodness voyage! But on the other hand, I’m going to be stuck on a (large but not unlimited in size) ship for 3 months with people I had never met before. The worries running through my mind were never about if I was going or not because I knew from the moment I was asked, that unless something out of my control stopped me, I was going to be standing on the bow of the RVIB Nathanial B. Palmer on September 24th, come hell or high water. The worries running through my mind (other than the near sprint to get PQ’d on time) was, how do people deal with the mental side of things? I had never done anything like it before.
So that’s what this blog post will be about because I know I was definitely curious about the mental health aspects of life on a research vessel and I hope you might be as well. I can’t speak for everyone’s experiences, but I can at least relay my own.
In the beginning, there was a bit of stress, but it was always about getting through the next COVID-19 test and waiting on bated breath to find out about the results. But eventually the quarantine ended, and we were suddenly on our way with next to no internet and more time on our hands than most of us have ever had in our entire lives. Or at least extra time while also no longer being quarantined anymore. Much of that time was great for getting to know each other but there was also a lot more time to just be in our own heads.
Being on the ship has paradoxically made me feel both constantly surrounded by people and also very isolated all at the same time. I missed my family, my friends, my bed, and Starbucks of all things. Eventually depression set in. Now don’t get me wrong, there was never a single moment when I regretted my decision or where I wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to make sure I stayed on this boat. And not being able to talk to the people I normally turned to, was a difficult adjustment to say the least. Suddenly I found myself thinking things like, “no one likes me” or “Everyone else is getting along and making friends but me”. These thoughts have been proving difficult to shake, despite continual invitations to game nights, inclusion during mealtimes, and spending more than a few nights up late, talking about interests and lives outside the ship.
I’ve dealt with this long enough to be able to tell when I’m not quite in the right headspace but the people I normally talk to for help…well, I couldn’t reach anymore. So, what do you do when faced with this? You use what resources you have. For me, and for many other people on this ship, that resource is each other. No one understands an experience like this quite like the people who are going through it with you. When I began expressing my difficulties with dealing with these emotions, I found others struggling as well. And we helped pull each other out of the proverbial holes we’d unintentionally dug ourselves into and created a community that looks out for one another. There are still a few times where the depression and anxiety come back along with the intrusive thoughts but now, I know I’m not actually alone. Going on a trip like this is one of the most wonderous things I’ve experienced in my life but that doesn’t mean it can’t come with difficulties. The important thing to remember, as it often is, is that you’re likely not the only one, and reaching out helps more often than it doesn’t.
Plus, it definitely helps to have the sampling finally begin! Coming up on the first site unfortunately wasn’t during my shift but that didn’t stop me from waking up after only 4 hours of sleep to see the sights of our first trawl. The excitement was just too much for me to handle! It felt absolutely perfect. The island was beautiful, I saw so many penguins, it was snowing in perfect flurries (almost as if I was suddenly transported to a Christmas movie), and there was waffle for breakfast (YUM!). But most of all, our first trawl came up with the most amazing animals I had been waiting to see for ages! I got to see and handle live invertebrates I had only either seen in museum specimens or in books. Sea spiders, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, tunicates, and bryozoans galore! Many of which were far larger than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Once they get pulled out of the water it’s a mad dash to get them sorted and processed quickly before the next site. It’s a whirlwind of activity and leaves you wanting more. I’ve just finished my first 12-hour shift and it was a struggle to make myself walk away from the table. It makes everything absolutely worth it.
Marine and Aquatic Invertebrates Collections Manager
Auburn University Museum of Natural History