Help me overcome my emotional immaturity which has crippled my academic course.
After a quite successful master's thesis in A, I was propelled by my supervisor to do a PhD in a field close to A in a different country. Not having any better idea, and having no clue what I wanted to do with my life (and having no clue that this was a problem), I started the PhD.
I had very little idea of what a PhD was -- I read some articles my supervisor recommended, and pursued an idea which I had begun during the previous summer. I felt like it was going to work. Eventually, the idea collapsed and would have required too much reworking to keep its structure. Instead of being mature and taking this setback as a normal event, I took it personally and severely doubted myself. I had also been interested in another field, B, for a while, but mostly on a superficial/philosophical level. As my motivation was not on par with that of my coworkers, I supposed I was in the wrong field and applied for a PhD in B -- and got accepted. Meanwhile, the people at my then PhD program offered me to take a break to consider my options. I declined, being oddly convinced that B was right for me. Basically, I thought B sounded very cool but knew actually little about it (so the opposite of my first PhD). You can see where this is going.
Change city again, begin PhD in B, in which I have very little training. Immediately I see that everyone around me has a master's in B, and seems to know a lot more about the field and what they came there for. Doubts immediately set in again and never left. I read extensively about the field, and about topics closer to my project. However, I began to doubt that I liked my project, as I found it too vague and based on dubious assumptions. I tried to steer towards a new topic with my supervisor, but I guess my other interests were too vague themselves to convince him it was worth it. At some point, I started seriously considering leaving and going back home to teach, which scared me and made me doubt my motivations. I eventually broke down in his office, telling him I felt I could not do my best and that I felt I needed to know more about the field to continue, that I needed some time to have a better grasp of the direction we were going in. In parallel, I tried to obtain a leave from the program, and it turned out to be impossible.
I then fell in a depressive funk that lasted two months. Did not go to my office; I was too ashamed. New interests suddenly rushed through me, came in and out like wildfire, probably alienating friends I talked to about them in some manic frenzy. This was usually followed by deeper depression (not getting out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc). Talking to another professor, he asked me, "what do you want to do?", which reached me to the core, because I never truly asked myself this; I felt even worse about driving without directions, and my crisis hit an existential streak. I eventually got out of the worst of it, but I see myself emotionally relapse a few times a week. I emailed my supervisor and he never replied; I tried to be assertive as to what my interests and options were, while being careful to ask him to tell me if I was asking too much, because I am too clueless to know. This made me even more anxious about my ability to even communicate at all.
I could quit this PhD and either travel (I have savings) or get an actual job (I have a potential offer, and I doubt it is my only possibility).
My main fear is that I have ruined my academic career. It makes sense to me: I will have quit two PhD's, which is absolutely ridiculous. But the decision to start the PhD in B was grossly misdirected and appears to make me feel miserable, and I miss A considerably. Could I pass off trying out B as a youthful idealist mistake, if it is clear I now understand where I went wrong?
I deeply aware that I have commitment issues and anxiety issues. I have finally found a therapist with whom it seems to work well. I want some hints to make me learn from my mistakes. I also believe I have a hard time understanding the relationship between one's motivation, interests, abilities, and the PhD program one takes, so advice on not to repeat my mistakes that I may have missed or misunderstood will be gladly taken. I am convinced that if I am motivated and able, I can achieve great things.
Thanks a lot for reading this. Throwaway: ToPhDornottoPhD@gmail.com