In the third Christmas holiday of the PhD, I went to spend Christmas itself with the family, but planned to leave them for New Year’s and celebrate this with the Beloved and some friends in the city. (The Lover had patiently allowed me to choose our New Year’s venues for the previous two years, and so this year the choice was his; he chose city.)
New Year’s Eve morning found me in a dreadful mood. I dawdled over the packing. As I wandered discreetly about the house, disappearing every five minutes to blow my nose and trying not to be seen, I just couldn’t stop myself from crying. Embarrassingly, while my family and Lover sat around chatting in the dining room, my eyes just would not stop welling up with hideous tears. Every time I thought I got them under control and I emerged from the bathroom with my nose powdered and my eyes suspiciously bright, some thought would intrude and it would happen again: eyes filling with tears, nose bright red, etc. It was beyond embarrassing. How was I supposed to pack when every two minutes I had to hide away to deal with this?...
Finally, I saw that the strategy wasn’t working, and decided to come clean. I poked my head into the room where there was happy conversation and nice people, and I said, in a voice that tried (and failed) not to tremble, ‘[Lover], maybe we should just go, that way I can stop hanging around, hiding and pretending I’m not crying.’
There was a collective ‘aaaawwww!’ of sympathy, and a few shocked faces, and soon after I disappeared to blow my nose for the millionth time and go get my bags, the Sibling emerged from the room and, in an unprecedented fit of kindness, offered me a lift to the station.
On the train, the Lover put his arm around me. There were people sitting opposite us; I hid my face partly in his shoulder, partly behind my hair. He asked me if I was sad because I had to leave my family. I don’t know what I mumbled in reply, half-indicating assent. Not in a million years would I have told him the shameful truth: I wasn’t anything of the sort. Getting on that train, and leaving Christmas behind, and going back ‘home’, to me meant only one thing: back to reality, and back to the PhD, which at that time was an almost unbearable load to carry. Convinced that I was doing it all wrong, and that maybe if I just worked harder and longer hours then I might be able to get it right, I had worked myself up to the point of exhaustion; I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t crying because I would miss people; no, I was feeling very very sorry for myself, because tomorrow, New Year’s Day, it would surely all have to start again. And I was feeling pretty hopeless about everything in general.
That was my third year of PhD. Since then, I have conquered (thank God) the crying, the sadness, the feeling of the unbearable burden. I do wonder if I shouldn’t have just walked away from the whole thing, though. This PhD still just keeps defeating me, and I keep getting back up (why? what for?) and doing it all again; and then it defeats me again; and on it goes. (or perhaps you might say, ‘I keep winning’ – that would be another way of looking at it...) Ater the 1st of October, only one final (big) defeat is possible, and then hopefully it will be over.
(or you might even say: After 1st October, only one final (big) victory is possible…)