Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Happy New Year

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…)


  1. What's on the first of October? You hand in your thesis manuscript then?

  2., on the second of October, i will wake up and I won't have a PhD to write anymore. i won't wake up at the crack of dawn in a paranoiac state, thinking 'right. Chapter 4...' maybe i'll even have a lie-in. what will I do with my day?... maybe de-PhD the house?...

    .... EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!.... :)

  3. I don't know how exactly everything goes at your university, but with me, it was not like that...

    My thesis manuscript IS handed in, and it was approved (after the first manuscript being rejected). Actually, I am having my public PhD defense next thursday.

    I did not have a single day off after I handed in my PhD. I started working on the presentation and I started reading articles like a mad person (remember, I was out of my field for 1.5 years since I already started working somewhere else).

    At this moment I am the most stressed and most anxious person in this world, I think.

    How do things go at your place? When will you defend?

  4. I forgot to tell you one thing. :-)

    About that 'de-PhD the house'-thing: I actually saved a date in my calendar, October 5th. That day I will burn everything that had to do with my PhD. I'll make a ritual out of it, with dancing around the fire, singing and screaming spells!

    (It sounds like a joke. It is not. The date is really marked in my calendar.)

    1. i will of course have to read a lot before my thesis defense, and i will have to reread my thesis carefully, and think about why i said X before Y, and so on - but i just want to be finished with this endless cycle of correcting, rewriting, reinserting, deleting, and wondering if it's wrong. i will do my best to defend my little thesis, but frankly, i just want out! :)

      i did consider burning, but i might have a PhD party instead where my cut-up PhD decorates the house in the form of garlands, place-mats, and attractive papier-maché decorations (vases and suchlike) - much more fun!! :)

      Good luck with everything. Thinking of you!!! x

    2. But then you still SEE all these papers and they still surround you everywhere! That's why I chose for the burning thing ;-)

      I wish you also good luck with everything! Less then one month and you got rid of this endless-re-writing!!

    3. i guess i just quite like recycling ;)

      and party guests will be able to have fun making garlands and will be able to take a small souvenir home... (papier maché earrings from 'Chapter 3', anyone??...)

      I don't know. maybe i'll just douse the lot in petrol and set fire to it :)

      thanks for your kind wishes... now let's both get outta here and do some work!!!


  5. I am in the crying and all-is-wrong stage.. Except that I have 6 days to go to deliver, and still need to write conclusion and introduction eeeeeeeek :'(, can you tell me how did you manage to get over yoursself?

    1. - right. first of all, don't panic. you have succeeded in keeping it going this far; only one final bit of success, and you are free. only the introduction and the conclusion remain. six days is a long time (you'd be surprised what you can get done in that time when it's the last six days!) i was in exactly the same position as you, writing my conclusion in the last two days. (i know someone whose conclusion was 4 pages and a bit long, and she passed. leave it for now, make some notes for it, start with the intro.)

      - consider working in 25 minute chunks (25 min work, 5 min break, repeat; every time you've done 4 of these, have a longer break with food or a nap.) this method stops me from feeling overwhelmed (you can do anything for 25 minutes.) which bit of your intro can you get started on? when can you next start? work on that bit for 25 minutes without stopping, then have a break, then do it again.

      - remember, you know your material better than anyone else. your advisors and examiners want you to succeed. you have done a LOT of the work already and you are just putting the finishing touches to it, taking your examiners by the hand and guiding them through your argument (intro) and then reminding them what they have read (conclusion). make it as easy for them as poss. simple, short sentences. summarize your argument. flick through the chapters for inspiration. flag up any original points. if necessary, they will tell you what changes to make.

      - rest before you are tired. (several 5-min naps, and one 20-min nap, really help me.) eat good food. send someone to the shops for a ready-made roast chicken, green beans, bag of spinach, good bread, tin of tuna. greasy food and coffee will make you sleepy; avoid. drink lots of water/ green tea. walk or swim for 30 mins in the evening, to help you sleep better.

      - email your supervisor, tell him/her of your concerns. remember, if you can present your uni with a plan of what needs to be done, to show you are making real progress, they will give you an extension (if you need it. they will never refuse).

      - remember: simple sentences; guide the examiners; you know your stuff; you can do it. shut it down. and good luck! xxxxx