Day By Day

Right now, I can hear the sound of multiple copies of my thesis being printed off for my examiners. I am submitting the thesis today.

The journey over the past few weeks since my last post has not been pleasant.

One would think that completing a thesis after 10 years would be joyous – there would be relief, celebration, happiness. There has been, but on the whole, these emotions have been fleeting.

Instead, I have sunk into depression, treading a well worn path into the black hole.

This time, it snuck up on me. There was no major life change. No broken relationship. No soul-destroying job to escape from. I didn’t know I was in the black hole until I found myself looking back up at the usual crowd of suspects standing around the rim of the hole, shouting down at me.

The first sign this time was my withdrawal from the gym. I simply didn’t want to go to classes anymore. I found ways to exercise alone – which I enjoy- but this absolute withdrawal from classes should have set the alarm bells ringing.

By the end of October, I was not exercising at all. I stopped doing yoga. Every spare second of my time was devoted to the thesis. If it was not, I felt guilty. By November, I was consciously aware of my depression – and sliding fast into the black hole. I was exhausted, I was stressed, not interested in anything. There were days when hiding in my room, laying on my bed asleep were the only things I wanted to do. When I finished the thesis, I was at rock bottom.  I lost it. Completely.

I don’t expect many to people to understand why someone who has finished something this big and supposedly so personally infused with meaning is now burned out and deeply depressed. Barely able to muster any enthusiasm at all about the blasted thing.

To be honest, writing the thesis did not give me a sense of satisfaction. It did not spark my creative muse in the same way that writing my Honours thesis did, twelve years ago. It was a chore, a weight on my shoulders. A heavy load chained to my neck.

I hope that one day, satisfaction will come. As yet, I just feel flat and empty. I need time for me, time to recover, time to find my muse, my energy, my spark.

I have sought help. Gary has been incredible. As much as he bears the brunt of my depression, he is also my strength. In the past two weeks, I have starting doing yoga again. Last week, I had enough energy to start running and Turbulence Training again. I found the energy to enjoy Christmas, and thankfully, we weren’t travelling anywhere and needing to put on bright faces for relatives. It was just us and our (largely grown up) children.

At the moment, it’s day by day, and sometimes, hour by hour. That is all I have the energy for. I can see the healing already. I have done at least an hour of yoga every day (save two) for the past two weeks.

Blogging Plans

I will be making a few changes to the blog. I’ve decided to keep it for a while longer. I’m going to add some new pages and perhaps change the header. The changes will reflect my lifelong passions: books, language learning and exercise. I feel the need to expand and explore a little more. Perhaps now that I have LOTS of time, I’ll no longer be afraid (or feel guilty) about expressing myself online.

For now, I’m off to Watarrka (Kings Canyon) for the New Year (look at the blog header – the picture is Watarrka). Heading bush is always healing, even when it’s 40 degrees.

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On Completion and Nothingness

The thesis is finished. And now, I am basking in the deep low that comes following the ecstatic high of completion.

Life goes on … Before en-thesis-ment, chop wood, go to work. After en-thesis-ment, chop wood, go to work.

Perhaps I should explain some of the last five months, where I have become a hermit in more ways than making my online self less visible.

Emotional rollercoaster

One moment I was up, then next down. The ups and the downs were manic. There were few in-betweens.

Where I thought I was finished (my first draft, back in July), I was not. Where I thought I would feel happy or pleased with my progress, I was not. Where I knew I’d done so much, and needed time -15 minutes of internet meaningless surfing, others thought this was outrageous. Confusion. Mixed feelings. The closest thing to this I’ve ever experienced is post-natal elation then depression.

Yes, it’s really THAT BIG and I don’t think most people quite get that. Especially parents, whose comments are things like: “Oh, that’s nice. You’ve worked so hard. When’s the graduation?” ARRGGHHH!!!!

Withdrawal

After August, I did not set foot in the gym nor a yoga studio. I felt like I had no time, nor should I permit myself these luxuries. Crazy? Perhaps, but it seemed the right –the only– thing to do. In their place, I took up Turbulence Training (oh, yes. You will be hearing a lot more about this) and subscribed to Yoga-Glo. These worked for me.

Exercise and yoga became impossible for me during a 6 week period in mid October to late November. The only thing I did then was to walk to and from work (a massive 20 minutes each way).

All of my life I have harboured a secret fear that there was a fat woman living inside of me, ready to explode the moment I stopped exercising. Whilst women who are tall and of normal height can get away with ONE or TWO kilos, I am the size of a 12 year old (158 cm). Extra kilos stick out like dog’s proverbials on us shorties.

Much to my surprise, the Fat-Woman-Living-Inside-Me-Waiting-To-Burst-Out did not burst out during my time of no exercise.

I gained no weight. I lost very little muscle definition in my upper body. I can still do one-armed pushups and Chautaranga til the cows come home. Thank you, 12 years of Body Pump. However, my legs and butt are a bit flabbier than I’m used to. So. Body Pump & Turbulence Training, here I come.

Other things I didn’t do after August: Spend much time commenting on blogs, or on Twitter (I did discover Farmville, though). Socialise. Go bushwalking or camping. Have a break.

Reflection

I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I feel spiritually disabled and empty.

The thesis took 10 years. It comprised 4 years, 2 months of fieldwork (in two periods of 14 months and then 3 years). During that time, I have re-written the entire thesis three times. The first full draft of the final incarnation (there were three incarnations) took two years to complete. My second and final draft took 4 of the most intense months of my life. I did this whilst working full time.

I do not, thankfully, have to do a dissertation defence. Australian universities don’t do them. Thank bloody goodness for that.

The emotional and personal costs of the thesis have been significant. I have suffered (and am at present still in the midst of) depression. I had a marriage break up 5 years ago – however,  as a result, I am with someone fabulous and far better matched to me.

PhDs are incredibly tough on your partner and family. We have had fights. Huge fights. Gary pushed me along constantly to do this. He would ask me when I was going to do some work on thesis -this pissed me off majorly at times when my muse just wasn’t working. He would come down on me for surfing the net -this pissed me off as well. Which, of course, meant fights.  I’m going to get Gary to do a guest post over the weekend, explaining what it is like to be the partner of a PhD candidate.

Would I study again? Yes, but I do not recommend doing a PhD straight after Honours, nor whilst working full time.

The Future

Right now, I need to rest. I am empty.

I would like a holiday but there’s no chance until February next year, due to my job.

I want, need, have to go travelling: Ubud would be nice. A whole week at Ananda Cottages, just chilling. The Simpson Desert would be fab as well… except it’s too darned hot (for those reading from the Northern Hemisphere, it is SUMMER in Australia and where I live, extremely hot – around 38 degrees Celcius every day). Bushwalking and camping are also out, because of the same reason. A week on a houseboat…yeah, but I can’t take leave til February.

So I’m trapped with my exhaustion. Gary is suggesting a weekend in Melbourne for me… but really, I desperately need a week away from everything and everywhere representing the normality of my life, to simply do nothing and recover.

I’m just not going to be able to do it however, so it’s limping along and sinking…

Apparently, this is totally, absolutely and utterly normal post-PhD.

Which makes me wonder WHY DO WE DO THESE THINGS TO OURSELVES?