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!!!!


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.


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.



8 thoughts on “On Completion and Nothingness

  1. Yup, that’s pretty close to what my experience was…followed some time later by my deciding I didn’t want to be an academic, anyway. Definitely be glad you didn’t have to do a defense, though–that can be the academic version of hazing.

    Anyway, congratulations, Dr., for whatever it’s worth to your disillusioned consciousness at the moment…

  2. Congratulations on finishing! I think you need to take up Gary’s weekend away suggestion. Use your sick leave, tell no one and just go. We’ll survive without you and we’ll all (especially you) benefit from a rested and rejuvenated you xx

  3. Congratulations Doc. 🙂

    PhDs are bloody hard work. It’s good to reflect regularly along the road. My eldest got 2/3 through his, took a year off to do something wildly different overseas, came back refreshed. And opted to turn his research in to a Masters instead. He’d been studying almost non-stop since a child.

    My sister has just commenced her PhD, following straight on from her Master’s research. She’s thriving on it. But she had many years between achieving the original Bachelor degree and returning to academic life. She’s found it much easier to forgo long term live-in relationships though. They just get in the way.

    So what you have achieved is huge. Don’t forget that as you move on. Good luck and enjoy some “me” time.

  4. You know, its so hard when we get that close to something and then it’s over. It is natural to mourn the loss of a constant factor in your life, even if it drove you mad while it was constantly there. 🙂

    I think you wrote before that your reasons for starting and finishing your thesis are wildly different. And it’s entirely normal to feel like you’ve got no idea what you want or need now. Your focus for so long has been on something that is now done.

    And I’m glad you discovered you won’t automatically turn into a marshmellow if you don’t exercise constantly. It’s a good thing to know. 🙂

    I agree that a weekend anywhere right now, is probably a good thing. Even if its not enough, then at least its something. Go to Bangalow, or somewhere wild on the coast where you can swim in the ocean. And heck, why not use up your sick leave a little if you can. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

    Once again (in addition to all my other notes of congratulations), WELL DONE. Who cares if you don’t know why you bothered? You’ve done it. And now its time to find a little balance and peace.

  5. Congratulations! I’ve not done that, but I know the feeling you are describing. I would love to hear how you feel about the whys and was “it worth it”‘s after a few month and you have some distance and perspective. There was certainly a drive there. And I hope you’ll blog a little bit about the subject of the thesis itself.

    Good for us because you’re blogging again. I hope that will be part of your recovery.

    (I now have a photo of an ocean wave in Australia as the cover photo for my website and eBook. Take a look and see if it looks familiar.)

    Bob Weisenberg

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