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.

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?

On Limiting Myself

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I have been limiting myself and it’s been good.

I have not posted on the blog, nor have I commented on the blogs of others or spent much time online (other than checking email, Facebook, the news and weather) for the past month.

I’m back home from Canberra. The PhD writing is finished; my supervisor and myself are now ‘tweaking’ the final draft. I am aiming to have it submitted by the end of September. Tweaking means lots of to-and-fro over individual paragraphs and words, especially at the beginning and end of the thesis. So I still have a bit of work to do.

Anyway, I’m posting to say that I won’t be posting much until the thesis is handed in. After that, I may decide to end this blog.

Yes, you read right. I may decide this blog has served its purpose and it is time to move on to something else. At this stage, I don’t really know.

Anyway, I’ll see you all at the end of the thesis journey.

Namaste


Parting Prayers

Tibetan prayer flagsOnce a year, I have a psychic reading. As it would happen, Alice Springs has a psychic fair come to town annually –  and it’s here this weekend (the Moscow Circus is also in town – some cosmic synchronicity there!).

I went and was immediately drawn to one lady. She began to read for me then said: I can’t get anything from you, but what I am getting is that you should see Shaki (another reader), who does healing and NLP, over there.

She didn’t charge for the 10 minutes she’d spent with me. I went and sat and waited for Shaki, who was with another client.

The reading with Shaki was life changing.  I don’t believe in angels or guides. Nor do I accept the common cultural definitions of ‘psychic’. What I do KNOW, however, is that some people can read other people via subtle non-verbal cues.  They can reflect these back to you, and you gain insights that you wouldn’t have otherwise. That is what a reading does.

The biggest thing I took away was the need to give myself permission and to believe in myself.

To this end, here is my parting prayer (which needs to be in purple BOLD!):

I’m asking permission from myself to have my thesis 99% ready for submission by the time I leave Canberra.

I will only have the abstract, figures, bibliography to finish when I return home.

I believe that I can do this.

I am willing to let myself do whatever is necessary to do this.

I give myself permission to do whatever is necessary to do this.

It is ok to ask for help to do this.

As I need help to do this, so I am asking Guruji and the universe for the help I need to have my thesis 99% ready for submission by the time I leave Canberra.

Please hear my prayers.

Please help me, Guruji.

Shanti

I’m no Boddhisattva

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Fear: I’m not good enough, not smart enough, don’t have enough time, haven’t done enough to finish my PhD.

Me: I’ve written it all (bar the conclusion). But it’s still not good enough. It’s never going to be good enough and I don’t even know why I’m doing it. It really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore. I should have admitted defeat years ago and just focussed on something else.

Angry voice in head: Why are you wasting all the winter -the only time you can go camping and bushwalking in the desert- inside attached to your computer? And why aren’t you going to the gym as much as you used to? Why aren’t you going to yoga class? Why does he keep picking on me about my thesis? Can’t he see I’ve nearly finished?

Depressed voice in head: Withdraw. Hide. Hide. Hide. Hide.

Me: My mind is out of control. My emotions are out of control. I feel like I’m going to snap. I’m angry and short tempered all the time.  I feel like I have no time to myself.

Fear: You’ll run out of time. You’ve got the argument all wrong. The thesis is not sophisticated enough.

Me: I’ll never be good enough. Why am I doing this to myself and my family?

…and so it goes, round and round and round in my head, the pack of dogs eating my car.

Don’t put me up on a pedestal, I’m no Boddhisattva.

*This is a REAL headline from the Northern Territory News

The Mouth of Sauron *grin*

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Looking into the Messenger’s eyes they read his thoughts. He was to be lieutenant, and all that remained of the West under his sway; he would be their tyrant and they his slaves. Tolkein (1999: 194), The Return of the King.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the extended version of Lord of the Rings (on DVD), you’re missing out on the Mouth of Sauron, the coolest baddie ever. For his teeth and grin alone, you should get the DVD.

For my family, he’s a bit of fun to parody, mixing him in with Dramatic Chipmunk.

On the blog, he’s my grin of victory. A means of turning something bad or tyrannical into good.

Yesterday, the blog had its TEN THOUSANDTH visitor!! Hard to believe, when my blog isn’t anywhere near as seriously yoga-focussed as other people’s. I’m just a part-time yogini, and I’ll never, ever be a super-bendy yoga chick whose big toe touches her head in Natarajasana. But then, for the life of me I can’t understand how most people find descending from high plank to Chaturanga hard!

Another reason to for the Mouth of Sauron grin is to celebrate is the impending END of writing my thesis.

You see, the PhD has been like a tyrant sitting on my back for 10 years. Like the Black Tower of Mordor, it’s been there in the background, sitting. Making plans beneath the level of my conscious mind. Plotting my downfall. Trying to become “… something else she started but never finished …” A monument to the futility of academic endeavour.

The PhD was also something I was doing because I wanted to prove to my mother that I was good enough. And to make up for leaving High School at the beginning of Year 11 (also to prove to my parents that I was grown up).  Ironically, I’m still trying to prove to my parents that I’m grown up – when my own daughter is now at university.

Yet the PhD, internally, is also for me. Simply because I like to write and think and use my creativity. I’ve persisted with it through a marriage break up and depression because of fear -I did not want Sauron to win!- and because I like playing in my head and turning thoughts into words.

The moment is almost here.

The culmination of ten years of research. I’ve done roughly 4 years of field work, and it’s taken 2 years to write it up. Now, now, now, I’m pulling all the threads of my background and data chapters together in the discussion chapter.

The feeling I get when I write is like finding my thesis (my argument) as I write, like staring closely at an individual mosaic tile, then moving back to see hundreds of individual tiles forming a breath-taking scene. When I write, it emerges, it forms, coalesces and becomes real.

Over the next six weeks , I won’t be posting very much. On 27 July, I fly to Canberra to spend a month working intensively with my PhD supervisor, pulling the thesis together and preparing it for submission. I don’t return to Alice Springs until 22 August.

When I try to look forward in my mind, picture my life post-August, I cannot. There is a comfortable blank, and within, a firm knowing.

It will be done.

The Towers of Teeth swayed, tottered, and fell down; the mighty rampart crumbled; the Black Gate was hurled in ruin; and from far away now, dim now growing, now mounting to the clouds, there came a drumming rumble, a roar, a long echoing roll of ruinous noise. (Tolkien, ibid: 270).

Wednesday Whiteboard #10: Thesis Deadline Edition

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Dotpoint #1 Thesis Deadline Day is July 26

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, the answer is busy. Busy, out bush for most of last week (sacred site clearances for gravel pits in the most glorious, remote outback places) and busy finishing my PhD thesis. The thesis needs to be in a finished state by 26 July, when I go to Canberra for a month to work intensively with my supervisor to prepare it for submission. I have about two-thirds of a chapter left to write.

Thus, my life has been wading through data about the practices that comprise joint management (co-management), what people say ‘doing’ joint management is, and what the organisation I’m studying has written in business plans, funding documents and reported about ‘joint management activities’. Yes, chapter 7 is all about the stuff that gets done (and classified) as joint management. Incidentally, if you click on the link, you’ll see a picture of Aboriginal Elder, Leslie Foster (Blackhat), with whom I spent a day last week for my consultations. Jason (the ranger) used to be the Parks & Wildlife Joint Management Pin up boy. Unfortunately for PWS, Jason no longer works for them.  But hey, that’s what happens if you piss off your talented staff.

The important thing is this: I probably won’t be writing a lot of blog posts for the next few weeks. I’ll be glued to my thesis. So please be patient with me. Once it’s done, I’ll be able to go full steam ahead with the blog and the BIG IDEA once more.

Dotpoint #2 Writing a PhD Thesis is MUCH MUCH HARDER THAN CHILDBIRTH!

I am qualified to say this. I have given birth to two children. Doing a PhD is much harder than childbirth. Much, much harder.

For example: I took about 11 hours to give birth to Rhiannon. It took 2 hours to give birth to Ben – and I kept a moment-by-moment diary that even includes the cricket scores.  However, it has taken 10 YEARS to give birth to my PhD thesis. That’s right: 10 years.

There are some striking parallels:

  • In childbirth, nurses and doctors make you feel dumb and as remove your sense of control … So does a PhD!
  • During childbirth, a whole lot of strangers peer into, poke and prod at your most intimate parts … when you do a PhD, your writing is the window into your mind, also poked, prodded and peered into by a whole lot of strangers (examiners).
  • There are no instructions for childbirth (ignore the breath stuff – it’s bullshit. Your body just takes over) … There are no real instructions for a PhD – your data/supervisor/deepest fears take over.

Writing a PhD is only slightly less difficult than bringing home a new baby: sleepless nights, baby wanting your boob all the time, nappies to change, more boob, depression. Blech. That’s why there are 7 years between my children – I almost didn’t go back for more.

Dotpoint #3: I’ve Been Really Stuck and Depressed About the Thesis

Another reason I haven’t been writing is that I’ve been pretty down about the thesis (and a few other things). Stuck. Worried about the deadline. Feeling like it’s not good enough and won’t be the thesis I want it to be.

I’ve been having some great coaching from the guys over at Action Podcast for this. I have worked out a plan with the help of Sam & Paul, and I’ve had to change it slightly as last week, I had a HUGE bushwork week. But really, I’m just going to have to work through the plan and my depression and do the work when I have so little confidence in myself and the thesis I’m creating.

It’s not that I can’t write – I can write fine. It’s not that I don’t have enough data – I have so much data, I could write another thesis or three!

It’s that I’m worried that the thesis  is not going to be intellectually sophisiticated enough. And I’m worried that there will be huge holes in my arguments. I’m relying on my supervisor to help me with these things. My complete and utter trust in these things is with my supervisor, which is at least some weight off my mind.

I have no idea how this will all turn out. Whether I’ll have to rewrite the whole thing. Whether the examiners will reject it and laugh.

And there is no real reason for me to do a PhD: no payrise, no tenure. No promotion. I will simply have some letters before or after my name.

I really wonder why I’m doing this to myself.

To prove I’m good enough, smart enough, worthy enough … to myself? My mother (I was never as good as the little girly-girls across the road when I was a child). My peers?

I often wonder if I am doomed to be eternally insecure about my entire existence. Everything that I am, have, my relationships. My world.

There’s times when I feel absolutely alone. Like it’s just me inside my brainbox and no one else can relate to what I’m doing. Something else I just have to live with.

Anyway, perhaps I’ll get to write another post later on in the week. If I’m lucky.