Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I want … I want … I don’t know what I want.

I don’t understand myself. I feel like I’m going crazy. Seriously, I feel so weird and I was trying to just take the simplistic step of listing out all my emotions right now and I can’t even do that. It’s like saying what color is this Pollock painting?

Maybe my brain is swirling around like that too right now. I just don’t know.

I dumped chapter 4 on my advisor on the 13th, I believe I told you ---- well it was a really strange day. I got to school and futzed around on the chapter a bit and printed copies for everyone and then when I turned it in I was just full of fury, just so overwhelmingly enraged that I had to just drop everything I had planned to do for the day and go home. And then I couldn’t stay home, but I couldn’t really walk off the anger. I went and threw things for a couple hours (rocks, mostly) but although it tired me out eventually it didn’t calm me down in any way.

I’ve always kinda laughed at the term “free-floating anger” but really I could not have told you what exactly I was so enraged at or who I was directing all this anger towards. It was just like a fog of red all around me, like swatting out at an enormous cloud of gnats. I really didn’t understand it at all. I haven’t looked back at any of my journals or notes but I think that the feelings I had for previous finished chapters were pride, or relief, or exhaustion. Sure, I’ve had overwhelming urges of the desire to just kill someone or destroy something — but before they have always been provoked, you know?

I was really confused by all this and then eventually I went to sleep and really slept it out for a long time and then took a couple days of only doing the bare minimum on the diss. I felt back to my usual self. But after really bearing down hard on this last chapter and really grinding it out to have something to turn in, I made my deadline for my advisor (sorta) and turned in the last chapter to her first thing on Monday — if by “first thing,” as I had promised her, you mean, “before the office mailroom closes at the end of the business day.” And I left off the intro paragraph; I left a note for her saying I’d bring it the next day instead of writing it because I was too tired to bring it together in any coherent way.

So I was feeling worse and worse and more tired and tired as Monday went on and when I went to drop off the chapter I was worried that something like last week would happen and I’d just flip out and try to strangle someone (so I made sure not to run into anyone immediately before or after the drop-off; I’m considerate like that), and this time I had a total breakdown. I mean tears, sobbing, incredible sadness and depression, everything. And I went home and felt miserable off and on most of the evening and today.

Supposedly today I was going to write the intro and bring it on campus to add to the chapter, and supposedly I was going to get into some of the oodles of more items on my research list done and was going to start tackling the immense list of prep for filing the dissertation, but I don’t think that’s going to happen today. It was rough just getting out of bed. And again, I don’t really understand why — you’d think I’d be happy I am so close to finished, or at least relieved that it would soon be over. But instead I feel like shit. And not just “whoah, I am so tired” shit, I mean, “why did you even waste any time on the shitty experience that is grad school,” “why even bother living” shit — I’ve thought about burning everything I own and moving to Yugoslavia, about just walking away from the entire fucking degree, about moving back home or jumping off a fucking bridge. Luckily I feel too tired to even get out of bed so instead I just look at random stupid stuff on the internet.

I don’t really know what brought all this on or what I’m supposed to do about it. And I’m not done, not anywhere near being done, and yet I feel like I have absolutely nothing to do at the moment; absolutely nothing is within my control or ability to change at the moment. I feel like a fly trapped in amber, suspended. I feel both incredibly restless and incredibly lethargic. I haven’t been sleeping.

So, yeah. That’s been my week so far. And I don’t know what comes next.


heu mihi said...

Wow. Yeah. So, I don't have any really constructive advice for you or anything, but it sounds like you're having some Feelings about finishing. Obviously. Is it possible that you're feeling this way because the stakes are higher for these chapters? You know, because you're almost finished, and *this is it*, sorta? --I mean, not that this is *really* it, but maybe on some level you're feeling some anxiety about the quality of the product, now that it's almost done? (Which you shouldn't, of course, because it's brilliant. I know this.)

Also, I always find that it's hardest to keep going--at anything--when the end is in sight. That's when I most want to stop.

So, I don't know. "Hang in there," as the posters say. Definitely don't quit--just do what you need to do, and maybe nothing more than that, right now.... Good luck, dear Sisyphus!

Dr. Crazy said...

If it makes you feel better, though I'm not sure it will, I felt this sort of undirected (misdirected?) anger and rage and unhappiness and sadness toward the end of my diss (and, if I'm honest, toward the end of putting the finishing touches on the book pre-proofs). In the dissertation phase, this meant a total melt-down with my director in which he threatened to drop me as an advisee (so thank god you haven't allowed yourself to unleash on a person like him, or your actual director). It also led in large part (though not entirely) to the demise of the most significant romantic relationship I've ever had.

In the book phase, this meant a total melt-down on FB, which thankfully he was patient with and he was around 2 months later when I got over it.

My theory on these Uncontrollable Emotions is that sometimes, when we work on things that mean a lot to us, at a certain point we don't know how to process them like functional human beings. And there is LOSS with finishing a project and ANGER and FEAR about what comes next, and all of that adds up to some freaking out. And part of it is about lack of control (or at least has been in my case) and part of it is about insecurity (read: terror, about the future, about what it all means, etc., again, at least in my case).

I don't have any advice to offer about how to stop it or to make it not suck. But I can tell you that when things are past this particular point (with the diss I did this 5 months before I defended, so I wasn't totally at the end of the project by any stretch, and same with the book: it wasn't the true end but rather the penultimate-ish end) that you'll feel like yourself again. For some of us, this is part of the catharsis that goes with a major project. It helps to forgive yourself for the melt-downs, to schedule regular good cries to take the edge off (I think a lot of the reason that I melted down so much this fall/winter was because of the writer's strike and no regular Ghost Whisperer crying jags, truth be told), and to understand that it's really fucking difficult to put together a project of the scope of the one that you're working on. I think it can seem like it's "normal" to do this kind of work when one is in grad school: it isn't. Normal people do not do this to themselves. It's a lot of work and pressure and stress and anxiety. On top of the fact that you don't make enough money and you don't have time or space or freedom.

So I'm not sure if any of this helps, but I'm sending lots of virtual hugs and support your way. You WILL get through this. TOTALLY.

k8 said...

I hear ya! Actually, I think your anger and stone throwing is probably more healthy than my chocolate consumption. I have no advice. Just take care of yourself (and the kitties, of course)!

Flavia said...

Post-partum depression, dude.

(Otherwise, what Crazy said. You'll get through this, and at some point you'll feel really fucking proud of yourself.)

Maude Lebowski said...

sis, man i just went through this! i went through this after my m.a. thesis, too. i punched a hole in my apartment wall (which, by the way, if you go that route, you can fix it with shoe glue). those two weeks before defending were rough--with an odd slight glimmer of hope for some reason, and then after it's all said and done, i gained 10 pounds in two weeks. so at least you're verbalizing your anger and emotions instead of trying to eat and drink them away.

look, i think you are WAY WAY smarter than me, and i finished this thing. i've heard you give a paper (which i know is not the same as the diss), but it was smart, and brilliant, and witty, and all of these things that you are come through in your academic writing. believe what crazy and flavia say--you'll get through this and then you will be dancing at spontaneous moments (i catch myself doing jigs in the bathroom if i happen to realize that it's done) and you will be so fucking proud of yourself that no one will be able to outshine you or take that feeling away, EVER!



bitternsweet said...

I second Dr. Crazy's asute comments.

I experienced very similar highs and lows when I finished my diss and my book manuscript. I was angry, sad, jittery, couldn't sleep, couldn't focus ... and absolutely could not work. So, the important message is that you're not alone in this experience.

I think you just have to respect your feelings. If you cannot work on the diss -- don't. If you need to hide under the covers -- do. It's such a psychologically powerful experience to devote yourself wholeheartedly to a project (especially when there's no guarantee of completion or reward), to make sacrifices for it ... and then to actually reach the finish line ... It's all the conflicting emotions of achievement, continuing uncertaintly ('cuz, finishing the diss isn't really finishing, is it?), exhaustion, and some good old fashioned self-doubt. No wonder you want to strangle someone!

Hang in there, Sis!

Arbitrista said...

It won't last forever. I promise. Just make sure the anger is other rather than self directed in the meantime.

Feminist Avatar said...

I agree with everybody that this is normal. I think that finishing the diss is not just about finishing a piece of work or an exam; it's about acknowledging that a piece of your life is finished and (depending on how long it took and when in your life-cycle) often a signficantly long part of your life during a time where you move from student to adult. i often feel that doing the PhD was a bit like putting off truly growing up (I get that might not be true for people who returned to academia later in life) and so when you finish it, you don't just hand in a bit of work, you say I am moving on into the grown up world and all that entails. And there is no going back. And then ther process of looking for work that usually accompanies the writing of the diss is emotionally exhausting. Plus of course, it is such an huge investment in energy that it drains you and you have every right to feel exhausted and emotional and all that stuff.