Talking it Out

So, I’m going to a therapist today.

I’ve been to a therapist at numerous points in my life. Once when I was very young, again during college, and then during grad school at the point where I realized I needed to leave.

My intentions for this time around are quite different from my past visits, so I imagine the experience should be pretty different.  My first two therapy experiences were both in response to traumatic events.  I suppose the third was in response to a traumatic event too (i.e. graduate school).  When I went to therapy during graduate school, I was an unmitigated disaster.  I was mostly just flailing about wildly, desperately trying to find anything that would make me less miserable.   I have depression in general, was going through a major episode at the time, and was also trying to figure my way out of a variety of situations that weren’t working for me.  My intention for therapy then was mostly just the vague hope of making things better.

Now though, I’m not experiencing that sense of misery or flailing that drove me to therapy in grad school for the first time.  For the most part, I actually feel pretty good about things.  I’m very happy with my first year of married life, which gives me a sense of both emotional and financial security that I have never had before.  I feel like I have a non-academic life plan more or less worked out.  This is not to say that it is perfect, or won’t change, but I’m already well upon my escape route from academia, so I no longer feel like I’m stuck in a place that has eradicated my options.  So going to a therapist today feels very different, because I’m not going in and saying…I am so unhappy and don’t know what to do.  I feel much more specific about what I need and want to get.

At this point, I’m recognizing that academia is a very toxic place for me, and no amount of just putting my head down and pushing through it is going to get me across the finish line.  I just cannot spend the next few months working on this thing through tears and misery.  I’m tired of academia making me feel like crap, and I would like a therapist to help me learn ways to get through the last few months in a way that is not destructive to my psyche.  So my intentions here are very specific.  Given that I need to finish this thing, how can I manage my emotions to finish it?  Academia now makes me feel inadequate, guilty, and unhappy–how can I change my patterns of thought to take control of my emotions and deal with the situation in a different way?  And really, I think that learning about this, and talking about it will help me in general.  I tend towards depression and anxiety in general, and whereas academia exacerbates those qualities (thus making it a bad fit for me), I certainly will keep experiencing various forms of shittiness throughout my life.  If i can learn how to better deal with it here, those strategies will certainly serve me later on.

This time around, I’m also way more open to actually  helping myself.  During my first graduate school therapy experience, I didn’t have enough value for myself to put real energy into making things better.  I wanted to stop being so unhappy, but anything more than that felt impossible.  I literally didn’t have enough self-worth to make really working on my issues feel like it was important.  But, I can’t make anybody else’s life better if I can barely function myself.  And this time around, I feel way more ok with doing that.  So I want some helping in finishing this dissertation, and I want to learn how to manage my emotions better, so I am better equipped at both helping myself and others.

The first therapist I saw in grad school didn’t fit at all.  We didn’t really mesh, and her approach didn’t feel right.  The second therapist I went to was much better.  I felt comfortable with her, and it ended up being extremely useful.  I know it is really important to find a therapist that works for you, but I’ve never been quite sure how to do that.  When I went in grad school before, I just went to my university’s counseling center, where you basically end up with whoever has openings.  I found the one I am seeing today rather haphazardly.  I looked online for therapists that specialized in women, and from there found a group that focused more on holistic approaches.  So . . . we shall see how it goes.

Even though I have seen therapists numerous times in my life, and they have always been really helpful, I retain the general apprehension about them.  I feel bad that I can’t just push through my problems and deal with them myself.  I feel alot of first world guilt about not having issues severe or problematic enough to “warrant” therapy.  I conceptually realize that those ideas aren’t useful, but it is hard to get past.  If someone else was in my place now, I would urge them to get some therapy, and yet I feel guilt and shame for doing it myself.

So . . . . that’s what I’m up to today.  I’m about to do some paperwork before heading out to my appointment.  I’ve got some high hopes for it, so I hope it goes well.  We shall see.

An Open Letter to My Husband

Obviously this little missive is inspired mostly by my husband, but also by a blog from Post-Academic in New York.  Her story about the unending support from her husband really resonated with me, particularly in terms of her husband’s mind-boggling calm reaction to the tempest wrought by academic misery (which is exactly the case with my own implacably level-headed husband).  In her words, “So, if you want to know how to survive grad school (or, for that matter, war and pestilence), get a partner that will find absolutely no reason to hate you, dump you, or even speak an angry word to you ever despite all your best efforts to make hir life a living hell.”  Amen sister.

Dear Husband,

I’m sorry that this dissertation is sucking up so much of our first year of marriage.  I hope that one day when I look back, I will see all the good things with you more clearly than the bad things with the dissertation

I’m sorry that I have to spend so much time in front of my computer when I would rather be spending it with you.

I’m sorry that I can’t spend our time together in figuring out what sort of spouses we want to be to each other or how we want to shape our married life.  It sure as hell won’t continue to look like this.

I’m sorry you have to see me sad and miserable so often.  I know it is hard for you, and I know you feel powerless to do much about it.

I’m sorry you get to hear my same litany of complaints and misery every damn day.

I’m sorry that you have to pick up more of the household stuff than is really fair.

I’m sorry that my office is a mess, and I can’t fold my clothes and put them away, and that sometimes I can’t be bothered to make the bed.

I’m also sorry that sometimes I don’t go to the grocery store for awhile, and then when I do, I buy weird things like 3 different types of pickles but no milk or peanut butter.

For the record, I’m also sorry that I keep taking all the spoons for my morning yogurt, and then forget to put them back in the kitchen, making you think that possibly there is an kitchen gnome stealing our cutlery.  You do not seem to really mind, and I appreciate that.

I know that you don’t begrudge me any of this, because you love me and you know our life together won’t always look like this.  And even if it did, I suspect you would probably stay with me anyway.  And I know you wouldn’t want me to feel bad about it.  But academia has taught me to feel guilty and inadequate.

More than anything, I’m sorry that the choice long ago to finish this thing is preventing me from being able to live the sort of life I want to live with you.

I’m thankful that you are always loving and supportive, even when I don’t have much energy to return it to you.

I’m thankful that you don’t seem to mind all the times that I have to work.

I’m thankful that you aren’t impatient with me being continuously depressed and anxious and that you do your best to help me feel better.

I’m thankful that you have a stable job that can support both of us.

I’m thankful that you have health insurance that, amongst other things, covers therapy so I can crawl out of this hole.

I’m thankful that you don’t seem to mind that my financial contributions to our life are going to be small and/or inconsistent for quite possibly a very long time.

I’m thankful that you make it clear that my non-financial contributions to our relationship are significant enough  to make me feel like an equally valuable component of our partnership.

I’m thankful that you are thinking of and planning for our future when I can’t see beyond the narrow confines of the dissertation’s dictatorial control over my immediate moment.

I’m thankful that you are an anchor of stability, and normalcy, and love when such a large part of my life is dominated by irrational, miserable lunacy.

I’m thankful that I met you and married you because I can’t imagine doing this, or anything else, without you.

Love always,

Your Wife

The Ever Moving Light at the End of the Ever Darker Tunnel

I have been driven to starting a blog.  Which in the modern, over-privileged condition is perhaps what you do when trying to deal with towering, impotent, and ultimately pointless rage.

My rage is predominately directed at my dissertation (henceforth am trying to refer to it as “the” dissertation as to hopefully evoke a more dispassionate, impersonal view of the thing).  But I also have a lot of leftover rage pointed in other directions as well:  academia in general, the advisor in particular, and myself for getting so deep into this thing.

How deep?  I am literally just a few months away.  The entire thing is more or less written, though after months of ignoring me, the advisor has been finally forced to read it, has concluded it is a giant pile of shit, and therefore needs to be revised, rewritten, and redone.  I thought I would graduate this semester, but needless to say, I can’t rewrite my shitty dissertation in a few scant weeks, so light at the end of my tunnel has moved farther away, yet again.

I came damn near quitting a few years ago.  I looked at the job market full in the face and the abyss stared back.  I realized I would never get a job and knew that finishing the dissertation would be more a matter of personal accomplishment than a stepping stone to a career.  I almost left then, and for a variety of reasons decided to stick it out and finish it–mostly so I could never feel regret over not doing so.

Now though, my regret is over not dropping it then.  The last few months that I have left should seem like a mere drop in the bucket given the amount of my life this thing has already sucked away.  It should be so easy to just put these next few months in and be done with it.  And yet, I can barely open my computer.  The thought of looking at pages of my (the!) work bleeding with snide comments and revisions and hoops to jump through makes me want to set fire to the whole thing and never look back.

rugen - sucked one year of your life away

How do you feel?   Source

I honestly don’t know how to force myself to finish it at this point.  The “just do it” + “get er done” adages aren’t working.  Sitting down to “just do it” fills me with violent rage.  It is like my subconscious has been screaming at me for years that this is just.not.working and that I need to just stop and after years of not properly listening, it is just stepping in and making itself heard.  I keep telling myself that it is just a few more months, and my self responds (quite rightly) “we’ve been hearing that for years.”  I’ve hit the point where I have to really listen, and I don’t know how to push past that point.

And so, I’ve started this blog out of some need for catharsis to help me get through the next few months.  Catharsis and participation in a conversation that has helped sustained me through some dark moments over the past several years.  In a moment of academic panic (and general self-doubt) I feel like I have nothing “new” to say, or wonder why I should bother in putting yet some more self-analytical musings on the internet.  But in some ways I just need to say it and work through it myself.  And given how important reading this online conversation has been for me, I’m ok with putting in my two cents, just to have another voice in a place where we so often feel very alone and alienated.

postscript

And yes, my blog name and subheading has two puns on the same thing AND two dashes all in short succession.  And since this is my blog, and not a dissertation, I will leave it that way because I can.