Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Cost of the PhD We Don't Realize We're Paying

I flew home to NC the other weekend for one of my oldest friend's 40th birthday. It was a surprise his wife and I cooked up, and while it was a whirlwind (flew in Friday afternoon, flew out Monday morning) it was lovely.
It's been 6? 7? years since I saw them, but you couldn't have known that. It was like I saw them yesterday.
It was a weekend where not a single person asked me about what my research was. No one cared about institutional affiliation. No one cared about grad school. Everyone there was working class, maybe a bit lower. Life was defined by family and friends, not work, although many were self-employed, had their businesses. But that's not what conversation focused on. That's not what defined anyone. It was a weekend of sitting outside in the sun, talking. Some folks on phones, but no tv, just folks and catching up.
People who didn't know me didn't come to know me through my research or teaching.
They knew me because I got up at 545a to help put the pig on the barbecue. I helped prep food. Set up for the party. Helped out. Sat and talked to folks.
At one point, I don't remember what prompted it, I did say something along the lines to my friends of "I don't have any friends, I don't date." And this was the thing that mattered to my friend. He said he was sorry, he didn't know, he didn't realize how hard it was/had been for me.
I had honestly forgotten what it felt like to have friends care about me.

We talked some about the next year, what I might do. I admitted that if I didn't get a higher ed job, I was thinking about what I wanted to do, what I wanted my life to be. I can teach high school anywhere. So if I didn't get a college job, where did I want to live? My friend immediately started rattling off schools in the area. He said it'd be great to have me there, have me around, have me close. And let me tell you, that would be so easy. To just let go. To let go of trying to keep up, of dealing with pretentious people who name drop like we can't see what they're doing. To have friends. To have a life surrounded by green. To literally slow down and have a simpler life in every way.

It all gave me something to think about.
It was a great break.
But as I returned to Albuquerque and work, I realized just how detached from real life my current life is.

I returned to notes about (rightly) having to completely rewrite my Shax chapter, which I did. I copyedited the diss and made some structural changes to the Milton chapter and intro after rewriting the Shax chapter. I reached the point where while I'm sure there some tweaking left to do, I feel like the diss is done.
CH 3 (Shax) still has to be approved by my director, then sent out to the early modernists.
I still need to send the whole thing out to my outside reading and get CH 4 (Milton) approved.
But I'm in a good place.
There's been a bit of delay in this with things beyond my control. We've been aiming for the whole thing out to committee mid-August for a mid-September defense. Given the above, we may have to push this. But honestly? As long as I can defend and graduate this fall, for the job market and not have to pay another semester of tuition? I'm fine with it.
The last year has taught me not to rush.

But my return to Albuquerque also resulted in a bunch of things in a short period of time.
Last year, I cut off my waist/butt long hair.
 This past spring I went blond/white.
I went platinum because I thought it'd be fun, and because my hair was so short, if I hated out it was easy to fix. But it was expensive. And a lot of maintenance. This year I won't be teaching for UNM, so I'll have less money. Plus, I realized too that while it was a cute look, I am just not that high maintenance.
I'm not. It's exhausting.
So, in pretty typical me fashion, on a whim I cancelled the appointments I had scheduled, plunked down my $9 at the grocery store, went red to counter the blond stripping, then brown, as close as I could get to me.
When I went blond I said that I hadn't looked in the mirror and thought "there I am" in a long time. Now I wonder if it wasn't the color but the risk, the fact that I did something just for me, just to make me happy, that read more "me" to me.
It'll take a bit to grow it out so it's all my natural color, and I'm thinking there's at least a couple more $9 boxes in my future, but infinitely manageable.
What matters to me is that I'll be back to being me (and rocking a lot of silver if my undercut is any indication) by job market interviews come winter.

Another side effect once I got home, and reviewed pictures from NC, I realized I looked awful.
I am 25 pounds overweight, easily.
My nurse practitioner emailed me yesterday that my A1C is pre-diabetic. She wants me to lose weight.
Yeah, me too.

At the end of last school year, I was down to 159 pounds, my stress level was down, I was happy, I was planning for the resumption of my adult future. And then the bottom dropped out. I ate my feelings and the weight crept back up. I lacked the energy to do well just about everything. I juggled teaching high school full time, teaching for my uni, and rewriting the diss from scratch. I couldn't NOT show up for my full time job. I couldn't NOT teach my uni class. I couldn't NOT rewrite the diss. But I could certainly stop focusing on my weight. I could certainly eat mint chocolate chip ice cream a couple of times a week. My weight was the plate I stopped spinning, because it was the only one I could.

This past year, the only thing I could focus on was getting up every day to go to work and pay bills and get the diss rewritten. I just didn't make time for anything else. So the scale kept creeping up. And I stopped paying attention. 163, 167. I made excuses. I was weight training now. I had more muscle definition. Muscle weighs more than fat.
All true. But also not the only truth. In some ways I am in better shape than I ever have been. But that can be true, and I can also have put 25 pounds on top of all that. I stopped posting about it on Twitter because I got tired of getting lectured by people- well you need to do this. And this. And this.

Yeah, I KNOW. But with leaving at 630a, home by 4p, I was unwilling to recrate Nehi to go work out. And she suddenly got old this past year- our runs of 3-6 miles twice a day suddenly turned into lucky if I can get her to walk 2 miles once a day.
It made me realize that the last couple of years have been a long list of things I'm putting off until the diss is done.
I'll make friends once the diss is done.
I'll date once the diss is done.
I'll be an adult again once the diss is done.
I'll be less stressed once the diss is done.
I'll lose weight once the diss is done.

But, here's the thing that came up when I was in NC- how long do I keep putting off my life? How many things have I not done? Missed out on? I couldn't tell you the last time I felt like I made a real friend. Someone my age. Who I had things in common with. I can tell you 2009 was the last time I went out on a date.
I can also tell you that after years of giving up a life because I was taking care of Mom, then feeling broken once she died, and then relearning how to live on my own during grad school, it all just seems too big. Too overwhelming. How many different ways can a 41 year old start over before exhaustion from life sets in?

So I focus on the things I can control. Little things. "Small moves, Ellie."
I rearrange my office. Again.
I cut the undercut WAY too short for the next month of 90-100 degree heat.
None of these things really make me happy by they fill the time and feel like accomplishments.

Since it's summer, I've also been checking off doctor's appointments, ones I don't make during the school year because I can't afford to take time off (and the ridiculousness of that statement is a whole other thing...)
I had PRK surgery back in 2006 so I admit to being lazy about going to see an eye doctor. PRK surgery was HUGE for me. I couldn't see more than 6" in front of my face without glasses or contacts from fifth grade on. Probably longer. I got other kids to give me their notes because I couldn't see the board. My grandmother thought I was faking the yearly eye tests at school because the boy I liked, Christian Atwood, had glasses.
When I finally GOT my glasses, as we drove home, I remember saying "trees have leaves." So, being able to see was a big deal. 
I wore mostly contacts because the prescription was bad enough that depth perception was an issue and I worked as a theatre master electrician at heights, so that was kind of a big deal. So I saved the money (then $1995) and got the PRK. The glories of waking up, reading alarm clock, seeing, all the time. Swimming. It was a whole new world. I loved it.
But, it has been six or seven years since I saw an eye doctor, so I looked one up in my network and they had an opening yesterday so I went, expecting, well, nothing.

Turns out when they had me cover my left eye to read the chart, I couldn't read it.
Suddenly leaning forward at my desk, squinting at the screen, the inability to focus on reading, headaches- all things that I'd chalked up to the stress of the PhD, turns out it was just because I needed glasses.
The doctor was super sweet and said that the glasses would hopefully, prevent my eyesight from getting worse. She said that driving, long distance, stuff like that I could *probably* still do without the glasses, but she did say that I might find that it was easier to wear the glasses all the time. She also added a blue screen tint because of my job, which is cool.

So, I spent yesterday afternoon picking out frames (I went with Boyd Crowder chic, my default fashion aesthetic):
I'll pick them up in about a week. And now all I can see is how bad my vision is out of my right eye.

So just to recap my week- I'm fat, I'm going back to having glasses which brings with it a whole set of ugly-girl growing up issues, and I am the poster child for how gross of a haircut can you have.

I mean- seriously- could I have been a bigger dork?
The braces = ugly girl came later...and then again as an adult (while teaching high school, which let me tell you, sucked just as much as you'd think).
It all hit me yesterday. I ended the day at Defcon- lay on the couch under a bankie and binge watched Nashville.

I cleaned the fridge out of anything tempting and sweet. I'll start trying to work out more, watch what I eat, working around the ridiculously unseasonably hot summer we're having. I have a Y membership. And that will all get easier once school is back.
My hair will grow out, I should be less gross by the time school starts in a month.
I will rock the shit out of those hillbilly-hipster glasses.

And life will go on.

But part of what my visit back to NC and the last week or so has pointed out is how easy it is to normalize crap during grad school.
The weight creeps up. I see it as friends change profile pics on social media, we all seem to get a little chubbier as we go on. God knows my cheeks get rounder, and rounder, and ROUNDER as the years have gone on. For me it was gradual, so until I see pictures of me, it's easy to ignore.
We ignore the back pain. The headaches. We assume it's the schedule, the stress. We dismiss things.
We try to ignore being tired all the time. Not having energy to do things. Being so exhausted that there's just no energy for anything. Or if there is free time, we ignore the guilt about all the other things we SHOULD be doing.

I worked in theatre, which did similar things. You internalize it all. You ignore or laugh at friends or acquaintances that have "real" lives as though you were somehow better, the glorification of busy. You look puzzled at normal people who have time for friends, and dinners, and socializing.

Sometimes, we don't notice the cost until we're 25 pounds overweight, making bad choices, and needing glasses.

Sometimes, more often than not, we don't know how to try to find our ways back to "normal" lives.

It's not going to be easy adjusting to glasses again.
Or losing the weight.
Or reacclimating to just one job. No diss work.
Normal life.
And I still don't know what my life will be like a year from now.

But I'm looking forward to trying to figure it out.