New Achievement Unlocked: Desk Sobbing

This is something that happened to me a few weeks ago, so I thought I would share it. The last weeks of a PhD, as it turns out, are incredibly emotional. I expected stressful, difficult, tiring – all those things, but I did not expect the sudden drops into despair and misery, or that the guilt thing could get any worse than it was already…

A new PhD low has been achieved. This evening, I found a dark hidey spot under my desk, and I sobbed. I cried harder than I have in a long long time. What had happened? Simple really. I was asked if I wanted to go out to dinner in a few days. See, the tears make perfect sense, right?!

It was that Guilt bastard again, pouncing on me immediately after such a kind offer had been voiced. The presence of the Guilt means that you cannot win in such a situation. If you say yes to going out to a lovely dinner, you have the overpowering Guilt that you won’t be working on your thesis during those few hours. If you say no, that goes away, but you have other Guilt, punishing you for not spending time with family and friends.

It’s a ridiculously powerful, totally isolating feeling. I cannot imagine what my other half thought when he found me, red-faced, damp and snotty, curled up under my desk. It’s a wonder he didn’t just leg it. I just felt like I couldn’t win. And yeah, at the end of the day, it’s only a couple of hours out of your life, whatever choice you make. And it’s a pretty banal choice, at that. But when you’re in the last weeks of a PhD, how you spend your time becomes really, REALLY important to you. Well, insomuch that you must be at your desk AT ALL TIMES, or your old friend Guilt rears its ugly head again.

And this isn’t the only time I felt like this; it’s merely the most extreme. A couple of months ago: “Shall we go to Amsterdam for a long weekend?” – Total panic. Utter, complete stress, similar tears… And of course I went, and it was great, and it was a break I really needed. A few weeks ago: “We should really book our train tickets home if we’re going.” – Mind chaos. Should I go? Should I stay in London where I have my study set up nicely and all the books and papers I could want? And of course I went home, spent a much-needed weekend back in beautiful Norfolk, and discovered a much better working setup as a result of the tiny desk I had at home. I returned with a fresh mind, a full belly (thanks to Mum’s delicious homecooked dinners… and lunches… and snacks), and a laptop full of thesis words.

As it happens, I decided not to go to dinner, and on this occasion it was the right choice; I got lots of work done in those hours, and I caught up with said friends and family later instead. The trick is to balance things so that Guilt is at its weakest, though this is something I’ve only recently gotten the knack of.

The end of this PhD has just given me totally weird and extreme reactions to things. It makes sense; you’re tired, constantly stuck in your head working on your thesis even when you’re not physically ‘working’, you’re isolated, working at home. Put it that way, and it’s amazing we function at all. Things aren’t all bad, though. The crazy emotions come a’plenty in the opposite direction too. More on that later.

But I tell you what, crap as this situation was, I found a cracking hiding place – so good that Josh thought I’d actually left our tiny flat. I’ll be using that one again!


I feel the need to note that I am genuinely okay. Just a weird, emotional blip – albeit one of many, but a quite funny (in hindsight) one I wanted to share. But all’s good here now!

If you related to this post, you might also relate to Taming Monsters or The Fear. What upbeat post titles I have.

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7 thoughts on “New Achievement Unlocked: Desk Sobbing

  1. It’s a really stressful time for you. Try not to be too hard on yourself with the guilt thing, people will understand and once you’re done you’ll be free. It’s really hard to focus when you know you have so much to get done, and other people (esp. people living in the same house) are out having a nice time and socialising but you have to stay in and work.
    Know you’re not alone with the desk sobbing. Sometimes freelancing from home gets a bit much. I occasionally end up sobbing into Simons chest when I’ve taken on too much work, have too many deadlines and not enough time. (I have ended up under the desk once) It passes though, and a good sob can sort you out.
    Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to get everything done is to be chained to the desk, it’s so hard to do for long periods of time though, so i’m really feeling for you now. Make sure you have a good break to look forward to afterwards. You’ve been working so hard and deserve some time to relax.

    • Thanks, Fee. I think a lot of the weird fluctuating emotions come from the isolation, more than the work itself, which I know you certainly experience with the freelancing. The not socialising thing is hard too – during your degree, everyone has deadlines at the same time, so you can all not-go-out together, but now most of my friends are being adults with jobs and have free evenings/weekends, so that adds to the isolation more when you can’t join them for an after-work beer.

      Sorry to hear you feel this way sometimes too… I’ve always admired the amount of work you manage to do, to such a beautiful standard – maybe the key is to have a good old sob once in a while 🙂

    • Yeah, definitely. I guess writing the thesis is such a uniquely odd time, but certainly shares some things with other aspects of life – isolation, chronic stress.. it’s all a good experience to learn how best to cope with such situations, in all parts of life. Thanks for your comment 🙂

    • Thanks, Inge! I cannot wait to be done but as you say, I think there will be a sizeable transition period. Thanks for commenting, it’s always good to hear when other people relate, even if it is to the bad bits!!

  2. Pingback: Joyeux PhD | There's A Spider In The Bath!

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