It’s been 8 months since I’ve been able to run. I am obviously quite frustrated but I also realize there must be a reason. I must be doing (or not doing) something that has made it drag on this long. I’ve considered a few possibilities, but have been too distracted and/or stressed out to make any drastic changes. More on that after I vent about my latest excuses for not taking care of myself.
At the end of April, I got the OK from my PhD committee to begin to write up my thesis. Essentially this means I have the summer to write a few hundred pages about what I’ve done in the last five years and explain why it’s important. In the fall, I will submit this fat book of science garble to a bunch of smart scientists, who will tear it apart, pick out its weaknesses and grill me on it for two or three hours. Once they’ve challenged me to the point that I am on the verge of thinking I am the dumbest human being on the face of the earth, they will suddenly stop and say “congrats, here’s your PhD!” It’s a strangely anti-climactic way of receiving a degree you’ve been working your ass off on for six years, but I have finally come to accept this abuse as simply the ‘form of education’ of grad school.
Perhaps this is why getting your PhD is such a long, grueling process. You are constantly questioned, challenged and guilt-tripped to the point that – unless you are a remarkably resilient and confident person – you feel like you are completely worthless. Although many emotions can go up and down, the feelings of guilt and stupidity will never leave you until you graduate (I hope that then, they do in fact vanish!). Getting sucked into this vortex means feeling guilty for sleeping for four hours instead of being proud you worked for twenty, thinking you will get recognition from your boss for never taking any vacations and working weekends until it just becomes expected of you, and ultimately becoming bitter about life in general. Thankfully, this intense depression doesn’t usually set in until the end, at which point you can *usually* muster up the courage to finish. I have heard many stories about how students have ended their PhDs. Some have ended happily, some not, but one common theme is a stretch of legit depression.
Studies have been published, and blogs have been written on the subject!
I suppose the last few months have been my stretch – at least I hope it was. I have not been happy at all. I will freely admit that now. I have felt lost, lonely, stupid, and like I don’t know what I want in life. It hasn’t helped that I haven’t been running. I have had no endorphin rush or outlet to vent my frustrations. I didn’t realize how dependent I had become on running to get me through times of stress. I think one day I complained to my labmates that my martini consumption was getting out of hand, when a new postdoc in my lab confided in me that it could always be worse. Apparently the last 6 months of her PhD she was going through a 26oz bottle of vodka every few days and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day...and she is also a runner! It gave me some perspective...but perhaps the wrong kind. Just because it could be worse, doesn’t mean it’s alright.
Which brings me to the past few weeks. I got the OK to write up and I can now see the proverbial finish line of my PhD. I had anticipated this moment for so long...so why did I still feel a void? Why wasn’t I happy or satisfied? Perhaps it was because (as it goes in grad school) my committee had to make me feel guilty about writing up before giving me permission. And perhaps it meant I then had to acknowledge other aspects of my life that aren’t entirely uplifting. Whatever the reasons, I still wasn’t happy and I still felt lost. Last week I finally completely broke down, at a moment that I have since realized was both the worst and best moment to do so. It was in the middle of a meeting with my supervisor and several other scientists – not very professional – but in the end, it finally relayed the severity of my situation to both myself and those around me. I was forced to acknowledge to a lot of people that I was suffering. However, contrary to my fears, this didn’t perpetuate disappointment or admonishment! No one called me weak or stupid! Instead, I realized that there are many people who actually care about me and just want me to be happy...no matter what I have to do. It was incredibly uplifting to hear such kind and supportive words, especially from my supervisor.
Since then I have gone back to Vancouver and seen my family, another incredible source of kindness and support. My parents are amazing people. I can’t express in words how much I love them. After talking things through with them and other friends, I’ve realized that it’s all about perspective. Things really aren’t that bad, in fact they are quite good and I am a very lucky person in the grand scheme of life. And if I take a little control over things, I can make them even better. So here I am, with a renewed sense of optimism and motivation to get healthy and finish my degree. If there is one thing I know, it’s that I am not done with running and I will do whatever it takes to get back to my athletic life.
Relaxing in beautiful Vancity
My current game plan is to go back to the sports doctor and figure out what’s going on with my shin. Why am I feeling this perpetual tightness, it just doesn’t make sense. I hope to get another ultrasound and an MRI to see what’s going on in the tissue and/or to see what stage of healing it’s at. I am seeing my fantastic physio Greg (check it!) twice a week for treatment. I haven’t exercised at all in a week, but that’s not even the point here, I want to gain the weight I said I would for real. I’m not messing around anymore, just going to get it done. I have heard from other elites that when they are leaner they don’t heal as well, and if that’s the reason behind all these shenanigans then that is so stupid! It’s the easiest thing to solve. My dad is trying to lose 5-10lbs, so we are going pound-for-pound for the next month to even each other out. I like it!
I am also back out coaching my awesome Ninja group every Tuesday night. I haven’t talked much about them before, but I will soon have to dedicate a blog to them. They are a great, positive and motivated bunch of distance runners. They killed a 7k workout last night and it made me so happy to see how far some of them have come in the past year. Go NINJAS!
I am feeling much more relaxed and positive about things, perhaps too much so since it’s been 3 weeks since I’ve been given permission to write up and I’ve only written a few paragraphs. Time to stop procrastinating and start writing, and that includes my blog!
A video that every grad student (or family member/friend affected by the life of a grad student ;) should watch!