After that brutal meeting with two of my professors, I contemplated several ways of dealing with all the fear, shame, and sadness that I felt as a result. One way involved about two gallons of caffeine (preferably in the form of Coca-Cola) and a barrel of chocolate. (I decided against doing that, but I was REALLY tempted.) Another way involved crawling into bed and listening to sad music for several hours, but all of my playlists consist of stuff like Maroon 5's Fifty-Ways-to-Sing-about-Lust-songs and Britney Spears' I'm-going-to-sing-really-fast-while-dancing-around-in-tight-clothes songs.
I even contemplated dropping out of grad school. I can't stop beating myself up over the fact that it has taken me so long to work on this dissertation. After what my professors said, I became so discouraged that I wondered if everything I've done over the past ten years - all the teaching jobs, the retail work, the nights where I felt so exhausted after working all day that I wanted to scream, cry, and head butt anyone who did anything remotely annoying (like the people who sneeze on me and THEN say, "I think I'm coming down with a cold."), the low pay, the sacrifices, etc. - had been for nothing.
With the exception of a few close friends and the occasional foray into the dating scene (which never ends well for me, and is partly why my Taylor Swift playlists - yes, I have more than one playlist, I admit it - are good to listen to after yet another disappointing date), I am a loner. I prefer solitude most of the time, and if I'm going to spend time with other people, I want it to be with people I actually like. I don't want to spend time with people who cause me to paste my fake smile on my face while I'm secretly thinking, "If I pretend to throw up right now, will they take that as a hint that they really are that boring and self-centered? Or will it at least give me an excuse to leave early?"
But this time, I was so devastated that I uncharacteristically reached out to other people. I called an old friend. I joined an online community called Versatile PhD, which is a community made up of grad students and other academics; it was founded by a woman who has an English PhD and helps other academics find "nontraditional" (i.e., nonacademic) jobs. There are online forums on Versatile PhD where people can seek advice and feedback; I wrote a description of my situation, and received several detailed responses from other academics. They told me about dissertation coaches and writing groups; they commiserated by sharing their own difficult experiences in grad school; they told me about how they struggled to support themselves financially too.
I also talked to someone in my department at school; she already has her PhD, but she continues to teach at the school. She told me about how other grad students have struggled with their committees and dissertations, and she advised me to stand up to those professors, especially if I really believed in what I was writing. She also put me in touch with another grad student, who offered to meet with me this week and give me more advice.
Talking to them made me feel a lot better about my situation. It made me wish that I had reached out to more of them in the past. I had tried to socialize with other grad students before, but faced some difficulties because a) I don't drink alcohol; b) when they started talking about their accomplishments, I had little to add to the conversation; c) there are several cliques in grad school, and I belong to none of them. The last one in particular was tough because when they talked about dinner outings or parties, I was rarely invited. I would sit at my desk and pretend that I didn't care. So I focused on the other things that made me happy and stopped trying to "fit in" with the grad school cliques. But I ended up missing out on the chance to connect with other peers who weren't like them.
I contacted another professor on my dissertation committee, and what she said surprised me. She encouraged me to stay in grad school and finish my dissertation. She pointed me in the direction of another professor who might be able to provide guidance. She said that I was talented, and it made me feel good to know that there was someone who believed in me.
What also helped was blogging about it, and reading all the thoughtful and nice comments that you wrote. The great people in the blogosphere are why I continue to blog (also, I figure that ranting about my obsessions online is a better way to deal with it than giving annoying people wedgies). I am grateful to you for your support.
I'm still plugging away on a new draft, and hopefully this one will be enough to satisfy my professors. I am still scared, ashamed, and sad over the fact that it will take me two more years to finish this dissertation, but knowing that I am not alone makes it easier to deal with it.
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