Dissertating, Depression and my FitBit

>> 13 May 2016

I don't really know how to start this post other than to say that last fall was the worst 20-week period of my life. In August, I returned from Timor to a mountain range of responsibilities to overcome in a terribly short period of time. The short story is that I did it, but to get there I sacrificed every shred of my physical and mental health. I was already a broken mess, but for those 20 weeks, I was a machine- I worked all day, 6.5 days a week. I took Friday nights off to paint until I was too roaring drunk to hold a paintbrush, then Saturday mornings I got up and went to the library and got back to work. I developed several strange health issues. My sleeping became erratic. I had mostly-weekly panic attacks, but the only one that stands out in my mind was the one from the previous post- the day in the stairwell, where I clung to myself and keened because I'd never felt a pain like that before. Two different doctors diagnosed me with depression. If I had been able to muster up an emotional response, I probably would have laughed and said, 'no kidding'. My therapist insisted that I spend more time with friends, away from school. I insisted that he was delusional.

At the end of it all, near the summit of my final mountain, an academic bomb was dropped on me that made all my madness utterly worthless. It took me 6 weeks to fully process what happened and another 12-18 weeks to come to terms with it. As I sit here writing this, it has now been 6 months, and I am finally, finally, almost ok. I've started working on the dissertation, really working. I am enjoying it, most of the time. I've almost decided that I won't quit my program.

After Christmas this year, I bought myself a FitBit and I am more than a little surprised by how fiercely I love it. I never saw depression coming, but it came for me and it destroyed me. Now that I'm back in Hawaii and alone again, I still feel it in the corners of my mind, waiting for me to give up. The FitBit is like a tiny talisman keeping it away. When I have a bad writing day and start, too easily, down the spiral of self-hate and doubt, the FitBit reminds me to get some fresh air. I've thrown myself into running with an obsession that I didn't think I was capable of. I actually have a gym friend.

Last week I hurt my knee, and I've been trying to slowly work back up to where I was without re-injury. Tonight I left the gym crying because I couldn't stand the pain long enough to run. All I could think was "Without this, what do I have left? I can't do this dissertation, I can't paint any more, and now I can't even run." I worked myself into a pretty good little fit, and then my FitBit buzzed and made a smiley face at me because I met my step goal. I can't explain it, but somehow this thing pulls me back from the edge and convinces me time and again that I am enough. Stop crying. There are no shortcuts. You are enough.

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Cracks begin to show

>> 16 November 2015

Friday: Today I got so overwhelmed by my work that I ended up curled in a ball, crying and shaking in a corner of a stairwell. It felt like my entire body was breaking into pieces that I had to physically hold together. My soul feels like it has come completely unmoored from the rest of my existence. Nothing I do is ever good enough, fast enough, smart enough.

Sunday: I've taken a couple of days away from it all and I still want to throw up every time I look at the document that I must complete and resubmit as soon as possible. Every little delay increases the risk of a potentially life-altering failure. James keeps telling me to focus on the product and not the process. He is worried about me. He is worried about my health. He is right to worry. All my hopes are fading, I can see my goals and my timelines slipping away from me, and I don't know why I'm doing any of this any more. Nothing matters.

It's Monday morning now, and I'm re-reading the two paragraphs above. I'm feeling a little better today. I've finished and re-submitted that awful paper, but not before I cried over it twice, spent 6 hours on a single page of revisions, and wondered how much further I could push myself before I would break again. James doesn't understand why I'm so hard on myself, and it is extremely hard to explain. I'll try again when this semester is over.

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Hell in Paradise

>> 11 November 2015

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who has been in Honolulu for the last few months for a leadership training institute. I asked him how Hawaii had compared to his expectations, and he very carefully said that he had described it to friends back home as "hell in paradise" and then he looked at me and waited. I was stunned. I'm not sure if I've ever heard such a perfect description of this place. Simple, elegant, accurate.

Friends on facebook are fond of posting things about the 'seasons' of their life- #seasonofblessings #seasonofwaiting #seasonofgrowing, etc. If I'm in any kind of season right now, it's a #seasonofpain. The last few months have been the hardest, most agonizing and disappointing of my life. I've seen my therapist a lot. My capacity for emotions has shrunk considerably- I feel like I have 3 basic emotions these days: irritated (varying degrees), exhausted, and cat (which is the brief feeling of lightness I enjoy when I see a cat/furry creature). Very, very rarely, I take a deep breath and feel a twinge of contentment as I exhale, but it only lasts for a breath.

Today is a holiday in the US, which means an entire day to catch up on work and not talk to anyone/shower/leave my room. My to-do list:

-Revise and resubmit Qualifying Paper 2
-Summarize dissertation in 2 pages
-Compile application for the next 3 semesters' funding
-Write paper on graffiti and language attitudes in a neighborhood of Oahu
-Put together presentation on this paper ^
-Grade papers and lesson plan for tomorrow's class
-Read and comment on student's scholarship application

I decided to start with the last item and I'm so glad I did. I read this same student's application for the same scholarship last year (he didn't get it). His writing, his command of English, and his understanding of his social responsibility have matured so much over the last year that I was nearly moved to tears while reading it. For the first time in months, the tiny voice of the hope I've had long-buried whispered through the bleakness, "this is all worth it."

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