I am in a terrific mood today, because I have finally been making some serious progress on my dissertation. Right now I'm spending my days revising the lit review and methods chapters, and my evenings cleaning data. Yes, the life of the dissertater is exotic and thrilling.
I promised not to bore you with details, though, and I meant it. What I really want to do here is muse "aloud," in writing, about how important productivity is to my well-being. I suspect it's that way for everyone to some degree, it's just that "productive" means something different to everyone. I wish my life were more productive these days in terms of maintaining my friendships, and also keeping up with household chores. I've had to face over and over again the fact that I can't keep up a high level of productivity in every area over the long term, though, and when there's a short-term press on one area, it takes full precedence. In my life that usually boils down to work-aka-school.
A lack of productivity makes me feel anxious, lazy and depressed. This can happen even if I'm only neglecting one area of my life over an extended period. This is where the problem becomes clear: if I know in advance I can't keep up with all three, then there's always an imbalance somewhere. During high-stress periods, the imbalance continues over the long term. So while I wrote in the first paragraph that getting things done makes me feel happy and satisfied, at the same time getting things done also means neglecting other things, which over the long term will make me unhappy and depressed.
This, I believe, pretty much sums up the paradox that is my life.
Right now, though, I'm happy because the last month or so has been extremely unproductive in the work arena, so I feel a full-body sense of relief at making some actual progress. I would estimate that about 94% of the people reading this entry already know why I've been neglecting my dissertation. (Which, I feel an inexplicable need to point out, is the work I am currently being paid to do full-time. We can therefore add a bonus scoop of guilt onto the unproductivity sundae.) For the remaining 6%, I'll explain that I was busy looking for a post-graduation job. That's all I'm going to say about it here, in fact, because the ins and outs of academe are so obscure and Byzantine, I think I should save them for a separate entry. I believe in milking every possible aspect of my life for maximum story capital, especially during Holidailies.
Let's just say, then, that I was both distracted and traveling a lot, and also had some things to prepare for my trips that subtracted valuable time from the business of writing. The longer these time sucks went on, the more anxious and depressed I became. The stress in particular ate up more time than you might think: although "stress" in and of itself isn't exactly a time-consuming activity--or an activity at all--my mind was constantly swirling with possibilities and worries and scenarios. Sometimes there was crying involved (which is an activity, so at least it's a slightly better excuse). Stress also led me to engage in one of my less productive coping strategies, eating a lot of crap. The eating of crap soothes the nerves for about 30 seconds, or however long it takes to eat the first chips, ice cream, or Thai take-out (or on very bad days, all three). Then, however, the guilt and self-flagellation would set in. Which, in turn, further distracted me from getting any work done.
You can see, I think, why the last month has not been especially pleasant, even though in other respects I had every reason to be over the moon. The main through-line is so clear, it doesn't take Freud to notice that the problem (and, naturally, the solution) all hinges upon a single, key concept: it's all about control.
When I can't control my work schedule, or my emotions (or both), I can go in two directions: I can try to reassert control, or I can give in to the sense of powerlessness altogether. Unfortunately I've been doing a lot of the latter these past few
weeks months. If I were to rank my current state of well-being, on a scale of 1 o 10, I'd say I'm at about 3.5. The .5 is the bonus I've gained these past couple of days from getting work done and eating like a grown-up. I still have a ways to go to regain my footing entirely, and I'm not sure it's even possible to feel a healthy sense of empowerment while writing a dissertation. I do think I can get up to at least a 5, though, if I can keep this up. Since everything is linked, feeling more in control of my work makes me eat better, and more likely do keep up with at least the most basic housekeeping chores and errands, and so on and so forth. If things improve a lot, I may even manage to start exercising regularly again, which would push me up to at least a 6.
Right now, though, I'm fine with baby steps. So yay me, for becoming re-productive. May this mark the start of an upward trend.