I realise that if I want this blog to be interesting to people, I need to get personal, given the nature of the topics I cover. This doesn’t sit well with me, being an inherently private, somewhat hermit-like person. But, here we go…
Since completing and submitting my PhD (about 2.5 weeks ago) I’ve felt horrible.
The three/four months leading up to my submission date were intense. I planned out every part of every day, each moment of my time was scheduled in my diary in advance. For these months I stuck to my plan rigidly and ruthlessly discarded anything that presented a threat to my productivity. My head and heart chanted ‘work’ and anything that attempted to trigger a thought or feeling misaligned with this strict ethic was transmuted and used to fuel my unwavering focus.
There was comfort in this. Finally, after years, the project I’d taken everywhere with me mentally, and most places physically, was wrapping up. In these months I recognised an earlier version of myself, the one who buried pain, trauma, the need for change under work. It felt comfortable and familiar.
Most postgrads will tell you that the run up to submission is hell. In a sense it was. It was certainly intense (though I’m not sure I’d say hell), but I can’t deny that part of me loved it.
I did, however, think that once I’d submitted, I fall into a content, self-satisfied period of rest, especially over the Christmas period. But that’s not what happened. It was as though I’d been running a marathon at a sprint and having crossed the finish line, thought I could just stop dead and instantly be calm. Nope. I spent the next two weeks trying to relax while feeling on edge and flitting from this thing to that. I’ve got a list of post-PhD tasks, activities, hobbies I want to get on with: violin practice, working on a tattoo sleeve, reading ‘silly’ books and transitioning from tutoring to reading Tarot professionally full time. But I couldn’t settle into anything.
I’d saved up too much for myself to do and couldn’t prioritise. The pressure I felt in approaching these things was immense. Much of my life had been on hold during the PhD, not just in the last few months, but across years. Difficult life experiences were somehow more tolerable because I knew I was sacrificing for a reason. Now that reason has gone and I have time, again. So now, how, where to begin?
Well, I jotted down a few ideas for the sleeve, started to read King Lear instead of something ‘silly’, began making tarot YouTube videos, and I occasionally glance at my violin. Yes, I glance at it. I’m not ready to find out how terrible my playing has become. And I put off writing a new blog post until now.
I understand why it was difficult for me to pick up the things I had to leave behind for a while and I’m gradually warming back up to these. But what concerns me (I’m finally getting to it, hoorah), is the undeniable, ever-present underlying feeling of emptiness I now feel and have always felt. This isn’t from a lack of inner spiritual work, it’s not about sadness or a lack of self love, it’s not even a negative emptiness. It just is. The fact that it’s always there, undermining everything bothers me. That it’s neither positive nor negative bothers me. That I suspect it will always be there, bothers me.
Is this emptiness, which feels something like the still point of which the writer & critic, T.S. Eliot wrote, common to all? Do people cover over it with enthusiasm about events, friends, lovers, children? Doesn’t it always return, threatening to turn into hopelessness, underpinning everything?
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