“Are you crying? There’s no crying in dissertation-writing!”

February 9, 2011 § 8 Comments

Uh, sorry Tom Hanks. There is. Lots of it. LOTS.

I don’t like excuses. I hate them, in fact, especially when they come from me. Especially when they’re true. It’s so much worse when they’re true. I hate them the most, though, when they’re true excuses about my personal life. As far as I’m concerned, my personal life should never affect my academic life. My academic life has a sort of free pass to encroach on my personal life, but in the meantime I resent it for doing that.

Here are my excuses.

1. I finished coursework in Spring 2008. I should have taken comps in Fall 2008. (Comps are comprehensive examinations, for the uninitiated. They’re the final hoop to jump through before writing a dissertation. They’re the devil.) I didn’t take comps in Fall 2008. I took them in Spring 2009. Why? Because I had to have back surgery. I had back surgery to remove a herniated disk that had been torturing me with increasing effectiveness for two years. In December 2007, my new fiancΓ© took notice and encouraged me demanded that I visit an orthopedist who sent me to get an MRI in January and discovered that I had a fully herniated disk (L5/S1, for those curious–that’s right above the hips, and it was on my left side). I spent most of Spring 2008 in a hazy cloud. I barely remember those classes, but apparently I made an impression on some of my classmates (and probably on my professors as well…sigh). The reason for the hazy cloud? Because my surgery would require me to stay out of work for a few months, and I would not have been able to keep my teaching gig…which means no tuition waiver. (No medical paid leave for grad students, even when they can’t walk any more because of back/nerve pain.) I had surgery immediately after the end of classes on May 6, 2008. Then I spent the summer reading…and high as a kite on more pain meds…and subsequently forgot everything I read. Comps were pushed to Spring 2009.

2. I got married in May 2009, which meant that my focus shifted. I enjoyed the wedding planning process from the time when I was able to focus on it (March to May 2009), and then I thoroughly enjoyed being a wife for the first time ever. I thought about my dissertation a lot, but I didn’t do too much writing on it. I finally had my prospectus approved (the “planning” document that must be approved before the dissertation can be fully undertaken) in Fall 2009. It’s Spring 2011. Do you see a problem here?

My problem is this: I have allowed my personal life to take priority in these past few years (back surgery and marriage being the main two attention-getters). One I hated, the other I enjoy immensely (please don’t make me tell you which one is which). These past several weeks, though, I’ve worked to shift those gears so that my dissertation has taken priority over my personal life. And I hate it. And I hate myself for it. I am a miserable, crying, sad little dissertation writer. It means I’ve arrived, I think.

Take today for instance. It started on a good note. I was awoken early by the canines for breakfast and their morning constitutional. When I rolled out of bed (because I have to roll most of the time, post-surgery), I noticed that I wasn’t standing up straight. Something’s wrong with my back. My muscles are tight, painful, and distracting. To the point where sitting upright to, well, write is excruciating.

Today I got very little accomplished. I wrote about 200 words of what can only be described as nonsense…so I’ll edit it later. Tomorrow can only be an improvement because…


I am currently in an upright seated position, nearly blissed-out of my head from the focused heat pressing into my lower back. I’m going to bring this sucker with me to my office hours tomorrow. And then I’ll bring it home to use in my home office while I write.

Like I said, I hate excuses. I feel angry and dejected when using them, especially when they’re true, and especially when they’re about my personal life. I hate them so much. They make me feel like a lazy, no-good, lame-ass burn-out. How could my back pain keep me from writing effectively today?? It makes me so angry.

But now that I have this swanky heating pad…surely tomorrow is bound to be an improvement!

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§ 8 Responses to “Are you crying? There’s no crying in dissertation-writing!”

  • petthedog says:

    Bella donna, don’t worry! You are still on track! Plus, it’s important to spend time on our personal lives. Relationships deserve time (and so do backs!) and we need to embrace that instead of making excuses. Look at what all that time brought you, Robert!! And Robert brought you a heating pad =)

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Lol, V, you make a fantastic point. I just wish that my life were a Disney movie (what would the Disney version of grad school look like?) and that I could just bang out a perfectly argued dissertation without any personal issues getting in the way. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

  • My ex and my older son both wrote dissertations. I am in awe of anyone who does that, especially when they are doing so while real life is life-ing.

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Thanks, Renee. πŸ™‚ I’ll tell you honestly, though, if I could go back and do it again, I absolutely wouldn’t. I’m in awe of people who live successful, highly-functional lives without having to write dissertations! Lol.

  • Bless you academic heart! I love your honesty. Don’t know what to say, but that I’ll support any way I can, offer encouragement, listen to you bitch. Let yourself moan, my friend–it’s okay!
    Hugs from Haiti,

  • Tori Nelson says:

    Oh, Mrs.H! If only you could see how lazy I am EVERYDAY OF MY LIFE. A little down time doesn’t mean you aren’t fulfilling your commitment…It means your back hurts.
    Take it easy because there is always tomorrow to get back into the dissertating swing of things πŸ™‚

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Aw, thank you Tori. That’s so sweet. You’re right…I really need to remember that not all downtime is because of laziness. That’s a hard one to get through this thick skull o’ mine, lol.

      I really appreciate the support! πŸ™‚

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