Identity crisis

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the future, and I’m a little lost.

See, I have come to realize that there are four environmental triggers for my depression:

  1. Stress (getting away from grad school should help with that)
  2. Lack of sunlight (moving to California should help with that)
  3. Being alone
  4. Too much unstructured time

Now, while it is true that I will (finally) be moving in with my husband, I will also not be working outside the home once I get to CA.  Therefore, I will be trading spending around 8 hours with people followed by 5 hours of being alone a day for around 8 hours alone and 5 hours with my husband a day.  Also, instead of having a job where people actually expect me to show up and do work, I will have absolutely no obligation to do any one thing at any specific time.  In other words, I will have alone time and unstructured time coming out my ears.

So, it occurred to me that, in order to prevent myself from becoming unhinged (again), I need a plan for my time in CA. I need to build a structure into my day and I need to make sure that I am either around people or talking on the phone to people or in some way interacting with people while my husband is at work.  Also, my psychiatrist has been trying to get me to exercise for years, and exercise is suppose to help your mood, so I am planning on working out three times a week (which will bring me in contact with people).

And then, there’s my thesis.

After brainstorming about what I need to do, looking up times and locations for things like knitting groups and churches and locating a Curves, I sat down with Google calendar and started putting together a weekly schedule, keeping in mind that I need to get sunlight, interact with people, and have a structure for my day every weekday.  Additionally, I wanted to make sure I continue to do all of the little things I find helpful, like being creative (with knitting and other crafts), keeping in touch via email, reading and writing blogs, and reading books.  And, I decided that working on my thesis for four hours a day wouldn’t be too stressful.  I also decided that I would get up when my husband gets up in the morning, that I wouldn’t work on my thesis or read blogs after he comes home (cuz the whole point of living together is to actually spend time interacting with each other) and that I wanted to make an effort to prepare and eat healthy meals.


Folks, there is not enough time in the day for all of this crap.  Seriously.  I tried fitting it all together within the above guidelines and it just doesn’t work.  Which leads me to wonder:

  1. Will I have to choose between staying sane and finishing my thesis in under a year?
  2. If I really need to do all of that crap to stay sane, will I ever be able to work 40 hours/week again?
  3. If I can’t work 40 hours/week, what the hell am I going to do with my life?
  4. How do I fit into society if I’m prohibited from working full time?

These questions have led me to further wonder:  what is my role when I am no longer a grad student and a bench scientist?  What the hell will I be?  I’m hoping a mom.  But that might not happen right away.  In the meantime, I’ll just be a woman with a PhD who can’t work 40 hours/week because she will go off the deep end.  In summary, if I am at a cocktail party and a person asks me, “So, what do you do?” what will my answer be?

I have no clue.

11 thoughts on “Identity crisis

  1. Can you double up some of your plans? Like plan to spend time outside exercising with your husband to get 3 things on your list covered at the same time? What about forcing yourself to work on your thesis outside your home? At the library? Or a coffee shop? Then you’d also be around people more. That might help you find some extra time in your schedule at least. As for the future, just take it a day at a time until you’re back in less of a crisis state. You’ll find a way to make it work!

  2. I think you’ve made a great start with your schedule! I’d suggest to try to stick with a certain schedule for a week or two, and then make changes as necessary. So maybe one week you set your hobbie as knitting, and then the next week it’s reading novels.

    As for the 40 hours/week – there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t work part time! Something that’s 10-20 hours a week might be just perfect for you!

    Like Jenn said, don’t worry about too far into the future! You have your answer right now to the “what do you do?” question (you’re writing your PhD thesis – and that’s definitely a good enough answer).

    You don’t know how things are going to go in Cali – so just try different things to make it work for you!

  3. I’m facing the same sort of transition in a few weeks — I’m moving back in with my husband after doing the long-distance marriage thing for school, and I’ll be completing my thesis year while adjusting to that. While I’m completely excited about that idea, I don’t do well with a lot of unstructured time on my hands either.

    I’d say put your plans on more than just a one-week cycle (example, go to knitting group every other week instead of every week) and see if you can make things fit better that way. The first month, I’m sure, will feel weird (lots of getting to know new people, not a lot of grounding in all those activities/groups right off the bat), but you’ll decide which groups you like and are interested in spending the time with. I imagine things will start falling off your list, then, and you’ll naturally adjust your schedule.

    I should look at activities to get me out of the house too. I could easily turn into a hermit since I’m shy to begin with.

  4. I may not have commented before on this topic, but I’ve been following along as I have suffered from the same afflictions (I even considered taking a 6 month leave of absence during my PhD). I think that it’s a great idea that you’re moving out to CA, you may find that even just the change of scenery & pace will help. A schedule sounds like a good idea, but you shouldn’t stress too much about trying to do everything at once. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and your sanity, you may even want to take a short break from thinking about the dissertation when you first get out there, just to get settled into a healthy routine and then add in working on the dissertation…it’ll probably be easier to work on it when you’re feeling better–it’s hard to think and be productive when you’re depressed and you probably get more depressed when you try to work on it but don’t make much progress because you can’t think and be productive.

    As for the working out, you probably don’t even need to go to a gym for the kind of exercise that will benefit you mentally–I think you’ve mentioned previously where in CA your husband lives and I’ve been there a couple of times–it’s absolutely beautiful. You could just take a walk outside every day for an hour then you could be outside and get exercise.

    You also shouldn’t stress too much about the future (from the person who just extrapolated horrible career “what ifs?” 10-20 years into the future to her psychiatrist yesterday this is kind of funny to say)–when we get depressed we can’t think straight and we can make ourselves even worse by focusing on the most negative outcome to every event. Do you have a good psychiatrist/therapist lined up in CA?–it will help.

    I look forward to hearing how things are going…keep us updated 🙂

  5. Good luck with everything! And don’t worry about a job in the future. I felt very similar to you at the end of grad school about not even wanting or being able to stay stress-free working even 40 hours a week. (which we all know in grad school is “seen” as ‘half-time’ pretty much). But now that I found a job I love (small college prof) I easily put in 40+ hours and wish I could do more sometimes (though I love spending time with my family, too, of course.) Also, you’ll find that sometimes in a different environment (industry, small college, etc.) 40 hours a week might seem like more than full time in that culture.

    so don’t worry about the future – you’ll figure something out for then and you never know how your perspective might change after you finish that PhD!

    You can do it!

  6. Eh. One thing at a time. Too early to panic. First you set a schedule and try it out for a few weeks, see how you feel. Then you tinker with the formula. Very likely, once you get the right balance and you have had a break, then you will find that you can work plenty and not end up so stressed. On the other hand, “more than a year” may sound like a long time today, but later it may not sound so bad. As for issues of identity and what you wanna be when you grow up, leave that for “future-you” to deal with.

    Unstructured time is the great under-acknowledged challenge to academic life, IMO. More precisely, it is unstructured time followed by low frequency, high pressure, high demand deadlines—i.e. after a year of unstructured time you are expected to produce a fucking thesis! Even freelance writers have weekly or monthly deadlines. Depression is a natural result of this sort of pressure.

    I have struggled with my buckets of unstructured time for a while now. I can offer a few suggestions that have worked for me:

    1) When work seems impossible, take a laptop to a coffee shop. Something about the other people milling around makes me feel obligated to work. I wrote 85% of my PhD thesis in a coffee shop. Tip generously, and the baristas won’t mind.

    2) Have an official start time and end time to your workday. Also, get dressed for “work.”

    3) Have an internet free-portion of your day. In my case, the internet is off between 10a and noon.

    4) Write something everyday, however trivial. My goal is to spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day doing writing work of some kind. Many days the work is crap, but the daily habit keeps you in practice. I also monitor this in a spreadsheet.

    5) Move. Get your exercise. And if at all possible, go for a daily walk somewhere pleasant. Make it part of your morning routine.

    6) Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your successes. Every day look to what you accomplished that day and appreciate it, don’t be a critical jerk to yourself. Seriously, do this.

    7) Finally, keep blogging. I don’t comment often, but I do read your blog pretty much daily. We are out here, listening.

  7. You can make it work, that schedule is more doable than you think (then again, Sci is relentlessly overscheduled).

    Sci and Mr. S get some very good quality time in exercising together. And I second Jenn’s idea that you can work at a coffee shop or library. I do and it helps a LOT. And knowing people might be watching makes you work harder.

    What will you be? You will be a PhD, of course! Or a grad student working on your thesis.

  8. Oh! Exercise idea. I don’t know if you’re “in” to exercise per se, but have you tried dancing instead? It gets you moving, and if you take lessons or something, it would be really social. There’s a lot of dancing in CA, and perhaps you could convince your husband to try it, too, if you want to try couples dancing. Just an idea.

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