Stuck in “Down-Dog”

I was a bit mortified when I (finally) logged in again, and realized it’s been an obnoxiously long while since I’ve posted.  Lack of topics wasn’t the problem, nor was carving out time to write.  Nope, just plain old laziness.  You know the kind where you really would like to do something, but just can’t be bothered.  There isn’t really anything keeping you from it: you just don’t do anything about it.  No harm, no foul I guess in this case. I mean, it’s not as if I”m sitting idly by, watching with detached fascination as the pile of boys’ dirty dishes in the kitchen slowly evolves into a work of abstract art.  That would truly have consequences, such as being forced to pick up take-away due to the lack of eating utensils that could pass a health inspection.  Writing just didn’t make it onto my list of things I needed to accomplish in order to breathe or maintain an acceptable level of contentment.  It didn’t even make the”shit to do when bored” list.  It was as if I was stuck in downward facing dog, and just…couldn’t…move….

So what was the problem?  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love to write…lengthy, grin-worthy (if not actual giggle-inducing) notes on Facebook reflecting my oft-twisted observations on life in general, short notes of encouragement…my co-teachers can attest to my rather lengthy emails that at times admittedly turn into novellas, simply because I’m loathe to quit typing.  I guess the silver lining in this is that I prefer writing to talking.  At least you can successfully keep the printed word from chasing you around like a yappy Chihuahua jacked up on energy drinks.

Depression? Maybe a touch.  Everyone gets a bit down, in a fog, bored, or any other condition you can think of as temporary.  I mean, I knew this would pass, right? I was still functioning quite well at work, although everything seemed to be coming at me at 100 miles an hour both there and at home.  Folks with spondylorapathies just don’t, as a general rule, move that quickly, but it seemed to have taken over my brain and not just my joints!

I became more and more convinced it had less to do with depression and more with interests and motivation. A massive chunk of my life and time over the past 6 years was devoted to finishing surviving the Ph.D.  At one point in time, I was spending 3-4 hours a day, forgoing sleep, dustless ceiling fans, and home-cooking in order to write.  When a series of professional and personal cluster-farts (I refuse to type THAT word, although I’ve certainly been known to utter it) converged to move our family down different paths than planned, I became annoyed with the process.  I was sick of it.  I reassessed my personal priorities. I had more important items on my PDA than “revise paragraph 3, Chapter 2” for the 10th time…taking it back to the way I had it written in the first place.  Nope, just didn’t see the point.  My husband was laid off work.  A car croaked.  Money was so scarce dust was more likely to fall out of my wallet than change. Seriously, what right did I have to bitch about a disagreement in phrasing of a sentence, that in the grand scheme of the cosmos, didn’t mean shit, when I had students who were coming to school without basic needs such as safe shelter and full bellies?  I just had to look at a keyboard to feel instant revulsion. I experienced a shake-up of everything I thought I knew I wanted in life and career, and there wasn’t any single “trigger” that started the process, but wow what a snowball effect!

But something happened over Christmas break…maybe it was the flu that laid us all low, resulting in a very unintentional laid-back break from everything, that let my brain just rest. Essentially, I performed a mental COMMAND-OPTION-ESCAPE (or “CRT-ALT-DEL” for those on a PC).  So did it work? Are the systems back up and online? Stayed tuned and we’ll find out together. Image

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A funny thing happened on the way to the dissertation…

Well, it’s been an interesting journey to say the least in my pursuit of my Ph.D. in Special Education and Disability Policy, filled with more twists and turns than a John Grisham novel to say the least!

I’d like to think that I was completely and thoroughly dedicated to this endevor, but oddly enough, “Life” kept conspiring with the writing Muses to keep this project dragging on for what feels like forever.  I have always been a lover of learning, but not a finisher of classes.  I married young, started a family young, and those factors combined with the very limited finances of a growing young family made it challenging to finish my post-high school education in anything that resembled a timely fashion.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of diaper-changing, sleepless nights, and last minute science projects with the kids to be able to say I had my degrees, but in the end, this path to becoming “Dr. Mom” as the kids put it, will have been a total of 28 years to traverse.

Really? 28 years?  And I thought my husband was the one who couldn’t take the shortest route anywhere!

So, here I am, at the start of what (had BETTER be), my final semester of dissertation pursuit.  I’ve got to turn in my first three chapters to my chair next week, the official start of the new semester, in order to officially present my prospectus.  Assuming I don’t get the “What were you thinking?” cold stare, I should be able to get IRB approval pretty quickly and get this final ball rolling down the hill.  Actually meeting with the subjects to collect data will take two afternoon sessions…the analysis and write up will be much faster.  Stop sniggering….I LOVE qualitative research; analyzing and discussing relationships is what gets this geek grinning like a twitterpated Thumper (Bambi reference for you youngsters…not Twitter). I’ve been known to get into a writing project, turning out a truly quality 20 pages or so in one sitting.  I’m just weird like that.

This final year, I took a leave of absence during the fall semester thanks to leaving my post at the university (not of my choice but due to budget constraints and reconfiguration of the department) and returned to the elementary classroom: as a 4th grade teacher…in a TINY private school…as  a general educator.  This has been a side trip of grand and epic proportions, and merits its own blog later.  I thought of it as a “reflective vacation” from academia.  In reality, it was a mental health vacation.  In 2005, when I started the pursuit of the final degree, and believe me, it is THE final degree, my daughter had just graduated from high school, and the boys were 14 and 10.  I had been having a few “health issues” that had gotten me thinking that staying in the classroom with students with emotional/behavioral disorders for the rest of my career might not be in the cards, as I noticed my reflexes getting slower and slower with major joints and spine becoming less flexible.  Not an ideal combination if you regularly are dodging flying furniture and runners.  The family graciously agreed that we would sell the dream home on 5 acres, downsize, and let me go back to school full time to retrain my brain in a career path less physical.  I figured I would be ideal at inspiring future generations of teachers to work with and inspire their own generation of students.  Feel free to wipe the spewed coffee off your screen now.  I’ll wait.

I was going to finish the 60 hours of coursework plus the dissertation in 3 years.  I was DRIVEN! I was AMBITIOUS!  I was an IDIOT! Over the next three years, my husband had 2 heart attacks, I was diagnosed with Undifferentiated Spondylorapathy, as were BOTH the boys, my daughter was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (actually, she was diagnosed first, leading to the rest of us being “discovered”), followed by my daughter learning that the phrase “You’ll never be able to conceive a pregnancy” is actually the magic fertility spell.  In other words, Life had other plans.  Still, I made it through the coursework in 4 years.  Not bad…not bad at all.

Then hubby lost his job, not once, but twice, and had another heart attack.  In hindsight, had I not been in academia teaching and running grants, we probably would have not made it; there is a flexibility to the hours that saved us and made it possible to make all the doctors’ appointments that were required to get everyone to a healthy place again.  However, there is a bit of a dark side…it meant I wasn’t able to keep up the frantic pace to finish the dissertation research quickly.  My star was losing its shine.  When it came time to start applying for positions within the University, as I have no real desire to uproot my family from the area, I was confronted with another harsh reality of academia thinking that’s counterintuitive in my old department…don’t hire the people you’ve just spent a fortune training.  Ouch! Never mind the contributions to publications, the workshops or new initiatives, or the willingness to advise undergrads and actually enjoy it, my services were no longer required due to the fact that I was “home-grown”.  I’ll leave you to think on that one; it’s a pending topic for discussion.  But in a nutshell, it was a life-changing, bitch-slap of a wake-up call.  What was important to me, career, family, personal goals…all were suddenly and forcefully tossed in the air for rearranging.

So, here I am, a short 4 months shy of the elusive terminal degree, and I am finally feeling ready to “belt it out” and be done.  The mere fact that I’ve decided to share this journey with anyone willing to have a look speaks volumes to where I’ve come over the past 6 months.  Thank you for joining me in a reflection of where I’ve been and where I’m headed.  I hope these topics and musings are half as interesting to you, as they have been challenging to me.  I look forward to getting to know your journey as well!

Kim