How (not) to write a PhD and keep/lose your sanity…

When I am feeling my most discouraged and whipped by this PhD I tend to start listing mentally, everything that has happened in my life over the past 2.5 years that have made it impossible for me to “properly” get this thing done. Pathetic, I know- but somehow I think it is kind of a common “poor, poor, pitiful me” thing to do. But, I recently got to thinking that, funnily enough, when I am feeling particularly buoyed and optimistic about getting this thing done, I turn to that very same list, and use it to pat myself on the back in an “against all odds” sort of way. The ol’ man and I, will, from time to time, start trying to list all the major happenings of the past few years only to give up mid-way through because it becomes a tad overwhelming. At some point, me doing a PhD, in another country, while raising six children seemed like a good idea- if someone is able to remind me of that specific good idea I would be most grateful because most days it completely escapes me.

I have to preface this all by saying I have, from day one, from the first inkling, or seedling of a thought that I should pursue a PhD, had this pestering voice in my head telling me (loud and clear) that I have no business doing a PhD in the first place. (Hello major imposter syndrome!) I really think I am fairly justified in listening, even just a little bit to this pestering voice for the following reasons; I am the only person in my immediate family to have gotten a degree of any kind, I have an uncle on my Mother’s side who has a Bachelors degree and no one on my Father’s side has ever attended university. I dropped out of university before completing my BFA because I was pregnant with my first son. I went back 5 years later (we only had 3 kids at that point) and finished. I then went on to have 3 more kids, keeping one foot in the opera/theatre world, doing a bit of performing and teaching privately from my home. Two years after my youngest son was born I lucked into an adjunct teaching job because of my professional experience in the field. I loved it and decided I wanted the opportunity to move up and get a more stable job in academia, so I went into an MFA program at Goddard College a non-traditional, low-residency, Interdisciplinary Arts program- not your typical route to an PhD.
No sir-ee.

So, I have a “sketchy” academic background, six children, I am researching voice for the theatre (not a lot of people breakin’ the banks to help me fund that) and let’s not forget I am a woman, in my 40’s – not your typical postgrad – no, not typical in any way. So already the odds are stacked against me. Oh! and did I mention that I am self-funding?! Save for a few government bursaries for middle aged women with lots of kids researching theatre, I am doing this on student loans.
One might say I was (and still am?!) behind the 8 ball…

But despite all that I still thought it was a good idea. Riding on the momentum of my MFA (which in and of itself was difficult but definitely transformative in many ways) we (the ol’ man and I) decided this would be an adventure worth taking. Doing it in the UK seemed to make the most sense because there was a supervisor there who met my research needs (someone experienced as both a classical musician and a theatre artist) and they offered the opportunity to do it as a split site location student as moving the whole family to the UK for my studies was not going to happen.
We decided that to make this whole thing more manageable we would move across the country to Montréal where all the ol’ man’s family is, giving him support when I was away and making popping back and forth over the pond a little less daunting.

It all sounds so easy, right?! I would go away for 2 weeks to a month every semester, teach part-time and he would work full time and hold the fort while I was away.

Piece. of. cake.

Except. Nothing is ever simple for us- you would think I would know that by now- not much is simple with six kids because, well, there are simply so many people involved.

Early in my studies I was in a panic because I did not have a clue as to what I was doing- how does one “do” “write” “participate in” a PhD? So I read books and scoured the internet for helpful hints- everything from “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minute a Day” to numerous inspiring articles such as ;“10 Steps to PhD Failure”.
I can remember sitting reading one of these articles with much anxiety as I started ticking off all the tasks I had already completed in one called something like “Top Reasons PhD’s Get Derailed”. Yes, I am the poster girl for how-not-to-do-a-PhD-but make-it-work-anyway.

And I, or rather we- as this inevitably affects all of the family, are still limping along.

So. Here’s the list (which is surely not complete- because… well… life).

It may conversely make me weep, or pump my fist in victory or maybe both.
1. We sold our house, I left my adjunct job (a small university that I liked very much) and the ol’ man quit his solid construction job and we moved 5 of the kids across the country (our eldest, 20 at the time stayed.)
2. We arrived to new province, a new language, new schools new jobs and then…

3.…a month after we arrived I left for my first one month stint in the UK.
4. My Mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, refused all treatment and died a year after we arrived .
5. My father decided he could no longer care for my Mother who suffers from dementia, and moved her into a full time care facility. I flew back (5+ hours) multiple times to help with the transition.
6. Our eldest son, who had been dealing with addiction issues, reached out for help- we used the money we had made from the sale of our house to bring him to Montréal and put him through rehab for 3 months. (He has been sober for 2+ years now, is a straight A student, works to support himself, writes, plays music- we couldn’t be more proud of him).
7. My Father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer one year after my Mother-in-law died. He is now in remission and doing well.
8. Son #2 fell down a long set of stairs at the metro (subway) and broke his shoulder, he required surgery to insert a steel rod and months of rehabilitation.
9. We moved from the first house we rented in Montreal to a larger one.

10. I got really sick with a mystery illness about 1 year in. I developed eczema all over my face and I lost my voice- for one month- one whole month with little to no voice- kind of ironic as a Doctoral Researcher studying…VOICE! The doctors I saw diagnosed it all as stress related. (No sh*t Sherlock!)
11. I spent a month in New York performing a show at a theatre Festival, (the family came and joined me for a week.)
12. I have presented my research at 8 conferences and travelled to 5 different countries.
13. I have made no fewer than 12 transatlantic flights in the last 2 years, 5 months, 24 days… that does not include two separate research trips to New York, 4 flights back to Vancouver and a job interview in LA.

 

The verdict;
Don’t try this at home kids. PhD’s + big families + grand ideas= not for the faint of heart. (And if I told you I don’t often feel faint then that would make me a big liar!)

Well, I am not weeping- so it must be a fist pump kinda day.

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Homesickness…Nostalgia…

One of the hardest things about doing this PhD and all the travelling that comes with it, is the constant transitions. I would say jet lag plays a huge part but even more than that is getting used to the two hugely different “lifestyles” that I have to step into as I jet back and forth from the UK to home. Being a Mother to six and coordinating getting my work done amongst all the chaos at home and then stepping into living solo for weeks at a time has been harder than I expected. You would think that it would be so easy and having all this time and space when I am away would make things oh so much easier but in fact I find it hard. Hard to focus sometimes, hard to sleep, hard to get motivated. It’s frustrating, as I find myself having to fight against wanting to just mope around. It’s actually more than just “wanting” and I am truly beginning to understand that homesickness is in fact a “real” illness, as described in this article, and while I am maybe only suffering from one of these symptoms (trouble sleeping)”fever, lesions, trouble sleeping, heart palpitations, emaciation, organ failure, incontinence, and dysentery” Let’s hope it doesn’t come to heart failure or dysentery! It is somewhat comforting to know that I am not a big wuss- and that I can somehow try to work towards acknowledging how difficult being away is instead of trying to ignore it and beat myself up for not being as productive as I could or should be.

“Long” run #1

Really, I think the hardest part of this training is going to be carving out the time to get the runs in. It is very complicated having to organize 7 other people (yes, I am including the other adult in the household as he needs much organizing!) Yesterday went something like this…

I was so worried about blowing my day with daycare that I had tried to plan and re-plan the day over and over- but as all Mothers know a plan is good but flexibility is even better when you are dealing with children and trying to get them out the door.

Woke up 5:15- after another crappy night with the baby (he wakes at least 4-5 times every night) had a coffee- and then start pancakes for the gang. It was a good day as I only had to make 3 lunches- as middle 2 are getting hot lunch every other Friday and I decide to give oldest 2 $5 each to buy lunch (as a treat… to myself)

My goal is to be leaving the house by 8- and I’m pretty much there despite having to fish baby out of the toilet (he’s obsessed with spashing aroung in the toilet, and who left the bathroom door open anyway!?) and packing everything that everone will need for the day including my running gear as I am to attend Mass at 9 am because the grade 5’s are in charge of it so I should be in attendance. Everything is running smoothly (ish) until it’s show time… I’m free- my plan was to change in the van and head out from where I’m parked near the kid’s school… but wait, I gotta pee… hmmmm… no problem- I’ll drive to the nearby community centre pee and change there, so away I go- I pull into the parking lot jump out of the van, grab my bag just to discover, I only have 1 shoe with me… AARRGGHH! Back into the van I go, drive home and I’m FINALLY running by 10:15.

The 4 miles, by the way were pretty uneventful. I had had hopes of running  down to the beach from the kids school but as it turns out my run through my neighborhood and then up and around Queen Elizabeth Park was quite lovely thank you, and not nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be. There were a few teeny tiny walls hit where, if I were feeling particularly pathetic I might have said “Aw, screw it” but all in all it felt great and I even had a bit of a sprint in the final 2 minutes (well at least it felt like I was sprinting!) And heck, so much planning and organizing went into getting out there that I truly would have been pathetic had I given up!

Today was rest day but the plan is to get another outdoor run in tomorrow as I have a small window of opportunity in the afternoon after hockey, church, and my parents coming for dinner, where there is someone home to watch the kids while I get out for a run.

Fingers crossed.

to rest or not to rest?

One of the things I have been reading over and over again is the need to have “rest days” when you are training.  This, believe it or not is really difficult when one is still pumped and full of vim and vinegar from the excitement of deciding to run a marathon. All you want to do is get that run in… Today I am trying to “rest”. I did do a 30 minutes brisk walk with the baby in the stroller but that doesn’t count… I simply needed to move my body. Tomorrow is exciting because I have a long run planned. By long run I mean 4 whole miles. I have daycare set up for the little ones. The whole daycare thing was for me to get it together to find a part time job. I only have 1 day a week (Fridays) booked but of course all I can think about is I can get a long run in  without having to work around hockey, rugby, choir practice, dance class or a birthday party! Get the 2 oldest out the door at 7:30, drop the 2 youngest off at daycare at 8:00 take the 2 middle ones to school for 8:30- and BAM! I’m running 4 miles!

You know what they say about the best laid plans…

 

And I’m sure I can find time to do some job hunting after the run!

Bon Bons and Marathons

Why run a marathon? Apparently you are supposed to have a solid reason for wanting to train and run for a marathon (so say the books)- It’s been on my mind for a long, long time, say 10 years or so, but it seems any time I came close to going for it I got pregnant… I’ve ran 3 10k races over the years and been an on again off again recreational runner (probably more off again than on again)- but something hit me a couple of weeks ago- it was Halloween to be exact- and the candy was just not going down as well as usual- usually I spend the week in and around Halloween trying to talk myself out of eating copious amounts of sugar but end up eating it until I feel sick- but although I was eating it,  I really didn’t want it… I was eating it because I always ate it- but my body was telling me to “put down the Snickers”. I had been on a fitness roll of sorts since school started in September- I’d get the 4 older kids off to school and then head to the community centre gym where they had childcare for the 2 youngest… I was feeling good but was craving a bit more… and on Halloween I literally put down the bon bons and went to the computer to find out when the Vancouver Marathon was being held. May 9 2009- why that’s next year!!! I have plenty of time!- no matter that the longest run I am doing at the moment is about 2 miles- how difficult could an extra 24.2 be?!!! And I did it- I whipped out my Visa and registered right then and there. I’m running a marathon.