End of the year blues
As the year wraps up, I still feel like there’s quite a bit of work left for me to accomplish. Now to be fair, year end isn’t some magical barrier, but it is a good way to mark the passage of time and I’ve had the opportunity to do some amazing things this year, so I’m not complaining. Still, with all the accomplishments I’ve had, and there were several, why do I feel like I have so much left to do?
A full three and a half years into my PhD (fourth year already?!) and I cannot understand people who have been in our lab for close to a decade. I couldn’t do it, but I know at least four students who got very close to the ten year mark before graduating. Maybe it’s because I’m a “non-traditional” student that I feel like I need to speed this process up.
Hospital-PI once mentioned that I could go to medical school, but 1) I do not feel smart enough for that, or at least not smart in that way. My memorization skills are shit and 2) I would be very close to the traditional retirement age by the time I was done and ready to go off on my own. I mean not THAT close I guess, but close enough that unless I want to work my entire life (I really don’t) I wouldn’t be able to leave a mark on the field(s) I go into.
Regardless of the reason, I’m here now and I don’t quite feel like it’s where I want to be yet. I haven’t made it to the end, but I push forward anyway. When it gets closer to year end I’ll make an official look back post, but for now, it’s not about looking back or forward. It’s about finding myself exactly where I am and wondering why I feel like I’m somehow behind in the race. I guess the lazy answer is capitalism or maybe society, but we’re in a particularly challenging point in history. For me, I think a lot of the anxiety I’m feeling may be simply due to COVID and seeing the death toll ratchet higher and higher as more and more people stop caring.
Life is short and it would be a shame to have dedicated the past… over a decade now (wow), trying to get my PhD so I could help people, only to die from some stupid virus we could’ve prevented the spread of if we could have just thought of someone other than ourselves. Humans are selfish by nature I guess, my self included.
There’s something ironic about waking up every morning and seriously considering if this is the day I finally say fuck it and check myself out of this life permanently, but still somehow wanting to live long enough to accomplish something. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, or so I’m told. I think for a lot of people suicide is the last desperate act of regaining control in a world where we have virtually none. Maybe that’s why I’m more okay, in theory anyway, with taking my own life than letting some virus do it for me.
I mean I’m safe and all that blah, blah, blah. I don’t want anyone worrying. Death is never far from my mind, so sometimes I think it comes out like I’m about to do something when really I’m just trying to describe the underlying theme of my thoughts. Thoughts which I have no real control over, hence why I really do believe, for some at least, suicide is a way to be in control, if only for a moment.
At this point you may be wondering why talk about suicide, feeling a bit stuck, and my PhD as a whole. All of those things seem very different. For me they are interlocking ideas. I had my suicide attempt right after I started my undergraduate degree (well like two years into it). Since then it’s been a somewhat hellish experience clawing my way back to something that resembles normal enough that the people at work don’t actively try to avoid me. Even with the bar that low, I only feel like I’ve mildly succeeded.
Somewhere between the day I tried to kill myself and now, I realized goal setting and structure would keep me alive. Or at least give me the illusion of control enough that the urge to kill myself would go from a full scream to dull roar and you know what? It really worked, take that you stupid brain. But that’s the thing, it’s a struggle, right? So I’m tired and I set this huge goal for myself, to get a PhD. And now that it’s right there in front of me I’m just so fucking tired all the fucking time.
I think I’ll feel better about all this when I graduate. Hitting that milestone will feel like a lifetime of work finally counting for something. It’s an artificial boundary, sort of like the end of the year. Yet for whatever reason crossing that boundary is still important. Every year people make new year’s resolutions because we’ve passed an artificial boundary we’ve given some meaning to.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen next year, or even in the next hour, but for now I think seeing so many of my colleagues graduating makes me anxious to do the same. I’m trying to remind myself that it’s just an artificial barrier, it’s a stupid piece of paper. I have two degrees already and you want to know something? They are framed and on my closet floor somewhere, I’m not even 100% sure where I left them. I don’t even really care about them, so it’s dumb, it really is.
I don’t ever expect to be “normal” whatever we want to define normal as. I’m okay with that. If I’m being honest I once thought if I did it, if I got to the PhD point I would be better. Somehow I would be handed my doctorate and simultaneously be cured. The thing that was wrong with me, whatever it is that makes me question why I’m even still alive, would be gone. I would miraculously be a different person… somehow. When in reality it’s the journey that changes us, not just the moment we hit the finish line.
Tomorrow I will probably feel different about the whole thing, but for now, I am anxious to finish what I started.
You aren’t alone in feeling behind. I tend to get low thoughts toward the end of the year as well. No matter how productive I was, it’s never enough; I never get enough done. Sometimes I look back and realize I’ve been in a terrible hurry ever since my middle teen years. And for me, the cause is definitely not capitalism or societal pressure. It’s the simple awareness that I have far too little time for the things I could do and want to do before I die.
COVID indeed continues to be devastating. I admit that nowadays, I think and talk about it less … maybe in effect, I care less … because it feels as though all the arguments and choices have been made, and nothing’s left now except to watch helplessly as more people die. Occasionally the dread surfaces from the back of my mind: “With a thousand Americans dying every day, how long can it be before one of them is somebody I know?” I haven’t lost anybody, yet. I do hope it doesn’t get you. I’ve gotten pretty attached to you in the last couple months.
Which leads me to a reminder that I care about you, and you kinda help me by just existing and talking — regardless of what you accomplish, and regardless of whether you ever manage to be “normal.” I’m just happy you’re here, colleague mine.
Take care, now.
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December 18, 2021 at 6:56 pm
It’s nice to hear it’s not just me who feels like this at the end of the year. It’s a weird thing to stress about, but yeah I guess having a lot you want to accomplish and only so many years of life to do it makes sense.
A feeling of helplessness at this stage is probably normal. You can only scream so many times for people to do the right thing before you have to strug and keep yourself safe both mentally and physically. We did lose someone close to us at work fairly recently, which was sad. One of my friends lost both his aunt and uncle earlier this year. With positive cases increasing we’ve seen almost double the positive cases on the hospital staff side of things and I’ve gotten at least one email about possible contact with someone who had COVID, so yeah it’s going to be an interesting time. Thank you though and I’ve gotten pretty attached to you too!
Thank you for the reminder. I’m lucky to have you around!
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December 19, 2021 at 1:39 pm