I had a moment of panic the other day.
I had been summoned to participate in a departmental thing. I’m really not sure who decided it was a good idea to schedule any departmental thing smack dab in the middle of finals time. This, to me, seems like a sure-fire way to make at least one of your graduate students slit her wrists in hopelessness.
Any who know me will tell you that one of the things I am best at is time management. I never leave anything to the last minute, I have a good sense of how much I can handle, I work until I’m done, and I know what is okay to sacrifice and what simply can’t be cut from any given day. As such, my schedule books very far in advance. Often, I have trouble squeezing in social engagements unless I’m made aware of them at least two weeks before they happen (at the busiest times of the year, this becomes more like a month). As such, if I was having trouble departing from my desk to attend said departmental thing, it was not because I was having last-minute finals panic, it was because scheduling a departmental thing during finals is inhuman.
The departmental thing took longer than I had planned (but not longer than it had been scheduled, I simply misread the schedule and under-calculated my timing). I got into my car and felt like my chest was clenched in an iron clamp. I still had errands to run. I still had all kinds of work to do. And I still had one more appointment with my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime that I could not miss because of a long, convoluted series of events which amounted to him helping me clean my apartment (I think he realized by looking at me that even mundane tasks were well beyond my capabilities to handle and, left to my own devices, I was in very real danger of exploding… spontaneous human combustion: not just an urban legend).
During the drive home, the panic attack symptoms started setting in. Increased heart rate, hopeless whirl of uncontrollable thoughts, and pressure behind the eyes that threatens to burst into uncontrollable weeping.
I got to my desk, sat down, and forced myself to breath.
For those who have ever experienced a panic attack, you will know: the only way to coach yourself through it is slowly and methodically. You need to clear your mind, breathe deeply, and slow your heart-rate back something resembling normal. Sometimes you need to cry for ten minutes just to get it out. I don’t have them often, but my PhD has taught me all kinds of new and wonderful things that my body is capable of when pressed against the wall (some of these things are more useful than others).
This time, head in my hands, trying to calm myself down enough to look at the word documents I had left up on my machine, my gaze drifted to my desk ornaments.
I’ve spoken about them before. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a seemingly random assortment of bits and bobs which have come to reside in happy harmony upon my desk. What I didn’t realize until that moment is that all of the little guys directly under my monitor (and, in fact, most of the baubles as a whole) were given to me by various important someones in my life. Shakes-cat: a gift from a dear old friend. Baby-hatching-Gargoyle: a
present from my grandmother upon realizing that it looked just like the logo for the theatre company I ran out of New York. Liberty-Duck: a random Monday offering from my Partner in Crime. Long-Duck-Silver: from my mom when she came to visit me during my brief-tenure in a soul-sucking office position pre-Master’s (it came in a box of Band-Aids and helped to cheer my gloomy day). Tribble Fluff the Yarn Monster: made for me by my wonderful penpal and sent in a box of comfort yarn around the holidays one year. The list, believe it or not, continues to the point where I really can’t chronicle all the things on my desk attached to all the wonderful people in my life.
And, in that moment, it was like getting a hug from all of them simultaneously. Like somehow they were all there (without even knowing that I needed them) to tell me to get my act together because I could totally handle this.
Over the past week or so, I’ve received an immense amount of support from my usual support network, but also some very unexpected places. People who are around, but whom I don’t speak with frequently (perhaps the epitome of this being a random and unprompted text from an old friend with the news that he had procured a GIANT BAG full
of my favorite girly-scented lotions and things and was sending them to me imminently… thanks again, Brian, you seriously made my week). People who would have little way of knowing the insane amounts of pressure and stress that I’m under right now who, from some twist of the universe, had me in their thoughts on a given day and thus found some way to send some extra love my way.
My point is this: no man is an island. The PhD is the equivalent to academic boot camp. It will strip you down to your most basic human elements, take those away, then re-build you (and I’m not even through the “easiest” part of the process yet). But just because you’re stressed, just because you’re tired, just because you think your brain is going to melt out the side of your head, doesn’t mean that you should forget something: you are loved. And if you can’t remember that, take a moment to find someone who will help you remember it.
So many thank-yous to all of my wonderful friends who, wittingly or not, have once more gone above and beyond to help me get through this difficult time of year. If I seem ungrateful or passive in person, it’s just because I lack the brain cells to express how much you mean to me right now.
And on that note, it’s time to face the music. Turning in my first final today. Queue The Imperial March, La Marseillaise (it always sounds victorious to me), anything from Newsies, or One Day More and send some good thoughts to Dani-land. Here we go.