Monday, July 21, 2008

:: :: i feel a flowchart coming on :: ::

Last week, I was thinking a lot about the difference between should and need. There are things we say we should do and things we simply need to do. After much contemplation, and after reading your wonderful responses to my question, I decided that I think should is when you don’t want to do something now but have good reason (past experience, expert advice, etc.) to believe that if you do it now, you will reap a future benefit. So should has to do with the future. Need has to do with now.

All this is to say that the funny thing about postpartum depression and feeling like a complete disaster all day every day is that it makes you care a whole lot less about should and a whole lot more about need.

I’ve decided to drop the dissertation. To let it go. I’ll start by requesting a long-term leave of absence because that’s pretty much the obligatory first step. It keeps the door open for returning a year from now if I so choose. It removes me from the current payroll but keeps me eligible for financial support in the future.

For my own sake, though, I need to accept the idea that I might not ever return to it. This might be it, and that has to be OK.

It’s not a matter of should but of need: I need to get this out of my life. Now. For whatever reason, it has become toxic. And because it’s touching every part of my life, all those other things are affected. I’ve tried so hard to put off this decision, but I think it has to be made.

This is a decision with a very, very long history, but what made it concrete for me was actually a conversation I had with my therapist that first (and so far only) time we met. I wrote the other day about how strange it is for me to find myself wanting advice — to hear myself asking other people’s opinions on how to proceed. It’s very unlike me. And interestingly, it was not the advice given but rather noticing my own negative reaction to that advice that really clarified how I feel.

When I spoke with my doctor, we talked a lot about my dissertation. I think I must have reflected a lot more ambivalence than I really feel, and when I left there she said that she hopes with help, I’ll be able to get through all of this and finish my Ph.D. Hearing her say that made me mad, and figuring out why was part of what helped me make this decision. All I could think was, “How dare you encourage me to do something that is bad for me. Something I hate that is causing me so much anxiety. I don’t want to finish and I don’t think it’s fair for you to tell me you hope I will.” I realized that I hadn’t been all that honest with her about how I feel. I wasn’t ready to make my decision yet and so I didn’t want to show all my cards.

None of this is purposeful, of course. I don’t plan to keep things in. I don’t try to keep all of my decisions top-secret. It’s just the way I am. And it works for me in that I always trust my decisions as mine and mine alone, but it’s not very healthy. I know that.

Dropping the dissertation is an extremely hard decision, not just for the reasons you might suspect (the sense of failing or of giving up, the five years already invested, etc.) but also because it really does affect every other aspect of my life. If I give up the dissertation I give up my idealized version of life in which I contribute to the family income and yet still stay home with Evan. I also give up that income, meaning I have to give up daycare, which sends me into a panic that swells down into my fingertips. Except that even without daycare, we won’t make enough, meaning I have to go to work. Meaning I have to keep up daycare full time, which was not how I planned things when I got pregnant. I totally love Evan’s daycare, but I just never imagined myself as a working mom. My mom stayed home with me Brian’s mom stayed home with him, and we both agreed that we wanted that for our kid. But of course not at the expense of, you know, mommy’s sanity and so of course here we are now. But putting daycare aside for a minute, there’s the minor issue of me having to figure out what on earth I am qualified to do that may actually also satisfy the needs that are not currently being met in my life: the need for social interaction, the need for a stronger sense of self, etc. Add to that the fact that I’ve never actually held a full time job except for about six months when I was 21 (working miserably as an IT consultant for a major international consulting firm) and don’t know what I like to do other than be a student (which I no longer like to do) and I’m in full-on crisis here. All from one little (supposedly) liberating decision.

It’s enough to make me want to draw a chart, I swear people. A chart showing all the ways in which this dissertation decision sends dominoes cascading through my life. Hopefully, a chart showing the path through all this darkness to something sort of resembling sanity on the other side.