After my thesis

I was in two minds about posting this, as it’s basically about being fed up. But I wish I’d read something like this last year.

In the midst of my PhD I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like when it was done. But I had this sensation of hope. That my days would be full of the sunshine I had shut myself away from so many times. I thought finishing my PhD would take away some pressure, and make my relationships easier. I thought that I would feel a strong sense of achievement, and it would sustain me – knock that imposter syndrome on the head once and for all.

When I passed my viva the whole episode of the PhD felt diminished. As I rang my parents to tell them the good news, I already felt that if someone like me could get a PhD then it wasn’t all that big of a deal.

Between submitting my thesis and having my viva I left the Museum of London. I was lucky enough to start two exciting new part-time jobs right away, but starting again felt hard. I found the novelty difficult. I missed spending work days amongst my old friends. Many of my friends were facing a great deal of uncertainty and loss. One in particular suffered an utterly devastating loss.

With the new year I kept looking forward. I started swimming regularly. I was applying for jobs, travelling to interviews, thinking of opportunities that might suit me. After a rapid series of rejections I started to feel crushed. Negative thoughts started churning through my mind. A friend died, and the world lost all its shine. I took up learning French and learning to drive. I spent time with friends and family. I lost a couple of stone, started running and did a short charity triathlon. I started working full time at the BM. I read goop. I baked bread, made granola, ate well. I gave keynotes and talks. Whatever I did, the negative thoughts kept coming. I was anxious and couldn’t sleep properly. I was crying in the shower in the mornings, fearful of facing the day and at a loss as to why I felt unable to cope. I found supermarkets completely overwhelming. I kept mishearing things people were saying, and thinking they were swearing at me, or telling me I was stupid.

I took a holiday.

I felt better.

It’s almost a year since I submitted my thesis. I didn’t expect it to be a hard year, but I’m hopeful again. Maybe this time next year I’ll be able to speak French. Perhaps I’ll be able to drive, or to run faster and further. Perhaps I’ll find another challenge that I’ll love and hate as much as my PhD. But my world’s a bit bigger than the book I wrote, and I need to find my way in it again.

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