Monday, February 4, 2008

Meltdowns and the Intellectual Girl

Yesterday, I had a meltdown with regards to the writing. This chapter has been kicking my ass for two reasons: 1) It's a grab-bag of things that are vaguely related to each other, but not nearly as much so as in the other chapters; and 2) I can't figure out which way round to string the various elements. The frustrations built to a point where I started to question whether I was even capable of writing this book, and whether I'm not good enough to do the thing I thought I had a reasonable knack for doing. So, I curled up on the couch and cried a little.

Yes, that's right: this chapter has officially brought me to tears.

Now, this is not the first time that suggestions (whether internal or external) as to my competence in my chosen profession have made me weepy. There was a mini-meltdown after my latest round of Revise-and-Resubmit with Journal of Excellent Studies; I wept copious tears after I got rejected in grad school for omigodhowwillidomyresearchwithoutit grant; meetings with my M.A. advisor made me cry on a weekly basis for almost two full semesters (though never once in his presence). I do not have a particularly thick skin when it comes to my work.

Now, this can all be related back to earlier discussions of fraud complex. But it makes me wonder about gender and visible meltdowns in academia. Is this more common among women? Do they all, like me, try to hide it, for fear of not being taken seriously? Do men cry about these things, but just not talk about it? Do they process it differently – say, with anger, or by dismissing critics as uninformed or irrelevant? Do they have thicker skins?

Or is it just me?

The good news is, the meltdown seemed to be therapeutic (as meltdowns usually are, for me): combined with some solid emotional support from Interesting Development and a good night's sleep, I woke up this morning determined to make some progress, and to let the chapter be whatever it will, so long as it's done.

That'll teach that meltdown who's boss.


Dr. S said...

Oh, heck yes, I have meltdowns about my research work, though these days (4.5 yrs on from finishing the diss), they tend to be pretty quiet. I was just sorting through some aspects of this issue tonight on my own blog, because of a presentation I have to give tomorrow.

The "let it be what it will be" method tends to work for me, too, and I'm finding myself pleasantly surprised by my own prose, as I look back at what I wrote a couple of months ago.


(I am a friend of Interesting Development, by the way, which is how I've turned up here!)

Anonymous said...

According to the word count on this site, that meltdown may have helped you kick some ass in the writing department anyway!

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Michael: yes, you're right about that. It's a Good Thing, most definitely.

@ Dr. S.: Welcome, and nice to meet you! Hope your presentation is going (has gone?) well.

Dr. S said...

Yes, thanks, it did go well.

Someone at dinner tonight asked me what I do with my mornings during this sabbatical that I'm on; he's worrying because his regular work rhythms are disrupted and he just doesn't know what to do with the mornings. I suggested that he relax into what's happening with him--which is a long way 'round of saying that it's true, meltdowns do, in my experience, lead to ass-kicking, which leads to exhaustion, which leads to melting down, which reveals itself eventually to be another kind of weird rest-and-recharge process. A clarifying, perhaps.

All of which is a *really* long way round to saying: good luck and keep kicking ass.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, emotional meltdowns are par for the course when you're invested in a long-term, high-stakes project like, I don't know, a disseration or book. So, hang in there!
I don't think it's more of a chick thing -- although women are more likely to admit it and, yes, more likely to emote in public arenas. (The Kleenex in my office is mostly used up by my female students.) It might be said that it's a healthy coping mechanism to deal with all the stress -- as compared to keeping all those feelings tamped down. I only wish I had had a blog in graduate school -- I think that would have been a fabulous method of release!

Meagan said...

I have a major writing breakdown at least once a week. I think it's pretty normal. You're doing great, and you're going to be fine!