This evening is very still. There’s no wind at all; even the clouds seem to be totally motionless. The occasional bird swoops past; the occasional train rumbles across the bottom of the valley. I can neither see nor hear another soul.
The tranquility is beautiful. But I keep feeling pangs of unease, sensing that I should not be calm enough to just sit & appreciate the stillness. I feel wrong – arrogant, even – for feeling similarly calm myself.
I have a big deadline this week. A properly big deadline: the cumulation of almost five years’ work (& many more years of dreaming) going to my bosses for their thoughts. After they’ve commented on it, I will make any necessary adjustments & then my PhD thesis will be submitted for assessment. It all sounds so simple. And – at the moment – it all feels so simple. I have a few more bits & pieces to do over the next few days, but nothing that probably couldn’t be done in one day if necessary.
I do not feel stressed. This surprises me. All year I have been waiting for that ‘argh’ moment, where you have to pull a few all-nighters or lock yourself in your room for a few days in order to get all the work completed. Yes, I’ve worked hard. Yes, some hoped-for social arrangements have fallen by the wayside due to my work-focus. But nothing extreme or particularly stress-inducing. It’s just been a consistent, steady progress over the course of months. And now I almost there.
It has not always been this way. Over the course of the PhD, I have: moved four times, become an auntie (twice), finished a relationship with the person I was living with, had a breakdown, almost lost my life through serious illness. Thrown into that mix, there have been innumerable smaller dramas & crises – many self-induced, although I couldn’t always see that at the time; many of which have affected my ability to work to my best ability.
But over the past six months or so, something has shifted. I’m guessing it’s the cumulative impact of the changes made over the time since the breakdown: all the therapy; all the self-help books; all the navel-gazing; all the soul searching; all the tears. My job is based on thinking & a happy by-product of the changes I’ve made to my ‘personal’ life (I find it very difficult to draw a clear line between where my work ends & my non-work interests begin; the two are inextricably linked) is that I can now think more clearly. My brain simply works better than it used to. Obviously, I have no objective proof of that, but subjectively I feel & think the difference everyday.
Having said that, I have clearly been distracted from my original train of thought onto a different track entirely… What I have noticed today, though, is that I don’t always trust myself. I keep questioning my own thoughts & feelings: how dare I feel so calm on the verge of such a major deadline? How dare I feel so on top of the situation? The negative voices inside turn the calmness into something else entirely: sneering that I’m cocksure, arrogant, deluded, mis-guided, plain wrong to not be panicking. Why do we do this? Why do we sabotage our own good, positive, healthy thoughts & feelings by letting the ‘shoulds’ & ‘oughts’ win over?
Last night I was in serious danger of letting ‘the dark side’ win & working myself into a panic for no reason; my inability to write a post being testament to my slide towards the ‘I should be panicking because I have a deadline’ mode. Today I have stood firm. I have stood firm against the ‘shoulds’ & ‘oughts’ win. I have stood firm against the negative voices that are the other side of me, the side that still reverts to the dark days of the past whenever the slightest feeling of doubt or insecurity strikes. I have stood firm & I feel proud. Looking out of the window, a swallow flies up the valley & over the roof. All is calm, both outside & in.