For those of you who have experience with the doctoral process, you will know that it can be very isolating and exhausting and life changing. If you aren’t familiar with this process, let me explain a little something about it. Although there are some variables due to school and program, most programs have four basic parts – course work, one shot comprehensive exams, the dissertation, and the dissertation defense. They can be called different things and are presented in different orders but the basic gist is that if a person fails at any of these the entire process comes to an end. Furthermore, any and all work completed becomes worthless because you cannot start where you left off, if you can get into another program, you start all over from scratch. Even if you have completed all the coursework, all the exams, written an entire dissertation and then fail your defense, everything can be wiped out. The other super fun fact is that all of this is done on a timeline. A clock starts ticking with the first strike of the student’s pen. Each program has a specific amount of time granted to finish; it is often 10 years, which sounds like a lot of time but… try living a life with family, work, friends, etc. and complete a doctorate and you will see that 10 years can go by really fast. My program was 7 years allowed from start to finish, coursework is prescribed at three years so that leaves 4 years left to pass all comprehensive exams and to write and defend a dissertation. If you take a leave of absence, the clock keeps on ticking. Every doctoral student hears that clock tick tick ticking in the back of every single thing they do. I share this with you only so that you can understand how a person’s life can become so overwhelmed with the doctoral process. There is no other degree quite like it.
July 2012 I injured my foot in ballet class. Well, honestly, I don’t know where I actually injured it because I realized that it was really hurt in ballet class but I had been walking and dancing on a fractured foot for about a month. I was supposed to be out for about two months. Then stuff happened and I decided that it was time to finish my dissertation so I concentrated my life on that. July 5, 2012 was my last ballet class with my Awesome Ballet Teacher.
Concentrating on work and the dissertation only was necessary but not fun. The last nine months have been extremely stressful, lonely, exhausting, and any and every negative adjective that you could think of. Especially the last three months where I basically decided that nothing else mattered but finishing and graduating. I stopped working out, indulged in every form of stress eating, didn’t bother to sleep any kind of regular hours, and adopted a very bad Gap look that included “fat” boyfriend jeans, long sleeve striped tee and Steve Job’s New Balance sneakers. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t bother to brush my hair everyday. I have practically been living on Diet Coke, coffee, and entire bags of assorted junk foods. I don’t recommend it as a life style but it was a choice that I consciously made. I knew that when it was over I was going to be in need of a MAJOR life rehaul. I’m not saying it was a good choice, I certainly don’t recommend it but in the end, I got exactly what I wanted and am left with exactly the results that I expected. I knew that my choice would leave me a physical mess with a doctorate. I accepted that.
Now it’s time to fix this. It’s time for the rehaul. I finished my degree on April 2nd and graduated on May 4th. I’ve cut back on Diet Coke and even coffee and increased my intake of water immensely. I’ve traded in the junk food for a healthy diet and am currently counting calories consumed. I’ve been getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Still… I’ve been emotionally drained, socially terse, and completely off-balance. I’ve found myself falling into a dead sleep for several hours after work and still needing to go to bed early. I have not been working out because I’ve been sleeping. The very thought of trying to drive through Los Angeles traffic all the way to West Hollywood after work for a ballet class has simply been unfathomable. That is, until last night. I literally waited until I was ready to leave the house to sign into a class online. And I only felt comfortable with my “fat” girl skirt well hidden under an extra-large Social Distortion tee-shirt that I was hoping covered EVERYTHING. Part of my social shyness lately has been the fact that although I chose my path, I’ve been embarrassed by how I look. I know I look bad. I have a full length mirror that let’s me know the reality and the gravity of the situation. The body that was once getting strong and defined is now soft, tense, and tires easily. It’s hard to even think about standing in a room full of mirrors surrounded by twenty year old models, personal trainers, actors, and yoga instructors. They are all beautiful, tall, skinny, manicured, waxed, and know exactly how to stand under lights to look gorgeous. I haven’t had a wax and manicure in so long I can’t even remember. I had to SEARCH for my hairbrush! I hadn’t even yet begun to worry about how much I had forgotten, would I be able to do anything?!?!
But I went.
And with one step into the studio, I immediately realized what ballet class means to me. It’s not just how I keep in shape, it’s not just a fun hobby where I get to wear pink, it’s not just an excuse to buy super fun dance wear. Ballet class is where I find myself, it’s where I define who and what I am, it’s where I make friends that I actually look forward to seeing, it’s where everything is made right and happy and light. I think I forgot that somewhere months and months ago, I knew that going off on a different path would be okay because ballet class would be there to guide me back. When I lost myself in my dissertation, in overindulgence in stressed out eating, too much sitting, tensed up back and shoulders, somewhere back there I knew it would take delicious work in the studio at the barre to bring me home. They say that it can take a year, even two, to normalize after completing a doctorate. I was beginning to think it might take two years plus a day. But standing at the barre, the music sweetly calling, my ballet teachers voice counting, I remembered and I know it’s going to be alright. I have a long way to go but I just pas de bouree’d my first steps in the right direction, the best direction, the ballet direction. And all will be well.