The Sword of Damocles

I'm sure we all are familiar with the feeling of stress, but what about the extraordinary kind? The kind that robs you of sleep, ties your stomach in knots and turns you into an emotional wreck for weeks? If you have not yet to experience this, congratulations. Tell me your secrets. Currently I am so stressed I am sick and frustrated and desperately trying to get my proverbial ducks in a row.

Image courtesy of Christina Mandelski
While ducks are adorable, they only briefly distract me from my stress. Why am I so stressed, you might ask? One part of it is my brain chemistry, another part of it is conditioning, the final part is the current point at which I find myself.

I recently decided to stop taking anti-anxiety medication and while I am not anxious like I was before I began taking it this time around, I feel every single spike in my brain activity. It is often disconcerting and hard to remember such things are normal. No one can be happy and calm 100% of the time - unless they are heavily medicated, which is not my bag. The doctor recommended I take a low dose of anxiety medication, just enough to "take the edge off" so I could focus on the tasks at hand. But now the tasks seem too much. Moving to Germany is a "sure" thing. While I am beyond excited at the prospect of fully settling down on the same continent as the love of my life, the paperwork, travel arrangements, jet lag and nights apart are stressful. The transition does not seem as easy this time around and while I still have time before I move (August/September 2017?), one cannot ignore the steps to make a "permanent" move across the Atlantic happen legally. However, I am lucky to have my partner, my family and friends, some with similar experiences, to help and support me, so for now, I am focusing on something even more pressing.

Whenever I look up, the sword of Damocles is waiting for me. The dissertation of doom has zapped me of my life force. It is a gargantuan task that one is supposed to complete largely unassisted (unfortunately for me not entirely by choice). Where is the motivation? Where is the dream job? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Where's the beef? Oops, sorry...American marketing is too good. For those of you who don't remember:

Essentially I am in a love-hate relationship with my dissertation project. I love the topic and the films I am writing about, but the execution is shoddy. It reminds me of previous toxic relationships I have been in: you just can't seem to get out of no matter how hard you try. A dissertation also lasts far longer than most "real" or tangible human-human relationships. So how can you be in a "real" relationship, when your dissertation should be your #1?

I have decided that my relationship to my boyfriend, and to the real world, is ultimately more important. The toughest, most stressful decision I have to make, is whether or not I want to finish the dissertation. The thought of another year of writing in isolation, another year of earning peanuts, another year of putting my life on hold makes me sick. I had hoped this would all have worked out differently and that I could have seen the end in sight. I wanted to defend in the spring of 2017. But I am not sure how that is possible. I would rather write this blog and work on manuscripts and learn other languages and continue translating Nazi euthanasia documents (for a UIC professor and neurologist - it's my job, not my choice!) instead of pressing out page after miserable page of slop. I want to proud of the dissertation, but now I feel like I just need to get it done, perfection has long since been damned. Maybe that is the key? Just do it, like Nike? Still, the motivation is not there. Academia is a beast that is best left alone.


So you see, dear readers, on this happiest of Fridays, I am conflicted. I am thankful for everything I have and for all the love in my life, but I am stressed. The stress is eating at my insides and I want it to stop. For the stress to stop it makes I have to make an executive decision. I'm pretty sure I know what it is, but means four years of hard work will be thrown out the window, should I go with my gut. And my gut rules my life, especially in stressful times. A little stress is good and biologically necessary, but a lot of stress can eventually kill you by causing all sorts of problems. I am trying to relax and smell the roses, but that sword won't go away. It seems like I have to end one relationship so all of my other relationships, including the one with myself, do not wind up broken.

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