Monday, October 22, 2007

Confronting Panic

I saved myself from a near panic attack this morning. I think it was set off in part by the wildfires that are ravaging north san diego and in part by the overwhelming dialog that I have been having with my advisors the past few days.

First, the fires. I have to admit that I have an irrational fear of global warming. Every time there is some sign of extreme weather behavior I begin to despair on the state of the environment. I'm sure some would say that this fear is not irrational - what is irrational of course is my reaction to the fear. In my head I overwhelm myself with scenarios of disaster and future discomfort that will be brought on by the changing climate. As a person at child-bearing age and as someone thinking about starting a family soon, I reconsider my biological instinct to have children. What kind of world would I be bringing them into? What kind of life will they lead? Will their world be filled with catastrophes and suffering? Is this fair to them that I make the decision for them to have to exist in it and fight through it? And then, I selfishly calm myself down by considering how lucky we are to live in a country/city/state/family that is wealthy and most likely will not be the ones most harmed by these changes. How can that be my sole source of comfort? The other source I comfort I try to find is in a sense of optimism that the human population will pull together to make the drastic changes necessary to repair the damage we have caused. Though after telling myself this - I secretly know deep down inside that this is highly unlikely. Though I do retain hope.

Second cause of panic attack. This is not easy for me to admit publicly. While I try to be as honest as possible on this blog - I also have to protect my ego in some cases. This is not one of those times. I have my successes and my failures - as do most people. I recently turned in a chapter draft to my committee (as you may recall). First advisor comments were tough but all constructive and doable - nothing surprising. Second advisor, ED, laid down a big blow on Friday evening thereby completely ruining my weekend in all of one swoop. His comments were harsh, tough, mean, and as in the words of my other advisor (patronizing and condescending). And what has come out of this for me are an incredibly overwhelming few days; on the one hand, trying to organize and comprehend the next steps to be taken in my work and research, and on the other hand battling with the little voice in my head that keeps saying, "Maybe, you are not cut out for this."

As I work to silence the little voice in my head. The more dominant me is wondering how long it will take me to read the entire list of books that ED told me to read. Will this put me back? How long? SS thinks that I can have the chapter revised in a month and I see that as doable. But then there is the other issue that ED brought up to me which is about having mastered a literature on architecture history, practice, and theory that I have gaps in. If I am to put myself on the job market as an architectural historian - I need to have mastered this entire body of literature and this is separate from my dissertation.

I guess what is surfacing for me is one of the major challenges of being in an interdisciplinary PhD program - that the world outside of the program is not interdisciplinary yet and ultimately, I need to be able to fit in somewhere. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of my Program most of the foundational work I also have to do independently.


Emily said...

I've read your blog for sometime now, but never commented. I'm an art history phd student as well, though i'm in the process of finishing my coursework (yeah may '08!) and trying to somehow decide what my dissertation is going to be. i'm dreadfully panicked about my own writing - and i know the overwhelming sense that you've been experiencing - i'm afraid to even tell my adviser my dissertation idea in the possibility it might all collapse around me. and while i just past whats called our "first exam" i still have my orals ahead off me to advance to candidacy - and it makes me just nauseas. i think you are really brave for putting it all out there - the good and the bad, in some weird way it makes me not feel alone - as this whole grad school thing can be so isolating.

eloise said...


Thanks so much for you comment and your support. Yes, grad school can be completely isolating and confusing. Sometimes I think we are masochists for what we allow ourselves to be put through!

Good luck on your exams. As for grad school, I'm happy to help you navigate through it if I can in any way. Maybe I can offer some advice from one of my advisors whom I really trust and admire:

FS says, "The process of writing a dissertation is for most people always a struggle, not only to find a voice and to clarify your problematics, but also to actually work out what a dissertation actually is or needs to be. All this to say that it is a learning process and full of trial and error."

So with this knowledge, we will trudge our way through and make it out on the other side as doctors. :-)

Take care,


Christine said...

I have no experience with dissertation, but I wanted to thank you for writing about you fears with global warming. I tend to panic about that stuff as well. My seasonal allergies have been so bad the last number of years that the thought of warmer days and no winter send me into a state of panic. I would rather deal with a cold or sinus infection over allergies any day. Plus I miss the beautiful colors of fall.

eloise said...

Fall is my favorite season in Southern California. It is usually cold, crisp, and dry. This year it has been warm and dry. Right now I am praying for the weather to change so that these firefighters can do their job!