I started going to therapy late in the summer to help make my transition back home and back to academia easier. My time with my therapist has been useful to me and being that this is A Ticket for Two, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned with you all.
When you’re not doing what you should be doing
It’s midterm season, and whenever midterms come around I realize that I approach this season of buckling down by floating away. I have no urgency until the last minute, and then I have to lock myself in my room, or in a Starbucks, or in a Panera Bread, or in a Library until I have finished my work and submitted it 2 hours before the deadline (somehow I never cut it any closer). I feel like my luck is going to run out some day, and this is a terrible student habit that I should fix, ASAP.
The first question my therapist asked me was, “Should according to who or what?”
When we use the word should, we should take a step back and replace it with something more specific such as, “I feel as if I need to be a more organized student,” or “My family/friends/boss have made me feel that I have to be quicker with my work.” Getting more specific about where this pressure or anxiety is coming from, whether its exterior or interior, can clue you in to what you need to focus on.
Avoiding your responsibilities doesn’t mean what you think it does
I told my therapist about my coffee-fueled IKEA furniture binge a few nights before. Basically, 5 pages into a 10 page minimum paper, I took a break to play Wii ping-pong in the living room (I play left-handed now for the challenge and just hit Pro!).
I returned to see my laptop on my soft, comfortable, and warm bed, and my eyes fixated on those damned IKEA boxes in my closet. Tonight was the night that they had to be UNLEASHED.
I built an entire table (IKEA mistakes of putting legs on the wrong spots and correcting that mistake three different times and all) at 2am in the morning. By the time I finished around 3am, I placed my laptop on my new table, and promptly went to sleep. I had successfully avoided my work for nearly four hours straight. I. am. a. monster.
I did this three times that night! I put the legs on in the wrong direction!
I relayed this story to my therapist expecting her to agree that, “Yes, you are a monster. It’s incredible how you’ve scammed your way to this point, because if you don’t live for your midterm and die for your midterm, what on earth are you doing in grad school, let alone a PhD program? What is wrong with you, you low-down-dirty-dog?”
That, to my grave disappointment, was not what she said to me.
She said, “So it sounds like you didn’t want to do your midterm?”
To that I replied, “Well, I wanted to do it because I want to do well in class.”
“Of course you do, which is why you did it eventually.”
“Well…. I guess I did.”
“Thinking that your shortcomings, which even that is up for debate, is a mark against your character, is not only untrue, but its a disservice to you and what you actually do accomplish. You didn’t want to do it on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. But you did it on those days because you want to succeed… or am I wrong? You think I don’t understand?”
“I’m a lazy student. I always do this, I never really have to try, I buckle under pressure, I’m a Last Minute Louie-“
“But you get the work done anyway. You’re here. Several obstacles have been put in your way to make sure you’re up to the challenge of a Doctoral program, and you made it. You sometimes don’t want to do work that doesn’t excite you, or you don’t want to do work that comes easy to you, but you always do it anyway.“
This photo is a lie, I would *never* have spare uneaten cookies in my presence.
Instead of saying, “I’m lazy,” or “I’m not a good student,” you can say, “I feel as if [this action] is lazy,” or, “I feel like I’m not a good student because X.” This is the same point as before, in which being more specific about what’s causing you to feel the way you feel helps you address the problem.
Have you heard of impostor syndrome?
When my therapist asked me this I burst into laughter. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll remember my post on being a “high achieving fraud,” and even though I’m conscious of my tendency to doubt myself, it’s a habit that’s hard to escape. When she said this, though, I started to realize how this connected to my feelings of anxiety regarding my work this semester. I felt like my mistakes were signs that I didn’t belong where I was, when really, my mistakes have yet to stop me from getting the work done. Some of them weren’t even mistakes, but me just not feeling 100% excited about being in school. This is a big change for me, my entire lifestyle is different now. Instead of running away from it, I should face it. Be present in it.
Maybe when I fully check out from school will I need to seriously consider what I’m doing wrong, but as for now, I am fully capable of handling my tasks, despite the occasional bouts of laziness. Acknowledging these feelings now can only aid me to understanding myself in the future.
So, how does it feel now?
So after our talk, as with every talk, my therapist asks me how I’m feeling as a result of our discussion. I told her I was a little disappointed. I had been internalizing this feeling of laziness and unworthiness, and once the power was removed from those feelings (being bored is natural, and you’re not unworthy just because you didn’t want to do your work in a certain moment), I felt relieved and a little bit empty. So much of my identity has been wrapped up in how awful I am lately, and finding a new way free from that burden was…something different.
Next time you find yourself putting off some work, acknowledge why you’re doing it. “I don’t want to wash dishes right now, I would rather play Wii ping-pong.” Those decisions don’t reflect on who you are as a person, you don’t have to want to do all things at all times. It’s okay.