Some people might have thought I was mad to start a PhD while the Gazelle and I were still anxiously and frantically trying to wrangle his CFS. It’s been three and a half years now of PhD octopus wrangling and I’ve been reflecting on why a PhD and (someone else’s) CFS make a good combination. Or why they do for us anyway.
Firstly, doing a PhD gave me a sense of indulgence. It’s something that I do for myself. I’m not working for the man, I’m working for the me, and thus it’s a strong and active decision in which I come first. My PhD is a sign to the world that I am more than the partner of the Gazelle (does that make me a gazellette?*), more than a carer, I am my own independent valuable person.
I have to remind myself everyday that I am not stuck in this job because I need the money (it doesn’t pay that well!) but because I want to be here. Of couse, we’re lucky we could afford for me to do this.
Doing a PhD helped me set some boundaries. I made it really clear to the Gazelle that if he wanted to enter my office (either at home or at work) he had to ask my permission. Recently he came into my home office and rearranged the power board… my tired thesis self couldn’t cope and I ended up in a flood of tears. I think he’s realised why I need that seperation between work and the rest of my life. My office is my space and he has to leave his shit at the door.
The second reason why a PhD works well with CFS is that when you are doing a PhD, like when you have CFS, you kind of isolate yourself from normal active life. I don’t get out bushwalking, climbing, riding, nearly as much as I otherwise would because I have no space in my brain to organise such things and because after a hard weeks work, I like to be at home. And so we’re both disabled in a sense. I’m less put out by the Gazelle’s inability to just pack up and go bushwalking for the weekend, than I would be if I worked my ideal three day per week job.
It’s also been a good combination because, now that he’s finally got a bit more energy, it’s my turn to be demanding. Not that we have a balance sheet listing everything we’ve ever done for each other, but because I’ve put good time and energy into looking after him, I feel much less guilty that I otherwise would have in demanding cups of tea in bed to deal with thesis induced morning panic!
And on final reflection, watching a number of my colleagues struggle to work out how to balance relationships and PhDs, it’s refreshing to finally feel like all that time and effort the Gazelle and I have put into communicating with each other, managing stress, exhaustion and brain fog, is finally paying off. The early days of a CFS relationship were good training for the final push of a thesis!
*Interestingly I just looked up the word ‘gazelle’ to see if there was a gender specific version… turns out that Gazelle also means “a beautiful woman of God”… interesting.