PhD sneak peek – PhD in pictures

In a change from drawing PhD related octopi, I’ve been sketching some ideas for images to go as chapter headings… Reflecting on this I’m taken back to the hours I spent decorating the margins of my homework book in primary school. Good to see I have my priorities straight at this point.

So, as a preview of the story of my thesis, here are some of the chapter images… and in case you didn’t guess it, I’m missing the tricky ones like the introduction and the theory chapters…

Chapter 1 – Sharing for change: Sharing as a solution to contemporary Australian problems [no image yet – any ideas??]

Chapter 2 – Theories of social practice [no image yet – any ideas??]

Chapter 2 - Representations of Australian Suburban Life

Chapter 2 – Representations of Australian Suburban Life

Chapter 4 - Research Design

Chapter 4 – Research Design

Chapter 5 - Rules of Engagement

Chapter 5 – Rules of Engagement

Chapter 6a - Close yet distant: strong ties and prviate lives

Chapter 6a – Close yet distant: strong ties and prviate lives

Chapter 6b - Close yet distant: strong ties, private lives

Chapter 6b – Close yet distant: strong ties, private lives

Chapter 7 - Sharing as social practice: giving to take, taking to give

Chapter 7 – Sharing as social practice: giving to take, taking to give

Chapter 8 - Sharing to change: transactional or transformative change?

Chapter 8 – Sharing to change: transactional or transformative change?

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CFS + PhD = Good.

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.

Stolen independent woman image…

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!

Ahh… A nice soothing cup of tea!

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.

An ode to my friends

I wrote the following poem as an ode to the three incredible woman in my PhD life. I plan on writing a post about just how important having trusted friends has been throughout this PhD journey. Not only do these women know my academic work well, they also know about my private life, the trials and tribulations of my relationship. As I know about theirs.

I wrote this as the four of us took our selves off on a writing retreat on the east coast of Tasmania. We spent six glorious days writing, talking, drinking gin and tonic, eating incredible food, crying, laughing, walking, skinny dipping, argueing, pontificating, procrastinating, and inspiring.

Language warning on this one!

To my three companians of nerdity:

You say ‘fuck’ a lot.

And shit.

And mother fucker.

You mumble to yourself.

Talk obscurely

To your computer.

You hate post modernists

Effected by affect

And move on.

You stretch

You run

You juggle

You dance

Physically and mentally it seems

We talk over each other

Under each other

With each other

And about each other.

 

We say:

 

It’s a discourse analysis

An emergent methodology

With iterative renditions

Of a human-ish ecology

 

It’s co-productive governance

It’s sharing with your neighbours

It ‘s migrating to the city

It’s colonising favours

 

‘I think I’m back to Layder’

‘Now don’t you Checkland me!’

‘Do you think your mum would edit?

Nah, only for a fee’

 

‘Today my data’s useless’

‘I know this writing’s wrong’

Someone mentioned Neighbours

‘No! Don’t sing that fucking song!’

 

Does co-productive governance,

Have a wanky kind of ring?

Why can’t the other tutors

Just get on with their thing?

 

Someone is a booze hag

Or that is what they say

But who of us rejects a drink

To finish off the day

 

The ship it sunk without a trace

I’m feeling quite dejected

I can’t believe with so much work

My paper was rejected

 

Have you read some of this literature?

I think you’ll find it sweet

How come your methodology

Is so ‘mother fucking’ neat?

 

Although we all procrastinate

Today I’m doing well

I’m writing freaking poetry

My work has gone to hell.

Finishing a PhD

I’ve recently spent some time on a writing retreat with three other PhD students struggling, gallantly charging forward,  on the home-ish stretch to thesis completion. I promised them I’d share a cartoon that a very very dear friend of mine, Dr Kaitlin D. Beare, drew as she was in the final throws of her own doctorate. I’m not quite where she was at when she drew it, but I think I’m on my way there.

Thank you Dr. Kaitlin!

I must say I do feel incredibly thankful for the love of those friends around. Where would I be withouth cups of tea in the mornings, biscuits stashed in my letter box, offers of wine delivered to my office…

Bicycles #2 – It’s electrifying!!

So, we tried the bicycle built for two, it was fun, but not a transport solution for the poor Gazelle.

Next stop was the electric bicycle. Three million cheers! Imagine suddenly having the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. No parking hassles, minimal personal energy input, the wind in your beard and, finally, a way to travel with all of your friends.

Oh electric bike we love you!

The Gazelle bought himself an electric bicycle for about $2,000 shortly after we moved to hilly hobart. I know that that sounds like a lot of money, especially for people who are sick and desperately throwing cash at all sorts of cures, but it was worth every cent. Freedom. On. Wheels.

Electric bike we love you!!!

Someone asked me to write about the pros and cons of the electric bike.

Well, lets start with why it is good for the Gazelle:

  • FREEDOM: he can go anywhere, anytime. I think the battery lasts him about 30km which in very hilly Hobart seems like good going.
  • WIND IN HIS HAIR: for an outdoors man, it’s a relief to be back in the elements. His body gets gentle excercise (while you have to pedal to get the motor going, you do not need to actually use any force, so its really just freewheeling)
  • EQUALITY: we can do stuff together, just the way we like it. We get to meet each other and ride home from work (or, when he was still really sick, we could at least ride the short distance to a friend’s house)
  • NORMALITY: it makes him look normal and capable (the downside of this is that as I struggle some metres behind I look like the trailing incompetent girlfriend. I need a sign that says ‘He’s cheating!!’)
  • CHICK MAGNET: ok, maybe not chicks. But geez, nothing pulls a middle aged man like a young fella on an electric bicycle!
  • HAPPINESS: a number of times as I’ve been recovering from glandular fever, the Gazelle has dinked me on the back of his bicycle. Not only does it mean that he gets to look after me, but as I sit daintily, sidesaddle, we get so many happy looks and dopey soppy faces. Happiness. On. Wheels.

Hmmm and the cons…

  • CHARGING: you have to remember to charge it. If the battery runs out it’s a darn heavy bicycle to pedal around (the Gazelle, organised man that he is has never been caught short)
  • EXPENSE: it is quite a lot of money up front. There are cheaper models, but make sure you get something sturdy.
  • BALANCE: some people with CFS don’t have the energy to stay balanced. I still think it’s worth it, just start slowly. We recently recommended an electric bike to a fella with CFS. His seems energy levels seem worse than the Gazelle’s so balance is more of a challenge, but it seems to be helping his mental health at least.

But really, there are no cons… just do it.  Bite the bullet, rent one for a week, borrow one from somewhere (talk to your local bicycle group). It really is freedom on wheels.

Yes! Bicycling adventurers – CFS and all!

Hello Glandular Fever!

I have a new empathy for the Gazelle and an even shorter fuse for those people who brush of CFS as some kind of laziness that can be cured by the insertion of a little more gumption and a commitment to pull ones socks up to approximately armpit height.

Despite having promised the universe that yes, I did get the message and that yes, I was working on slowing down, it appears that I need yet another lesson. This month’s lesson has come in the form of a bout of glandular fever. I’ve never had glandular fever before and although, somewhat disappointingly, I seem to have missed out on the hallucinations of elephants that some of my friends managed, I have had a swollen gland the size of a golfball. And while I joked that it was simply my brain had become too big and was now taking up residence in my neck, the blood tests beg to differ.

Elephants (apologies for lack of credit to the artist – I can’t find who you are!)

I was so on track. My supervisor couldn’t quite believe that I had managed to stay on target, to the day, over the last three months. Yes Sir-ee, I was going to submit on the 18th of December. Ahem. After three weeks of doing absolutely nothing, aside from rolling around in the sunshine, watching the Olympics (who ever would have thought that synchronised gymnastics could actually contribute positively to the universal balance of sanity), and half heartedly attempting to read vaguely relevant literature, it appears that I no longer will be submitting this year.

But you know what? The most gloriously wonderful thing about all of this is… I don’t care! I’m not getting stressed! FINALLY! I’m learning something! To accept the slow. To accept it, rather than to panic. And you know what? I’m really proud of myself. I’ve actually learnt something over these last few years of living with the Gazelle and Ern. The trials and tribulations have not been for nothing.

Erh, but don’t look too hard for a halo. While I have yet another insight into the incredible strength of the Gazelle, who has survived and thrived not just three weeks of depleted energy but FOUR YEARS, I’ve also suddenly got absolutely zero time for those who don’t ‘get it’. And even LESS time for the people who, despite knowing the Gazelle and I, seem to feel the need to say ‘look after yourself, you don’t want to end up with chronic fatigue’, or ‘oh surely you are over it by now’, or ‘now you be careful, my brother had it and hasn’t been the same for twenty years’. Oh all kindly meant I know, but GAH!

So as I sit here trying to work out how to re-engage with my PhD, struggling because I am an all or nothing person and an hour of work a day just doesn’t work for me, I marvel once again at the tenacity, the courage and the sheer bloody mindedness that kept the Gazelle fighting for his health. Sure, he lost it sometimes into the deep dark hole of Ern, but even then he didn’t let go.

And now, now its my turn to struggle to leave the house. And he is the one who brings me a cup of tea in bed. He is the one who works out what to have for dinner, brings me home movies, and cheers me up with an out of control double chocolate chocolate cake[1].

And best of all, although we still don’t have a car, and I’m just not up to riding my bike… three million cheers because dinking on the electric bicycle (to be blogged about very soon) works a treat!


[1] Not actually recommended as any kind of CFS/glandular fever recovery tool, but the sheer pleasure of being faced with such a dog-poo pile of icing on a cupcake surely helps at least occasionally.

Thank you

This is where I say thanks to all the people who helped me get through the last four years with a pronkless Gazelle.

Thank you. Thank you for believing, for trusting and for never judging. Thank you for offering your advice, your arms, your distractions and your commitment to me.

And sorry. Sorry that I wasn’t able to share more clearly with you the good things in my life. I was struggling to keep my head above water.

Etching by Michael Leunig

One of the most incredible things that always seems to happen in difficult times is the amazing support that emerges. I was particularly impressed with the way in which my mum and some of my friends were able to seperate out the Gazelle and the Gazelle’s illness. Rather than considering him a bad person, they considered him a person with a disease. In his most depressed times mum would ring up and ask  him ‘how is your depression?’ She said if he’d had the measles or broken his arm she’d be asking, and depression and CFS was no different.

Although ALL of my friends were fantastic, there was one in particular who was there not only for me but for the Gazelle. When When I first met the Gazelle I’d had a short string of lovely but inapropriate boyfriends and I’d completely lost all faith in my ability to judge a suitable partner. When the Gazelle proposed a bushwalk with a mutual friend, I convinced Friend Fantastica to come along to.  It was touch and go that trip and as we cleaned our teeth together that night under the stars there may or may not have been a bit of ‘oh my hand is so cold’ sneaky hand holding going on (nothing says romance like a mouth full of toothpaste!). Indeed, the Gazelle took it as a good sign and celebrated by sleeping outside my tent in the open air with his smelly bushwalking shoes as a pillow…

Anyway, not being one to rush into these things anymore I refused to progress our relationship past clandestine moonlit handholding until Friend Fantastica had given him the nod of approval. Obviously she did so and I think we will both be eternally grateful (in all honestly, I would have abandoned him had she thought him not for me).

But what makes me even more grateful is that not once. NOT ONCE, in the whole 6 years has she ever stopped backing him. Indeed after a particularly fateful event in which the Gazelle’s wiring managed to completely short circuit and I had to boot him off to his parents house for a few nights, it as Friend Fantastica who had the courage to call him and talk him through it. You know who you are dear and we are both eternally grateful (which means you’re now in two eternities of credit!).

It was that courage displayed by friends and family to get things wrong, to intrude into our lives in sometimes elegant sometimes elephant ways that has kept us sane, laughing and getting better. Of course, sometimes I had to ask for help… but that is another post and, coincidentally relates rather closely to my PhD… expect a long one!