52 Weeks of Writing: Week 22—This is the week I got my PhD again

Okay, so that was a week. Again, I have to hold my hands up right at the outset and admit that I haven't done any fiction writing this week. In fact, I've barely done any writing, other than journaling. I've maintained my streak on 4theWords and that is IT.

A couple of reasons for this. The first is practical. I had marking to do. I spent a lot of time procrastinating about it over the weekend, so I had to pull out the stops this week to make sure I got it all done on time. The second is more emotional. There's something very draining about marking, which meant that I didn't have much emotional or psychological space to deal with anything else.

I didn't even do anything on the Babel blog post I've been working on for what feels like a million years at this point. This week feels like it was utterly arduous without anything really happening.

1. What was my biggest accomplishment over the past week?

I'm still in this long process of achieving, celebrating, being awarded my PhD. This is confusing to a lot of people. My partner, T, goes to parties and events, and everybody asks about me and my PhD. He explains that I've got it but somehow I'm still working on it.

This is thoroughly discombobulating. It's a strange process that's drawn out over such a long period, with so many different phases. This week's phase was the one where, after submitting the final final version of the thesis, I received a letter confirming my award.

This means I can now set in motion the wheels of graduation for next month. Is this an accomplishment? You know what, maybe it is. Perhaps a PhD is such a big thing it deserves to have many stages and epochs to its final acquisition.

That being said, this was also a week of odd frustrations. I would dearly love to float about on a cloud of whimsy until I graduate, but alas, real life insists on demanding I tackle new obstacles. This week's came in the form of a bad interaction. I survived, that's all I can say.

Neurotypical people be crazy. That's all I'm going to say about that—in this section.

The only other achievement I can think of is getting a lot of marking done. A LOT.

2. What lessons did I learn from things that didn’t go quite right?

Okay, let's talk about communication. It's typical in autistic diagnostic criteria to list difficulties with communication. I don't think it's so much difficulties; "differences" does a pretty good job.

My life as an undiagnosed autistic was that I'd think I was doing fine, being kind and thoughtful and doing my best in an interaction, when suddenly the person on the other side of that communication would suddenly lash out and accuse me of being abusive or uncaring or otherwise awful.

Another of those events happened this week. This time, everyone I spoke to said it definitely wasn't me, it was them. I found all of this very distressing. At no point did I intend harm. In fact, the apparent harm was caused by an attempt to put somebody at ease.

I know, I'm vaguebooking here, but I don't have the space in a review post to go through it and it's not the point of mentioning it here. The point is to consider the lessons from this.

My partner was furious with the other party. He was also deeply supportive. That helped. But I had to do two things from this encounter, which resulted in me having to very suddenly do a thing I find very difficult.

I had to go and ask a stranger for help, at short notice. I then had to accept that help, which required being in an uncomfortable social situation for a while, on a busy day (today).

Lesson: Not that I can do that kind of thing. It's always going to be very tough. I'm not always going to manage it. Instead, the lesson comes from allowing myself to have a few meltdowns over the last day or so as this was playing out. I got overwhelmed, I got a migraine.

I also survived. Sometimes, it's unavoidable that this happens. I made it out alive, but I also allowed myself to be a bit broken and overwhelmed, which meant the migraine wasn't as bad as it could've been.

3. What (quotes, affirmations, etc.) kept me inspired this week?

I still don't really do quotes or affirmations. However, today on a call with a lot of other academics, a professor I know mentioned a quote by the ballerina Natalia Makarova. I don't remember the exact words but the spirit of it was that you can't give out to the world unless you've actually filled yourself up first.

I'm not very good at that, but I'm trying to learn how to be better at it.

4. Did I complete any projects or tasks this week?

This week really was all about marking.

I got through all of the papers I'd been assigned from the coursework. Next week, I have to work on the exam scripts. Expect more of the same in this slot next week.

Marking is a very complicated task, and I don't think we really respect how unbelievably hard it is to do. Every paper will be different, and present a new challenge. What you do in your head while marking an essay is incredibly complicated, as a result.

If all I had to do was look for grammar and spelling issues, it would be straightforward. If all I had to do was check each student had included a list of required facts, that'd also be simple. But I have to look at spelling, grammar, facts, tone, argument, structure, and weigh it all against a range of factors and assign it a grade.

I then have to write all of this up, half an hour per paper, and produce feedback, most of which won't be read. I try to remember, even when it's 9pm and I've been doing this since 7am, that this student is living through one of the toughest periods we've seen in a long time, and is a human being with feelings.

I try to be positive, to be encouraging. To talk about what they can improve on next time rather than demolishing them for making mistakes. Some students do submit papers that need a lot more work. Some students don't care. But since I'm marking anonymously, I can't tell (except the ones who submit obviously plagiarised papers) what they might've been experiencing while working on their assignments.

Maybe that makes me soft. But damn, we probably have enough hard things in life right now.

5. Any pending tasks?

This is what I'm facing next week. More marking! Essay scripts, this time. Marking for another GTA who can't complete their work (for which I will be paid extra). Next week will probably be a time.

Plus, everything I thought I was going to do this week but didn't get to because I was marking.

6. Did I stick to my plan and stay focused?

I had a plan? I'm pretty sure I did. I wanted to do more things, but I think I set my expectations too high. I will reset for next week and reduce my expectations. No doubt there will be more YouTube videos involved in all of that.

7. What kind of progress did I make on my big monthly, quarterly, or yearly goals?

This is very news-just-in, but this is a pre-goal scenario unfolding gradually. Just as the end of achieving a goal is a long, drawn-out process, so is starting or setting up to start the next thing.

Just today, I've been passed some information about what my next steps might be. My only progress on that has been to look at the odd webpage and think about options. I've also agreed to meet with somebody, to make a networking connection (go me) with someone else.

Oh, and I've been sent a link that might point to some work in the interim.

Of Amnar, alas, nothing as yet. I have no creative resources left.

8. What is the #1 thing I need to accomplish next week?

MARKING. Exam scripts, this time. In terms of a possible-future-exciting-thing, I'm going to attend some kind of workshop about it, to see what I can learn about how I might set something up around that.

9. What can I do right now to make next week less stressful?

The world is an unpredictable place. Anything could make next week intensely stressful, as it did this week. However, another lesson worth learning is that continuing to keep going at the same pace when everything gets overwhelming doesn't make any of it better. So if I do get stressed out, I'm going to put the brakes on and try to be kinder to myself.

However, I suspect I may have to scale back editing as long as I'm marking. It's too much to try to do too much of both. I've had high expectations of myself, and often the best thing you can do in terms of self-care is to not expect anything very much of yourself. Sometimes, you've just got to be.

10. What am I most grateful for about this past week?

I'm extremely grateful to my partner for being incredibly supportive, and to my therapist for the same sentiment. For being prepared to go into battle on my behalf. Also for a group of women I encountered this lunch time who were hilarious and supportive and know far more about the best sources of local pies and other lunch time treats than you'd expect.

Oh yes, and I got a special all over head mask that's supposed to help with migraines. Since I had a migraine, I got to try it out. It looks utterly ridiculous, but since my eyes are covered I can't see what I look like, so I figure it's fine.

See you next week.