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Well, hasn’t it been a crazy fortnight.

It’s surprising how much stress builds up in your body subconsciously when you wake up at 6am each day, force down a quick breakfast, power-walk to the office, spend the entire day typing, chasing up things you have to rely on other people to do for you, and teaching undergrads, power-walk home at 6pm, force down a quick dinner, and then proofread the day’s work before hitting the pillow at midnight. When I was doing that for the last 2 weeks I never once felt sick. I didn’t even feel particularly tired or cranky. It was just go, go, go.

But now it’s finished, and I’ve stopped, stopped, stopped.

And the migraine has begun.

I was up at 6am again this morning out of habit, but I felt really strange. I finished writing my thesis yesterday. I mean actually fully, totally, finished. Including proofing, cross-checking the references, and formatting. The weirdness started yesterday afternoon when I finished formatting the lists of tables and figures (the last thing I was working on in the thesis). I converted the file to pdf, made multiple backups, and went and delivered a copy to my supervisor. This morning I went to the binder to order the four copies with glue binding. Three for the examiners and the viva chair, one for me.

And today, I’ve just been feeling blank. My head hurts, especially my frontal lobes (which have no doubt been overworked for the last few years and are now in a strange blank state, having nothing left to do). I’ve been chasing up a few last things for submission. I’ve printed my declaration form, and my accompanying materials. Things are almost ready to go for next Wednesday.

I just feel so strange. This has to be the strangest feeling I’ve ever felt. Headache-y, happy, sad, sick, joyful, focused, and insane, all at the same time. And sleepy. Dude, I could do with some sleep right now to get rid of this migraine.

Three years ago I would never have believed I would one day be here, where I am right now. Actually, I didn’t even believe that last week. It didn’t really sink in until the work-till-you-drop routine I’d been on ended yesterday, and I realised there was nothing else left to do. I just sat there at my desk, dazed and stupefied.

I guess that’s what I’m doing now. I just…feel so blank.

But this blankness is different from the blankness I felt when I couldn’t write before. I think it’s a content kind of blankness, a blankness that has seen more than eighty thousand words written, unwritten, and rewritten, and the many thousands more that have come to pass as old, discarded drafts – a blankness that sits back and thinks, well, it’s done. There’s nothing more left to do.

And after I submit next week, I guess I’ll progress to the next stage of the PhD – worrying about my viva.

I wonder if this will ever end.

It’s amazing how many PhD-related injuries I’m suffering from at the moment.

I’ve had a bad back for at least 6 months now. I used to think it was because something was wrong with the way I sleep or the bed I sleep on, but it has persisted steadily through attempts to change sleeping positions, sleep on an extra layer of doona, and sleep more hours or fewer hours. Now I think it happens because I have to sit in a swivel chair in the office all day, then go home and sit in another swivel chair all evening, then sleep on a potentially dodgy bed, then wake up and do the whole thing again. Sure, I take breaks during the day – I get up and take a walk, chat with people in the hall, make tea – but the bulk of my time is spent sitting rigidly in a swivel chair, typing, emailing, worrying and procrastinating.

Then there’s the dry eyes. This undoubtedly occurs because of the long hours spent in staring contests with the screen or paper in front of me. I don’t wear glasses and have always had pretty good vision, and I don’t hunch my back or try to stare too closely when I’m reading, yet still after a few hours I find my eyes have started hurting or stinging and they will not be relieved until I close them. Sometimes I have to call it a day and go to sleep, as the dryness can’t seem to be blinked away immediately.

Alongside these there are also migraines. I have never suffered particularly badly from them, but lately I’ve found I go home with a throbbing headache almost every evening. The aches usually begin in my frontal lobes, then my temporal lobes start throbbing, and then every so often there are these stab-like pains from deep inside my limbic system, right in the middle of my brain below the surface. Because I don’t take pharmaceuticals if I can help it, I usually have to sleep it off, meaning it usually takes the whole night to get rid of the migraine. Then I wake up and get back to work, until the next migraine comes along again.

Hmm. What else?

I have a broken toe at the moment. The way it came about is, surprisingly for me, not directly related to my PhD, though it is perhaps indirectly so. This occurred during a sudden urge to stretch my back after a long sitting session in a swivel chair, when I got up abruptly and stepped out from behind the desk, only to hit my toe against the protruding leg of a dressing mirror. Fortunately most of the pain, swelling and bruising has now gone, through the splint bandage and cotton wool looks set to stay on a couple weeks more.

Oh, and my sprained wrist. My left wrist has been playing up for quite a few months now, despite not being subjected to any more wear and tear than my right wrist. I’m right-handed though, so perhaps my right wrist has developed more strongly than the left. I do a lot of typing, not to mention other activities when I’m taking time off (like cooking or cycling), and though the pressure on each of my wrists seems pretty equal to me, for some reason the left one gets these dull aches, especially when I flex it backwards. Anyway, my wrist is now bandaged to keep it straighter and more stable, though I am still, obviously, typing this with it!

And finally: My thesis gut. With so much time spent sitting around, my brain cells are usually the only part of my body to get a strenuous workout (although I do 30-minute brisk walks during the academic year to get from home to the office and back). For some reason, though, I often get vigorously hungry and can demolish a large plateful in 10 minutes or so. This has led to a feeling of bloatedness or bulging in my stomach, which is strange for me as I tend to have a very fast metabolism and seem to burn food quickly. It is the strangest thing in the world to feel completely stuffed and still have pathetic stick-insect-like proportions.

I think these sorts of complaints are pretty common among PhD students of the world, and I am sure many of them suffer more than I do. But equally, I think about the people who are homeless and destitute, and the children lying in hospital beds, and I feel fortunate.

If you’re still reading this, good luck with whatever challenges you are taking on in your research today. I feel the beginning of a headache coming on, so I think I’ll sign off here and get back to my data collection and soul-searching.

I have been procrastinating for a year and a half in finding out the answer to a question no one else cares about: Where is my research going next? What is the final leg of its journey? That’s what I have to find out.

It’s not just a figure of speech. Today my brain has, actually, been replaced by a huge concrete block which is causing me a splitting migraine and I cannot churn out anything that I feel is good enough. The migraine’s center is just behind my eyes and in my temples, covering the lower frontal and frontal temporal lobes. Occasionally there is a sharp pain from somewhere in my limbic system – undoubtedly my hippocampus processing damning memories of my decision to start this futile thing in the first place. I have a vague idea of the things I want to say and how they piece together, but the words to say them escape me.

I hate this block and wish there were some way to tear it out of my head and get my brain back that normally has such a brilliant reputation.

I haven’t had use of that brain for so long.  

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!