This is not meant to be a whining post. It’s more of a sharing of “what I’ve learned while in grad school” post, I hope.
Justification out of the way. Check.
I’ve always been a loner. Well, I don’t know if everyone would have seen that of me, but that’s how I’ve always felt. Sure, in high school I was in all of the right organizations and hung out with some really awesome people. But at the end of the day, I was happiest curled up with a book, losing myself in some other world (typically horror and/or fantasy). Maybe that came from moving around a lot as a child. I came to depend on my family for my social connections. I mean, they were always there; they typically got me (except for that time in my late teens when I shaved designs in my hair and my Dad definitely DID NOT GET ME). But overall, I had pretty cool parents and siblings I liked (despite the fighting).
That was a long time ago.
Insert domestic violence, geographic isolation, and aging through my teens, twenties, thirties, and forties here. These things affected my feelings of isolation even from the foundational support of my family. While somewhat pertinent to my state of mind, not at all interesting in this story. Check.
So I’m a loner. Add grad school in. Add in that I’m 1800 miles from the support foundation that I’ve relied on most of my life. Add in the lack of funds to travel home (unlike most of my fellow students who seem to be able to do this easily, or at least often). Add in the confusion about what “home” means anymore. Add in that I’m a 45-year-old woman without many relationships outside of family (I am lacking in the expertise to make this happen well). Check.
So my loneliness is not necessarily related to grad school, except that it is. I’m in dissertating mode, and I’ve become more of a hermit than I ever was. I have gone days without talking to a single person. I have gone weeks, especially during holidays and summer break, without seeing another person. And I don’t have my nieces and nephews (or even my parents and siblings) to call me up and ask me to come out for the day.
Add in the holidays. Since starting my PhD program, I hate the period from Thanksgiving (traditionally my family’s big holiday, but this seems to have waned) through New Year’s Day. There is Thanksgiving, my sister’s birthday, my birthday, my mom’s birthday, Solstmas (Solstice/Christmas/whatever), and New Year’s. Add in that my family is not really one for gift-giving, but we would go out for dinner on one’s birthday, so I don’t typically get anything on these days (and sometimes a phone call or card is even a miracle). (And really, I don’t care about gifts, I care more about knowing that someone took the time to think about me. And before you wonder if I give gifts, I do. When I’m able to go home, I go with gifts for everyone, and remember them all on their birthdays. It’s not because I’m better than them. I’m not. I just like to give gifts.)
And this has officially become a whining post. Argh. Check.
So I will end with one thought: pet-sitting has saved my life. Had it not been for the good fortune of meeting people who trust me with their homes and pets, I would have spent all of my holidays and birthday alone. Instead, I’ve spent this time (and during all of the previous years I’ve been here) with some really lovely furry critters who give me lots of unconditional love. And who make me smile. And who don’t mind that I’m a loner, because I do it with them.
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