I had imagined that when I quit my PhD, I would spend several months flailing around in a mound of mulch. I wouldn’t have the wherewithal even to get out of bed, now that all the external demands on me were gone. I would ponder, sadly, what will possibly become of me.
To my surprise, that is not what has happened. In fact, the very day after quitting I left the house early with a spring in my step, and went to the centre where I had (reluctantly, up till that point) been working on my writing in an artist residency. That day, I felt so excited I almost couldn’t breathe. It felt like I had taken off some scummy glasses and finally could see the world in high definition. Gripped by a manic intensity, I spent hours filling pieces of paper with lists, with thoughts and dreams and ideas and things I hoped to make.
That was two months ago, and since then things have continued the same way in a stream of sustained and joyful creativity. Since deciding to quit my PhD I have made connections with a community of artists and writers who I meet several times a week for supportive co-writing. I have formed a “Shut-Up-And-Write” group, taught a workshop called “Writing Under Pressure”, initiated a large-scale collaboration between different cultural organisations to create a festival of self-publishing, collaborated with another writer on a zine about teenage-hood, written and performed two highly acclaimed Moth StorySlam stories, met with an associate professor to discuss our mutual research interests, co-facilitated a reading group session on critical disability studies, collaborated with another writer on a zine about teenage-hood, conceptualised two collaborative book projects together with my partner (one popular academic and a children’s book series) and completed the text for three brand new zines.
Writing this down, I am very surprised at how long this list is. I am surprised because this has all felt so effortless. Reaching out, making connections, contacting the right people, finding a place to work, sitting down and coughing out the words each day. It has not been draining, not one iota. On the contrary, it has been the very definition of enlivening. The quiet and sweet contentment of every day, of a day well worked and well lived is a reward in itself.
I don’t write down this list as a celebration of productivity for its own good. I don’t think there is anything inherently good or morally righteous about working hard for its own sake. If I had spent those months doing nothing it would be an equally valid, equally worthy course of action. (although of course hard to be with in different ways)
I write down this list as a quiet celebration of a long-awaited reunion with my mind. For the last four years I have treated my mind as a problem. As something that would never goddamn obey instructions. As something I had to medicate to force it to get into line. As something broken. Something I could never rely on. I have been in a constant, deadly warfare with the way I think, work, move. Scared that if I relaxed my efforts at control for even a second then everything would go to pieces. Well, guess what? “Everything” – ie. my PhD – has gone to pieces. There can be no illusions of control anymore. I am a failed academic. I have flunked out, fucked up. I have lost the game. From an academic career perspective, things couldn’t be any worse. But my experience of living in my (AD/HD) mind hasn’t felt this good for a very long time.