It's been a hard couple weeks. And the next week and a half are going to be worse.
I'm taking the Ph.D. preliminary exams in Victorian literature and in Restoration and 18th Century literature next week. I've been taking practice exams. I've been studying. And I've been doing a lot of other things that will distract me from the massive anxiety attack waiting to happen.
I called my mama this morning just to hear her voice and for her to tell me that everything was going to be okay. I don't do that a lot anymore--call my mama, I mean. It's too hard sometimes. Today was good; today, she was herself. Today, she was my mom.
Everyone else has been telling me that things are going to be fine too. Everyone comes up to me and says, "You're going to do great! You're so smart, you'll ace these." I want to shout at them that they have no idea, that I'm such a fraud. I'm afraid of failing one or both exams and disappointing everyone who assured me that I would do so well. It's Academic Insecurity Syndrome, we used to joke. Professors say that it never goes away. Maybe so, but it's never felt quite as real as it does right now. Dr. K tells me not to worry either, that I'm doing fine. As much as I love her, I still don't know if I believe her.
I've got a lot riding on this. The last ten years worth of work, my academic future, both immediate and not-so-much. I can taste anxiety in my mouth--it's bitter and nasty, and it won't go away, no matter how much medication I take. I'm not the only one; there are at least eight or nine of us taking exams next week, and I know that the office will not be pleasant next week.
There are other things. Other worries. Friends of a friend who were terribly beaten last week, who have been on my mind, the grandmother of another friend who took a terrible fall. A friend who suddenly finds herself in a position she never thought she'd be in, a position that makes me hurt for her and jealous all at the same time. And then the normal everyday worries of an everyday family.
There are good things. My husband has been taking such good care of me. For example, I haven't done the dishes in weeks--he takes care of all of that so I have time to concentrate and study, and then to rest afterwards. He holds me when I start to panic, makes sure that I'm going to be okay. Reminds me of what I always say to him: "God has taken care of us so far. No reason to think He's going to stop now."
Today, especially, I am homesick, though that may not be the right word. I miss my undergraduate years. There was studying and tests, but none of them were this important. I had lunch with my friends and the professors almost every day. In the springtime, Eastern smells like old books and mold, even just walking through the campus, and while that may sound disgusting, it's comforting. Sitting out by the fountain, chatting with friends, reading in the Ravine, hiding in the fourth-floor stacks of the library, reveling in the smell of old books. I loved that school. Still do.
I have to go teach here directly, a discussion of rhetoric and how students can reach an audience. I wish I could put what I teach into practice, teach myself how to argue myself out of wanting to crawl under the desk or pull the covers over my head and hide. But if there's any audience hard to reach, it's the audience of one.