Oh, girl, I can TOTALLY related. I defended my dissertation for my Ph.D. about two years ago (but it feels like yesterday) and let me tell you, the final week or so was the hardest stretch for me. I just was so distracted. If it makes you feel any better, its 1:00 AM here and I am using this very thread to procrastinate finishing a report that is due at 8:00 AM tomorrow for my unpaid post doc position. When I really sat down to think about it, here is what I came up with (and am still coming up with, because it still happens that I hate the final stages of writing all of the time).
If you are a grad student, you aren’t there because you just fell into it. You are smart, driven and, if you are anything like most of my colleagues, you are a perfectionist. For me, the last week was agony because I wanted the dang thing to be perfect and I knew that it wasn’t perfect. I also knew that once it was out of my hands, it was out there all alone, naked and exposed to my advisors, my peers, my colleagues, future colleagues and anyone else to critique. I wasn’t ready for that. My dissertation, after all of the work that I had poured into it, had become my baby. I loved it but I couldn’t wait for it to grow up and leave the nest. The only problem was that when it came down to the wire, I wasn’t ready for it to be out of my hands and out of my control. I couldn’t protect it (and myself) if I gave it over to someone else. There were so many times that I didn’t want to write another word. In the end, its worth it. Believe me. When you see the look on your parents face when you hand them a hardbound copy, its worth it. When you look out into the audience when you are being hooded to see your FI fighting back tears, it is worth it. And, on the bright side, if this is your first submission of the whole shabang, you will still have time to tweak it, to add in the critiques from your chairperson and all kinds of things. The name of the game now is to just get something on paper and to get it done. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I was always told that the best dissertations (or thesis, in your case) in the world is one that is done. Find a way to find your writing groove. In my case, I had to literally unplug my wireless router, sit down with my many liters of Diet Coke, spread out all of my material and shut out the world. It helps to have little goals, too. Before my first three chapters were due, my FI (then boyfriend) told me that I had to be at a place where I could take a break by 8:00 PM. Then he surprised me by taking me to go get hot chocolate and look at Christmas lights. I came back from that excursion more ready than ever to sit my bottom down and get the thing done. 🙂 Setting little goals is so helpful.
Every grad student that I have ever known (even post grad student) has a fantasy or two about quitting every once in a while. In fact, just yesterday I daydreamed on my way home about how the world would be if tomorrow I just took the day off. Burn out is not healthy, but I think that to some extent, it is normal. For me (the perfectionist) it is helpful to remind myself that my reports/work does not have to be a masterpiece right now. There is always time to tweak it. And then right before the final product is due I have to go through a process of letting it go. I think that this is totally normal.
I don’t know if this was at all helpful, but if I can leave you with anything, it is that you CAN do this. I encourage you to sit down and examine why you feel like you just don’t want to write another word and then to talk to someone about it. And as to your feelings of depression, I cannot encourage you enough to talk to someone about it. You have taken an excellent first step by posting here. Around the time that my dissertation was due for publishing, I worked with a therapist to really process my feelings. It was the best investment I have ever made in myself. If there is any way that I can continue to support you, please let me know. You are definitely not alone. (Now I’m off to take my own advice and to get this evaluation written and done!) 🙂 Good luck!