Working through the dissertation is by far one of the hardest things I've ever done. I would almost rather be pregnant and give birth again than have to face this process. Almost. But at least pregnancy, even labor and delivery, is something that you know you will come out on the other side. This, I'm not so sure. In fact, at one point while ordering our new counter top, I fantasized about working at Lowes. Doing nothing but typing in people's orders all day long...ahhhhh.
The problem is that the self-doubt, the anxiety, the stress all stems from one particular question--am I smart enough to do this? In almost any other job, you could learn a skill--to be a better salesman, to check people's groceries out faster, to reach your students more clearly.... overcome by gathering knowledge. It's the intrinsic intelligence that I'm worried about--as irrational as that fear probably is (God, I hope it's irrational). But I think that (with, no doubt, a few exceptions) this is a fear that most grad students have to deal with at one point or another. Because there is that possibility that you just don't have what it takes to get a job, to write something important, to make it in this profession, not because you haven't learned enough or because you have a goldfish memory sometimes (which I do), but because there is something wrong with all of that grey matter sloshing around upstairs. But the fear that somehow I'm not smart enough to do this isn't something that can be. That's the part that's paralyzing.
So when your director says that you're dissertation is doing something 'really smart,' you don't take it as a compliment. Instead, you panic, because you know that she must be misunderstanding what you think you're doing.
That's the hard part of this profession: To get a Ph.D., to want to be a professor and make your living from ideas and research, you have to be personally and emotionally tied to your work. It becomes a huge part of your identity. When you doubt your work, you naturally start doubting yourself. I'm not sure that there's a way out of that cycle. I see it in friends who are finishing classes, in friends who are about to take exams, and in friends who are on the market or who are starting new jobs. It's why so many people never finish.
Unfortunately, I have a lot riding on this. Little man is going to want things someday--to go to college, to take vacations, to have a momma that is fulfilled with her career. And I'm going to want to give it to him. Having a baby through this forces you to focus eventually. If I screw this up, a lot more could be at stake.