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  • Writer's pictureAshley Gray

10 Things I think... I Finally Let my Heart Break

Remember that post where I told y'all about the doctoral experience? Well... I couldn't have predicted how different things would be with a pandemic, racial injustice and anxiety. I've been doing that automaticity thing where I just do and don't think about it. Well for the last few weeeks, I've been experiencing these extreme lows and today I found the root.


I'm about to be done with this Ph.D. (God willin- InshAllah) and I never imagined it end in this way. I feel like I've been robbed of something very special. There are a few pivotal moments of achievement on this journey... you got comps/coursework completion, draft #1 of your proposal - major because this is where folks expect you to know how to write a dissertation, proposal defense, candidacy, final draft, final defense then graduation.


Let me tell you why my heart broke... I had it planned out. In my mind, it was supposed to go a certain way. *Cues Backstreet Boys "I want It That Way".


  1. Defenses are days where you're meant to be surrounded by your folks. The people who've loved you through the insanity, lows, lack of self-care, scrapping by days, FTD let's go out instead, high productivity and sheer joy. It's truly a pendulum-like experience. And. The sky has fallen so it's not only unsafe but irresponsible now to gather in crowds. Despite what the orange monster tells you, I'm not willing to put anyone at risk.

  2. I come from a family of planners. My committee and my guests would've had the party of a lifetime. I always imagined my momma's cabbage (that wasn't even her best --> fake modesty), a wing platter, veggie tray and you guessed it... CAKE. Issa celebration got-dammit! I can see rose gold table runners and custom desserts. And gifts for my committee (that reminds me- I need to get on that).

  3. You plan your look for that day. Now... this I will still do. I'll go through the motions of wonder if red conveys confidence but what if it's too confident. Then I'll settle on wearing a red lip because I secretly do that when I want to engage my confidence. I'll put on some dress that I bought during the pandemic that has been dying to be worn. I'll find the earrings, I'll debate with myself over eye shadow (complimenting the red lip of course). And. I'll wear shoes. I will make it a date.

  4. You present. "His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti..." Oh, Eminem wasn't talking about a defense?!? Anywho, you get through it. You pretend to not be nervous while sweat is crawling down the back of your blazer. Your hands shake so you clasp them. You pray no one asked you a question that's petty and intended to throw you off. You've already prepped your family and friends by telling them they DON'T have any questions. Don't even breathe in an inquisitive way homegirl.

  5. Your dissertation chair invites you back into the room after they've casually deliberated about your entire existence. And they say, Congratulations... *fades in Charlie Brown sounds because you are crying or since I'm at an HBCU, shouting. Perhaps a cousin (COGIC likely) has become filled with the SPIRIT and took off running around the room. And you laugh because you, too, are likely holding back some emotion that might make you look a little bit undone.

  6. The hugs after. You even been interrogated by 4 people who are officially able to ask you questions and faculty from afar who might want to "add food for thought"? Imagine first 48 but instead of a cigarette or pepsi for relief, they say you can now all your self doctor. You've already been referring to yourself that way, but now you can give it voice.I know this sounds simple but the Ph.D. experience is nothing but a big test in how long you can go without affirmation when creating something new and managing if they kids at the popular table will accept you. HELL YES, you need a hug. And truthfully, I want nothing less than 48 hugs.

  7. You go to a big dinner with your family and you eat all the carbs. You might even sneak a little edible rice crispy treat from your green-conscious cousin. You have a toast and you go home knowing that today you did a thing.

  8. You go to Marvin's and you shake a tailfeather. When the security guard refers to you as ma'am you turn into the fledgling hopping from the ledge. You either fly now or you fall. "It's doctor" you whisper because that shit sounds a little pompous but you also earned that. So you practice the next time you'll say it with humble conviction.

  9. You go to bed- exhausted from the adrenaline and say to yourself what a crazy ride this has been. And for the first time in 4+ years, you acknowledge yourself for what you've done. You tell your inner self that you're proud of her. You put your bonnet on because y'all know Black women's hair need moisture. AND THEN... you imagine putting that tam on. That new $1,000 will be your new sleeping cap. It's also a bingo hat, golf, beach, club, etc... EITHER WAY- You drift off loving on yourself in the way that these four years don't teach you how to.

  10. You wake up the next day and if you're first-generation, you're about to get hit with all the medical questions even though you keep telling people you're "not that kinda doctor". When cousin Lucille asks you about her "sugar" or when you're ask to write a prescription... You're not qualified to do either but DAMMIT YOUS A DOCTOR.

  11. One a serious note... I can still experience some of these. I know that. And I'm still heartbroken that the sky fell during the hardest period of my adult life. I've really survived some things to get here. The pre-anxiety of not having a commencement consumes me. This is not how that's supposed to go. And when I turn on the news and see the Orange Leed-ur of the US galavanting without a mask and putting folks at risk, I get angry. We didn't have to be here. People didn't have to die. Hospitals and their brave staff didn't have to experience this. And the many graduates, they didn't deserve this. This is not a dive for sympathy- I don't need it. I need your prayers that my heart will heal and that joy will be experienced either way. Pray for me.



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