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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Post: The Year of Living Emotionally - Taking/Making Time as an Academic


Today's guest post comes from Pamela Ingleton, a PhD candidate at McMaster University. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter (@PamelaIngleton). I admire the way she links the more personal side of her life with her studies in this post. It's useful to bring these connections more out into the open, I think.

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Prefatory Note: I swear this isn’t a note of apology to my supervisory committee, though it might read like one…

It’s been one helluva year. I feel as if, over the past twelve months, I’ve reached my highest high and lowest low, with a whole lot of everything in between. A year ago I was dragging my exhausted self through the final pages of my comprehensive examinations, completely worn out from an overbooked conferencing schedule and a bout of depression that made getting out of bed an accomplishment worth celebrating. Somehow, on the heels of this, I wrote, submitted, defended and passed my comps, and just in time—as the final answers rolled off my tongue in the defense room, my already hoarse voice slipped away, and I entered the next marked period of my 2011, to be comprised of four months/rounds of an uber-cold/flu (otherwise known as, “you’ve put your body and mind through the wringer, and now you’re going to pay for it”).

But if the first half of 2011 was a bit of a stinker, well, the latter half was akin to that montage you inevitably get forty-five minutes into a romantic comedy. Having never really dated anyone before (oh the ease with which I type this now, compared to the fear and shame with which I lived it before), I somehow stumbled my way into a surprisingly terrific, now serious and long-term relationship, and my first. Where sadness, depression, illness and general malaise kept me (partly) from my work in the winter/spring, tummy butterflies, elation, walks in the park and general upliftedness were keeping me (partly) from it now, especially since the person-in-question was in all likelihood to be moving away at any moment. (He’s still here.)

I’m not entirely sure these are things I should be sharing with you. As a humanities scholar (or, you know, a thinking/feeling person), I want to believe I can honestly express my feelings and recount past events without suffering the repercussions of such revelations later. I don’t want to be someone reluctant to discuss mental health, when occurrences such as the one I have described briefly above are all too common. So here I am, giving it the old college try.

What I want to say is, my work suffered at the expense of my life this year, and looking back (with my annual committee meeting around the corner), I’m…not a tad bit sorry for it. Now to be fair, it’s not as if I accomplished nothing since last April; post-comps I busied myself with a bibliography course, a long proposal, several CFPs, a handful of publications and two RAs (hello, thesis committee!). But there was work that got put off, and I have decided to own that putting-off in a way I never have before.

I felt every second of this past year, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. But I wouldn’t give up a second of it, not for a completed chapter, or a whole thesis, for that matter. Life happened for awhile; if that makes me a “bad academic,” well, I suppose there are worse things one could be.

4 comments:

  1. Pamela, thank you thank you thank you. Really, thank you. I just had to write my supervisor an email saying basically the same--Dear Supervisor, my chapter won't be done for awhile because I'm dealing with some mental health issues (depression/anxiety)--and it was agonizing. And maybe if there were more posts like yours--more conversations like the one you've started here--it wouldn't have been. So thanks again, to you (and to Erin and Aimee who do the same, and to all the people who comment here) for starting that conversation, and for making me feel less alone.

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  2. On the other point, when I was a doctoral student I had a conversation with a senior scholar in the department. She was bemoaning the fact that students always seemed to ask for extensions when relationships ended, which was an event best dealt with by throwing yourself into your work in her opinion. She then wondered aloud why no one ever asked for an extension because they had fallen in love, a state in which it is impossible to work. Worth bearing in mind.

    We do need to talk more about mental health and the very real effects it has. We also need to recognize that we all have lives and our scholarship is only part of our life. Falling in love, having children, sleeping, watching sports or movies or tv that has nothing to do with our scholarship ... These are not luxuries. As your body reminded you last year, you can only push it so far. A temporary burst of extra activity is fine but normal needs to involve regular rest and fun.

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  3. Congratulations on completing and passing your exams! It sounds like you have been busy this year, in addition to your personal life. I agree that we need to open up discussions about the impact of mental health issues or personal lives on our work as academics (we are not hyper-intellectual robots). But on a cautionary note: I have learned the hard way to be very careful about what I say to people. Ask for an extension if you need one,cut yourself some slack if you feel you've taken on too much, but anyone who asks for more than a simple doctor's note or a formal request is not someone I want to be dealing with professionally. Not everyone can be trusted.

    Good luck with your Doctoral Studies, and I hope you continue to live with emotional sensibilities :)

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