This week's been quite the long one with quite a few little blue spirals, so I think it's time to make another list of little things that have made me happy over the last few days:
It was my birthday this week, and as a result, I let myself step back from current events for a day and think about the good in my life and oh my god was it amazing. I've decided since then that I'm going to make this a weekly thing. Every Sunday, I'm going to look back at my week and think about the little things that made me happy. And I'm going to post it because I miss being able to share happy thoughts on my blog and eh, we could all use a bit more positivity these days. So here goes for this week:
It's been no small secret that I've been struggling with burn out over the past few months... and I keep coming back to it. The past year of academia has overall been less than ideal, what with overwhelming pressure, growing indifference and then dislike of my thesis project, disenchantment, burn out, and so on. I took months off over the summer and regained my mental strength and relearned to love reading again, and as a result, I've been cautiously excited about going back this month.
Even so, I cried the night before my first class of the semester and I went quite half-heartedly the next day. But then I engaged in class and something started to click back into place as I started to enjoy myself. The same thing happened with the following two classes, even as higher loads of anxiety and embarrassment mixed in (I managed to accidentally activate voice control and start playing music on my phone for all of two seconds in the middle of a guest lecture by a visiting professor and I promptly decided I was going to need to drop out of grad school from the shame). I enjoyed class discussions and I enjoyed all of my readings. I felt the drive I thought I'd lost for good, and I'm now even more – if still quite cautiously – looking forward to see how the rest of the semester goes.
The return of motivational feelings is important – I know people like to argue that motivation is worthless compared to discipline, but as someone who functions through feeling, I have to say that motivation plays a huge role in keeping me in a positive state of mind, and I'd much rather couple that with discipline than do without. More importantly though, I know going in this time that even if I want to succeed and achieve my goals, that they are not the most important things. My health is. My health needs to come first, and then my personal life, and then my work.
I've had that in reverse order through my teens and early adult years, and while that worked fine, it collapsed. And then burned. I spent a decade battling depression, anxiety, and at points, eating disorders, and I thought it was all normal. I thought they were things I had to deal with if I wanted to be an exemplary, successful, driven woman. Having extensively studied eating disorders from a psychological, feminist point of view in the past year, I've sadly learned that those things do often go hand in hand, manifesting as a sort of control... and of internalized misogyny. Indeed, I thought pausing for health was weak and I thought prioritizing feelings or my personal life was just giving in to female weakness – and yeah, let's face it, for all my feminist drives, I probably internalized those toxic "must not give in to *stereotypical* female things because that is undermining the cause" nonsense that is 100% internalized misogyny.
Mind over matter, always – right?
I grew up with strong female role models and I thought career, career, career and constantly powering through were absolutely the only things that could matter. But no. I've been driven and I've been strong and I've been depressed and empty and an anxious mess, and those things were absolutely not sustainable. I took a break and re-prioritized, and I now feel healthier and more stable than I have in a decade and happier than I was since I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. So if prioritizing my mental health and my feelings and my personal life makes me sound weak or naive as a *stereotypical woman*, then so be it, because I know that in the long run, they're the things that are going to let me keep going forward, and they're the things that will make me strong.
I'm sharing this now not to preach or present a nice and shiny façade to my life but because I don't feel it's anything to hide. I want others to know that it's okay to feel and to just be. Academia is a tough field, from the very early years to later on, and I'm sick of it seeming like there's only one way to go into or deal with it and that one way means devoting every single waking (and often sleeping) moment of your life to it, often at the expense of your mental health. Balance is so important and yet so often ignored, and I'm going to do everything to make sure that it's something I constantly strive for this academic year.
August has been quite the month again this year. I've spent a lot of time with A, working on our respective projects (thesis, him; conference, me), visiting museums, and relaxing over Friends and Community. We've also tried a lot of new places to eat and done our fair share in the kitchen. I remember we would barely eat when we were together last summer, both too nervous and excited by the newness of everything, and now we're all about food. We spent a good five hours in the kitchen last night, making some of my grandma's dishes to serve at A's family's Sunday lunch today and then experimenting with a burger recipe (it had melty cheese in the center!) and sweet potato fries for ourselves. A does most of the work in the kitchen (I spent a good hour of that time typing up notes at the table while he was frying up eggplants), which is excellent both because it pleases me that it messes with gender expectations and because it's just really nice to have someone cook for you.
Otherwise, August has mostly been about getting back to work. I've slowly been getting back into things, reading quite a few articles and trying to jot down ideas. It's been more frustrating than rewarding so far though because despite all the good the last few months have done for me, the guilt of not having more to show for it than my improved mental health is starting to hit me. I feel much better and I have new ideas, but the old "produce! produce! produce!" mentality is hard to shake. I was brought up to believe that great success is the only option and that mediocrity might as well be failure, and replacing that with a healthier, more realistic mindset has me struggling despite my efforts. I'm consequently going between phases where I'm paralyzed by fears that I won't be "good enough" for academia anymore and others where I'm super motivated to prove myself. We'll see where this goes in the next few weeks as the conference draws nearer.
I also spent this past weekend in Neuchâtel, and A and I managed to go into town to visit one of his favorite museums yesterday, so I should have another post coming in the next few days about that!
The last two weeks since my last update post have been rather quiet on my end. I spent another week in Maggiore, visited two more of the Borromean Islands, ate a lot of pasta, tried quite a few cocktails, and then drove back through the Simplon Pass into Switzerland with my mom, grandma, and Dodo. It was a very pleasant, restful trip overall, and I'm so glad we were able to go at the last minute.
Since then, I've been spending a lot of time hiding from the heat. Summers in Geneva used to be so nice and cool during my childhood, and they've changed so much over the past few years. The heat at least means I've been able to spend days reading. I finished my Anne of Green Gables reread, started Anne's House of Dreams (such fluffffff), dabbled in a few novels, and am now reading Alain de Botton's Essays in Love. I haven't been wildly productive, but reading what I want when I want without feeling obligated to constantly come up with "intelligent" commentary has been extremely freeing. I feel infinitely calmer, enjoy reading again, and am beginning to remember why I love engaging with literature so very much. I even found myself coming up with PhD ideas when chatting with my best friend the other day. So all hope is not lost, and the last few weeks of "relaxing" are certainly paying off.
I meant to post this on Sunday, but time goes by a little differently when you're on holiday. I'm back on Lago Maggiore with my family for the better part of two weeks. I said goodbye to A last Monday morning, headed back to Geneva, and then drove to Italy a couple of hours later. We went through the Simplon pass as it was pouring rain. It was quite an experience, and I'll post about it later on. I love going through Simplon because it's always an experience of the sublime, no matter the weather.
Being in Maggiore again has been wonderful. We came here for the first time three summers ago, and it's our third time back since. It's a gorgeous little corner of the earth and one of my favorite places to be. The landscapes are domestically sublime, with the rolling mountains in the background and the peaceful lake before us. We're staying in Stresa this time around, and we can see the Borromean islands from wherever we are. We've gone back to Isola Bella and Madre so far, and though it wasn't my first time on either, it was still exquisite to visit the houses and gardens again. Situated in the middle of the lake, they're like little pieces of floating heaven. It's easy to forget that the world is a dark, dark place from here, and such aesthetic fluff has certainly been necessary given the heartbreaking events in our country over the past few days.
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I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.