Back to (Grad) School & Change
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.