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.
The day after we got back from Zürich, A and I headed to Fribourg to visit his grandparents. They invited us to stay with them and show us around their city an entire year ago, so needless to say, our trip was a bit overdue... but with A spending last autumn in York, the general craziness of the spring and the summer travels, finding a time that worked for everyone was harder than it probably should have been. I'm so glad we finally managed though because the trip was lovely and getting to know his grandparents a bit better was wonderful. I've really appreciated seeing more of A's family over the past few weeks. He comes from such a well-adjusted, loving, and engaging family that it's not only gratifying to see where he gets certain qualities but also quite honestly comforting to see that such families exist.
I had meetings for most of the day in Geneva the day we went out to Fribourg, so we didn't arrive until dinner time, but we got up and headed out to explore the city the next morning with A's grandmother. Below are some of the photos I took during our walk:
On our last afternoon in Zürich, Rory and A and I met up with A's aunt, uncle, and cousin at the Kunsthaus. After spending three days mostly surrounded by medieval and early modern visual culture, I was ready to see more modern art and wander around looking at pieces I actually recognized. Of course, we ended up taking more time in the medieval rooms anyway, but I still got some time with Van Gogh and Monet, so all was okay.
Looking back on our trip to Zürich two weeks ago, I can think of two things: the conference I talked about in my last post, and the end of summer. It was very, very hot and very, very sunny the entire time we were there... and then it plummeted in temperature a few days after we got back. Consequently, all my pictures from Zürich are very bright. You can see my favorite shots below:
Earlier this summer, my friend Amy and I took on a sort of experiment: we decided to co-write and co-present a paper together at the 5th Biennial SAMEMES conference on "Text-Image Relationships in Medieval and Modern Arthuriana." You see, Amy's a (proper) medievalist, I like to play with medievalisms, and we both have lots of ideas about things that happen on the internet (tumblr, gifsets, and general fan culture), so we thought: why not collaborate and see what happens? At the least, we thought we'd have fun and get to pursue something neither of us gets to do much with and ideally, we'd get a good conference talk and paper out of it.
In a way, I'm surprised I agreed to collaborate almost instantly. I hate, hate, hated group work in school. It was always a weak point in my primary school report cards, and that deep dislike has carried over through secondary, university, and even grad work. I still internally groan when professors tell us to chat with our neighbors in class (though that has admittedly gotten to be much better in grad school).
Yet, agreeing to work with Amy was a hesitation-free act. Amy and I bonded over our mutual interest in academia /and/ fandom culture when we first met, and I love talking to her about all the things we decided to present on. Amy's one of those people who is so genuinely enthusiastic about the things she cares about that you can't help but let out your own enthusiasm, too. Attempting to appear calm and collected is absolutely pointless, and honestly, befriending Amy has personally done wonders for my social happiness and self-confidence. What is the point of hiding the things that interest you? Of pretending you're not bursting to talk about some random phenomenon you've observed on the interwebs? Or what else have you?
Amy did a great job of talking about this in her own blog post, but collaborating was an overall great project. It was, as she put it, quite like talking to each other in Google doc. She explained some things to me through paragraphs, I responded through more, and then we filled in the blanks and edited as needed. Cowriting was a great exercise, and I'm glad I got to do it with a friend because there was little to zero guilt involved and shockingly few imposter syndrome-induced "oh my god this is utter crap" meltdowns. If Amy thought it was good material, then it was good material. I got to write in a safe environment, finally understood that deleting material is a necessary act and not a sign that you've written something bad, and overall, it was the perfect way for me to get back into the academic swing of things after my several month long break.
Co-presenting was similarly pain-free. I did get quite frustrated at the conference, worrying that my inability to follow some of the talks was a sign that I wasn't suited to the academic world anymore. Thankfully though, Amy, A, and Rory were all there to knock some sense into me and remind me that it was because I was literally attending a conference well-outside my area of specialization. I did genuinely enjoy half the talks I went to, and the few that I wasn't able to follow were just opportunities to learn. Once those little crises had past, all went smoothly. Amy was battling a rude cold that had her dealing with vertigo during our presentation itself, but we still managed to carry on rather smoothly.
I was honestly expecting to be met with blank or highly skeptical stares during our presentation – after all, we were talking about fandom gifsets to a room full of academics who did not necessarily know what gifsets were – but our audience was receptive, and our material actually flowed rather smoothly with the rest of our panel's.
I don't know what actually writing up our talk and turning it into an article is going to be like, but I'm thankful for the way things have gone so far and for the learning opportunities collaborating has given me. I've learned a lot, realized academic production doesn't define your entire self worth, and I've had lots of fun. Who knows, I might even change my views on group work after this!
The end of summer this year seems to be all about A taking me to his favorite local museums. He took me to his favorites in Lausanne (in early August), the Landesmuseum and the Kunsthaus in Zurich (this weekend), and the Musées d'Art et d'Histoire in Neuchâtel (two-ish weeks ago) and in Fribourg (yesterday!). I'll get to all of them with time, but today I'm going to share pictures from Neuchâtel.
A's been talking about an incredible room at the museum in Neuchâtel basically since our second date last year. He visited the museum with his grandparents the day after our first date and has been promising that I'll love it ever since. The pictures he posted on Instagram don't really give away how truly amazing it is, so I was honestly a bit skeptical — Pre-Raphaelite painting aside, we don't tend to be passionate about the same kind of art. Thankfully, I was wrong about this.
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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.