March was a month of coming to terms with self negotiations…
March – a month in which I marched over my own needs
I negotiated for quite a while to sort the length of my temporary leave from academia. I negotiated with my therapist, who generously wanted me to take an entire year off. This in itself made me panic as I feared I would fall off the academic map in that year away, so for me I couldn’t even consider that long of a break. I negotiated with my three supervisors, two of whom told me that they took at least 4 years instead of the proposed 3 years to write their dissertations — a fact I certainly could have benefitted from at the beginning of my studies instead of in the midst of my breakdown! The worst negotiation was the one I held with myself. I knew I needed to take some time off. I knew that I had reached a point where I was completely unable to function even the simplest daily tasks, but I also knew that a year off in academia can mean death to an up and coming doctoral career. On the back end of a year filled with conferences, and two published texts, taking a year off and being silent academically terrified me all the more than even my own physical demise. After all this work, and all these years of research, taking a year off felt like academic suicide. And no matter what anyone said, I was convinced I didn’t need it.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and a curse. Now I know better. But in February, I was convinced I could rejoin the academy, restart my studies, and jump right back into the game without missing a beat. Delusional in many ways, I went back to uni in March and began by presenting my research at a monthly seminar hosted by my department. Seminar slots are a gift — only 4 opportunities are given to post graduate researchers per year. The rest of the presentation slots belong to well-established scholars who present us with the latest research and discussions in our field. I knew by being assigned a presentation slot that my supervisors had a sense of confidence in my research — at least that my theories were ready to be shared with my department. I knew this was the one opportunity I had to get some real critical feedback on my theories and ideas (which are quite radical by my department’s standards). To me, it was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to pass up. So after three months of rest, I furiously went back to work.
In hindsight, I am glad I made the seminar presentation because it led to a conference presentation recently that has placed my work securly in one of my three major academic fields. But I’m also well aware that I wasn’t ready to go back….not yet anyway.
March was hard. I went from not working at all to once again pushing myself for really long days. I had two weeks to write and polish my presentation. It’s never enough time. I did however manage to get it done, and I was, for the most part, glad I presented. It did, however, take me a week to recover.
What did make me feel better while I was torturing myself about my academic absence was meeting with one of my colleagues from the department…he, too, was taking a leave from uni. His father had passed away unexpectedly. He found himself pretty much in the same emotional and physical state that I was in. He made the same negotiations that I did, but he finally settled for six months away — no research. it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my solitude. And somehow having someone there, in the same position, made me feel better.
Now, looking back, I wasn’t ready to return to uni in March… Only now can I truly say that I should have negotiated a better deal with myself! I hope you keep that in mind should you find yourself in the same position. Uni can wait…your health is what matters.
Take care of yourself, and thanks for reading.
Comment by Rees posted on Mon, 14/06/2010 22:45
It sounds like you’ve made some incredible accomplishments despite the obvious difficulties – I’m amazed at how much you’ve done since we last heard from you – I’d have been impressed if you said you were feeling better and were going to return to your course next semester! I’m glad the experience made you a little wiser too, but I think your year’s blog would be great evidence against the stereotype that people suffering from depression are somehow lazy or underachieving. Nice one!