Felt like posting an extended quote from Nadine Muller’s blog post, “An Anxious Mind” after a rough few days of anxiety creeping in the back door of my mind. Worries about inadequacy, upcoming due dates, the prudence of my choice to stay in academia, and on, and on, and on. I’ve linked to Nadine’s blog in several places, but I strongly encourage readers to check it out.
“Academia can be a tough environment. The current neo-liberal structures that dictate its activities and processes make it more competitive, less friendly, and often isolating. As difficult as it may seem, you must not give into the thoughts and behaviors these structures breed, or you will never be happy with who you are, or with what you do. There comes a point – hopefully sooner rather than later, perhaps when you’ve finished reading this post – that you must change your thinking about yourself and your work. The sooner you learn to be happy with yourself – your flaws, your quirks, your strengths – the sooner you will become the researcher that you’ve always aspired to be but have always felt like you may never become. If you don’t change the way you think, you won’t be able to enjoy that first job, that first salary, that sense of being part of a department for longer than a semester, because all you’ll do is just carry on what you’ve always done, and it will make you unhealthy on so many levels.
If you feel you need professional, medical help because of your depression or anxiety, then seek it. I don’t advocate medication for these issues, but when you are in a truly difficult, bad place, they can sometimes give short-term relief while you’re getting ready to see your problems constructively and honestly. You needn’t suffer your challenges on your own, either. There are colleagues and fellow Ph.D. students who will be happy to provide honest, open dialogue about the problems we all face – some of us more severely and more often than others. Constructive action instead of pathologization seems, to me, the way forward. No matter if you give your state(s) of mind medical name or not matters little, at least to me. Medical labels can be unhelpful, or they can help you rationalize your issues.
A disturbing thought is the notion that it is so easy, for those of us who are prone to worrying and to being highly anxious (especially those on an academic pathway), to remain entirely ignorant of just how much we internalize, accept, and indeed comprehend as ‘normal’ the state of stress and anxiety under which we (are conditioned and force ourselves to) operate on a day-to-day basis for extensive periods of time, from weeks through to years. Of course some, or even many, of you may say that all this is (easily) controllable, or that I dramatize perfectly normal periods of academic stress. However, it’s exactly the thought that this is ‘part of the job’, or even the idea that the ‘really capable’ ones do not encounter these issues, which I find frightening, and which, I suppose, I ask you reconsider. Our work means a lot to us, but the world didn’t end when I last said “no” to an opportunity, or when I decided to finish a task tomorrow and give myself an evening off for once. Most importantly, it’s only when you are happy with yourself that you can teach others to do the same, that you can help change the structures that encourage us to feel inferior, and that you can be at your best, as a researcher, a teacher, a colleague, and a friend.”