Yesterday I got (yet another) message of thanks from a viewer of my YouTube videos. This person talked about how my videos have helped them see a life in academia even with their severe anxiety problem. I get messages like this all the time. I get emails, and DMs, and cards in the post. I love these things. But today I feel like a fraud.
Two days ago I went to see my community psych. I'd rung for an appointment with my regular doctor about a month ago and got a locum. She didn't make me a same-day appointment, but rang me back late in the afternoon to say that maybe I could just increase one of my medications. Even though my brain was a storm, I tried to be calm as I explained that I didn't want to do that. I wanted to talk to someone about the way I was feeling. The new symptoms. I began pleading with her to let me see my doctor. She put me on hold and eventually gave me an appointment with my doctor the next morning.
This set off a chain that resulted in my appointment with the community psych and a new quasi-diagnosis. A new thing to add to my plethora of issues. I have BPD, but not really. Rather I "would be diagnosed with BPD if you couldn't hold your life together". What I took away from the extensive conversation I had with the psych was that, because I am high functioning in both my bipolar and my (now) BPD then she doesn't want to diagnose me with BPD formally. The medical intervention is similar to bipolar - one of my meds will be switched for a new med from a parallel group - and I can start the 'right kind of talking therapy' for BPD without needing a formal diagnosis. To be honest, I don't mind about the formal diagnosis thing or not, because I am in the very fortunate position of having a mother who is both invested enough and wealthy enough to pay for private therapy. On the NHS I might be waiting up to 2 years for the 'correct' kind of therapist to come up.
So, that was the third thing that happened.
The first was the industrial action over pensions. Taking out the picket-line-awakening of the plight of early career academics and how genuinely insulting that was (you mean you didn't think about it beforehand?!?), what I have learned from the USS strike is that the people who have the money and the power don't actually give a shit about me. Or academics in general. We are cogs in a machine of some kind of Degree Granting Business.
The second thing was writing my paper for the Classical Association conference. It's made me realise that I used to have a lot of creativity in my approach to my research. I used to want to do weird and amazing things. I still do, of course. But I'm also hyper-aware of trying to produce 3* or 4* research. But no one else gives a fuck about REF ratings. The REF has killed my creativity and I'm not even returnable.
Finally - this morning I got a job rejection. It was a job I applied for mainly because I spent a lot of time at the end of my PhD and the start of my career wanting to go this particular department. I've applied for every possible job that's come up there. I nearly got a Leverhulme ECF there. But I've never been successful. For this reason I'd broken my recently self-imposed commuting-time-from-London limit to apply there. So, I almost don't care about not getting shortlisted there. But I do care about not getting shortlisted at all.
So, I think I'm going to put #projectpermanentjob on hold. At least until my book is published (in the last 5 years in my field the only people I can think of that got permanent jobs without a book-in-hand were internal candidates...). And to think about whether actually my strong desire to be an ancient historian, to do my research, to teach, and to learn is actually worth the price that academia wants of me.
So, here are some ways you can cheer me up:
1) Make a donation to Arts Emergency. And follow them on Twitter.
2) I would quite like this t-shirt... (in a women's large, thanks!) 😉
3) Head over to my YouTube channel, and watch some of my videos about mental health, research planning, or early career academic life. Oh, and please subscribe!
4) Come and say hello on Twitter!
5) Support me over on Patreon!
A twitter thread from my week at @wethehumanities (July 2017) - and prompted by Storify closing:
The 2018 #AcademicKindness project is going to kick off with a notebook exchange! I hope there will be 6 notebooks flying around the world! Here's what they're all about:
Each notebook will contain a title page with 'instructions for use'. The purpose of the books is to create tangible works of academic kindness that have travelled around the world. Only accept the book if you are willing to participate and pass the book on.
What you will need to do: write, draw, or otherwise decorate ONE page of the notebook (that is one side of a page, not an entire spread). You can do whatever you like on the page but it should include the following information:
Once you have finished your page (and, if necessary allowed adequate time for your page to dry before you close and pass on the book) please take a photograph of your page and post it to Twitter with the hashtag #AKnotebook followed by a space and the number of your book (this will be found somewhere on the cover or instruction page of the book). Tag the person you have given the book to (if they are on Twitter) and include the date you handed the book on and your location, including latitude and longitude coordinates for your city (you can get them at: whatsmygps.com).
I will make an online gallery of the pages and a map so everyone can see what's in the books and where they have been.
The project will, in the first instance, run though 2018. It might keep going past that - who knows!
If you happen to be the final page of a notebook: please get in touch with me so I can arrange for you to send the notebook back to me and we can organise for you to start a new one. Each subsequent notebook will be marked with a letter - notebook 1 will become 1a then 1b etc.
I am currently looking for volunteers to start notebooks around the world! I am hoping for someone in eastern Europe, Asia, Australia/NZ (filled), and South America (or the southern part of the USA). These will go with the book I will start in London, and a book already being planned in Canada. Please note that if you volunteer you will need to purchase a notebook with good quality paper pages (I suggest a dot ruled, hardback Leuchtturm1917) and set it up with the instructions (I will send you the text). Get in touch with me on Twitter or email if you're interested.
You can now sign-up on (public) Google sheets - or check the sheets if you're looking for someone to give the book to!
UK and Europe
Australasia and Africa
Here are the slides from my 'Creative Life Management' workshop delivered today at the University of Leicester's History Lab+.
Honestly, what better day than Friday the 13th to hold a workshop on CVs and job applications! Below you will find the (slightly abbreviated) slides from the workshop I am running for current PhD candidates in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. I hope they're useful. This is information and advice I have personally been given and which has worked for me in the past in getting shortlisted for jobs, and building my CV. I hope they can be useful beyond just SAAH but please remember that the advice presented here is not the only way to do things - it's just a suggestion!
(the giant picture of a tweet is a link, by the by!)
Today is World Mental Health Day, which is fitting, since two days ago I ran a half-marathon, raising over £800 for Mind, the mental health charity. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who sponsored me - I feel very humbled by your generosity and very also pretty proud of myself for having done it. There's still time to donate, if you wish: here.
Last World Mental Health Day I publicly posted for the first time about having type 1 bipolar, and I wanted to take the opportunity again to be open, honest, and giving about my illness in a way that I hope will inspire and help others.
I do a fair bit to keep myself healthy - I take my medications everyday. In fact, I take meds three times a day, because that's what works best for me. I run, and I meditate sometimes (but do neither as much as I should do, really). But I also do a fair bit that isn't very healthy, which is mainly out of circumstance, rather than desire. For instance - I love my job, and what I do, but sometimes I really do buy into the workaholic-academic myth. And my commute doesn't do much good for me either, because the time I have with my family I spend with them, and don't always take as much time for myself as I should (see the point about not running or meditating as much as I should).
Over the last year, my anxiety has got worse as well, and a part of this is residual trauma that I've associated with certain spaces, particularly in and around London. I'm also struggling to shake the inherent anxiety of precarity, which I got so used to feeling. Sometimes I have to sit myself down and remind myself I actually do have a full time job now.
I've become - and continue to become - better at recognising myself, and when I might be at risk. And with that recognition has come the ability to catch moods or panic early and do some quick restorative work.
Despite everything that has held me back - not just bipolar and anxiety, but the parenting, and general self-care - I think I've done really well this last year. Which is to say, I'm doing my best, and it turns out - my best is pretty damn good.
I love you all. Thank you for your support and kindness.
I'm a big fan of the reflexive journal, and find it particularly useful for facilitating students to digest the information from classes and from the assigned readings. On a more practical note, having students write down (or type up) what are normally assigned as thinking tasks, and then bring that work to class means they have something they can refer to during discussion - they aren't just relying on their memory of the readings. I also find it quite successful in making sure they actually do the reading!
I've just typed up my brief list of reflexive journal tasks for a third year class called Sparta in the Greek World, so I thought it was a good time to share it. Please feel free to use this as a template to design your own reflexive journal tasks. There is only one thing I will say: these work better if the students understand that they are private and where they are checked but not assessed.
Please let me know what you think, and if you use reflexive journals how does your system compare to mine?
It's the start of a new academic year and that means the time to get our your planners and start setting goals! But, it's also a good time to remind yourself that you can say no.
I'm talking to you PhD candidates and early career academics!
This year, I'm saying no to things because I want to maximise my time, and put myself in the best possible position to get a permanent job.
That is to say: a permanent academic job is my ultimate goal, and everything that I do this year will need to fall into one of three categories:
1. Things that will directly help me achieve my ultimate goal.
2. Things that might indirectly help me achieve my ultimate goal, but that I will enjoy, or think are important.
3. Things that probably won't help me achieve my ultimate goal, but which I really want to do and am happy to take the time hit over.
And, in addition to that, I have set myself the requirement of articulating exactly why each Thing will help me (either in terms of the ultimate goal or in another way), and also and very importantly of thinking about how things will positively impact my life more generally. Does Thing fall into category 1, but will probably make me miserable? Then sorry - I'm going to say no.
So there you have it. I'm going to be saying no a lot more this year. And I'm hoping that it will lead to some good results both in terms of achieving goals, but also in terms of being happier, healthier, and a better colleague, friend, family member, mother, wife, and person. (But, like, no pressure!)
Are you saying NO this year? What are you categories, rules, or checklist items? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
I have been thinking recently about how much of myself I should be giving away in job and grant applications. This has come because I am working on an ERC Starting Grant application. I have no idea if I am good enough for one, but this is the first year I'm eligible and the last year that the UK might be able to apply. And honestly, I think the experience of writing a huge grant proposal will be good for me. But, the thing is... I don't think I've quite done as much as I might have done regarding being excellent.
I finished my PhD as a single parent, in the middle of a serious manic episode. I struggled to get my bipolar and anxiety under control. I've struggled with the side effects of medication. In the midst of that I published an article in a pretty good journal. I got two book contracts. I've submitted another article. I am by no means prolific, but... that's not too bad.
Here's why I struggle with this.
1. In my life, this is normal. This is my normal. I have done everything I could do, within reason. For instance, I would have loved to go to Fondation Hardt, like many of my PhD cohort (and my now-husband) did. But, I had a kid that relied on me to be in London. How much of that should I get a pass for? I did other things, that were closer to home. Like chairing a year-long seminar series in London. At home.
2. I don't want to make a 'benchmark' for good, or decent, or excellent for people who have stuff going on. 'Oh, well X also has acute anxiety and has produced two more articles than Y', 'Z also had a child and finished their PhD 3 months before X'. I hope you see where I am going with this. But then, by not declaring, aren't we saying that the benchmark for everyone is the same? When it shouldn't necessarily be. X might have a parent who suddenly needs significant care, and it falls to X to take that on. How do we compare near 24hr care of a parent for 6 months (for argument sake), to the small-bits-a-day of self-care required of someone who has a schizoaffective disorder? Or myalgic encephalomyelitis (also called chronic fatigue syndrome)? We can't have two benchmarks (i.e. one for 'normal' people and one for (what?) all other people). We can't just have one benchmark, because some people have overcome significant things to achieve. I obviously don't have an answer.
3. As much as I would like to think that saying all this in a job or grant application would be taken in the spirit it is meant (i.e. here's what I've done, and here is the context of my life) it might be taken as a mark against me ('this person might have another serious manic episode' 'this person might have another child' 'this person might develop serious side effects and require sick leave'). I would never have a way of knowing, but it's a scary proposition.
The Pros List (I think the cons are obvious)
Anything I can do to destigmatize mental illness is a good thing. Calling my mental illness a chronic invisible illness demonstrates (I hope) that I treat it as a serious, but manageable (and managed) illness that would be like managing any other non-life-threatening illness. It also says (again, I hope) that I am not ashamed of having bipolar.
So. I don't have an answer. I suppose I will probably end up writing two versions of the statement and see which one passes though the research office.
Future job applications - again, totally undecided.
What an unsatisfying end.
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At the moment I am a master juggler. It's true, I have so many balls in the air and so far all of them are still in the air. But, not for long, I fear, as something will inevitably fall.
Last week I tweeted that I had submitted a job application ten days early, but what I didn't say is that I wanted to ensure that it wasn't a ball that fell. That application is important - really important. Doing it early meant I could give it the time and love it deserved. Like the article I submitted a few days later. The article is still out, but the notice that I'd not been shortlisted for the job came this morning.*
But now I am starting to feel the overwhelming enormity of all the things - a sample:
*Let's talk about rejection for a moment: it happens to all of us, there are job rejections, and papers that get turned down, and articles that you eventually retire into the 'Come Back to this Later' folder (last opened the day after you created it). I won't lie about this - I am really gutted that I wasn't shortlisted for this job, but I also know that I did everything I could do to make my application strong. And I have to remember that I'm a pretty strong candidate for my career stage, realistically. I shouldn't be surprised, because this job was probably two steps up from where I am now. So there you go - I won't be leaving Leicester yet (which, in itself, makes me quite happy!).
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