I recently moved from Logan, Utah to Milwaukee for a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin (wait for it) Milwaukee. The nature of academia means you move where the job takes you. I’m pleased that it took me to a new part of the country and a new work environment with supportive and welcoming faculty and staff. The goal for many leaving a doctoral program or post doc (as I did) is a tenured track faculty position. A challenge to achieve that (honestly) I try to share with doc students or those considering entering a doctoral program. During your last year of a doc program or post doc, you apply, apply, apply, interview, interview, wait (for what seems like an excruciating amount of time), and maybe have an on-campus interview and (possibly) get something. There’s so many of us searching for these idealized tenure track positions while there are so few of actual positions to go around. I am where I am now for a number of reasons (hard work, mentorship, networking, a great post doc). Some that I may not even know about. I am happy where I am. But the transitional period from post doc to faculty and from Utah to Wisconsin has been much harder that I expected.
The move itself was hard for a number of reasons. I said goodbye to Logan and the mountains, moved everything into a U-Haul with the help of my family and a wonderful friend, met with my psychiatrist for the last time, and left Logan by late afternoon. Planning (life wise) has never been a strength of mine. One of my mental health struggles is consistently believing I can take on everything (usually in one day) and still function. I can’t. Maybe someone can but everyone has their limits. I sometimes ignore or don’t even recognize mine. That day, for me, felt numb. I did what I had to do and, once we (my brother, dad, and I) got to the hotel that night collapsed into sleep.
My brother drove while I stressed about how shitty I was at being productive. In my mind, a month earlier, I believed I could still work on the road. During lunch, on the road, or at the hotel. But my mind was anxiously thinking about everything that could go wrong while driving, when we got to my apartment Milwaukee (later that anxiety turned out to be justified), finding a therapist and psychiatrist, my first day and week as a faculty member, and finances. There was next to no room in my brain left for actual work.
Why do I place such heavy demands on myself? Why do I expect more, so much more, from myself than I would from anyone else? I’m understanding and empathetic when my family, friends, colleagues, and people I don’t even know on social media are struggling. I hope I am at least. A kind friend posted on social media about perfection being an ableist value as well as productivity. I know this is true, but at the same time I struggle to hold on to that thought.
This summer was hard. June through August was a blur of expectations, unfulfilled promises, and doubts. I expected more of myself but another spell of depression and anxiety as well as a major life change hit me hard (I’m not ready to share this dramatic change that happened yet. It’s too raw.). I felt like a failure and assumed everyone else viewed me as the same. I missed meetings at one conference because holding onto a date, time, and place in my brain felt impossible. I forgot things easily and constantly needed people to remind me where to go and what to do. I suffered from a bout of illnesses that I believe were stress induced (migraines, constant nausea, hand tremors, general exhaustion, eczema, and insomnia). At the same time, I presented at conferences and (think) actually did a good job, wrote, and collaborated with colleagues on various projects. I managed. I wasn’t as productive as I had imagined that summer would be, but I did what I could with what I had mentally.
I started writing this post a month ago. Coming back to it, adding a few sentences, and deleting some since then. I’m slowly adapting again to being alone and lonely in a new city, in a new part of the country. A much bigger and more overwhelming place from where I moved. I’m slowly processing what it means to be faculty, what it means have even more control of your work (and in less control of other things), and how to balance work with the rest of my life. One easily bleeds into the other. I still struggle with the after effects of my doctoral program. I have long understood “faculty life” as an 80-hour week. I can’t maintain that. I don’t want to even try.
I’m still struggling. Mostly with personal challenges. I know that I’ll get there, just like I know that this is just a process. I had a similar experience when I moved to Utah, alone and uncertain (and encountering a new culture). I know this is a shared experience among other academics and those in other fields. I hard to keep reminding myself that change is necessary and offers so much opportunity for growth. Repeating this thought to myself helps combat my depression and anxiety. I’ll make it. I need to take it a day at a time. That’s all my brain really can do right now. Making long terms goals and plans simply aren’t do able for me now. But I’m working and trying and striving to be learn more about myself and recognize the internal change that has happened and is still happening.
Note: I’ve decided to shift my blog to more of a focus on a mixture of mental health, academic life, and librarianship/library work. At the moment that’s where there should to be more discussion (IMO), and I’m more than happy to keep the conversation going. And overshare. As I sometimes/often do.
(And thank you family, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers who have been so kind and supportive during all these experiences.)