I try not to assume that the world is talking about me, let alone whatever room I walk into. But I do. More recently. I don’t know if this is a product of my (multiple) mental illnesses, a new mental illness, or a normal human conundrum. People, in my mind, never say kind and uplifting things about me. Hell, even mind numbingly boring. It is always negative or critical. This is my internal debate. And I don’t know why I care so much or why it hurts me to my core.
It seems arrogant. Why would you be the focus of attention? “Why do you, of everyone else, matter?” I mutter silently to myself. “People have their own lives, at best, or are self absorbed, at worst.”
But I work in an industry, being academia, that seems to thrive on appearances. Publications numbers and citation counts are regularly asked during annual evaluations and certainly the tenure track process. Colleagues appear to almost supernaturally known what to say during committee meetings where I stumble at best. One colleague is asked to be the speaking head on a local news channel, because they are an expert in some obscure field that relates to a hot-this-moment story. Representation of your university, school, and college is critical. You are your institution.
Logically, I know that I’ve push myself to some sort of limit work-wise. I have cut back on outside work – i.e. the work that isn’t academic or the work that won’t get me tenure. Recently, I’ve dedicated myself to focusing on the work stylings I knew as a PhD student. None of which were healthy. Much of which helped me end up in ER for suicidal ideation, depression, and panic disorder two weeks before my dissertation defense.
Despite all this, I continue to strive for some sort of ‘laudable’ goal. It may not be achievable. It’s enviable to many (I’ve heard), but I’ve seen so many suffer so much as a result of the hunt for this prize.
I started writing this brief post, because I felt inexplicably that the world was criticizing me. By that I mean academically, appearance-wise, my every day humanness, my writing, and/or whatever it means to be me. I know (or partially know) that this feeling may come from my non-stop and relentless criticism of myself. I do not entirely know. But it has lead me to more complex thoughts. Particularly regarding academia and my fledgling lifeline in it. But what else am I good at? I’ve spent over a decade in this bubble of higher education. I know the joys and the sorrows of a life lived within it (if I can steal a phrase from somewhere). I don’t want to give it up. I just want to survive it.