How being bluntly honesty about myself is wonderful, painful, beautiful, impressive, & awkward. A #LISMentalHealth Week post

I’m bluntly honest about myself. I’m old enough to feel comfortable being this honest. Maybe that’s the actual reason. Or maybe I’m strong enough to reject/ignore whatever judgements or assumptions others have about me. (Most of the time.) What you think of me has nothing to do with who I really am: a white trash, trailer park kid from Southwest Georgia who somehow ended up okay and has achieved some fantastic things. I’ve already said everything about myself that I INTENSELY hid for so long.

But I don’t know what else to do beside be open. In person and online. I recently told a checkout clerk that something in the grocery store that made me intensely anxious. They stared at me blankly, but it was my honest response to, “How are you doing?”. I’m tired of saying, “Fine.” or “Not bad”. I know these are things we say to one another out of habit, a social norm, and general politeness. But fuck that. Lying about how I’m doing feels weird and dishonest to myself. Anyway, I feel weird enough without a lie.

On the other hand (or something), I don’t really have an interest in radical honesty. But for some reason it’s oddly fascinating to me. Maybe because it feels partially connected to the honesty I value about myself. Others have taken radical honesty on. I’ve seen it shared on YouTube, tweets, websites, and in books. I think being honest about myself is more than enough (much, much more). Maybe everything for me will go down in magnificent flames as a result, or I’ll classically burn out rather than fade away. Or I’ll nap. And then keep going?

I’m okay right now. I’ve pushed myself to the edge and seen what happens after. For some reason that sounds rather arrogant when it is really simply me saying I live with mental illness and somehow still made it this far. I don’t know why this is a redundant thought I put in my blog posts. I wonder if/think it’s because some part of me believes sharing will be to my detriment. I’m waiting for the crash (that may never happen). The “are you sure you can handle this?” and other comments. For someone to call me outright, “a crazy bitch”. You can say that. It’s happen before.

I go to therapy every week. I’ve cried in public in so many places I can’t keep track. Panicked because a server seemed pushy about my sharing food with others (my ED makes this really uncomfortable if not provokes a complete shut down). I’ve had panic attacks on stage. I dissociate sometimes and don’t know how to get my footing back. My society anxiety sets in so quickly at times that I find the easiest way to escape (basically I disappear to home). I’m intensely medicated at the moment. Morning, noon, and night. The side effects are real and frustrating. My psychiatrist wants to get me to my “optimal level” before we start taking away medications. I’ve curious about this optimal level of myself. Is that real?

This is not a lovely, well-organized, and coherently flowing post. Mostly an assemblage of thoughts I’ve had over the past few months all in one place. I share a lot of my mental health concerns and struggles with mental illness, but for the most part I want others to know that what I’m experiencing may not be “normal”, but it’s normal enough that I know other people are going through similar (or dramatically different) struggles. But we keep on.

Poem by Andrea Gibson. Image from Button Poetry

The Traveling Academic: Maintaining (a Reasonable Amount of) Sanity

Recently, I listened to a new episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The Hilarious World of Depression, during which the host and Jeremy Pelletier, a non-profit director and geographer, talked about the impact of travel on mental health, particularly Jeremy’s. … Continue reading

When the narrator becomes confused because change is necessary yet intensely hard.

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.

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My Winter of “No. You Really Can’t.”

I’ve written in the past about my lifelong struggle with mental illness. Since I posted Parts One and Two last July about my panic attack during this past ALA Annual, I suffered two major bouts of depression – one that I’m still in the process of working through. Writing about these experiences reminds me that while I have really bad lows, I usually manage to crawl my way out of them through medication, therapy, exercise, and sharing.

My current episode of depression began in mid-December when I realized, “Oh. I’ve majorly overextended myself.” I procrastinated, misjudged deadlines, made promises that I thought I could deliver on, and more. I’ve told myself over and over again to back off and slow down. Once this spring semester began, I knew I was in trouble but still thought maybe I could manage. It would be some sort of point for bragging on social media among academics that I see all the time, right? “I’m so busy. I have so much work to do. I’m so committed to my profession.” and on and on.

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Thank you for explaining research to me.

We’re going to go back to ALA Annual 2017 for this post, but in an entirely different way my last two (see Part 1 & Part 2). In this post, I’m dealing with an experience that happened before Annual officially began. Apparently, it helped set the tone for the rest of the conference.

A bit of backstory. Right now I’m collaborating with a colleague, Dr. Laura-Edythe Coleman, on a study about how librarians and museum professionals understand and perform empathy in their everyday work. My colleague (and close friend) was also in town for Annual and wanted me to meet some important museum people from the Chicago area. She mentioned a Twitter hashtag that helps bring together museum-minded individuals during different conferences for drinks, socializing, and shop talk. There had been an informal gathering set up via the hashtag for that Thursday and wanted me to attend. Okay. Makes sense. I like museums. It would be a good idea to meet more professionals in an unfamiliar world to me. Especially since I’ll be interacting with participants from museums as part of our research.

Already stressed, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmed, I was not in the best headspace for high pressure social interactions. I never imagined that this social would be so intense, but it definitely turned out to be exactly that. I arrived at the designated bar with some half-hearted excitement to meet non-librarians before an (almost) all librarian conference. A small group of the museum people and my friend were there, already into drinks and appetizers. After brief introductions, I began to feel anxious and slightly paranoid. Most of the time my anxiety and paranoia isn’t justified, but in the case I believe it was.

I immediately felt on the defense. I sensed a general disinterest in me and a patronizing attitude towards my librarian status. This mainly came from three men at the table. My attempts at common “getting to know you” conversation starters failed miserably. I tried asking about where people work, what they like to do in Chicago, etc. A conversation about local craft beer started. I mentioned some of my favorite breweries in town. And received the sneering feedback I almost always get (from men) when I express an opinion about beer. Then the man across from me asked, out of the blue, “Why do you do research?”. Seemed like an odd and bit aggressive question. I responded with, what I think, are the reasons I do research. Stuff like: Because I’m a naturally curious person. Because I enjoy it. Because I’m (occasionally) good at it. Because I think it actually does some (tiny) good in the world. And because, honestly, a big part of being an academic is doing research that you can then present and publish. Job search, tenure, and such. Also, I’m a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Research is right there in my job title.

Those reasons did not meet his approval. He sent me a very clear look that demonstrated his criticism of my thoughts. Whatever I said clearly was not the right (or his right) answer. Obviously all my doctoral work, dissertation, and postdoc efforts have taught me nothing about research. I had no idea where to go with this conversation. I asked why he did research and he responded with something esoteric and with the intent to put me in my place. I was so furious that my brain refused to comprehend his words fully. All I could think was, “I am going to lose it.” Which I almost NEVER experience. I don’t remember the last time I did. But I didn’t explode this time. I sort of wish I did, but also sort of glad I didn’t. People like that don’t deserve the amount of energy I would need to go off. I didn’t even have anywhere near that energy at the time. In these situations, it feels like they want my anger. They want an argument. A chance to show off what they know and what they think I don’t.

But here is what I would have said:

I have a fucking PhD. Did you know that is a research degree? I’ve spent about five years conducting research either in collaboration with colleagues or on my own. I’ve been (and continue to be) mentored by AMAZING researchers. I completed a dissertation a year ago. This means that I came up with original research, dealt with the IRB, collected and analyzed my data, wrote up, presented, and defended my research, and proved to my committee that I can produce quality research. I’m in the middle of a postdoctoral fellowship, a terrific position that allows me to participate in really interesting research, learn more about research, and discuss research. I’m definitely not the best researcher. Occasionally I’m good at it. But for the most part I’m constantly learning how to become a better researcher and a more critical thinker. Finally, research research research.

I’m often on the defense with men. Whether it’s what I’m doing, what I’m reading, where I’m going, what I believe, and even what I feel. I know other women have experienced this too. I do love to learn. I’m excited when someone teaches me a new thing, shows me a different way to look at something, or gives constructive feedback. But I know when people are being kind and helpful versus trying to break me by dismissing my intelligence, education, and interests. I have so little patience for this as I grow older. But I’m (finally) able to detect when men are explaining things to me. No longer shrinking inside myself quite as much. Instead, trying very hard to stand tall.

Obviously, I’m still working through some issues relating to conferencing (see Part 1 & Part 2). Thank you for continue to read. Writing helps me process uncomfortable, confusing, painful, and overwhelming experiences in ways that even therapy cannot. As I write, I learn more about myself and whatever I’m struggling with. I make connections and discoveries that I would never had if I kept it all in my head. I figure out what really happened and why I responded the way I did. Writing also helps tame my tendency to overanalyze everything. I never know exactly where writing will take me but maybe that one reason I love it. I write to go forward.

“I’m Not Sure Why I”m Here: A Panicked Story, Part 2″

I want to thank you all for your outpouring of love and support. I had no idea what to expect when I pressed “publish” on Part 1. Right now I feel both very exposed and empowered. A contradictory feeling but a good one. Thank you to those who shared stories of personal struggles via social media, blog comments, and e-mails. I know that couldn’t have been easy. I admire your strength and perseverance.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to dig a bit deeper and answer some questions from my draft-reading librarian friend (you’re the best!) and a few of my own questions in this last post. Hopefully, my writing flows along somewhat smoothly. Here we go.

The New Member’s Round Table (NMRT) panel at ALA Annual hasn’t been my only panic attack during a presentation, but it has been my worst. My other panic attack happened during the last semester of my Master’s in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) program at Florida State University (FSU). As part of my coursework, I had an assignment to develop and carry out a training session about some aspect of library work. I decided to create a basic research workshop about databases, online tools, and helpful websites for our library staff. There were (maybe?) seven people at the workshop, but I still felt the intensity of pressure and anxiety. The morning of the workshop, I went to the gym very early because I thought working out would help. As I got ready for work, I went through my index cards of notes obsessively. While backing up the driveway to get to the library, I reversed into my mom’s car. Freaked out. My dad calmed me down as well as he could. I got to work, set everything up in the meeting room, and began my workshop. After the first 15 minutes, I relaxed a bit. I knew these people, had worked with them for a while, and they appeared to be engaged. Before the panel, that was my only other panic attack during a presentation. My panic level was seriously uncomfortable but manageable-ish.

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Learning about work-life balance

During April and May I had a mad rush of graduating, then turning right around and teaching a six weeks undergraduate course about social media management. But for the past two months I’ve been trying to do some self-care. In case you … Continue reading

Not Sure Where to Go From Here…

On April 30, 2016, I graduated with my Ph.D. in Information Studies from the School of Information at Florida State University. What a confusing series of emotions I went through on that day – from anger, sadness, happiness, and dread. It … Continue reading

Defending My Dissertation and Other Things I’ve Experienced Recently

On Monday, February 8, I successfully defended my dissertation. I stood up in front of a room of people and presented my dissertation research, opening myself up to questions and critiques (constructive). I’ve talked about my fear of public speaking … Continue reading

Guest Blogging for YALSA

So long ago (January 13), I wrote a guest post for the YALSA blog about my experience at ALISE 2016 Annual Conference and its theme of Radical Change, inspired by Dr. Eliza Dresang and her work with youth services. You … Continue reading