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.

But no. My body rebelled from the extreme stress and chronic anxiety over my professional and personal lives in ways it hasn’t since I was a teenager. I suffered persistent insomnia and stomach pains (“nervous stomach”, my mom called it) throughout middle and high school. This go-around kicked off in January with a lingering bad cold, nausea, dizziness spells, migraines, fatigue, cold sores, and cystic acne. Part way into my conferencing for the Association of Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) and ALA Midwinter earlier this month, my brain stopped recognizing hunger signals and lived for the most part on coffee and nerves. I didn’t sleep or rest much and felt disoriented at times. All the mental health planning I had done with my therapist in a session right before the conference escaped me.

By the time I got back to Utah late at night on February 12, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by emails, promises, deadlines, and life in general. A trip to the doctor showed that I had also developed an infection and my blood pressure was dangerously high. I finally realized (how did it take this long??) that no, I really can’t do this. Not anymore. My body and mind have been saying this for awhile, but I refused to listen.

Thankfully, I had scheduled a therapy session for right after I got back home (I always schedule one after a conference). My therapist expressed her concern that I would end up hospitalized if I didn’t do something soon. This scared me enough to actually change my situation. I made several painful decisions that I never thought I would have to make. Since these decisions affect a few people, I won’t go into them. But mostly I backed away from some promises. I had to say, “No. I can’t do this right now.” I opened up and cried. I had to put my mental and physical health first. I felt selfish and cruel for doing these things. I still do at times.

This all happened last week. The weekend was painful and so were Monday and Tuesday of this week; but it’s getting better. I have wonderful friends in town who let me hang out over the weekend when I couldn’t be alone. I cuddled with their pups. I had other friends to call and help work through my fears, depression, and anxiety.

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Important pup support!

Right now I’m actively working on healing. For me, healing is helped by finding activities and adventures to plan. I have a trip planned for later this semester to a city I love (HI CHICAGO!!!), exciting research projects to dig into, marathon training to figure out, way too many books to read, and long thinking drives into the mountains.

One reason I wanted to write this post is because it’s the perfect week to share what I’ve been dealing with this winter. But I mainly wrote this because I needed to do my tiny part in normalizing (not sure that’s the right word) mental illness. I identify as a person who is mentally ill. I live and struggle with mental illness, and I’ve done so for a long time. But as I live with Bipolar II disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, and more, I also live a fulfilling and meaningful life. I have good days and bad days. I enjoy my work. I have a family and friends. I love traveling and wandering around big cities for hours. I run for long distances (not very fast but I run). I get really excited about random things and say, “Yay!” a lot. I’m a person.

Mental illness shouldn’t be something shameful and hidden. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it for fear of losing our jobs, family, or friends. But that’s still what’s happening. The stigma, associated fear, and loneliness is real. I don’t know how to end this post except to say this is all very hard and frustrating and confusing, but I’m there too. And so many others. You are not alone.

“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.

Continue reading

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

Guest Posting for Letters to a Young Librarian!

On Thursday morning, my guest blog post, “Worrying About My PhD Life“, for Letters to a Young Librarian went live. I received so many wonderful comments from fellow librarians, library directors, and doctoral students through the LTAYL blog, Tumblr, Twittter, and Facebook. … Continue reading

“I Can’t Write.”: Lies I Tell Myself Sometimes

I struggled with my writing this semester. This is a confusing and (sort of) funny announcement when I look back at last month’s post about my success in publishing. What began with unexpected criticism about my writing in late August spiraled … Continue reading

Writing Stuff. All the Time.

In case you missed it, I’ve been writing quite a bit since the beginning of summer. Some of which has actually been published! Here’s a round-up in case you missed them.

June

I contributed a bit to Julia Skinner’s post for Hack Library SchoolWhy We Decided on the PhD“. Just a couple of sentences from me about (obviously) why I decided to pursue an doctoral degree. There are many reasons NOT do go this route. Julia is a doctoral candidate in my program; and she’s very knowledgeable about so many things!

July

I wrote a guest post for the Letters to a Young Librarian blog called, “Politics Schmolitics! What Does Politics Have to do With Libraries?” My first librarian position was in a small rural library system. My MLIS program didn’t prepare me for the amount of politics (local and state) involved in public libraries. Only working in a library can teach you that.

September

I learned even more things this year

About a year ago I wrote a post reflecting on my experiences as a first-year doctoral student. I’m keeping the tradition alive by posting about my second-year in the doc program! I’ve grown significantly, both professionally and personally. Maybe even more in my personal life. But I’ll stick to the professional ups and downs in this post (since this is an academically minded blog and all).

This past fall semester marked my first appearance TAing in a face-to-face course, an undergraduate core class called Information Science. One major duty I had a TA involved leading a twice weekly break-out session. I’ve written about my struggles presenting and introversion tendencies in earlier blog posts, so these sessions weren’t easy. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally or calmly to me. But being pushed into teaching on a weekly basis has been incredibly helpful and terrifying. At the end of fall semester, I wrote a post about what I learned from my undergraduates. I’m always learning from my students. For example, last semester I found out that there is a popular song about selfies. Who knew?! Undergrads (and normal people who listen to the radio). This semester, through student blog posts, I read about boxing, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Ramen recipes. Stuff I’ve never had much of an interest in investigating. While teaching, I’ve discovered that each semester can be very different, especially with student engagement. This summer I’ve experienced a disconnect with my students that I haven’t in the past. Maybe it’s because of the shortened summer semester, my own work load, or just sheer exhaustion. I’m not sure how to overcome this feeling of disconnect.

Learning is Fun!

Odd Learning Related Image.

Over the past year, I’ve become a published author. In May, the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults (JRLYA) published my first article, More Than Just Books: Librarians as a Source of Support for Cyberbullied Young Adults. I have three more articles that will be published within the year. Two as the sole author and one that’s a collaboration with one of my advisors, Dr. Lorraine Mon.I’ve learned just how time-consuming, frustrating, confusing, and spirit crushing the publication process can be. To add even more confusion, there’s publishing agreements to consider. Since the legal language and I aren’t very friendly, I reached out to the FSU’s Office of Scholarly Communication for contract hand holding. A very, very good idea. As harsh as it is to get back peer reviews, I’m still proud of the work I’ve produced; and I don’t want to sign away everything just to get my article published. The contracts I’ve received so far, except for JRLYA, want to take everything. After recently dealing with my third contract, I’m slightly more comfortable asking questions about what I’m signing and what I can argue for. Slightly.

I’m still learning to deal with rejection. Over the past year, I’ve had several rejections for conference submissions. I always take it personally, which I know I shouldn’t do but can’t seem to resist. Like many academics, I struggle with the impostor syndrome, that feeling of never being good enough or smarter enough. These self-defeating thoughts aren’t rational, but they are very powerful. Kate Bahn wrote an excellent article for Vitae about women, academia, and the impostor syndrome. It’s not just rejection and criticism that’s hard to accept, it’s accepting and internalizing praise too. Something to work on over the next year.

For the next year, I’m expecting to make some serious progress in my doctoral program. I’m taking my preliminary exam in September and (please please) defending my prospectus in late fall/early spring. Also, throw in a couple of conferences, potential publications, and a research assistantship and there you have my oh-so-easy third year.

What have you all learned this year? Any suggestions/comments/tips for me?