Deanna England, writing from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada
I really like Facebook Scrabble – I spend far too much time on there, with only a vague justification that it “increases my vocabulary.” Over my Christmas holidays, I spent the vast majority of my 10 days off napping and finding new Scrabble opponents. All my grandiose plans of completing my Special Studies proposal (Sex and Jane Austen – woo!), preparing my section of the introduction for the book I’m working on, editing chapters for said book, submitting papers to journals and/or conferences – yeah, none of that happened. Well, the barest minimum of it happened anyhow.
In between naps I found time to email the ever-so-wonderful Mary Churchill, my editor here at the University of Venus to tell her that I was simply incapable of doing a post every month. I was beginning to have anxiety attacks over it. After sending that email, but before my tenth nap of the holidays I began to berate myself. Am I lazy? Unmotivated? Do I deserve to be here? I was convinced that I was about to get my first B+ in a course towards my degree, had no idea how to contribute to a book, and just generally felt like a pile of exhausted goo.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself editing my share of the chapters for the book. As I wrote in my notes that this sentence was awkward, or she really should have considered that primary source, I was suddenly struck by the seeming absurdity of it all. I am a Master’s student. Who am *I* to be telling tenured faculty that they neglected to consider Freud when constructing their paper? Surely they had already thought of that themselves and had positively brilliant reasons for not including him. I fell back into my gooey state of self-doubt.
I expressed my concerns about my seeming laziness to a trusted confidante and was greeted with (somewhat comforting) jaw-dropping shock. She first attempted to talk me down off the ledge over the B+ (Will it ultimately matter if I didn’t get straight A’s in this program? Will I still get the degree? Who is judging me other than myself?) and then started deconstructing this laziness fallacy.
Are you working full-time? Yes. Are you doing a graduate degree at the same time? Yes. Do you have extra-curricular activities? Yes. What? Well, there’s the book, and writing for the University of Venus and assisting with the coordination of the Winnipeg SlutWalk and my new involvement in a sexual empowerment and education group on events and writing and… OK, do you have a family? Yes. Friends? Yes. Romantic relationship? Yes. Laundry? Groceries? Housecleaning? Bills to pay? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Honestly? I had to go through the entire exercise before I got the point. I genuinely interpreted my sleep and lack of accomplishments over the holidays as a sign of failure. Confession: it’s sometimes a challenge to work for Senior Administration at a University. I see everything they do – committee work, supervising staff, teaching, publications, meetings upon meetings upon meetings, travel, research….How dare I aspire to anything less than that? Doesn’t it mean that I’m a lesser person? Weaker somehow? How do they accomplish such superhuman feats of productivity and still remain…pleasant?
I don’t actually know the answer to that question. But it does reinforce the importance of this mental health initiative that the University is constructing. And while the details of the large initiative are still being sorted out, I am on a sub-committee that is becoming increasingly important to me, as I wade through my own journey of exhaustion, potential over-achievement disguised as laziness, and self-doubt.
“Take 5” is the name of the event. It will be a week-long program of activities on campus that provides free yoga, dodge ball tournaments, massages, prizes, tea breaks and so much more. Last year when working on this, I viewed it as something “for the students.” This year it struck me that I am one of those students. And I could certainly benefit from taking a 5 minute break for some tea. It’s a simple enough concept, take a breather, appreciate what’s going on around you, and take care of yourself without feeling guilty for doing so. It’s funny how much easier it is to give advice than to take it.
This year though, I think I really want to throw a dodge ball at someone – it sounds deliciously C-A-T-H-A-R-T-I-C.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.