Anxiety and my academy

Right I need to debrief. My anxiety levels have been sky rocketing over the last few days. I need to sort my stuff out and gain some perspective. Do you mind if I lie down on your couch for a bit? Talking stuff through always makes things easier.

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Yes I know everybody’s job has anxiety, but this is not a competition. It is where I am at right now.

Yesterday I thought pampering and retail therapy would help me calm down, but it’s Christmas so that was absolutely no help. I spent more time annoyed at all the people infringing on MY time than enjoying the time. It also gave me more time to stress about the three things which are giving me grief.

This is the story of MY academy. Not THE Academe. I know this is a career trajectory with massive amounts of pressure, but I will never make it if I add my own pressure in unreasonable amounts. I need to see them on the screen so I can deal with them one at a time.

Shall I just get on with it?

My plan

Yesterday I had a major crash. I have been functioning on a high in my new scholarship. I have been feeling confident.

Yesterday I decided that my publication plan was crap. Not my method, I still like using social media to work things out. But my empirical stuff is crap.

The thing about my PhD is that it was the method that was new, the data was an experiment to see if it worked or if it could be expanded. I reckon it can, but my experimental data has very little substance by itself. It isn’t robust. It is pilot data. Pilot data for a new methodology.

My publication plan for this scholarship involves four papers that I confidently thought I could write from my empirical findings. I am quickly discovering problems with writing experimental data well. It lacks deep theorisation due to the grounded nature of my research. It is purely and simply good only in context with my method.

I am very excited about refining the method and continuing the experiment but in order to do that I pretty much need to become a PhD level sociologist by the end of January.

It is undoable in the limited time I have to fulfill my scholarship requirements so I need to rethink my plan. I need to write different papers to those I have been planning and outlining over the last 12 months and I have a couple of weeks to do it.

I am not on top of things. I am drowning in expectations I presented the scholarship committee that won me the position. I am drowning in expectations I have put on myself to do a good job and not write superficial nonsense. I still have to deliver. How many methods papers can you actually write? I’m going to have a red hot go at four.

  • One is already published (the ethical angle).
  • One is written (reflection and extension).
  • Maybe one on the reason for the experiment that led to the method (doable but who the hell would be interested?).
  • Maybe one on the research approach I adapted (the purists are scary).

I still need to find another two papers.

Financial

Being successful in this scholarship is not just pressure from the university belief in me, it is financial pressure from home. In the last month, my role changed to being the primary bread winner. As of February my husband is going to uni to get his Bachelor of Information Technology. Yay for him!

My stress is that my employment in academia has only ever been temporary. There have never been contracts longer than 6 months. They keep coming in regularly (I should be confident about that), but we always had my husband’s wage as a guarantee. Now neither of us will have guaranteed incomes.

This frightens me, but I can always apply to teach again or work for the state education authority if things get tight. I don’t need a job in the academy.

BUT I WANT A JOB IN THE ACADEMY!!!!! Why else sacrifice years of my life to work towards this goal if I simply go back to what I was doing before? I won’t even be able to put effort into an altac consultancy (which is the direction I have been musing). I know this is an ego thing and family is the most important thing in my life. Still it is part of my anxiety.

Academic motherhood

I have to work full time to fulfill my scholarship requirements. We cannot afford more day care for my girls. My husband watches the children while I work on weekends.  I have zero time to myself, let alone the family.

I am watching myself take my anxiety and exhaustion out on my kids. I am appalled at myself. I am either bribing them to be quiet with toys and TV or I am yelling at them to stop making demands of me.

I love them so fiercely that I just want to cry every time I am so unreasonable. Today I sat them down and told them what was going on and why things had changed. They were so lovely about it. I am so proud of them. They told me that they wanted to help me. I don’t know how they will, but at least they now have some explanation as to why Monster Mummy is appearing more frequently these days.

Today I was telling another recent PhD graduate that I didn’t understand why I won the scholarship when my track record is so small compared to others that applied. He stopped me straight away and said, “Stop talking like that. You did really well in your PhD.”

“But I have got very little to show for it. Everything is a disaster at the moment .”

“You birthed and raised two children during your PhD. That is doing really well. The other stuff doesn’t matter. You have shown what you are capable of.”

I nearly cried. Instead I wrote this. I needed to get my priorities straight.

So thanks for listening. I hope I didn’t take up much of your time. I’d love some assurance that this is normal but otherwise, have a lovely rest of your day.

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3 thoughts on “Anxiety and my academy

  1. Tough times indeed; commiserations. The plus side: you’re learning a lot – hard lessons, I know, but nevertheless useful. Break down those tasks. Writing papers doesn’t (need to) take as long as some people make them take. If a paper is 7,500 words long, and you can write 500 words in a day, you have a draft paper in 15 days – three working weeks. Five hundred words is just one page of A4. You can actually write that in half an hour; the rest of the day is for reading, thinking, and ancillary tasks. Write the two papers you know about, by the time you’ve done those you’re much more likely to have sensible ideas for the other two. You’re focusing on all the big things – must find more paper topics! must get another job! must be a fab parent! – so no wonder you feel like you’re drowning. Break it down to achievable daily tasks (write 500 words, read two journal articles, clean a room of the house, play with kids for an hour), then do those tasks, and I bet you’ll soon start feeling productive and satisfied rather than anxious and desperate. Good luck!

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    • Thanks, Helen. Wise words. So do you think I could draft three methods papers side by side? 1500 words a day if I work the different angles/outlines first? I am a believer in just sitting down and writing rather than waiting for inspiration. It’s the reading that seems like such a waste of time (I know it isn’t but it takes a long time that I could be using for writing). Your approach is wonderful. It would give me a sense of achievement that I don’t need to feel guilty about doing only reading and thinking for hours and hours on end. As long as I write something every day.

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      • You could certainly try! Though if I was going to do three at a time, I might give myself a lower word count for each, and a bit longer to get them finished. I know what you mean about the reading feeling like a waste of time; I’m quite ruthless, these days, about scoping out reading to see whether I want to read all of a paper/chapter/book or just parts of it. For example, if I’m researching methods, I don’t usually need to read the findings sections of journal articles, so mostly I don’t (though I sometimes get drawn in if they’re really interesting!). And yes, I think if you write something every day, you’ll be able to see that you’re making tangible progress, and that will give you a feeling of accomplishment. Go for it!

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