It’s that time of year when end-of-the-semester panic is in full swing. This year, I’m not really feeling the panic. There are a lot of refreshing things about being out of coursework—not feeling that panicky “what am I forgetting?” feeling is one of those things. But also, as someone who is so high-anxiety that I haven’t been able to buy a waffle maker for (literally) years because I get overwhelmed by reading all the reviews, I made a conscious decision this semester to dedicate myself to self-care.
As someone who has struggled to maintain extreme anxiety for over a decade, I knew that this semester could easily consume me because of (drum roll) the job market. I knew that, if I let it, prepping for the job market would consume me because I’m on fellowship, because I’m prone to obsessing, because I refuse to ever submit anything that hasn’t been read & edited so many times that words stop looking like words.
So I dedicated myself to self-care. I bought an illustration from a body-positive illustrator. I enrolled my dog in daycare because when I’m stressed, she’s stressed. I read a book (granted, an academic book) for fun. I’ve watched six movies in the last month (Batman, Batman Returns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Addams Family, Addams Family Reunion, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Clearly, I am nostalgic for the ’90s).
And, most importantly, I committed to the idea that I can only do what I can do. I cannot predict what people want from me, but I can predict how I present myself as (I hope) a thoughtful researcher, teacher, and colleague.
Yesterday, I saw someone retweet a discussion thread that was about to start on self-care (check out the Storify of that conversation here). I retweeted it to follow later, but as the conversation started, I couldn’t look away. And at first, I didn’t want to participate because I should have been working, and I’m still coming to terms with disclosing information about myself in (pseudo-) academic contexts.
But then I couldn’t stop.
As a PhD student researching comp/rhetoric & disability studies + maintaining depression/anxiety, I highly value #selfcare. #withaPhD
For me, #selfcare isn’t necessarily separating work & pleasure but trying to brainstorm ways to be a whole person in all contexts. #withaPhD
I think we’re not open enough about #selfcare, and I’m trying to be more transparent about it in research/teaching/personal life. #withaPhD
As the hour progressed, I watched as different academics shared strategies and experiences. I read as they expressed guilt and reluctance to accept basic human needs (e.g., sleep). I was happy as I read through the many different things folks did to relax, have fun, enjoy their lives, but I was also distressed that these things were positioned as so markedly different—that academic lives & personal lives must be so clearly demarcated. There was internalization of & resistance to the dominant narratives in higher ed that position these practices as not scholarly or valuable or productive.
I thought of my dissertation and the rhetorics of overcoming that circulate around self-care, the “work hard and push through it” narratives that drown out the “work hard but accept yourself and do what you can” narratives, the idea that you’re not working hard enough if you’re taking time for self-care.
#selfcare is different for everyone. It is a necessity, not a luxury for maintaining mental health, productivity, wholeness. #withaPhD
#selfcare is a radical act in an academic culture where taking time for yourself is seen as unnecessary, wasted time, weakness. #withaPhD
I thought about this Twitter conversation all day yesterday to the point that, in a moment when I was caught off guard, I started talking about self-care to some folks who didn’t know me at all. I talked about how on the first day of class every semester I tell my students that I understand they have lives and may miss class but that I’d like them to tell me about it because, for the four years I was in class, I had to tell every one of my teachers at the beginning of the semester that my mom was sick with cancer. I had an agreement with the dean that I could skip town if my mom was having surgery (like in my first year) or if she was in a coma (like in my fourth year). I don’t expect students to share that much information with me, but I share it with them because I want to participate in an academic culture that foregrounds self-care, that doesn’t continually reinscribe rhetorics of overcoming, that treats students (& instructors) as whole people.
Be kind to yourselves as the semester winds down. Be kind to yourselves always.