Category Archives: Anxiety Overload

Microblog Mondays: Associations

A couple of weeks ago, for reasons I won’t get into here, I bought a breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s.

It’s been years since I’ve eaten one of those (I can’t even remember the last time).

I opened up the wrapper, took a bite…and I was back at the clinic.

We used to eat them, you see, Q. and I, back in the IUI days of 2008 and early 2009. We’d arrive at the clinic as early as we could, and then Q. would go out to find breakfast after he’d done his bit, while I waited for it to be my turn for the ultrasound. It was our routine, a way of trying to attach some semblance of normalcy to a situation that was anything but normal. We’d sit side-by-side in the clinic’s waiting room, eating our breakfast sandwiches and drinking our caffeinated beverages (black coffee for Q., Earl Grey tea with milk for me) and listening for our name to be called, for our doctor to tell us that they were ready to try, once again, to get me pregnant.

They’ll never be ‘just’ breakfast sandwiches for me. In the same way that the transit stop where I used to get off to go to the clinic will always be associated with the clinic, even though I no longer go to the clinic when I get off there, those sandwiches for me will always taste of the waiting room, the early mornings, and our quiet, mounting despair that we might not ever get to be parents.

We did become parents in the end (although not from any of those early mornings). I no longer have to fight down a rising anxiety attack when I see the name of the clinic’s transit stop flash past. Outwardly, I look like I’ve ‘made it’. There’s nothing to mark me out as infertile.

But it only takes one bite of a breakfast sandwich for it all to come back.

Do you have infertility associations that have stayed with you?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Microblog Mondays

Progress, Not Perfection

I have been having a difficult time getting back into a good rhythm with my research. Too much time off over the holidays has meant I’ve lost my momentum and my Inner Critic is back up to “shouting so loudly she’s hurting my ears” rather than the “nasty whispers under her breath” I’d beaten her down to by the end of last semester.

I learned last fall that the absolute, most critical key to successful academic writing (for me at least) was consistency. The more I worked on something, the easier it became to keep working on it. My weekly schedule makes this a challenge. Mondays I’m at home with P., and Tuesday nights I teach. This has meant that the work time available on Tuesdays (the morning and the early afternoon), more often than not, has been eaten up by class preparation and marking. I’m hoping this will improve this semester because I’m now into the section of the course that I’ve taught once before, so I already have PowerPoint slides and relevant assessment that can be reused.

The reality is that four days away from my research is too long. Every Wednesday I’d have the same inner battle with myself as I walked to the library:

Inner Critic: “I don’t know why you even bother. It’s never going to get published. No one wants to read your crap.”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’d be so much easier to do something else. So much more fun too. Why not just read your novel? Or go for a long walk? Or answer emails? Or write a blog post? Or we could go eat some cake. Ooh, I love cake. You love cake too! You’ll feel better about yourself then!”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’s so pointless. You’re so pointless. You’re such a fraud. If you actually send this to a publisher everyone will know you’re such a fraud.”
Turia: “SHUT. UP. Just sit down at the desk, Turia.”
*Some time is wasted by going to the washroom, setting up the desk, filling up the water bottle, writing a few emails, checking the phone, etc.*
Inner Critic: “You’re never going to be able to do this, you know.”
Turia: “SHUT! UP! Open the computer, Turia. Open the file. Start writing. Write for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. You can do fifteen minutes.”
*Fifteen minutes pass.*
Turia:
“Ok. This is going well. These are interesting ideas. You can do it, T. Keep writing.”
Inner Critic: “I’ll be back, you know.”

And she is back, every morning. She’s easier to silence on Thursday and easier again on Friday because by then I’ve picked up some momentum and I can remember what I most wanted to start with when I’d finished the day before. But she never, ever, truly goes away, and by the following Wednesday she’s back out in force.

I described this entire process to my friends in my writing accountability group at our meeting in December and they were both horrified. “That sounds terrible!” one of them said.

It is terrible. I guess I’m just so used to it it doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I’ve never written anything research-related without also engaging in a fierce internal war.

My work goal for 2018 is to try to break this cycle. The fundamental problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a very fixed mindset. I associate editing with failure- I didn’t get it right the first time. I confuse my work with myself, and feel that a rejection of my work would pass judgment on myself as a person. This leaves me paralyzed with fear whenever I think about submitting my work somewhere.

It’s a really unhealthy way to live, and I don’t want to model it for my children.

E. and I talk all the time about how “practice makes progress” and how we have to be willing to try and make mistakes in order to improve. When he’s worried about his dictée words, and is wailing about how he will “never get anything right” and how he will “make a million mistakes on the dictée”, I point to how much he’s improved every time he practices.

I knew it was sinking in when I heard our nanny say to E. “practice makes perfect” one day and he, rather irritably, corrected her that it was actually “practice makes progress because most things aren’t perfect”.

It needs to sink in for me too.

Walking to the library this morning, with my Inner Critic shrieking in my head, I resolved to make “progress, not perfection” my mantra for my work this year. And by the time I’d reached my second-favourite desk (annoyingly someone had already claimed my favourite desk), I’d realized that it applied to far more than just my writing.

It applied when it came to my photographs.

It applied when it came to my efforts to control my lizard brain when I’m frustrated with my kids.

It applied to anywhere in my life where I felt unsatisfied and wanted to make a change.

When you practice, you see, you have to make the time for something. You have to engage in it. And maybe the progress you make is incremental. Maybe it’s tiny, almost unnoticeable at first. Maybe baby steps even seem like big steps at first. But eventually, if you give it enough time, you will be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

I wrote on here that I hadn’t been able to come up with a good word to represent my goals for 2018.

It turns out I needed three words, not one.

Progress, not perfection.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, Choose Happiness, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

Strength in Numbers?

A few weeks ago, after I’d taken the quiz to find out my BASE in terms of my writing (the link to the quiz is in my other post and I’ll wait while you go and take it because it’s really neat), I sent an email out to two of my female colleagues/almost friends to ask if they wanted to join a writing accountability group.

I sent the email partly because I was experimenting with improving my social skills for my writing, but also because I’d come to realize in the first month of my postdoc that I needed to be accountable to someone other than myself if I was going to make any progress on my book.

I was a model of productivity for my postdoc…right up until the point where I largely finished the first draft of the chapter I’ve been writing for the edited volume and needed to turn my attention to my book revisions.

And then I stalled.

I tinkered.

I read books related to both projects.

I decided to try to post 30 times in 30 days on this blog, which counted as writing time, but not the writing that would help get the book revisions finished.

I did not want to get started on the book revisions, the revisions I’ve needed to do since August 2015.

And it was too easy to refuse to start them (again) because if I didn’t start them, the only person I was letting down was myself.

If I didn’t write the chapter for the edited volume, I was hurting my co-contributors, but I was also hurting my co-editors, one of whom is Q.

I’m not going to disappoint Q. if he’s counting on my work for his own project.

Plus, the first draft of something is what I like to write the best, so it was easy to sit down at the keyboard and let all the ideas that had been burbling around inside of me come flowing out.

I already did that with my book. The result was my PhD dissertation.

I hate editing my work. HATE. IT.

And I hate being rejected by people. HATE. IT.

So it’s been unbelievably easy for me to just not do the revisions because they combine two of my least favourite things.

If I don’t take the risk to put myself out there, I don’t have to face the consequences of being rejected.

Somewhere in late October I realized that this situation was never going to change if I didn’t change the circumstances under which I was operating, because although I occasionally lay awake at night wondering if the editor at Esteemed University Press ever wondered where my book was (answer: no, because said editor has many other books to deal with and many, many other academics who haven’t done their revisions either), and I knew I would disappoint my supervisor (and, let’s face it, Q.) if I never published the book, ultimately it just wasn’t a strong enough motivating factor.

I’d hit the point with that research where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was convinced that everything I had to say was bleedingly obvious and that any attempt on my part to publish said research would expose me for the fraud I am (see earlier post on imposter syndrome). The idea that if I published the book people might read and disagree with the book (or, worse, think the book was pointless) was paralyzing.

So I emailed two other women whom I knew were in the same boat (actual sentence from our meeting: “I invited both of you to join because we all have the same albatross around our neck.”).

Last Friday we had our first meeting.

We talked a bit about why we were there. One of us has trouble writing but loves to edit. One of us has no trouble writing but hates to edit (that’s me). And one of us has trouble with both.

We talked about the emotional, physical, and psychological toll NOT HAVING A BOOK in a monograph-centric field has taken.

We talked about how our colleagues would never take us seriously (even the one of us who is tenured) without a book.

We talked about how much we hated our research, how fear and shame were the only forces that drove us forward, how we were paralyzed by our own self-doubt.

“This is a very surreal experience,” one of them said after I’d spent several minutes explaining how I felt like I had to finish the book even though I didn’t want to finish the book because I didn’t want the people who knew me to stand around talking about me in five years saying how it was such a shame I’d never produced a book. “It’s like I’m hearing my own voice come out of someone else’s mouth.”

We’re going to try to help each other get through this and get our books done.

We set short-term goals for our next meeting (late December) and medium-term goals for where we wanted to be by the end of July 2018.

If we don’t do what we’ve said we’re going to do, we have to turn up to the next meeting and tell the others why we didn’t.

Shame and fear, yes.

But support and camaraderie too.

It might just work.

 

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Microblog Mondays: Care Less

I am giving a seminar paper this week at my new department. I (foolishly) volunteered to give a paper earlier in the fall, back when I felt guilty about spending so little time there as their new postdoc.

At the time it seemed like a great idea, although it’s felt like a progressively less great idea the more time I’ve spent writing the paper; it felt like a downright terrible idea this morning when I managed to crash Word while trying to figure out how to insert accents: I not only failed to learn how to type the accents I needed but I also lost two good paragraphs (which could not be retrieved even after much Googling of where the Autosave document ought to have been).

I was happily writing my paper last Friday when a horrifying thought occurred to me: I don’t know most of the people in this new department. At my home university I’m a known entity; I give good papers which emerge from good ideas. At the new place my supervisor knows I’m a decent scholar, but I’m a stranger to pretty much everyone else, including the Chair.

For a moment I found myself paralyzed by the thought that I might make an ass out of myself. It was imposter syndrome (something which I have struggled with for my entire academic career: see here, here, oh and here too) rearing its ugly head. I allowed the usual thought process – I might say the wrong thing! They might ask me about my translations! I’ll be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing! I’ll embarrass my home department, my supervisor, and Q.! – to wash over me.

And then I quashed the negative thoughts.

I am giving a paper about a project I’ve been working on for several months (and have been thinking about for a couple of years).

I will know more about my subject than anyone else in the room.

I will be fine.

And (and this was the most freeing thought of all, largely because I’ve never managed to think it and believe it before) even if I make an ass of myself and they think I’m an idiot, I don’t really care. My future in the profession (if there is a future for me in academia) does not depend on their good opinions of my work.

It was amazing how much better I felt after that.

Are you plagued by imposter syndrome too? What do you do to counteract it?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays

Microblog Mondays: What’s Your FOMO?

I have been reading (and enjoying) Morra Aarons-Mele’s Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home), which I heard about from Mel (thanks, Mel!); it’s given me a lot to think about, and helped me understand why I find it so difficult to think about leaving academia (spoiler alert: I’m not only an introvert but also a hermit and academia, at least in the humanities, is great for hermits).

Early in the book, she writes about the positive side of FOMO (pages 29-31), writing that “once you get in touch with your FOMO, it can be a powerful diagnostic tool” and “like a sore muscle or overused tendon, excessive FOMO is also a sign that a behavior has to change”. If you are always feeling FOMO about the same things, that can be a signal about what you feel is lacking in your own life.

This point really struck home with me, because I know exactly where I experience FOMO. I might get a twinge of it now and again if someone has gone on a particularly exotic vacation or spent a lot of time at a cottage or gone out for a weekend of eating at nice restaurants and watching live theatre, but those moments of FOMO are fleeting: I don’t really want to be that person doing those things. I wish I could do those things too, but I’m content with the current phase of my life and I can see that those things don’t easily align with that phase (read: raising small children). I’m even less likely to experience FOMO with career-related news (which is the kind of FOMO Aarons-Mele is discussing) because I’m not ambitious in that regard (even though I often feel guilty that this is true).

When does my FOMO strike?

  1. When people take better photographs than I do (especially of their kids and/or landscapes)
  2. When people announce they’re publishing a book (especially bloggers who started blogging after I did [not that I ever thought this blog would lead to a book- it’s more that they were able to find a blogging niche that eventually opened the door to a book]).

It’s not rocket science to see the changes I need to make to triumph over my FOMO.

For photography:

  1. Take more pictures
  2. Switch from AV to Manual mode and start shooting in RAW
  3. Read my camera’s manual to figure out what I don’t yet know how to do
  4. Learn how to edit my pictures using Lightroom
  5. Possibly take some sort of online course if I’m still not seeing the results I want

For writing:

  1. Write more
  2. Set aside dedicated time for writing each day/week
  3. Edit my work if I finish something
  4. Actually submit my work somewhere so it might have the opportunity to see the light of day

Seeing the steps forward is always easy for me. Actually taking those steps is often another story.

Do you experience FOMO? Is it fleeting or is your mind trying to tell you something?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Microblog Mondays, Writing

Eat My Words

Last week I had a post all planned for Microblog Mondays.

It was going to be about how I used to love September, how it used to be my favourite time of year, how much I used to love looking forward to the new school year.

And then I was going to write about how I was dreading Tuesday, because it was the first day of school, and E’s first day of Grade One, and I was just.not.ready for another eight-week four month transition like we had with JK and SK.

I wasn’t ready for the endless tears, the bargaining, the requests to stay home, the plaintive statements that school was “just too long” and he just missed me “so much”.

I wasn’t ready for the phone calls from the teacher, the meetings after school, the behavioural charts.

I wasn’t ready for the feeling that everyone else’s kid was getting it when mine just wasn’t.

But Monday was Labour Day and we got busy and I never found time to write the post.

And that, it turns out, was a good thing.

E. went to school on the first day worried, because he had heard that “In Grade One you just have to sit and write all day.”

He came out of the school at the end of the day bubbling over with excitement. Grade One had been fun! He had his own desk and his own pencil case! His teacher had told him she was amazed at how much French he knew!

It’s just kept getting better.

All week we had a few tears at drop off (because, as he told me, he finds drop off “so hard and scary”), but he was fine during the day.

He’s been eating his lunch, despite now being in the lunchroom, “which is really really noisy and filled with like a gazillion kids”.

He’s wanted to play in the playground after school every day, something which he almost never wanted to do last year.

He loves that he can go anywhere he wants during recess.

He loves that he has an agenda.

His best friend is in the class, and they come up with crazy games to play on the field (“Mummy, this morning we made a dust storm!”), and he’s already playing with some of the other kids he was friendly with last year.

On Friday he came home, starving and exhausted, and told me, “Mummy, I’m so disappointed it’s the weekend. I just love school so much!”

To top it off, today he voluntarily went to school 45 minutes early because he wanted to try out for the cross country team.

I’ve had no phone calls from the school, no notes from the teacher, no hand waving me over at pick up for a “brief chat”.

My kid, it turns out, is rocking Grade One.

I have never been happier to have been so wrong.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, E.- the seventh year, Grade One

Make Time for Me

I am trying to find the positives in going back to work, even though at this point I really don’t want to go back to work.

It will be nice to have some time and space to think again.

It will be nice to have some quiet. I was home this summer with both kids, and while it was in many ways a lot of fun, it most certainly was not quiet.

It will be nice, I suppose, to think about my research again. Perhaps I will actually make the revisions the press requested for my book (two YEARS ago. Gah.).

Mostly I am looking forward to being able to make the time to exercise and to occasionally have lunch with a friend.

When E. was little, I found it hard to rationalize doing anything for myself that wasn’t work-related, because if I wasn’t home with E., that meant Q. was, and that meant Q. wasn’t working when he should have been. It felt inappropriate and frivolous to use my time away from E. for anything but the PhD.

This time around, it’s different.

Three days a week P. has a nanny. It is the nanny’s JOB to take care of P. She is not supposed to be doing anything else.

So if I want to use an hour of that time to go for a run, or to eat lunch with a friend, I shouldn’t feel guilty, because the only person whose work isn’t getting done at that point is me. In my view, life’s too short to work all the time, even if I’m supposed to be maintaining full-time hours in my research position and I’m already behind by choosing to stay home with P. one day a week.

I do better work when I make time to read for fun, when I make time to run, when I make time for anything other than sitting in a library staring at a computer screen with a pile of books stacked next to me.

This does not make me a particularly good academic, but it makes me a better person and a much better mother.

I don’t want to be back at work next week.

I would much rather still be at home with P.

I would much rather be the one picking E. up after school every day.

But if I’m not going to be able to do that, at least I can try to make sure that my time away from them is well spent.

And that means making time for me, not just for my research.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Running