Labels

I got into a discussion on Twitter the other day, regarding labels. The original tweet was about the labels “cis” and “non-men” but I quickly took it somewhere more abstract. About labels in general.

I’ve never been comfortable with the concept of labels. I hate putting things in neat little boxes with lines drawn between them; because the world doesn’t work that way.

I tweeted, in summation of my feelings:

A label both is inclusion and exclusion–a judgement of self and others–inherently limiting our experiences and the experiences of others.

I think the labels “disability” and “abled” are a powerful example of this. And one I struggle with. I try not to judge anyone one as “abled” because I don’t know what they are dealing with, what they are capable or not capable of doing.
On top of that, I don’t know where the distinction lies within myself. I do not have a government approved “disability.” I don’t have a placard for my car. I haven’t had a doctor explicitly label me as disabled. However, my health (both physical and mental) does significantly limit my abilities. Sometimes that varies from day to day. Am I abled? I can do some things just fine. Am I disabled? There are some things I am unable to do on most days. Where do I make a distinction? More importantly, do I need to?

I get the purpose of labels, to attribute and generalize beliefs to someone or something. To make it easier to understand. To give some shape, concept, or group to identify with. But inherently that’s limiting. It limits others’ understanding of ourselves, our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of others.

We don’t we experience the world in generalized traits. We don’t fit in neat little boxes and live up to everyone’s expectations of what those expectations mean. Are we doing are selves more harm trying to fit to labels, rather than getting rid of labels and embracing everyone’s unique experiences and context on an individual level?
And this goes for all labels- not just “abled” and “disabled.”

Advertisements

Well that’s new

Had a really weird experience while sleeping last night.

It was like my whole body “fell asleep” in the same way your leg or arm does when it has been a weird position for too long.

The first time I woke up, I realized I was laying on my back with both my arms wrapped around my chest and my hands tucked under my back- like I was hugging myself. But I didn’t feel like I was doing that. It was bizarre and hard to describe.

As soon as I moved to a new position the same thing happened – I didn’t feel it… like I laid my hand on my stomach and within a few seconds couldn’t tell it was there. Or one of the cats came and slept on my chest, and I knew he was there because he was purring right by my face and I could see him, but I couldn’t feel him laying on me.

I could feel movement when I moved my limbs, but in a far off kind of way, that required a bit of effort to think about.

And I woke up a lot last night, because the poor dog was having anther rain-anxiety attack, even though it was a clear night. So it wasn’t just a one time, in a dreamy haze kind of thing. It was persistent through the night.

Anyone else experienced anything similar?

Engaging through Twitter

I’ve been using Twitter to engage in academia more, and I love it. It can be overwhelming, so I use TweetDeck to help me stay organized, and I try not to sweat the small stuff. If I miss things I miss things.

But there is something about being limited to 140 characters that feels less intimidating than approaching a journal article or book, or paper. I can approach 140 characters at a time. And if I need to vent or tweet about something else, I can. It isn’t purely academic. I can tweet about health stuff, or medical stuff, or things I’m a fan of. And I can engage with others. I’m really enjoying it as a stepping stone to becoming involved in academia and scholarship again.

I spent today home, trying not to vomit every time I moved (what is wrong with you body?!) and besides napping, I managed to engage in two academic chats on Twitter. Which actually turned it into a pretty decent day, besides me feeling like crap.

Yearly Doctoral Progress Report

Two posts in one day, what? My brain must be working today… or I’m tired enough that I just don’t care how this reads later.

Every year the graduate school requires its graduate students to complete a progress report summarizing how far you’ve gotten in the program. The report asks about credit hours completed towards your degree, research and dissertation hours completed, dates major exams (quals, plan of study, prelim, prospectus, dissertation defense) have been completed or are intended to be completed, current G.P.A., goals for the next year, and any awards/presentations/publications and/or service to the program you’ve done over the past year.

For most students, and even for me in my early graduate student career, the form wasn’t too difficult to fill out. Look a few things up, fill in a few blanks with reasonable guesses, and that’s it. But now I look at those questions and I don’t know how to proceed.

Honestly, I have no idea when I’ll do my prelim, let alone my prospectus and dissertation defense.  And goals for the future… if I write “figure out whats wrong with me, and how to manage it so I can get back to working on what I want to” will that be taken the wrong way? Will the graduate school see that and tsk-tsk me for continuing to be a full time graduate student, taking research and dissertation hours, and not really making and progress on my degree? But what other goal can I reasonably say? I really, really, do want to make progress on my degree but going is difficult and slow. It’s gonna take time, and I haven’t the foggiest idea of how much. Are you going to be okay with that graduate school? While I struggle on with my health (mental & physical) and try to wrestle even the tiniest of thoughts about scholarship, I still haven’t finished any measurable milestones. There isn’t anything concrete I can share with the graduate school to imply I’m not just taking up space. And even though my counselor says I’ve made fantastic progress since she first started seeing me, that isn’t anything I can turn into them. Not really. And certainly not on this form.

How do you evaluate your year, from an academic perspective, when every day you wake up happy you’ve made it this far at all? That you’ve gotten up again. That you put one foot in front of the other, and move through the world at all?

Sharing

I am trying to be very open lately. Even more so than I have been here, which includes increased utilization of Instagram and Twitter. In that spirit I had an exchange with another graduate student in my cohort this week that I am going to share here; because finally typing some of it was a realization for me.

To preface, the cohort-mate asked how I was doing as an offset of another email-conversation a group of us were having, and a comment I made in that context. I replied by sharing with her the metaphor I posted here. She responded with:

“Damn, Britni.  I think I just finished reading an extraordinarily articulate description of clinical depression.  I’m not a doctor (I don’t even play one on TV), but I do have some background in this and that is what it sounds like.

What type of support do you have?  How is [Mr. Liar] handling this?
Have you considered relieving yourself of this PhD burden, at least temporarily, until you can get to a better place and then maybe re-evaluate your trajectory with this program ?
Kind of like, get out of academia and get yourself in a fresher space.  Like a space where you can smell cows and horses and new mown hay and where your biggest concerns are taking care of animals (4-legged) and growing vegetables and picking fruit?! Lay in the grass.  Sit in the sun.  Take long walks in the countryside and do yoga. Put the angst you have about being stymied with this PhD crap away in a little box and put it on the top shelf of your closet for awhile (or maybe forever).  You’re young!  There is so much more to life than this program we’re in.  Give yourself a break, for goodness sake!
Honestly, I’ll understand, if you nicely let me know this is none of my concern, but let me know if I can help.
PS
You, barely functioning, still equals most of us functioning at full cognitive capacity.  You have so much to offer.  I think maybe (at this moment) your being a student at VT in this program, is not where you can be your most authentic self.”
And, since I had just met with my counselor and am working on sharing more and being more honest with everyone, I let myself word-vomit all over the page. Normally this isn’t something I do with a classmate. But I’m glad I did.

“Oh, I have moderately severe clinical depression. We’re treating it. We reached a dose of prozac where I can feel anything other than emptiness again. I still feel like I’m constantly treading water, but I’m no longer drowning and get a breath of fresh air again for the first time in years. Unfortunately, whatever cognitive difficulties are going on are driving the depression and not a mere symptom of it. The antidepressants have certainly helped improved my blind groping, in that I come am willing to search for the puzzle pieces again and even come up with the puzzle pieces occasionally. But alas, I am fairly certain there is something else going on as well. We just haven’t made any headway in figuring it out.

I have thought about stepping down from my PhD and finishing off a masters instead. And, its still on the table, but I’m going to ride out my PhD for a bit longer, now that I’m taking baby-steps forward again. Honestly, I don’t let much of the usual grad-school stress even get to me much anymore. I’m doing the very best I can to stay afloat, and if the grad school has something to say about my progress, they can talk to all my doctors and my counselor about it. Thankfully my committee has been nothing short of spectacular, and hasn’t asked for anything other than try to take care of myself. If they weren’t so understanding and supportive I would have had to step out of the program a long time ago. Unfortunately, I am quite unable to physically, let alone financially, just take time to hang out with animals, grow things, and do yoga. And I’d probably find it rather dissatisfying. Not being able to preform how I desire and think I should be in academia contributed a massive amount to my depression. Thanks to counseling, I’m now a lot kinder on myself and more accepting of my abilities. But I do feel best when I am able to get something academic done. The other day I had a fantastic conversation on twitter with some instructional designers, edtech folk, & digital pedagogy folk, and that’s the best I’ve felt in a long while. My ability to participate in that sort of discussion, and especially to articulate what I want to say, is just few and far between these days. Twitter is actually helping me get back there a lot, though not at a PhD level, it’s more of a lateral step that I am happy to be taking, because its engaging more than I had in the previous year. And I crave that engagement. …I just also need to know when I’m hitting my threshold for mental and emotional involvement,not push myself over it anymore, and be satisfied with what I was able to do. Its a very fine balancing act. But I honestly don’t think I would be happy if I wasn’t in academia. Especially since I can’t physically do anything from my BS or MS – let alone mentally at this point. And being productive, and making life better for others, is such an essential part of who I am and who I need to be to be happy. It’s just doing to either take me a while to get back to where I was, or a lot of acceptance of the new me, and figuring out new ways to get where I need to be.

I do love hearing your thoughts though, because I know you give them out of love and concern for me. Thankfully, I have a fantastic support network – [Mr. Liar], friends, doctors, counselors, committee, I wouldn’t be where I am now with out all of you. ❤

Haha, I do wish me barely functioning was where others are at full cognitive capacity. We haven’t had much of an in-person chat in a while, let alone and academic one, but boy the difference between the me you had classes with and the me now, cognitively, is striking. I’m good at faking it when I need to though. I won’t argue that I’m not still smarter than the average bear, so to speak, but it sure does take a hell of a lot more effort and is a lot slower than it used to be.
I have no doubt that I still have something to offer. I am going to shake things up, share my opinions, be out there making noise. It just is going to take longer than I ever expected. Which is fine, I am young after all. I’ve got plenty of time to cause trouble. :p”

I’ve emphasized the parts that I consider revelations. I wasn’t putting much thought into them when I wrote them, I just wrote how I was feeling. And once I wrote it, it hit me how important it was to me. I’m sure I’ve known academia is important to me, after all you don’t stay in school as long as I am if it isn’t, but realizing being in academia is a critical component to how I see myself, my future, and where I wanted to be in the world hit me suddenly. And that’s not to say I want to be a professor – I’m still torn on what I want to do when I finish my doctorate, and I’m not worrying about it too much because who knows what will being going on at that time. But the tenets of academia and science speak to me. I want to always be seeking, questioning, constructing, discovering, and sharing. I want to help shape the world into a place I think is “better” for all of us who live in it. And honestly, I’ve been a scholar for so long, I don’t know if I know how to be anything else, and don’t want to be.