One of the reasons why I’m leaving academia is that I have come to realise that, amongst other things, my mental health is more important than producing data for the advancement of a particular Humanities subject. Although I love reading about the latest research in my field and being part of exciting academic projects and communities… why should I be constantly anxious, worried and mildly depressed for the sake of, say, gaining further insights into the life of female Londoners during Victorian times? (And, no, that’s not my subject of study just in case you were wondering!).
I’ve always been a bit of a worrier – it runs in both my mother’s and father’s families – but I’ve noticed that, during the PhD years, and especially since becoming a post-doc, my worry and anxiety levels have reached stupidly high levels. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m always thinking about work/research and all the things I should be doing*: I should be reading Peterson et al.‘s latest article instead of watching TV with my husband; instead of updating my blog I should be e-mailing Professor Incompetence reminding him about our meeting because he’s more than likely forgotten about it; I should, I should, I should…
The worst thing about this kind of mentality is that THERE IS NO END TO THE THINGS I FEEL I SHOULD BE DOING. And, worse still, there is not enough time to do them all. For example, if I wanted to read about all the latest research in my field I would spend every hour of the rest of my life doing so. This is a very frustrating situation, especially if one is also a perfectionist, as it always leads to massive frustration, constant worry, anxiety and, ultimately, a sense of worthlessness many times tied with depression. I have days where I want to do so much because I feel I should; I have so many e-mails to reply to; I have so many tasks to fulfil for the benefit of others (‘your inbox is someone else’s to-do list’) that instead I END UP NOT DOING A THING. I surf the web mindlessly, I stare out of the office window, I write ridiculous and unachievable to-do lists, I read my Twitter feed… Mindless activities to distract me from the anxiety that I feel when I think about everything I feel I should be doing. Perhaps this a strategy that I’ve developed subconsciously to cope with the stresses of being in an academic work environment, but this is not something I want to be experiencing/doing for the rest of my (working) life.
In a way I’m looking forward to a postac job so I won’t feel like I should be thinking about work every minute of the day. I will make sure to apply for positions where, once I walk out the office door, my boss doesn’t expect me to be replying to e-mails at 1am, my colleagues will realise that Saturday night is a time to relax with one’s family, and fieldwork in an abandoned town in the middle of Siberia does not, in any way, qualify as an adventure holiday.
It’s time to say goodbye to 24/7. Bring on 9-5.
* A recent post by Jennifer Polk, author of ‘From PhD to Life’, inspired this post. I highly recommend you check it out: ‘Should’.