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’.


8 thoughts on “My Life is More Important – Part 1

  1. This is great … and mirrors exactly how I felt when I finally decided I had to leave.

    Just added you to my blogroll. Good luck and welcome to the postac blogosphere!!

  2. I can relate to that, though I’m not even at the PhD-stage yet. got 2 BA degrees, doing 2 MA degrees right now, should get a job and am dealing with mental health issues. been thinking about putting one subject on ice so I can concentrate on myself….

    • Firstly, congratulations on your massive achievements! Just the thought of doing two MAs at the same time after having done two BAs makes my head spin…

      Obviously this is a personal decision, but if you feel that quitting one of your courses will help you emotionally it might be worth taking some time off to reconsider what’s important and what’s not.

      Good luck and keep me posted!

  3. You’re wise to search for a 9-5 job. I went straight from academia to a job that is 24/7. And, since my set point is much like your’s–anxiety, worry, and feelings of worthlessness when I’m not productive “enough”–it’s been a real mindf-er. Good luck finding something with more balance!

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