When I originally set out to write this blog, I was going to tell a beautiful story of a PhD student who struggled at first and rose to greatness. That wouldn’t have been truthful, because mental health recovery isn’t linear. It is a wild rollercoaster ride. So, here is the brutally honest story of my PhD so far.
Everything was going pretty well for quite a while. It was the most at peace I had been with myself for a long time. That is, until I tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020. Spoiler alert: I still haven’t recovered. After my 2-week isolation time, I returned to work. Despite colleagues telling me to take it easy, I jumped straight back in. Classic academia: presenteeism at its finest. The pressure I felt from losing all that lab time in 2020 was weighing on me, so I just pushed on through. Well, instead of recovering I got worse. It was miserable. Every experiment physically hurt. I was running myself into the ground. Publish or perish is not meant to be taken literally… right?
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When I learnt about Voices of Academia, I first thought: What an amazing idea! My second thought was: Who would want to hear about me, a postdoc suffering from chronic pain, who is still finding her way through it? But then I realized that often the first slide in my talks shows the percentage of people suffering from chronic pain: 1 in 5! And we still feel ashamed, lost and voiceless in life, never mind in academia.
So here I am, thinking that since academia is already hard as it is, my experience might resonate with someone, and help in some way if you’re dealing with chronic pain. I am a big believer in people’s own paths and mistakes, but I also believe that you feel less bad about it when shared and understood. I will share here my path in academia, focusing on the good and bad things that a life with pain has given me. Yes, there are some good ones.
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I have a distinct memory from when I was in first or second grade of my mother kindly erasing my homework because my handwriting needed to be bonitinho. Even as a child, homework was unacceptable if it was messy. Growing up in Brazil, her schooling was the opposite of mine, and her expectations sometimes felt unrealistic or too harsh. Although her always correcting me helped my success in the long run, I always felt defeated when I couldn’t explain how I loved school but could never get excellent grades – something had always felt off. How could my classmates seem to get straight A’s effortlessly, and my hard work could only pull off B’s and C’s? I always thought I had a learning disability, but my mother (through no fault of her own) didn’t entertain the possibility: you just have to try harder. After years of jumping through hoops of not being able to afford the services to be tested, at age 25 I was diagnosed with adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and at 26, I was diagnosed with learning disabilities and slow processing speed.
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We are thrilled to announce that Voices of Academia is now one year old! When we started out we wondered if we would even be able to find bloggers, yet here we are with over 50 blogs now available for you to view, written by the amazing #AcademicMentalHealth community, and many more waiting to be published. It would not have been possible without you – our contributors and our readers – so thank you.
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