Content warning: Alienation, trauma, suicidal ideation
Every visitor’s or expat’s culture shock is different. For me, once a graduate student from Russia, now an American permanent resident and immigrant, it’s the dreaded and inevitable question: “Where are you from?” Such unintentional, seemingly benign, casual, yet annoying moments can, and do, provoke a deep feeling of alienation. followed by a fearful thought that I will always be an alien here, no matter the circumstances..
The truth is, I cannot in good conscience answer that question. In my experience, the intention behind it is small talk, pseudo-connection, a shortcut to shared experiences and therefore relatability. Putting aside the fact that (in my experience) it is invasive, too personal, and most of the times completely unwarranted, it is also highly triggering and utterly empty.
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“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
In this blog, I want to share my experience using various drugs, namely alcohol and different prescription medications, throughout my academic career. I also want to acknowledge that people use drugs—both legal and illegal—for many different reasons, often at the same time. Sometimes they just want to enjoy themselves. Sometimes they want to relax. Sometimes they do those around them are engaging in drug use. And sometimes, drugs are used as a coping mechanism in the context of mental illness, which is my experience. Looking back, I believe that my substance use was appropriate during some periods, and clearly problematic during others. I believe that problematic substance use is a hidden and largely taboo topic in academia, and that we need to acknowledge that it exists.
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TW: Sexual violence, assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, genocide
I am a genocide, international criminal law and human rights scholar. My passion for this field of study started way back in high school, when I studied the highest levels of modern and ancient history, and then went through to university to study history and law. Learning about the horrors of the Holocaust, World War II, the Vietnam War and Communist China led me to ask the age-old question of ‘how can people do that to other people?’. Learning about all this injustice and atrocity led me to develop a strong sense of social justice. I always wanted to be a lawyer, and I love history; the natural combination of these two fields is international criminal law, which prosecutes perpetrators of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, requiring an understanding of history. Within all this, as I learnt more about gender inequality, I became more focused on women’s rights and sexual and gender-based violence against women, seeking to focus my research in this way with the aim of hopefully somehow making a change to the world that prioritises men in so many ways. I furthered my study of human rights and international law to specialise in the field, studying a Masters in Sweden and my PhD in England. Internships and clerkships at the UN and the International Criminal Court heightened my passion for working in this area. I ended up slipping into academia after my PhD, cementing my love of research, although I took some time out to work as a volunteer Human Rights Legal Officer in Samoa. Thinking back to those studies that motivated me towards this field, I have since gone on, as an academic, to write on Communist China, and the Holocaust, and on war crimes cases out of World War II and the Vietnam War.
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It didn’t begin here, but here is an environment that provokes my deep-seated feeling of never being good enough. There was a particularly tough day early on when I was considering the direction of my PhD and reviewing the literature where I wanted to crawl under my desk, wrap my arms around my knees and sob. I remember being the last to leave and running home, turning a four-mile journey into ten, part wanting to get something from the day, part punishment. I just left myself exhausted. I remember feeling isolated, alone. I can feel the tears prickle as I write. And all this wasn’t because I didn’t get what I was doing (and that is tough to own, as a voice sneaks in ‘big headed’), but because that voice, in the midst of others, was snarling ‘you are getting it wrong, you are behind, failing’, leaving a sense of just not being good enough and not belonging.
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Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
One of the hallmarks of being a scholar is the ability to communicate through writing and usually to communicate research and teaching ideas through writing. Most people who go through doctoral training are aware that to be employable and to maintain employment contracts in academia, writing and publishing are desirable. Most are aware of the expectation that we should publish our doctoral research in some form during or after the PhD years. I completed my PhD in 2010 and I’ve yet to publish research from it. I write ‘yet’ because I’ve been invited to submit a chapter based on it for an edited collection this summer. I have a quiet confidence I’ll write, edit and submit. The details of this matter. In this blog I will share insights about how severe anxiety and compulsivity affected me and my writing throughout my PhD (and afterwards), and how I’ve managed to arrive at a place of gratitude and acceptance.
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