Friday, May 3, 2013

Reset

Today's post comes from Jana Smith-Elford, PhD Candidate in English at the University of Alberta.


We have reached the end of April. 

My fellow Edmontonians understand that this is serious cause for celebration. A horrible month of snow, snow, and more snow, interspersed with a handful of sunny days of futile hope, followed by several more days of soul-crushing snow is finally over. Goodbye flurries of snow, goodbye horrifically icy roads, goodbye indoors-only playgrounds, goodbye cooped-up, house-bound, over-energetic child. 

This was my view just a couple of days ago:






But two days ago, the first day of May! Sunshine! Somehow, no more snow in my front yard for the first time all winter! My daughter ran around our backyard for the first time in her life! Climbed up the steps of the deck! Chased a ball around the trees! In the matter of a couple of days, temperatures went from the negatives to plus eighteen.

It kind of felt like when the page of the calendar turned to May, someone pressed a giant reset button on the weather.

Lately I've found myself wishing I had the ability to press a giant reset button on my life.

I just finished a long, exhausting winter semester: candidacy exams (passed), language requirement courses (completed), and an entry for The Orlando Project researched, written, and submitted. I've read additional texts suggested by examiners at my candidacy, started writing my introduction, began to explore more deeply the theoretical side of my project. I've helped train new research assistants with Orlando, continued testing for a new visualization tool developed by the project, and prepared to attend an upcoming conference on vizualization tools. All good things. 

But I've also been sick four times in four months: laryngitis, cold, cough, flu (often multiples at once). My office mate probably feels I should just constantly wear one of these. In the month leading up to the candidacy, my dear daughter had the norovirus twice, and consequently slept through the night only once that entire month. I did a poor job of taking time off after my candidacy. I visited a dear friend in New York sans baby, but brought work along with me. I've found the cuts to post-secondary education in Alberta to be demoralizing and unmotivating. I've been plugging away for a few months, but I'm tired. 

We've talked a lot here about how April is often an exhausting month for women in the academy. Aimée wrote just last week about overcommitting and disastrous ends of term. And Erin wrote an inspiring post about attempting to reengage and reinvorate despite term-end fatigue. But, with an absense of vacation serenity (or with no vacation in sight), how do you maintain or re-gain momentum? After many months of hard and fatigue-inducing work, how do you reset your life?

For me, pushing the reset button has meant: 

1) Not working when I'm sick. It took three-and-a-half separate illnesses, but halfway through this last one I realized that I wasn't going to get any better by going in to work, and despite how much work I needed to get done, I wasn't going to do it well if I didn't take time off. My productivity isn't helped by plugging away on one cylinder for several weeks; it's better to turn things off and then restart on all four. Especially at the end of term, when bodies are crashing and illness is rampant.

2) Taking care of myself. I decided to go to the doctor to check out my vitamin levels to make sure I don't need to up my intake of any nutrients. And I commandeered the car in our one-car household for a week so I could sleep in, leave work early, and take some time to do some personal shopping. Sometimes it takes a bit of effort to organize, but in the end it's important and definitely worth it. After the big push to complete term-projects, we need to take time to do all those things that we've been putting off.

3) Booking a weekend away at the end of term. I think sometimes a real break is necessary--a break without work. It took me a few weeks to realize, but I think it's difficult to get a real reset without being away from my work, my house, and my child. My partner and I recently decided to leave our daughter with her grandparents and spend a few days in Jasper. Yay! Now to hold things together for the two weeks until we leave…

How do you reset after the end of term?

3 comments:

  1. This is very timely advice, Jana. As I look at my Twitter feed and see half of the academics on it have one sort of bug or another, I realize we really fail to take care of ourselves in the most basic ways, like appropriate food, sleep, and time off. Apart from the reasons you've articulated so well here, our situations are also aggravated by the myth that the terms are mere blips in the course of our calling, which is research. So we get to the end of term, and think--without even taking a deep breath, figurative or metaphoric--"ok, now I can get to the stuff that really counts." Thanks, Jana, for the reminder that self-care should be the first step, and that it should come guilt-free, like any other pre-requisite.

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  2. This is all really good advice, Jana. I've had to take some time off--a few days here and there--to manage a few bugs in addition to chronic conditions which are usually manageable (but get worse with physical or emotional stress such as overwork or flu bugs etc. . .). It is tough to leave the guilt behind, but I find that if I spend that time off doing nothing but feeling guilty and trying to work then I end up feeling worse. Thank you, again, for the reminder that taking time for self-care is in fact responsible. I hope you feel better!

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  3. Great reminders, Jana, and I'll be chuckling for a while at the image of you wearing that full-body gas mask while sitting in your office.

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