I’ve known for a long time that accommodations are a Thing–that is, that they existed. About a year back, TSW had an excellent guest post on this very topic, outlining what sorts of accommodations exist, who qualifies for them, and some of the hurdles folks face in moving through the system. I hope for this post to serve more as a personal case study, to describe my experience in requesting accommodations for the first time, and to offer any insight I might have gained from the experience.
I’ve written a bit already about my mental health. As I mentioned in that post, I have pretty serious depression, but I’ve found a combination of therapy, medication, and physical activity that keep me pretty darn happy and stable. That said, though, most of my first year in grad school has been tougher than it needed to be due to my housing situation. Continue reading →
When I started my first year on the tenure track, I did so knowing that it would be challenging. Not only would I have the tenure process to worry about, but I also began teaching more than I ever had during my graduate school training. On top of these challenges, I live with a chronic autoimmune disease which can be unpredictable and flares under new and stressful conditions. It was a perfect storm and I knew that my health would suffer if I didn’t make it a priority.
Today I submitted grades for all of my writing classes, and I want to briefly reflect on what worked as I tried to take care of myself this year.
- Health Insurance! As I have mentioned in the past, benefits for full time faculty at CCs can be substantially better than other types of schools due to a strong union presence. This was the first time I had access to all the medical help I could want, and I took advantage. From taking care of my Vitamin D deficiency to getting referred to a dietician, this benefit was immensely helpful.
- I had a health coach. In the past couple of years, I have noticed an increase in the availability of life coaching, career coaching, or other kinds of guidance beyond a therapist/patient relationship. A friend of mine was beginning a coaching career and allowed me to work with her for a discounted rate as she earned her license. We talked on the phone twice a month about my goals and values alongside her speciality in mindfulness and meditation. These conversations became an opportunity for me to re-center my health as work demands constantly drew my focus.
- My chronic illness buddy. My very good friend suffers from an autoimmune disease similar to my own and we are working to create structure and support for each other even though we live far away. When doctors do not take our pain seriously, we take each other’s pain seriously. We have a Google Doc with updates on our health, procedures, and doctor visits as well as resources such as recipes and articles in the news.
- Rituals for Selfcare. From Adeline Koh’s line of Sabbatical Beauty to Rebecca Schuman’s 10-step Korean Skin Care Routine, to Sarah Ahmed’s Selfcare as Warfare this has been the year of academic women taking care of ourselves. My personal rituals include epsom salt baths with Ylang Ylang and lavender essential oils, watching The Americans while eating chocolate, and sleeping 9-10 hours per night.
What rituals, practices, and support networks do you turn to when health issues flare up?
In graduate school, I took up crafting — knitting, sewing, embroidering, quilting, making magnets and sock monkeys and jam? I tried them all. I’ve always liked working with my hands, and the grass roots, eco-friendly nature of the DIY movement was really appealing to me. I also enjoyed learning more about what have traditionally been women’s activities. Embroidering science quotes on pillows felt subversive and oddly empowering. I made me feel closer to my grandmother. It gave me something to do. It was a creative outlet. I met new people, and saved money on holiday gifts. My grad student friends and I would meet for weekend stitch-n-bitches and support each other through tough times.
Crafting also helped my mental health. Watching an episode of Buffy or Alias at night to unwind, I’d find myself unable to relax until I discovered that crocheting silenced that persistent little voice saying “Why aren’t you working?” Because I was working! I was making something! My overachieving neurotic brain was just as satisfied by stitches as by words. I was able to relax, and concentrate on Sidney Bristow kicking ass instead of the pervasive feelings that I wasn’t good enough.
When I started my faculty position, I stopped. I don’t know why. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that self-care is one of the first things to go when you’re busy. Continue reading →
My big kid spent spring break in another state, with my ex-husband. Early in the week, we were talking on Skype and we had the following conversation:
“What are you doing for spring break?”
“Nothing too exciting. I’m going to work, pretty much like usual.”
“But don’t you get a vacation?”
“Yes, but I’m just using it to work.”
“But does anyone at your work take a vacation?”
“Yes, some do. I know some people are going to visit their families. One person is going to Disney World with his family.”
“So how come you aren’t doing anything fun?”
“Well, I’m trying to get caught up because of time I’ve spent with you, and your brother and doing family stuff at other times. And I’d like to get a bit ahead so that we can spend time together when you’re around.”
[Noises of not really buying my story. I try again…]
“You know how we’re planning to go on a couple of trips this summer? To Big City in the US? And foreign country? I’m working now, when others are on spring break, so that I can take longer vacations during the summer, when you can come too.”
So that’s how I spent my spring break. Continue reading →
My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after I was born, and shortly after her grandfather, who she loved deeply, suddenly died. As an adult, I can make sense of it: I can reason that the combined effects of grief and pregnancy on her body did something to bring to light an illness that had been latent; but when she told me when I was a child, I thought maybe if I hadn’t come along, my mom wouldn’t be sick.
Bipolar disorder is highly heritable, and both of my parents have diagnoses. I’ve known this for most of my life and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me.
It has taken years for me to push back against all of the ableist rhetoric that society has shoved into me. The thought that depression was something I could just push through if I tried harder. The idea that if I went on medication I would lose myself, I would change. The notion that if I went to therapy I was weak. That I couldn’t seek services because then it would be official, I’d be crazy, and what’s worse than that?
And frankly it’s all utter bullshit—but it took years to deprogram.
So here’s where I am now: Continue reading →