Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 - An interesting year

What can I say about 2014? It's been an interesting year. I started 2014 in the midst of what was essentially a nervous breakdown. Very few people knew (or to date, know) about my mental health problems this year. Not because I'm ashamed of them, but because I tend not to talk about that type of stuff often. The reasons for my mental health issues were myriad, and I'm still dealing with some of the fall out, but on the whole, I'm better now. 
I spent the first half of the year hiding in bed. Unable to go to work, unable to play with my son, unable to do anything....except read and crochet. So I read, LOTS. Mostly feminist theory, and I learned lots. I also crocheted LOTS and I've gotten pretty good.
2014 is the year I finally acknowledged that my migraines were a disability. That I wasn't a 'normal' person who got ill sometimes, but a chronically ill person who needed to take self-care more seriously. This lesson was hard to learn, but it couldn't have happened at a better time, because in the last few months of 2014 I was diagnosed with ME/CFS. And now I really have to accept that I can't do things the way I used to.
So far this post seems a little gloomy, but these experiences have led to some positives. My health issues led me to @phdisabled and a community of others in academia with chronic illness/disability. I realised that the struggles I had faced were not just my experiences. That academia has a culture that excludes those like me. That this culture is pervasive and subtle and easily internalised. And I got angry. I found myself speaking out on twitter, writing for the PhDisabled blog and joining the group to help change things. In essence I joined a campaign. 
My feminist reading also gave me a better understanding of sexism and women's oppression. And this made me angry. So I used my voice. Online and off. I became that feminist that my friends sometimes roll their eyes at, and I'm proud of this. ;) 
These two passions opened up new possibilities, and combined with my passion for all things STEM I began to see a new path for my energies and talents. In the summer, I won what I thought was the PERFECT PhD position. And we began to plan a move to London.
Then my gran got sick, and I had this feeling that she wasn't going to get better. Things with the London move became more and more complicated and I realised that I was going to have to make a heartbreaking decision. I withdrew from the PhD place. I felt cheated! Why would this opportunity come along if I wasn't able to take it?
Around this time my gran went into hospital again, and in early September she died. Suddenly not moving to London seemed right. I got to see my gran a few days before her death. I got to say goodbye. We should have been in London by then.
My gran's death hit me hard. Though I had prepared for it, I was still devasted. I was close to my gran as a kid, and there's so much I could tell you about what she taught me. But I'm saving that for another post, when I'm ready. 
By my birthday in mid-september, I had had enough of 2014. It was a crap year! I just wanted it to be over. I felt exhausted. Wrung out. I literally couldn't take any more. 
Then I got a great job, working in public engagement, with an amazing team of women. Suddenly going to work was fun and things seemed a little brighter. Maybe the year was going to end on a good note after all. 
One day, a month or so into my new job, my manager called me into her office. I felt like a schoolkid being called in to see the headteacher. But she wasn't telling me off, far from it - she showed me a job that had just been posted on the uni network and said
"You HAVE to apply for this. You are PERFECT for it"
I looked over the job description and can honestly say it was like someone had written the perfect job for me. I applied, with hope, but no real expectation. I interviewed at the end of October and I started the job at the beginning of November. And I bloody LOVE it. The job is AMAZING. I'm working on diversity in STEM in HE. I get to have a direct effect on policy (even if it is only at one university). This job uses all of my skills, stimulates my brain and satisfies that eternal curiosity. If you'd told me in Septmeber that I would finish 2014 on a high, I'd probably have killed you. But I have. I CANNOT wait to get started on 2015. Despite my grief, despite my health issues, I'm facing the new year with excitement and looking back on 2014 with some affection. 
Happy New Year!