University is hard. Really really hard. I love my course, the reading and workload aren’t too much, I enjoy learning, it’s not over my head, I find it really interesting, but yet it is just really hard. This term I’ve been doing a really great unit called “Critical Voices in Development” which looks at development projects across the world using an anthropological view, highlighting the inherent contradictions within development and the work of foreign aid NGOs, the many long-term consequences of such projects and the ways in which they only further enforce “poverty” and strengthen global structures of dominance. Basically it’s really interesting as it takes a really critical view of the work many charitable organisations which seem to be improving the lives of people around the world, but in reality it is just so much more complicated than that as there is just so much to take into account. I won’t go into a long essay here but essentially – foreign aid and development projects often do more harm than good through misplaced “good intentions”. This is exactly the sort of area within anthropology I’m interested in – essentially the globalisation of Euro-American ideologies as Neo-Imperialism and the many ways this imperialism is adapted to fit a wide range of local contexts in exciting and unexpected ways. Human Rights and development all play a massive part in this. It’s the “glocalisation” of Euro-American traditions and it’s fascinating. Plus it also highlights some of the major misconceptions those in economically strong countries hold about the people they see as “underdeveloped”, living in “poverty” and needing to be saved. I could go on about this forever as this is essentially the area I’d like to look into as a possible PhD if I can ever get enough money.
I’ve done really well at uni in the past. I wasn’t so great in my first year undergraduate degree, but in my second and third year I was boom. I loved my uni, I loved my city and I loved my course. I was really lucky to get into Bristol uni as they gave me a lower offer than other people on my course – I think it’s because I’m actually quite good at personal statements. Archaeology and anthropology was fascinating and so fun, but anthropology was more what I was interested in so I decided to follow on with a MA in London. I found a course I knew I’d love and in the first year, I continued to do really well and found it challenging and intellectually stimulating. Basically exactly what I wanted. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it – I was heavily restricting, my whole day was planned around food, I would never eat before uni regardless of what time it started, I exercised a lot and I was terrified of being outside by myself. But I did it. And I did well.
Now I’m beginning to worry though. I can’t concentrate on anything at all. I can’t read, I can’t watch telly and I definitely cannot get through a lecture without my head going off and I tend to end up panicking when I’m reading articles because I’m trying so hard to concentrate I get all worked up. Why is this happening? Why now, when I’m so much healthier than I was before? I just handed in my essay last week and I know I was repetitive, my writing style was sloppy, my points were not articulated well enough or signpost back to the question clearly, I didn’t use as many sources as I would have liked, I was over the word count by more than I’m comfortable with etc. Not impressed with myself. I know I always beat myself up over my work and I always cry about how I’m rubbish and should just leave uni completely (dramatic idiot I know), but this felt different. I’m just so unable right now. I’m trying so hard but I just can’t keep up.
It’s funny how my standards picked up as soon as I started losing weight and now that I’m gaining, I’m getting shit at uni again. I hope the two aren’t correlated because then I don’t know what I’d chose really. It could be other factors – no one does that well in first year, I came off antidepressants in the summer between first and second year which may have helped my cognition, I was more used to university at that point etc. It doesn’t explain why I’m rubbish now though. I know it is hormones and damaged cognition and all these emotions I didn’t know I had and to be honest I do have other really important things to think about right now. My mind is busier than it’s been in a long time – finding the room for uni is difficult. This could well improve with time and good nutrition and a lot of psychological work but right now I don’t have time. I’m in the final year of my MA, I cannot afford to fuck up right now – both in the economic and more general sense.
So I push myself. I work really hard. It takes a day to read an article, so I read all the time. I get stressed at myself and beat myself up about it. I’m early to all my lectures so I can settle and be as comfortable as possible. I talk to my lecturers to ask for more structured support. I cry for failing at life. I try to stay in the present. I force myself to talk when I have points in my seminars even though that always leads to panic attacks. I feel stupid and ignorant but I just keep pushing myself. I don’t talk to anyone and have no uni friends because I’m convinced everyone will think I’m an idiot and I really have no idea how to go about small talk. I’m pretty socially stunted and cannot handle talking to people I don’t know, so I sit there feeling left out and alone. I hate how much of a failure the whole process means but most of my self-worth comes from the fact that I am academically capable and love learning. It’s what I base all my pitiful amounts of esteem on. It’s all I have. And it’s the only thing in my life right now that isn’t about mental health and eating and hospitals and weight. It’s my only normal thing. I love it so much – it gives me something to work at, it gives me structure and it gives me something to achieve which isn’t just fixing what’s broken, but building something new entirely.
So I go every week and it’s just become a ritual in hitting myself over the head with a brick because I work so hard for it and want it so much but yet fail at it in every way. I can’t not do it, but I can’t do it either.
I talked to my tutor this week about my dissertation. I was hoping to do a library based research project on immigration policy in Britain and the use of suspicion and fear to create semi-human, fraudulent detainees. He gave me some reading and things, but when he asked how I was doing and I told him how hard it is, he repeatedly told me to take the year out. I do not want to take the year out. I have to manage this all – there isn’t another choice. If I can’t manage I’m failing. I cannot fail at the last bit of life which is mine. It’s the last thing I have which hasn’t been tainted by fucking mental illness. It’s the only thing I’m proud of. I don’t want to have to quit. But what if he’s right? What if I’m not cut out for uni? What if I’m just kidding myself into thinking that I’m smart and talented enough for this? I’m obviously not. I so badly want to be an academic anthropologist, but in reality I’d have to be able to look at people when I talk to them, or talk to them at all. Fieldwork involves living within the group you’re studying for prolonged periods of time. I can’t do that if I don’t know how to talk to people and am so ridiculous about food. There is no way I’d be able to talk to a group of students either. Basically academic work seems pretty unlikely for me. Even my second possible career choice of a primary teacher seems unlikely as it involves talking to people as well. Basically everything I want to do with my life are things that I’m just unable to do. I try and try to fail every time. I feel like everything I work for and everything I want is falling apart around me.
So tomorrow I go to uni and ritually beat myself repeatedly for three hours. I don’t know what to do. Should I just quit to save myself from the inevitable humiliation? Argh. And here I was naievely believing that recovery would make me better at uni. How wrong can I be?