weekly dose of masochism.

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?

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10 Comments

Filed under general, university

10 responses to “weekly dose of masochism.

  1. I remember writing a post on this myself a while ago- I noticed that my marks were brilliant in first year (when I was restricting) and fell when I first started recovery. First off, recovery is hard, because alongside the practicalities of eating more (the seemingly endless food prep, shopping, washing up, etc) you’re letting go of a major coping mechanism and suddenly flooded with anxiety. I also think that when I was in restricting I wasn’t really living- I was almost like a machine, solely focused on working, walking and eating.

    Secondly, you will be able to do the things you want to do! Recovery is temporary state- and it sounds like you’re doing really well, given everythign that’s going on. One day you *will* be free of all this. I don’t claim to be fully recovered, but over the last year or so my social skills have improved hugely: for my first year I could barely speak to anyone at all and couldn’t imagine things ever changing, and while I still don’t claim to be good with people I am definitely getting better. Likewise, you won’t always have issues around food- full recovery is possible, so please don’t give up on your dreams just yet!

    I obviously don’t know anything about the practicalities of you taking a year out, but it wouldn’t be giving up. An eating disorder is an illness, and taking time out to get over an illness is definitely not a sign of weakness.

    *hugs* Sorry for leaving such an essay! I hope that this week goes better for you.

  2. God i know how you feel about the brain fog… it sucks doesnt it? it bugs me how we can be SO sharp while in the grips of anorexia, but when we start to realise that we are damaging our bodies, suddenly all the damage starts to creep out of the woodwork.

    I was teaching the other day and i just couldnt remember what i was supposed to be doing, id forgotten my notes and i had to improv…! which was fine, but i was like whoa there… catch a breath there, you cannot be letting this happen. your brain is too damn important to be malnourished!!

    I also find that i cant do alot of the things i pushed myself to do while at my worst, like all the exercise, the undereating and stuff… my body just freezes up and wont let me. i guess its finally fighting back. i should respect that!

    Sorry i cant offer many words of advice, but i will say for the record that you are clearly a very talented and smart lady… dont give up and certainly DONT lt the ED take something you love away from you. eat through to get that brain ticking again :-p

    (oh, and have a good weekend!!!)
    x

  3. You’re def smart and talented enough for uni. Just like you said yourself, youve got the results right there to prove it. Look how far youve come already and with the grades you got!! I, too, did SO much better when me&ED were one, and now, now we’re two seperate, competing me’s, my grades haven’t even been close to where they were before. It sucks. Even when I think I did well, I baaarely pass. Even after taking half a year off to focus on recovery! But in all honesty, I dont think I couldve ploughed through the way I did before without taking my time off. So please, if you feel like that is what needs to be done, than do it. And otherwise you have to accept the fact that your grades this final year might not be what they could have been. But thats okay too. Taking a year off or finishing with not just A+ grades, just do what feels best/what you feel needs to be done. And taking a year off does NOT mean you are incapable!! And it also does NOT mean you wont finish! You can pick up where you left later on again, so did I. And even though Im still nowhere near the level I used to be at, Im back in action and it feels so.good.
    Oh and since Im writing an essay here anyway, can I just say how amaaaaazing I think youre doing? Ive been following your blog for quite a bit and MAN! the way you keep challenging yourself, and CONQUERING! Really, really incredible. I hope you realize how amazing that is. How amazing you are. Huuuugely (no pun intended ;) ) inspirational

    • I have no idea what to do. I know that in some ways it’d be useful to take some time out for a bit, but in other ways I’m not so sure. Money is obviously a huge thing. Regardless of my recovery status it’ll cost me money I don’t have to take the time off. Grr. Parents aren’t too keen on me taking time off either. They think it won’t be good for me. Who knows? Serious thinking times ahead.
      And thank you so much. It doesn’t really feel like that sometimes but it’s nice to read. I think I’m pretty prone to fogetting everything I do well…
      x.

      • I don’t know why, but it’s so much easier to forget the good than the bad, isn’t it? Completely unfair. But to be you are one of THE best examples of how to rock recovery. I wish I could’ve done it the same way.
        And taking time off doesn’t mean failing. But if you feel like you’ll need it to sorta… I don’t know how else to put it, to stay connected to the world? Just keep trying. It will just mean you’ll have to settle for less. I took a break from uni for 6 months, it made me hit rock bottom HARD. But I needed it to get back on my feet. I’ve now started again and it’s HELL. I’m nowhere near the level I wanna be. But I can’t pause again because I know I need it right now to have SOME sort of focus. So I’ll have to settle for some serious C’s and even lower grades.. It will suck looking back, but right now it’s what I need to keep me going. So give it some serious thought and don’t let your EDhead decide too much. Listen to what YOU think YOU need right now

  4. ^^ ditto!

    It goes without saying you’re incredibly intelligent. You wouldn’t have been accepted on the course in the first place if you weren’t, and you certainly would have been “found out” long before now. Social sklls, that’s a whole different ball game. Some people are naturally shy or not good around people with or without an Eating Disorder. My brother has definitely NOT got issues with food – he’s just RUBBISH with people! That’s not to say people judge him, or think he’s an idiot – and people won’t think the same about you. Even a quick smile at someone/people in your seminar group would be something. You don’t have to invite people out for a date! Just give a quick smile, don’t even have to talk but it would be a step?

    It shows more intelligence that you’re considering your options. You’re not ploughing on through without regard to your health, grades, happiness etc – you are taking time to think what’s best for you which is surely a good sign? We all know that people with ED’s are extremely focussed and driven and often will drive themselves into the ground before admitting defeat but you’re not doing that. You brain and body has had a lot to get used to recently, it’s being fuelled and is probably still figuring it all out!

    I can’t say what is best for you, but I think you’re strong enough to keep going. You’ll have shitty days, but you’ll have good days too and the latter will out number the former I’m sure :). On the other hand, it’s definitely not a sign of defeat to take time out and it could be just what you need to recover. Sorry that’s rubbish contradictory advice. Chin up x x

    • I think I might be naturally socially rubbish. I’ve always been terrible in social situations. I feel like I’m kidding myself to think otherwise. Grr.
      I so badly don’t want to have to take time out of uni… I’m pretty conflicted on this issue. Taking time out seems like failure but I don’t want to not get the grades I deserve. Collapsing world… Maybe I should just listen to my therapist. But then he seems to blow everything out of proportion. I don’t know. The whole issue is contradictory. Maybe I can only focus on uni if I’m really restricting my diet thus switching off vast quantities of my usual brain. Grr x.

  5. Sam

    I agree with you tutour. Take the year out. You are the smartest person I know and I think that this massive distraction is not doing you justice. You are not failing if you take the year out, you are just allowing yourself to do your best. I’m sure you will do well if you stick it out and graduate this year but why do well when you can do GREAT in a year or so’s time. I know you and I know just how fantastic your work can be when you put your mind to it, so I also know that even though it may be tough now, you will still be doing better than most people. I just think that you deserve to get credit for your best work. When your PhD is published you will want your best work to be read.

    You are a great academic and I don’t think you are being fair to yourself by taking all of this on at once. It is not giving up and you WILL complete your MA. Just give yourself time, you’re still young, consider it as the gap year that you never took.

    • Even my therapist thinks I should. I told my mam what my tutor said without giving any sort of personal opinion and she said “stupid sod – he knows nothing about you. Why whould you give up?” so that’s obviously what she thinks. Gah! This is really hard choices.
      You are lovely to me though Samani. See me maybe soon x.

      • Sam

        It’s not giving up, don’t listen to your mama. I bet you haven’t told her the whole truth and so her opinion isn’t valid.
        Deferring is just putting it on hold, should be less expensive too right? And if you are not ready in a year and you have to start from scratch you could do it full time then because you won’t be as distracted. It would still only be the one year left. You have already learnt half of the course so not too much of a work load either.
        I would very much like to see you soon. I’m free Sunday with no work on Monday if you want a sleepover? I have Christmas thing for you :)

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