Getting (Sh)it Right: Collaboration, Professionalism, and Mental Health

- 4 mins

img credit: rubyetc

I am unwell. You probably know that if you know me in any way. I’m not afraid to be vocal about it in certain avenues and situations. I am chronically, clinically unwell with interconnected mental illnesses which are headlined by major depresive disorder–things that routinely make the basic aspects of my life very difficult and the advanced aspects of my life like career building all but a nightmare in the current neolibeal hellscape of capitalist America. That is something you might not understand unless you deal with a chronic illness yourself. This nuance bears some public self-exploration both for the benefit of myself and others who choose to engage me professionally or otherwise.

Wellness is an esoteric shifting target, even for those who consider themselves well. Whatever theory guides your determination of wellness, however you measure or determine wellness, however wellness fits into your worldview–ultimately you’re dealing with an indeterminate constellations of feelings, practices, concepts, and beliefs that mold into this…thing that I do not have at the moment. Many of you would agree with my assessment that I am not well–my weight and pulse are high (but my blood pressure is great, which is a good sign), I am out of shape, I do not eat well enough, I’m currently in withdrawal from a major depression medication (which is some Fresh Hell if you’ve never had this experience), I’m sensitive to light and crowds and noise, etc. and more. Not all of this is related to my clinically reported mental conditions, but nothing is ever black and white with this health and wellness. The problems are interrelated, like most things in life. Suffice it to say I am working very hard on some of those things as I have the ability and energy to. But the standard of wellness I can reasonably aim for and achieve often does not square with what others believe for themselves and consequently expect for me.

With a chronic condition, wellness is a game of management. What that management is differs, but this bears repeating. I have to avoid using quotation marks with the w-word–any idealized notion of wellness is thrown out the window when it comes to the management of my life. At best, I look like a normal productive member of the academic-capitalist workforce (when I am employed, which I am currently not). I can’t keep that pace up for long (e.g.: ALAAC15 was a nightmare, clocking in at 1 week). Some days I have to sleep for 18 hours or not move. My baseline is low. My good days are most people’s meh days. I’m taking what I can get, when I can get it, and I am doing my best. I’m trying to up that baseline and make better habits for my future. But there is no magical transfixion on better and progress is far from linear (or even on one axis or plane).

I need you to know that, friend and potential colleague, because that is how I will be for the rest of my life. The baseline might look different or I may hide or slant it in new ways given what circumstances are laid before me, but this will never go away and I am forever in a state of analysis and management with regard to my fragile mental health. Multiple friends and colleagues who I am cooking up projects with have asked me to come back when I am sufficiently healthy enough to deal with what is laid before us. For the record, this is almost always a reasonable request from a professional standpoint. I have no qualms with those who make this request of me. I write this post at a particularly bad time in my life. But I also need you to bear with me and put a modicum of trust in me. Your expectation of what my health should be may not line up with mine and I trust that I am a better judge of what I can handle than you are. If you, knowing this about me, still don’t want to work together, so be it.

I don’t mean that to be dismissive because health is something we should be vigilant with for ourselves and others in librarianship, academia, and just about every other abusive profession. Part of caring about a person is being concerned with their well-being; how we manifest that in our relationships differs from person to person and situation to situation. But I don’t have the luxury of suddenly being better in a way that doesn’t fluxuate. If that’s what you want out of me, you’re not going to get it. I am sorry for that, really. But I have to be honest about where I am at and what I can do. I want to do many, many great things and I want to work with many great people. I want you to be among them. I can do these things, but I need you to believe in me too.

It doesn’t get better. It gets more manageable.

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