Grand Bend, Ontario
It was an has always been known as one of the tumultuous years in modern history. 1968. A time of free love, anti-war, anti-authority, land disputes, resource disputes, and political protest. Lots of political protest.
It was a hot day. The ladies of the Ryan family decided to take themselves to the beach in the nearby beach town of Grand Bend, in Ontario.
It was a time when the news not only reported the news but also shaped it. When questioning authority, and rebelling against them, had become the norm. Trust for the government was hard to come by, and it was felt on the Canadian side of the border, as the spirit of protest reverberated across the St. Clair River and Lake Huron.
They set up their day at the beach. Sun butter, chairs, and likely one of those portable foil sunners that people crazily used back in the 1960s. They sat and watched the water and all the people and families out enjoying the splendors of a hot day on Lake Huron.
All of the sudden they heard a commotion and were stirred from their pounding sun rays. They looked up, and the Ryan daughters realized they had lost someone pretty important to their group: Grandma Ryan (their mom).
After packing up and walking along the strip, they realized what the commotion was. Teenagers packed the streets, chanting, protesting. Sadly, the topic of the protest was lost in posterity, but it was nonetheless heated, and important for the time.
Still looking for Grandma Ryan, the girls walked further, noticing there were lines and lines of impassioned people.
They still couldn’t find Grandma amongst the crowd.
They walked to the front of the protest line, and finally: there she was. Holding a sign, a woman in her 70s, Grandma Ryan standing amongst the emblazoned teenagers, yelling at the top of her lungs in civil protest.
“I thought I’d throw in my support,” said Grandma, matter-of-factly, as they returned to the beach to catch up on their tans and slug back the few beers she was always known for.
I think I know where I get my fierce spirit from. (Grandma Ryan is my paternal great-grandmother)
There’s a place on this earth that some of you know,
It was the place I knew my soul needed to go,
It’s a town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica,
A town called Tamarindo.
Each person has a unique story,
Each person a new journey sought,
To find home in the town of misfits,
Where you’re either “wanted or you’re not”.
Surfers, artists, yogis, and the lost,
Flock to the town to find their souls,
To find meaning, their place,
And to fill all their life and heart’s holes.
Sunsets, surf, long beach walks,
The feeling of “this is it” strolling hand in hand,
It feels like you’ve found a little secret,
Your own, private, secret, secluded and untouched land.
After the early sun sets,
The nights become quiet and hushed,
It’s when you start to miss home,
The heaviness makes your soul feel crushed.
Transience is normal,
Sticking around too long is contemplation,
In the place where you can feel alive and thriving,
Or feel like you’ve met your lonely condemnation.
Oh Costa Rica, the lessons you taught,
How fresh and stinging you are in my mind,
You taught me that no matter where I go,
My soul is only my own to find.
Wherever you go, there you are,
The wise Confucius once bestowed,
I’m not in Costa Rica, or where I am now,
It’s time to find a new road.
Today “Miss You When Your Gone” by The Cranberries is playing through my speakers as I sit down to tackle the day’s workload, but I sit and look at Dolores O’Riordan, sweet Dolores, who we lost earlier this year from suicide.
As someone living with a mental illness diagnosis, and someone who has struggled with mental illness their whole life, it’s time I say something.
Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Dolores, and countless others that have so recently claimed their lives were all revered in some way; we all imagined they had it all. We all acted so surprised and only to have their mental illnesses revealed later, with a desire to understand what drove them to such despair and a coming-and-going campaign for mental health support. A wave of support and understanding that comes all too late.
Some think tossing up quotes of support, numbers for suicide prevention hotlines or dedications to our lost suicide celebrities on their social media is enough. For some, it may be, but my bet is that for many, it’s further more isolating. I know this because I’ve felt it.
You see, when the “mentally healthy” community passively puts up quotes and reminders to “get help” it doesn’t usually resonate with those who are struggling. It puts an unintentional divide that doesn’t always have a motivating effect during dark times.
Pride, shame, vulnerability, defeat, fatigue, broken health systems, inability to see the future ahead, and most importantly fear stands in the way of seeking help. It’s not that easy for people to see something online to take action, and the quotes and memes aren’t usually enough.
I’ve recently had a breakthrough in my mental health journey, that began with a dark day and started me towards a bright future. I look at Dolores, Kate, and Anthony, and all the actors we have lost to suicide because of their mental health diagnosis. I had no idea why these people weren’t able to overcome their demons, but I know how I’ll overcome mine.
I’ve learned that mental health support is difficult to find — getting into “the system”, the cost of private care, and the often daunting process of finding the right fit can take months, even years.
What do we do until we find the right path to health and healing? Love the ones your with.
Having a strong support system is everything. My family has stepped up in ways I have never imagined they could, or never imagined they’ve needed to. My friends have displayed unconditional love and support, giving me offers of their shoulders and their precious time, while also honoring my need for space at times. I’ve felt loved, supported, and encouraged.
This day and age we are so separated from actual physical interaction. A phone call is something you need to schedule, a text is an obligation, and the prospect of making plans (for introverts especially) is more tedious than actually making them. We need to break this cycle and come back to each other again. As Brene Brown says in Braving the Wilderness we need to tell people we’re willing to walk in their pain with them.
I know that my recovery is all about opening myself up to people again. I’ve been so closely into myself that my mental illness has been able to develop and get out of hand at times. It’s the people around me that keep me literally sane.
I feel for those who don’t have the support system I do. It’s tragic that I know that what I have is actually quite rare.
But if you’re reading this, think of someone in your life that you may know is struggling. Don’t just send them a message with close-ended remarks. Invite them out for coffee, give them plans to look forward to, or do a nice gesture for them. Don’t allow dark thoughts, and actions, to be an option.
Passivity leads people down dark roads; taking a more active role in someone’s healing makes advancements that far outweigh the time and energy to make that effort.
It’s a tough world out there, friends, and we all need to hold on to each other a little harder sometimes, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones.
Stay loving, and be loved.
I grew up in academia, first as a student, then as a professional, then again as a student, and then again as a professional as jobs, vocations, and life shifted. I thought academia was truly my niche and that I’d be in it forever.
Then I made the very conscious decision one day to leave academia entirely. That was almost two years ago.
Those two years have been a self-rehabilitation, wherein I’ve discovered I’ll always label myself a “recovering academic” because of my experiences in being in, as well as departing from the ivory tower.
Recovering Over Recovery
“Recovering” is an interesting way to pose a departure from a certain career path, because most jobs and careers don’t require rehabilitation. I use the word recovering in my departure from academia like how addicts refer to themselves when going through rehabilitation and reintegration. It’s how I also referred to myself when I departed from religion, labeling myself a “Recovering Catholic” for life.
In recovery from something, either addiction, a way of life, trauma, or a certain identity you held onto, you know that within your psyche holds the imprints of certain behaviors, ways of thinking, worldviews, choices, and habits.
Recovery isn’t instant, it’s a long-drawn-out process where you have to re-wire your thinking and change the way you react to certain stimuli and triggers. Recovery doesn’t always have a definite beginning or an end, where you’re “recovered”. Thus, in my experiences, I’m still recovering from literally growing up in academia, and integration into the world outside the gates has been a process I’ve reflected on daily since I made the decision to seek other paths.
When you’re “in” academia, you don’t just see it as a job. You become academia. Your behaviors, ways of working, methods of relating to people, and rules of engagement become imprinted into your identity as an academic. By being within the walls of the ivory tower, especially in senior or tenured positions, you’re given a certain pass to embrace the worldview, behaviors, and quirks and way of interacting with others with the generally accepted belief that in genius is insanity. I’ve seen a lot of excuses made for people’s negative and unorthodox behaviors, just because they’re “academics”. I never bought that.
I Was Where I Thought I Belonged
My whole career in academia I was tasked with bridging the gap between what the academics were doing, and the rest of the world. I saw the underbelly of academic employment within the HR department which gave me more lessons than I could count. As a community engager, my favorite part of my academic career, my job was to show what was relevant within the institution to the outside world and bring intel from the real world back through the gates.
I got myself more educated so that I could talk the talk of academics and that would give me some validation as a worthy professional by the letters following my name. I thought that would help me straddle the two worlds better. Sometimes it did, but oftentimes I found myself hiding my heart in favor of presenting only my brain.
Then Shift Happened
I was proud of my job and my institution, and the strides I’d taken to position myself as a real-world person amongst the academics with an academic mind, yet I always struggled with this. In many of my performance reviews, the issue of being “too concerned with outside the institution” became an ongoing issue. Who was I truly loyal to, and did I truly align with the values of an academic institution?
I got the chance to find out through a life-altering work-related trip to East Africa that became the defining moment where I asked myself “where do I belong”? I acted as a human and not as the academic I was supposed to, and I got myself in trouble with the ivory tower.
This moment was when I realized that the way I am experiencing the world is incongruent with my position within the academy. I found that I could no longer force myself to look at everything academically because my heart and humanity stood in the way, and I wasn’t going to squash the human in me in favor of the academic. I left the job I thought I’d have forever.
Further attempts to devote my professional work to serving the community and the academy at the same time failed miserably. I found that the academy just didn’t always work well beyond their gates, while being faced with the true and harsh reality that universities just aren’t that relevant. Most people see academic institutions as mere places within the city that they don’t understand that serves a purpose only for those who were privileged enough. Ouch. Time for a reality check.
I Ran…. FAR
I left in pursuit of a new home, new way of seeing the world, and a new career in entrepreneurship.
I then learned that you can take the girl out of academia, but you can’t necessarily take the academic out of the girl, hence why I call myself a recovering academic.
Every day in my career as an educator and writer, I look to universities, research centers, peer-reviewed journals, and academic bodies of knowledge to validate the information I take in and disseminate through my work. In my mind is engrained the idea that I can’t truly know something to be true unless some researcher within their lab, office, or home computer looked at it in a scientific and academic way and published it in a paper that will give me that proof I look for in everything.
As a recovering academic, I’m stuck in this ironic, polarized, yet whacky pattern of identity and behavior where I want to be so critical of an institution I always felt was so far away from “real life”, yet I still look to the academic way of thinking on any issue within the world external to the academy that I work on or act within.
Someday I’ll get that balance, as I find the distance from my old identity and build new relationships and discover a new career trajectory. While I’m almost certain that there isn’t a future in academia for me, I am in so many ways thankful of holding that position within the institution where I was able to walk the line between the academic world and the rest of the world. It helped me think, be critical, and ask questions. It helped me find my place in the world (for now). It helped me be more thoughtful and intentional, recognizing people’s perceptions dictate everything.
I always think about how knowledge and information effects real people and will always defend the pursuit of quality, vetted information over crap you read on the internet. I’ll always dabble in the areas of research, knowledge translation, and will be a forever advocate for the open access movement. I’ll always be a nerd, and someone who thrives on knowledge, research, data, information and the pursuit of curiosity. I just don’t need any more letters following my name to prove it.
My name is Anne-Marie Fischer Moodie, and I’m a proudly recovering academic.